511.3 B 1/88a

The Secretary of State to President Harding83

My Dear Mr. President: You will doubtless recall that on September 10, 1919, there was concluded at Saint-Germain-en-Laye a Convention for the control of the trade in arms and ammunition. The Convention was signed by representatives of this Government and a number of other powers including Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan, but has never been submitted to the Senate. By the terms of the Convention, arms and ammunition are divided into two classes, namely “arms and munitions of war” which are manufactured especially for purposes of war and “fire arms and ammunition” which may be used for war or for other purposes.

The Convention provides that the High Contracting Parties shall undertake to prohibit the exportation of “arms and munitions of war” but reserves to them the right to grant export licenses to meet the requirements of their respective Governments or those of the Governments of any of the parties to the Convention. As to “fire arms and ammunition” capable of being used for either war or peace purposes, the right is reserved to the High Contracting Parties to determine from the “size, destination and other circumstances of each shipment for what uses it is intended and to decide in each case whether the provisions of the Article are applicable.” (Article I).

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By the provisions of Article II the High Contracting Parties undertake to prohibit (except through the granting of permits under certain conditions) the exportation of the small arms, namely, those capable of being used for either war or peace purposes when intended for certain zones and areas specified in Article VI of the Convention.

The zones and areas referred to are (1) all the African Continent (with the exception of Algeria, Libya, and the Union of South Africa), including the adjacent islands within less than one hundred nautical miles of the Coast, also Prince’s Island and the Islands of Saint Thomas, Annobon and Socotra; (2) Transcaucasia, Persia, Gwadar, and Arabian Peninsula, and such Continental parts of Asia as were included in the Ottoman Empire on August 1, 1914; and (3) a certain described maritime zone, including the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Persian Gulf, and the Sea of Oman.

It will be seen from the foregoing that the exportation of “arms and munitions of war” as distinguished from the smaller arms adapted both to warlike and to other purposes is absolutely prohibited unless they are for the use of one of the High Contracting Parties, and that the exportation of the latter class of arms is to be prohibited if they are intended for use in war or, (with certain exceptions) if destined to one of the zones or areas mentioned above.

The Department received, some time ago, from the Secretary General of the League of Nations a communication urging upon this Government early ratification of the Convention.84 Similar communications have also been received from the British Government.85

The primary purpose of the Convention seems to be to prevent the introduction of arms into the areas and zones mentioned above, which include certain mandate regions, protectorates, and territories occupied by backward peoples in which Great Britain, France and Italy are particularly interested. I do not believe that the Convention would materially restrict the manufacture and sale of arms and munitions since the High Contracting Parties will be free to manufacture and sell for their own use and the use of their dominions, colonies, possessions and protectorates in unlimited quantities.

Moreover, there is one feature of the Convention which I consider particularly objectionable, namely, the prohibition on the sale of munitions of war to States not parties to the Convention. Such a provision would prevent this Government from shipping, or permitting the shipment of, munitions of war to any oppressed peoples who might be endeavoring to free themselves from oppression, or [Page 553] to any sister State in Latin America not a party to the Convention which might need arms, however worthy the cause and however desirable it might be to throw open our markets to them.

Being ourselves a nation born of revolution, this would, I believe, constitute a fundamental objection and might under a given state of facts prove to be very objectionable.

Furthermore, I am of the opinion that the Convention would encounter great difficulty in the Senate (1) because of the objection just indicated and (2) because of various provisions involving the League of Nations. For example, Article V provides (1) that the Central International Office to be established for collecting and preserving documents exchanged by the High Contracting Parties regarding trade in arms and ammunition shall be under the control of the League of Nations: (2) that the annual reports to be published by the High Contracting Parties with respect to quantities and distribution of such goods, as well as certain statistical information, shall be sent to the Secretary General of the League of Nations.

Article X, which has to do with the right of the State in the prohibited areas specified above to import arms and ammunition over territory of a contiguous State provides that if the importing State shall violate any of the guarantees which are required to be given in that connection, no further transit license shall be granted without the previous consent of the council of the League of Nations.

Other Articles provide for the communication of certain information to the League of Nations, while Article XXIV provides that disputed questions arising between the High Contracting Parties concerning the application of the Convention shall be arbitrated in conformity with the provisions of the covenant of the League.

While it might be possible, if the provisions concerning the League of Nations were the only objectionable features, to cover them with proper reservations, I am inclined to think that on the whole this Government should not ratify the Convention.

I feel that we should reply to the note from the British Government stating some of the reasons why you would not feel justified in submitting the Convention to the Senate, and that we should inform the Secretary General of the League of Nations that while this Government is in sympathy with efforts appropriately to control the traffic in arms and ammunition, it finds itself unable to approve the provisions of the Convention or to give any assurance of its ratification. Before doing so, however, I should be glad if I might have your approval.

I am [etc.]

Charles E. Hughes
  1. Covering letter dated Aug. 2 not printed; it indicates that the Secretary of State had discussed the contents of this letter with the President before dispatching the reply to the Secretary General of the League of Nations, supra.
  2. Note of Nov. 21, 1921, p. 544.
  3. See note of Jan. 4, 1922, from Mr. Balfour of the British Delegation at the Conference on the Limitation of Armament, p. 545.