511.3 B 1/115: Telegram

The Acting Secretary of State to the Minister in Switzerland (Grew)

53. Department’s 37, July 23.35

You are instructed to transmit the following communication to the Secretary General of the League in the usual informal manner:

“The Secretary of State of the United States of America has given most careful study to the communication from the Acting President [Page 39] of the Council of the League of Nations dated May 1, 1923, asking the views of the United States regarding the control of the traffic and private manufacture of arms set forth in the Convention of Saint-Germain, and to inform you that the Government of the United States is in cordial sympathy with efforts suitably to restrict traffic in arms and munitions of war.

As evidence of its interest in the matter, it may be recalled that by a joint resolution approved April 22, 1898,36 as amended March 12 [14], 1912,37 the following provision was made with respect to the regulation of the shipment of arms from the United States

‘That whenever the President shall find that in any American country conditions of domestic violence exist which are promoted by the use of arms or munitions of war procured from the United States, and shall make proclamation thereof, it shall be unlawful to export except under such limitations and exceptions as the President shall prescribe any arms or munitions of war from any place in the United States to such country until otherwise ordered by the President or by Congress.’

By a resolution approved January 31, 1922,38 this provision of law was extended so as to include any country in which the United States exercises extraterritorial jurisdiction. It is also the policy of the Government to restrict the sale of Government supplies of arms and munitions.

After a careful examination of the terms of the Convention, it has been decided that the objections found thereto render impossible ratification by this Government.

While the application of the Convention to certain designated areas or zones, extending in effect the Brussels Convention,39 may fulfill a useful object, the plan of the present Convention is much broader. The distinctive feature of this plan is not a provision for a general limitation of armament, but the creation of a system of control by the signatory powers of the traffic in arms and munitions, these signatory powers being left free not only to meet their own requirements in the territories subject to their jurisdiction but also to provide for supplying each other with arms and munitions to the full extent that they may see fit.

There is particular objection to the provisions by which the contracting parties would be prohibited from selling arms and munitions to states not parties to the Convention. By such provisions, this Government would be required to prevent shipments of military supplies to such Latin American countries as have not signed or adhered to the Convention, however desirable it might be to permit such shipments, merely because they are not signatory powers and might not desire to adhere to the Convention.

It should be observed also that the acceptance by the United States of an agreement of the nature and scope of the Convention of Saint Germain would call for the enactment of legislation to make it operative, and particularly for the imposition of penalties applicable [Page 40] to private arms-producing concerns as a means of establishing an effective control. This Government is not in a position to undertake to obtain the enactment of such legislation.

Finally, it may be observed that the provisions of the Convention relating to the League of Nations are so intertwined with the whole Convention as to make it impracticable for this Government to ratify, in view of the fact that it is not a member of the League of Nations.”

  1. Not printed.
  2. 30 Stat. 739.
  3. 37 Stat 630.
  4. 42 Stat. 361.
  5. General Act for the Repression of African Slave Trade, signed at Brussels, July 2, 1890; William M. Malloy (ed.), Treaties, Conventions, etc., between the United States of America and Other Powers, 1776–1909 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1910), vol. ii, p. 1964.