The British Embassy to the Department of State

No. 739


At the preliminary meeting of the Communications Conference a decision was taken to form sub-committees to consider in detail the various questions based upon the Agenda of the Conference. Among these sub-committees was one which, so the British Delegation understood, was intended to consider the proposal for the unification or codification of the regulations governing the issue of [Page 139] cable landing licenses. However, at the first meeting of the subcommittee the United States Delegation presented a memorandum containing far reaching proposals for the limitation of the rights of belligerents in the matter of the interruption and diversion of cables. Sections 2 and 3 of this memorandum ran as follows:—

  • “2. Submarine cables between two neutral territories shall be “held inviolable and free from interruption.
  • “3. Submarine cables connecting the territories of two belligerents “or two parts of the territory of one belligerent may be interrupted “but not diverted anywhere except within the waters of a neutral “state.”

The memorandum proceeded to elaborate this scheme, proposing regulations governing the right of cable diversion as between a belligerent and a neutral country.

His Majesty’s Government, to whose notice these proposals were brought, point out that their delegates to the present Conference on electrical communications have neither the knowledge nor competence to discuss such a question as the belligerent right to cut cables, and they further observe that there was, when the Conference was convened, no question of including in its programme any discussion of the rights and duties of belligerents. Moreover it seems to His Majesty’s Government undesirable in any case that questions arising out of the original programme of the Conference and new proposals respecting belligerent rights should be treated by the same Conference.

Apart from these general considerations, His Majesty’s Government feel all the more precluded from now taking part in the proposed discussion of belligerent rights in that—, being members of the League of Nations, they must have regard to their obligations under the Covenant to approach such matters through the instrumentality of the League. Moreover they do not fully understand how the United States proposals could be made consistent with the obligations assumed by members of the League under Article 16. In effect paragraph 1 of this Article provides that where a member of the League has been deemed to have committed an act of war against all other members of the League, the latter undertake:— “immediately to subject it to the severance of all trade or financial “relations, the prohibition of all intercourse between their nationals “and the nationals of the covenant-breaking State, and the prevention “of all financial, commercial or personal intercourse between “the nationals of the covenant-breaking State and the nationals of “any other State, whether a member of the League or not.”