511.3 B 1/115

The Acting President of the Council of the League of Nations (Wood) to the Secretary of State

Sir: I have the honour to inform you that the Council of the League of Nations at its meeting of the 21st April adopted the following resolution:

“The Council, on the proposal of the Temporary Mixed Commission for the Reduction of Armaments, requests its President to ascertain [Page 35]whether the Government of the United States would be disposed to state its views as to the manner in which it would be willing to co-operate with other Governments in the control both of the traffic in arms and the private manufacture of arms.”

You are perhaps aware that both the question of the private manufacture of arms and that of the international control of the arms traffic have engaged the continuous attention of the Assembly and of the Council of the League.

The Convention of Saint-Germain28 was framed, as you will recall from the records of the American Peace Commission which cooperated in its drafting, with a view to an adequate solution of the Arms Traffic question on a world-wide basis. As it is obvious that this Convention could not fulfil its aim unless ratified by all the manufacturing powers, the Assembly and the Council, when they first took up the question in 1920, directed their efforts towards this end and an enquiry was accordingly conducted by the Secretary-General.

The Temporary Mixed Commission, in the Report which it submitted to the Assembly on September 7th, 1922, summed up the results of this enquiry in the following terms:

“The following States have ratified or adhered to the Convention:

  • Brazil,
  • Chile,
  • China,
  • Finland,
  • Greece,
  • Guatemala,
  • Haiti,
  • Peru,
  • Siam,
  • Venezuela.

Great Britain, as well as Spain, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, are prepared to ratify the Convention as soon as all the other principal Powers are willing to do so.

France has announced that the President of the Republic has been authorised by the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate to ratify the Convention and that ratification will be carried out as soon as the principal Signatory Powers shall themselves have taken steps to ratify the Convention.

Italy has expressed her readiness to ratify the Convention as soon as it has been approved by Parliament, and Japan has promised to ratify it with as little delay as possible after its ratification by the other Powers.

A certain number of States, such as Denmark, India, Sweden and Norway, make their ratification conditional on that of all the Signatory Powers, whereas Roumania, Luxemburg, Colombia, Uruguay and Persia declare their willingness to adhere to the Convention.

It will be seen from this statement that the principal Powers which have replied to the enquiry make their ratification depend on that of the other principal Signatory Powers. This reservation would seem to refer especially to the United States of America, which are signatory to the Convention and which had not, up to the present, replied to the invitation addressed to them.”

[Page 36]

In reply to the note addressed to the United States on November 21st, 1921,29 you were good enough to inform the Secretary-General, under date of July 28th, 1922,30 that “while the Government of the United States was in cordial sympathy with efforts to restrict traffic in arms and munitions of war, it found itself unable to approve the provisions of the Convention and to give any assurance of its ratification.”

The Third Assembly which met shortly afterwards, in September, had therefore to consider the situation thus created.

The Third Committee of the Assembly, referring to this reply, expressed the following opinion:

“This reply puts an end to the hopes that the Convention of Saint-Germain in its present form would receive general acceptance.

As has already been said, it is most desirable that some treaty should be universally accepted for the control of the international trade in arms, and that all civilised countries should co-operate in a common policy of regulation.

Whether that can be done, however, depends on the attitude of the United States of America. It is important, therefore, that the Members of the League should endeavour in every way to meet the views of the United States Government and to secure their co-operation in a common policy.”

In the meantime the work carried out by the Permanent Advisory Commission on Military, Naval and Air Questions, and by the Temporary Mixed Commission for the Reduction of Armaments, had led these bodies to the conclusion that the two problems of the private manufacture of arms and the international control of the arms traffic were too closely connected to be dealt with separately, and that the solution of both had to be sought at the same time and by the same methods. The Third Assembly therefore adopted the following resolutions:

“The Assembly, having noted the proposal of the Temporary Mixed Commission for an international agreement for the control of the manufacture of arms by private companies, urges on the Council to consider the advisability of summoning at an appropriate moment a conference of the Members of the League to embody this agreement in the form of a convention. The Assembly is further of the opinion that States not Members of the League should be invited to participate in this conference and to co-operate in the policy on which it may agree.”

“The Assembly considers it highly desirable that the Government of the United States should express the objections which it has to formulate to the provisions of the Convention of Saint-Germain, as well as any proposals which it may care to make as to the way in which these objections can be overcome.”

[Page 37]

Since these resolutions were taken, the Council and the Temporary Mixed Commission have given their attention to this matter with the result that the Council passed at its last session the resolution quoted at the beginning of this letter. In virtue of this resolution I have the honour to ask you whether the United States Government would be ready to inform the Members of the League of Nations as to the general lines on which it would be willing to co-operate in an attempt to solve on a universal and permanent basis the two problems of the private manufacture of arms and the international control of the arms traffic.

In order to enable you to form an accurate opinion of the scope and nature of the work carried out in this connection by the organs of the League, I beg to enclose the Report of the Temporary Mixed Commission to the Council and that of the Third Committee to the last Assembly,31 in each of which two chapters are devoted to these questions.

I have [etc.]

Edward Wood