The Secretary of State to the American Delegation
Sirs: With reference to the Department’s general instruction to you of even date with respect to the forthcoming international conference to be held at Geneva on May 4th, to consider the conclusion of a convention with respect to arms traffic, there is given herewith for your information and guidance a statement of the views of the Department with respect to the attitude of the American Delegation in the event of the participation in the conference of representatives of the régime now functioning in Russia or the signature of, or adherence to, the proposed convention by Russia through that régime.
It is assumed that no action by the American Delegation or by this Government should be construed or open to a fair construction as constituting recognition of the regime now functioning in Russia.
The bare participation of the United States through an American Delegation in a conference to deal with traffic in arms called by the League of Nations in which delegates representing the Soviet régime are also participants would signify nothing.
Again, the bare signature of a multi-lateral Convention by American delegates which was signed also by Soviet delegates would not in itself constitute recognition of the Soviet Government as the Government of Russia, although possibly the formal ratification of the Convention without explanation might be subject to divergent constructions. It may be observed in this connection that the Allied Powers in permitting Russia to sign with them the so-called Straits Convention53 at Rome on August 14, 1923, did not regard their action as constituting recognition of the Soviet regime. No reservations were made by them. It has been pointed out, however, by a recent commentator, Ernest LaGarde, that it is difficult to reconcile with non-recognition what took place. Nevertheless, he points out that the Soviet Government made no effort to claim that its participation and signature constituted recognition of their régime as the Government of Russia.
In the present case, however, Article 32 of the proposed Convention declares that it shall not come into force until it shall have been ratified by twelve Powers, among whom are specified both the United States and Russia. While the Russian state as such may be said in a strict sense to be the party contemplated, that state nevertheless is now acting through a régime not recognized by the United States as the Government of Russia. Article 32 would thus seem to indicate that the Convention might become operative upon the action of Russia [Page 49]as the twelfth state, making known its consent to the Convention through the medium of the Soviet regime, and that consequently all of the signatory Powers were disposed to permit the arrangement to become operative and binding upon each through the action of the Soviet régime. Such consent unless explained might well be taken to amount to recognition of that régime as the Government of Russia.
Again, it would be highly unwise for a country, such as our own, not recognizing the Soviet régime, to undertake any contractual obligation with respect to Russia so long as it was represented by a regime not recognized by us.
Accordingly, it is desired that, as a safeguard against any possible misconstruction of the attitude of the United States in signing a Convention at Geneva, or in accepting a Convention signed in its behalf, appropriate reservation be made covering the three following points: first, the effect of signing; secondly, the effect of failure on the part of the United States to object to the operation of Article 32 of the Convention; and, thirdly, the suspension of the operation of the Convention as between the United States and a signatory or adhering Power represented by a régime not recognized by the United States until such Power or signatory is represented by a Government recognized as such by the United States. The text of a reservation covering these points is set forth herein below.
It may be observed that this Government has consented in correspondence with other interested Powers to permit Russia to adhere to the treaty concerning Spitzbergen under terms which could in no wise be regarded as implying recognition of its Soviet Government.54 It is understood that there is no objection abroad to this action by the United States, although there is not yet entire agreement as to the phraseology to be used with reference to the Soviet Government.
In order to deprive the Soviet régime of cause to complain that the United States is thwarting its effort to represent Russia in its foreign affairs, it is suggested that it might be unwise for the American Delegation to endeavor to have stricken from Article 32 the provision with respect to Russia. So long as this Government is abundantly able to prevent misconstruction of its acts or those of the American Delegation by appropriate reservations, it should safeguard its action by that method rather than by aggressive steps serving to weaken the position of Russia or its delegates in the conference.
The action of the American Delegation in signing this Convention is taken with the clear understanding that it is not to be construed [Page 50]as constituting the recognition by the United States of the regime or entity functioning in any signatory or adhering Power as the Government thereof which is not recognized by the United States as the Government of such signatory or adhering Power; secondly, that the failure of the United States to object to the coming into force of this Convention through the ratification thereof by any specified Power pursuant to Article 32 through the medium of a regime or entity functioning therein which has not been recognized by the United States’ as the Government of such Power, shall not be regarded as constituting the recognition by the United States of such régime or entity as the Government of the Power in whose behalf it acts; and, thirdly, that the acceptance of this Convention by the United States shall not put into force any contractual obligation between itself and any signatory or adhering Power represented by a régime or entity not recognized by the United States as the Government thereof until such Power is represented by a Government recognized by the United States.
I am [etc.]