511.3 B 1/231

The Secretary of War (Weeks) to the Secretary of State

My Dear Mr. Secretary: With reference to your letter of September 10, 1924, (NE 511.3 B 1/169 [189]),53 inclosing for my consideration a copy of a draft convention of July 16, 1924, amending the Convention of St. Germain, I am pleased to advise you that in so far as the contents thereof concern matters properly within the purview of the War Department, a careful consideration of the same raises serious doubt as to the advisability of the United States being a party to the draft convention in its present form.

The international control of the trade in arms, munitions, and implements of war, along the lines indicated in the draft convention herewith, would result, in so far as the United States is concerned, in the international control of production and sources of supply of means vitally necessary to our national defense. This result would follow from the fact that the United States in time of war is almost wholly dependent upon the private manufacture of munitions. This private munitions industry, in time of peace, keeps munitions plants in existence, and holds together the trained technical personnel necessary for war time production. In time of peace, the private manufacture of munitions, in order to exist as an industry, must have a market for its production, which market, in so far as the United States is concerned, is found in:

Supply of the current needs of our military forces, which, on account of their small size, is comparatively negligible.
Supply of domestic needs.
Export to foreign countries, which, while not large, is an important factor in maintaining the existence of our munitions industry.

In this connection it should be noted that of the H. C. P. specifically mentioned in Article 32, the United States is the only nation that does not maintain government arsenals for the supply of its own war time needs, and in consequence the provisions of the convention as regards trade may place the United States in an extremely disadvantageous position in so far as the acquisition of items included [Page 78] in Category I are concerned, at a time when such procurement through normal trade channels may be vitally necessary for national defense, or for the preservation of our national sovereignty. While the United States maintains six so-called manufacturing arsenals, these plants are in reality little more than experimental laboratories, and in consequence the war time needs of our government must be supplied by private manufacture. The present state of our private manufacture is such that at the beginning of an emergency a portion of the raw materials and component parts of our munitions needs must be obtained from abroad through normal trade channels, in order to provide for the necessary expansion of our private munitions industry. It should further be noted that our present small private munitions plants are partially dependent for their peace time existence on foreign trade, namely, on exports to other nations. A limitation of these exports would inevitably result in the restriction of this industry in the United States and consequently in an alarming situation as regards the procurement of munitions in the event of a national emergency.

The provisions of Articles 1, 2, 3, 4, and 25, of the draft appear objectionable in that they might unduly hamper the United States in its preparations to meet a clearly foreseen national emergency. Article 9 is objectionable in not definitely defining and designating the zones and areas to which the draft convention is to be applicable.

The United States has already complied with the spirit of the Convention of St. Germain, and has gone further by drastically reducing its armed forces, by practically dismantling its war time munitions plants, by restricting the shipment of arms and ammunition to legitimate fields, and by prohibiting the sale of surplus war material to all foreign powers.

At present the United States maintains an extremely small and weak military force, our war reserves are entirely inadequate to meet war requirements under the General Mobilization Plan, and we possess no large government owned manufacturing arsenals. If we should be solely dependent upon newly constructed munitions plants in event of national emergency, it would require from twelve to twenty-four months before the rate of production would approximate our war time requirements.

The other great powers mentioned in Article 32 are in a totally different situation. They maintain comparatively large military forces, they possess large war reserves of materiel, and have large government owned or subsidized munitions plants. In event of an emergency, involving hostile action against this country, their situation in this regard alone is so infinitely superior to ours that we could not hope for even successful defensive operations, without the aid of our now existing private munitions industry.

[Page 79]

Any acquiescence by the United States at this time in an international agreement to limit in any manner whatsoever the private or other manufacture of munitions, would in effect perpetuate the present disproportion existing between the munitions producing industry here and abroad, and this is a condition to which the War Department cannot in conscience subscribe. Any international agreement which would produce a universal proportional reduction or limitation, if based on present conditions, would quite naturally affect the United States more adversely than any other great power, since the United States, as stated above, has already so drastically cut down its defensive means. To reduce these or to limit them still further, by direct or by indirect action, would produce a situation in which I should be very loath to assume any responsibility for the national safety.

When the other great powers mentioned in Article 32 of the draft convention have given proof of their sincerity of purpose by reducing their armed forces, reserves of munitions, and munitions production capacity to the approximate level of that of the United States, the War Department would enthusiastically support any effort to solve on a universal and permanent basis, the problem of the limitation of the manufacture, storage, and traffic in arms, munitions, and implements of war. Until such action on the part of the other great powers mentioned is assured, it appears advisable, from the sole viewpoint of national defense, for the United States to reserve to itself full freedom of action as regards the control of the traffic in arms.

In view of the terms of the draft convention of July 16, 1924, I am constrained to reiterate the views expressed in my letter of September 26, 1923,54 on the matter of private manufacture of arms and munitions and the international control of the arms traffic.

Sincerely yours,

John W. Weeks