411.57 N 83/128
The Norwegian Minister ( Bryn ) to the Secretary of State
Mr. Secretary of State: In reply to the note of the Acting Secretary of State, dated December 29, 1920, in regard to the claim presented by the Norwegian Government against the Government of the United States in the note of December 2, 1919, for indemnification for damage and loss caused to certain Norwegian citizens by the Government of the United States by requisitioning fifteen ships under construction and building contracts, I have been instructed by my Government to make the following communication to Your Excellency.
The Norwegian Government appreciates highly the endeavors made by Your Excellency to secure the co-operation of the United States Shipping Board with a view to obtain a proposition from the Board acceptable to the Norwegian citizens sustaining such damage and loss. The Norwegian Government regrets, however, that these endeavors have been without result.
From my note to Your Excellency’s predecessor, dated December 2, 1919, it will also be seen that it was not until it had become evident that the direct negotiations between the Shipping Board and the Christiania Group would not reach any result, that the Norwegian Government was put to the necessity of making the affair the subject of an official diplomatic claim under the treaty provisions in force.
By virtue of the act of Congress, approved on June 15, 1917, it is the President of the United States who is exercising the authority to requisition, and it is on behalf of the President by his authorization in Executive Order, dated July 11, 1917,12 that the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation has requisitioned the Norwegian ships under construction and the Norwegian contracts for the building of ships.
If Norwegian property and rights have been requisitioned in conflict with existing treaty provisions, such violation of treaty must therefore be considered as having been committed by the United States Government itself.
From these facts a claim on behalf of the Norwegian Government arises against the Government of the United States for indemnity for the damage which the United States by its violation of the treaty has caused to Norway.
The Norwegian Government, in its note of December 2, 1919, has therefore not directed its claim against the Shipping Board but against the Government of the United States.[Page 579]
Consequently, the Norwegian Government will not enter into any argument against the statement made by the Shipping Board that it can not agree to any method of determining the liability of the United States otherwise than as fixed by law. It is not for the Norwegian Government to make any criticism of the fact that the Shipping Board, without taking the treaties into consideration, executes the laws adopted by Congress and the instructions given by the President of the United States, this being recognized to be a domestic American concern. As regards the recommendation made by the Requisition Claims Committee, which is mentioned in the note of December 29, 1920, of the Acting Secretary of State, it is of less interest to the Norwegian Government now to be made officially acquainted with said recommendation than with the Department of State’s own opinion of the affair.
The Norwegian Government is still willing to accept as indemnity in full the lump sum of $15,600,000, mentioned in the note of December 2, 1919, provided that such an amount be placed at the disposal of the diplomatic representative of Norway at Washington within one month from the date of the present note. If not, the Norwegian Government reserves the right to present thereafter a claim for a separate amount of indemnity in each of the fifteen individual cases of requisition.
In this connection it should be borne in mind that when the Norwegian Government in the note of December 2, 1919, restricted itself to ask the refund of the outlays incurred in the acquisition of the property and rights together with only about 10 per cent for indirect loss, it was in order to facilitate a speedy settlement by agreement. Among the Norwegian citizens who are sustaining damages, several are, however, suffering very considerable loss by reason of the fact that they were deprived of the income of their property, the value of which also in part was greater than the cost of acquisition. If a settlement should not materialize within the time above mentioned, the Norwegian Government, therefore, must reserve the right to put forth a claim for indemnity for all loss, direct as well as indirect, inflicted on Norwegian citizens.
If the Government of the United States should not find it possible now to accept the proposition of the Norwegian Government as mentioned above, nothing is left but to endeavor to have the affair settled by arbitration. The choice will then be between one of the following three courses of procedure for the settlement of the difference, namely either referring the case to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in accordance with the Convention of Arbitration, of April 4, 1908,13 or submitting it to the Commission [Page 580] established by the Treaty of June 24, 1914,14 for investigation and report; or settling the case by arbitration, formal or informal, on a more free basis by a tribunal with international composition of the membership, established for the occasion by separate agreement to be entered into.
The Norwegian Government is willing to leave to the American Government to make the choice between any one of the said three courses of procedure; the Norwegian Government, however, reserving the right to invoke the anti-requisition clause of the treaty, whatever course of procedure may be chosen for the settlement of the claims. But the Norwegian Government will not fail to add that although it considers the requisitions in question of Norwegian property and rights as a violation of treaty, it deems it of subordinate importance to have a formal expression given to this opinion, provided only that a satisfactory settlement of the case can come about.
As now more than three years have elapsed since the requisition, the Norwegian Government will appreciate highly a reply to this note at an early convenience.
Please accept [etc.]