511.3 B 1/138: Telegram

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

9. Reference Department’s 8, February 1, 6 p.m.

In the event that you should be requested to express your views respecting the regulation of the traffic in arms you should refer to the Department’s note to the British Embassy of August 5, 1922,20 and the communication to the League of Nations dated September 12, 1923,21 copies of both of which are in the files of the Legation. You may also in your discretion explain the scope of the joint resolutions mentioned in Department’s telegram No. 53 of September 12, 1923,22 as well as the policy of this Government not to encourage the sale of military supplies or the shipment of war material to the troubled areas of the world. (See Department’s telegram No. 61 of September 27th last.23) You may point out that the Saint Germain Convention was not drawn on the theory of limitation of armament and that it imposed on the signatories no restriction on production or on the supply of arms inter se. You may also say that you understand that your Government would not be willing to restrict its [Page 19] entire freedom of action respecting the shipment of military supplies to countries of Latin America. In connection with matters of administration, the fact that the United States is not a member of the League of Nations should not be overlooked.

[Paraphrase.] It is the view of this Government that the Convention of Saint Germain is a political arrangement for the protection of existing governments, leaving them free to make and supply all the arms they wish as between themselves, and that it does not represent a bona fide effort to restrict the arms traffic. This Government has not been led to any different conclusion by the endeavor to arouse favor for such a convention by representing it as a genuine attempt to fulfill the wishes of those who are anxious to have the arms traffic restricted. Congress cannot be expected to pass legislation limiting the manufacture of arms in this country in the interest of any arrangement like that of Saint Germain. It should be observed in the meantime that the Government of the United States is doing very little in furnishing other countries with arms. Power vested in the President gives him strict control over such traffic with other countries in this hemisphere.

With the exception of one or two instances there is but a very small exportation of arms to countries in Europe. In 1922 the number of machine guns exported was 1,309, of which Sweden bought 749. With that exception, Great Britain and France have been the markets for the largest sales to Europe. The following statistics give the value of American sales of arms and ammunition to the territories which are indicated in the sixth article of the Convention of Saint Germain: Turkey, $1,334 in 1920, $260 in 1921, $32 in 1922; Hedjaz, $473 in 1922; Syria and Palestine, $1,917 in 1922; Persia, no sales during time under consideration; Belgian Congo, $64 in 1921, $187 in 1922; Egypt, $19,956 in 1920, $6,428 in 1921, $221 in 1922; British Africa, including British East and British West Africa, $15,547 in 1920, $7,629 in 1921, $17,692 in 1922; French Africa, $2,255 in 1920, $259 in 1921, $821 in 1922; Portuguese Africa, $10,136 in 1920, $2,441 in 1921, $2,506 in 1922; Abyssinia, $10,437 in 1921, the only sale apparently recorded for a number of years; Liberia, $896 in 1920, $1,705 in 1921, $846 in 1922. Statistics available for 9 months of 1923 do not give the country of destination. Statistics for the years mentioned do not indicate any exportation of machine guns or heavier armament to any of these territories. Items sold to the territories include pistols, rifles, shotguns, and cartridges.

Should it be the real intention of the Governments represented in the Temporary Mixed Commission to place a substantial restriction upon the production of and traffic in arms with the purpose of bringing about a reduction in the weapons of war, this Government [Page 20] will take any arrangement with that objective under most careful consideration and will find out as soon as possible whether Congress would pass such legislation as would be necessary to make it effective.

The above is for you to use discreetly in your discussions on this subject. [End paraphrase.]

  1. Foreign Relations, 1922, vol. i, p. 554.
  2. See telegram no. 53, Sept. 12, 1923, to the Minister in Switzerland, ibid., 1923, vol. i, p. 38.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid., p. 42.