The British Ambassador ( Howard ) to the Secretary of State

No. 1014

Sir: I have the honour to refer to the note which you were so good as to address to Mr. Chilton on October 17th, 1923,57 and to previous correspondence regarding the embargo upon the export of arms and munitions of war to China, and to inform you, by direction of Mr. Secretary MacDonald, that His Majesty’s Government feel that the time is now ripe for the definite adoption by the signatory powers of the revised Arms Embargo resolution proposed at the Washington Conference, and of certain portions of the interpretative note. As you are aware, this resolution provides for the prohibition of the export of arms or munitions of war, whether complete or in parts, to China, while the interpretative note appended thereto further provides for the prohibition of the export of aircraft other than commercial aircraft, together with machinery and materials destined exclusively for the manufacture of arms or the equipment of arsenals. You will further be aware that the only Powers of importance who have not yet accepted the whole resolution in principle are now the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

Mr. Secretary MacDonald has lately been in consultation with the competent departments of His Majesty’s Government in regard to the action which it would be necessary to take to enforce the Washington resolution above-mentioned, and in the circumstances, I have been instructed to furnish you with the following explanation of the position of my Government in the matter. By means of [Page 532] an Order in Council dated December 13th, 1921, copies of which are enclosed herein for facility of reference,58 the export of the arms and munitions of war enumerated therein is already prohibited to all destinations except under licence from the Board of Trade, who will continue to refuse to issue licences for the export of such goods to China. As regards the export of aircraft and parts thereof as mentioned in the interpretative note, I would state that although there is at present no restriction upon the export of aeroplanes from the United Kingdom, His Majesty’s Government are prepared to take the necessary steps to obtain the addition of the words “aircraft and component parts thereof” to the Order in Council referred to above. In order, however, that the export of aircraft to countries other than China may suffer no interference, His Majesty’s Government propose to issue through the Board of Trade a general licence permitting aircraft to be exported freely to countries other than China.

As regards machinery and materials destined for warlike purposes, also referred to in the interpretative note, His Majesty’s Government do not consider it possible to prohibit the export of “machinery destined exclusively for the manufacture of arms or the equipment of arsenals,” as in the opinion of my Government this would not only be impossible to administer but also it is very doubtful whether they have the power to prohibit the exportation of such machinery, in view of the provisions of Section 8 of the Customs and Inland Revenue Act, 1879, as amended by Section 17 of the Finance Act, 1921. His Majesty’s Government desire me to point out, however, that materials so destined are already very largely covered by the list of articles specifically prohibited to be exported by the Order in Council of December 13th, 1921.

In so far as my Government are concerned, therefore, the situation is that they are now in a position practically to enforce the Washington resolution and a considerable portion of the interpretative note. Consequently, now that sufficient unanimity has been reached among the signatories of the Embargo Agreement, I have been instructed to enquire whether the United States Government, assuming that they are prepared, if they have not done so already, to adopt equivalent administrative measures themselves, would be disposed to make formal proposals to the various governments concerned for the adoption, from January 1st, 1925, of the Washington resolution and of at least so much of the interpretative note as His Majesty’s Government are able to enforce. In this connection, I would add that my Government, although, as has been explained above, unable to enforce the portion of the interpretative note relating [Page 533] to machinery destined exclusively for the manufacture of arms or the equipment of arsenals, will nevertheless continue to discourage transactions coming under this heading, on the understanding that the other governments concerned do likewise. The Governments of His Majesty’s Dominions overseas and the Government of India are prepared to take corresponding action. In conclusion I would state that if the other governments concerned express their willingness to adopt the resolution and to take steps to enforce it, the necessary additions will be made to the Order in Council of 1921.

I request that I may be favoured at an early date with an expression of the views of the United States Government upon the matters dealt with in this note.

I have [etc.]

Esme Howard