511.3 B 1/128
The Secretary of War (Weeks) to the Secretary of State
My Dear Mr. Secretary: With reference to your letter of July 23, 1923, (NE 511.3, B 1/115)41 in which you request an expression of my views in regard to an enclosed communication of May 1, 1923, from the Acting President of the Council of the League of Nations regarding the private manufacture of and the international traffic in arms, and with further reference to your letter of August 16, 1923,41 transmitting copies of certain reports from the League of Nations for my consideration in connection with the communication of May 1, 1923, referred to above, I am pleased to advise you as follows.
The views of the War Department in the premises center chiefly about the effect that any action taken by the Government of the United States in this connection might have upon our munitions industry and therewith on our national preparations for defense.
The United States has already complied with the spirit of the Arms Traffic Convention signed on September 10, 1919, at Saint Germain-en-Laye and of the proposal to control the private manufacture of arms and munitions, in that it has consistently favored reduction in armament and control of the manufacture and traffic in arms and munitions, and has given practical proof of its sincerity by drastically reducing its armed forces, by dismantling its armament industry, by passing legislation designed to curtail the shipment of arms and munitions, and by prohibiting the sale of all surplus war materials to all foreign powers.
The United States in time of war is dependent almost entirely upon private manufacture of munitions while other great powers maintain large enough government-owned and subsidized plants to much more nearly meet their war needs. Curtailment of private manufacture would therefore work directly to the disadvantage of the United States.[Page 41]
To exist in time of peace, private manufacture must have outlet for its products. Such outlet is found in—
- The needs of Government military forces.
- Domestic needs.
- Export to other countries.
Obviously a nation which maintains a comparatively small military establishment and has few dependencies and colonies to increase domestic demands must depend more on international traffic to insure the existence of such plants.
The combined production capacity of our Government arsenals and private arms and munitions plants is so small compared with that of each of the great arms and munitions producing powers that any action tending to decrease that capacity would seriously endanger our national preparedness.
It is likewise undesirable to further discourage our foreign trade in arms and munitions, since such trade is absolutely essential to the maintenance of the capacity mentioned in the preceding paragraph.
In fact, conditions as regards munitions production and traffic of the United States are so different from those of the great arms and munitions producing powers that it would seem useless for this Government to attempt to cooperate, as desired by the League of Nations, so long as such nations find it necessary to maintain military forces and armaments so out of proportion to those of the United States and so long as they possess facilities for maintaining private munitions production capacities to meet demands of colonies and dependencies not possessed by the United States.
The War Department would offer no objections to the cooperation of the United States in any attempt to solve, on a universal and permanent basis, the two problems of private manufacture of arms and the international control of the arms traffic, if something concrete could be accomplished thereby. Since the principal arms and munitions producing powers have not taken any steps heretofore commensurate with those taken by the United States in that connection, it appears to be safe to conclude that they are not likely to do so even in case the United States were to go still further in curtailing its already dangerously small industry and export trade in arms and munitions.
From what has been said, it is apparent that it would be undesirable from a military point of view for the United States to take any steps, the logical consequence of which would be to impose upon it the obligation—
- To restrict its present private arms and munitions producing industry; and
- To curtail the present export trade in arms and munitions of its private arms and munitions plants.
In view of the foregoing, it would accordingly serve no useful purpose to comply with the request contained in the letter of May 1, 1923, hereinbefore referred to, from the Acting President of the Council of the League of Nations and in accordance therewith to formulate and to dispatch to the League of Nations a statement indicating the general lines on which the United States would be willing to cooperate 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.
Finally, from the sole viewpoint of national defense, it is believed to be highly desirable that the United States reserve to itself full freedom of action both as regards the private manufacture of arms and munitions and the control of the arms traffic.