511.3 B 1/85

The Secretary of the Navy (Denby) to the Secretary of State


Sir: In accordance with your request of March 16, 1922,81 I have considered the draft of the Arms Traffic Convention, signed at Saint Germain-en-Laye, September 10, 1919, and beg to express, apart from question of diplomatic policy, which you reserve, my views on the advisability of ratifying the convention.

In addition to the fact that the Convention is an instrument of, and designed to strengthen, the League of Nations, the following appear to me to be reserved as questions of diplomatic policy:
The bearing of the Convention on the Monroe Doctrine.
That the Convention includes Liberia in the prohibited zone.
That Article I does not accord with previous American Policy concerning the exportation of arms.
That the Convention bars peoples who may be unjustly oppressed from the means of resistance by force.
That the Convention, if adhered to by the United States, would establish a new relationship for the United States vis-à-vis certain countries that are now subject, mandated, or under guardianship.
That the Convention provides means and methods discriminating against certain subject or mandated nations with a view to their involuntary retention in that status.
That in effect the terms of the Convention give to each of the several signatory powers the exclusive trade privilege to export [Page 549] fire arms to the subject or mandated territories administered by that power.
That the Convention implies (Art. 4) the right of a power or a group of powers to impose guardianship on other powers and restricts the means of resistance thereto. This principle might be applied in the establishment of guardianships not now foreseen, nor perhaps, from the American standpoint, desirable.
That the Convention provides (Art. I) for differential treatment by the signatory powers of signatory and non-signatory powers.
The interpretation of ambiguities.
Questions that I understand are not reserved are discussed in the following paragraphs.
Article I prohibiting the exportation of war arms is a general prohibition that operates to prevent exportations to all non-signatory powers. The Convention would permit the United States, if a party to the Convention, to export war arms to Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru to meet the needs of those governments, but would prohibit similar exportations to Colombia, Chile, Brazil, Argentine, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Mexico, and other non-signatory powers. Discriminatory treatment of non-signatory powers, or the possibility of such treatment, might lead to naval, military and commercial developments that would react unfavorably on American interests.
The Convention permits visit to certain classes of vessels (Par. 1, Art. 16) in certain waters, and provides that, the visit having been made (Par. 3, Art. 16), a definite obligation to bring in the vessel visited may follow. No other duty for vessels of the United States Navy is stated or implied in the Convention.
There is one other naval aspect of the Convention. It extends, in time of peace, and for a new purpose, the right of visit to certain classes of vessels on certain parts of the high seas. I consider this undesirable.
It must be noted, however, that should the United States not ratify this Convention, we would, under the terms of the Convention (Art. I), be debarred from obtaining war arms from the countries signatory. Many neutrals, in case of war, might then be free to furnish war arms to our enemy but would be, by the Convention, prohibited from furnishing war arms to us. This is an argument for ratifying the Convention, but is more than balanced by other objectionable features. The United States must never diminish its powers of self defense by abandoning its ability to produce all material of war.
In conclusion, I consider it inadvisable to ratify the Convention.


Edwin Denby
[Page 550]

The whole Convention seems to me highly objectionable from the American viewpoint. A few Conventions of this sort and we shall be to all intents and purposes a member of the League of Nations, subject to its control and bound by its vote. E. D.

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