The Acting Secretary of State to the British Chargé ( Lindsay )

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your notes of February 3, and March 9, 1920, relative to the shipment of arms and munitions by private firms to non-signatory states, under the Arms Traffic Convention. It is stated in your note that His Majesty’s Government would not propose that the Convention should prevent the sales of arms and munitions to the governments that are actually engaged in fighting the forces of disorder and are supported politically by the Allied and Associated Governments, though it has been the usual practice to obtain a guarantee from such governments before allowing shipments.

In reply I have the honor to inform you that on October 17, 1919, a cablegram was transmitted by this Government to the American Mission to Negotiate Peace at Paris, stating that with reference to the protocol of the Arms Traffic Convention, it was considered necessary to inform the other signatories that this Government could not regard itself as bound by the terms thereof, in so far as such terms are not sanctioned by the existing laws of the United States. On October 25, 1919, an answer was received, stating that an informal discussion showed that the principal Allied and Associated powers understood the position of the United States and were inclined to interpret the protocol in the same sense.

In this connection I have the honor to refer to the Department’s note of January 6, 1920, in which it is stated that this Government is not at the present time controlling the exportation of arms and munitions by private concerns to any government signatory or non-signatory, except as therein indicated.

Under existing laws of the United States this Government may prohibit the exportation of arms to any American country in which a state of domestic violence exists, but there is no provision of law in pursuance of which the exportation of arms generally may be controlled, except while this country is at war. The control which has heretofore been exercised by this Government during the present war has long since been abandoned, except with respect to exportation to Mexico, China, and Bolshevik Russia, and the Department does not [Page 206] feel that it would be feasible to reinstate the war time regulations in this respect. I may add, however, that this Government will in no way encourage the exportation of such articles and that, as I have already had the honor to inform you, in keeping with the spirit of the Convention, it will decline to sell Government arms to non-signatory states except under a guarantee that the non-signatory power in question will adhere to the Arms Traffic Convention when an opportunity is offered.

Accept [etc.]

Frank L. Polk