500.A15a3/721: Telegram

The Chairman of the American Delegation (Stimson) to the Acting Secretary of State


97. The lawyers representing the several powers have been meeting during the past week with a view to agreeing upon provisions of the treaty to regulate use of submarines in warfare.

Proposal has been made by us to adopt text of the first four articles, generally known as the Root resolutions, of treaty regulating use of submarines and noxious gases in warfare which all powers at Washington Conference in 1922 signed and which was subsequently ratified by all with exception of France.49

Being unable to obtain abolition of submarines we desired to obtain the most effective attainable restriction of their use. The best way to accomplish our object seemed to us to propose adoption of the first four articles of the 1922 submarine treaty on account of prestige they have derived from their acceptance by the Washington Conference, and from their ratification by the Senate of the United States and by the constitutional authorities of three of the other four powers.

It now seems clear, as a result of the preliminary discussions, that the French will not agree to article III of our proposal making provision [Page 34] for trial and punishment, as if for an act of piracy, of persons who violate rules set forth in article I; and further that the French will not agree to article IV, which prohibits use of submarines as commerce destroyers as between the parties to the treaty.

The following clause has been proposed by the French representatives: “In operations against merchant vessels, submarines are bound to conform to the rules of international law which govern surface war vessels.”

Our articles I, II, and IV might be acceptable to Italy, but objection is made to article III, which provides for punishment. The French clause quoted above is preferred by Italy to our article I.

Probably Japan would accept the four articles of the 1922 treaty as we have proposed, although the Japanese do not like article III. They may also have some suggestions in the way of verbal alterations.

Great Britain is willing to accept all four articles of the 1922 submarine treaty, but does not feel that article IV will be a real deterrent. The British think, moreover, that France cannot be induced to accept more than articles I and II.

My strong personal feeling is that the French proposal will be much less effective than articles I and II would be, in that the clause proposed would not make clear exactly what the rules of war required and, as a result, in the event of another war, it would not so strongly and promptly crystallize the public opinion of the world against possible submarine abuses. See speech by Mr. Elihu Root in support of articles I and II.50 My personal inclination also is to favor article III, but I am keeping my mind open as to possible improvement.

If possible, I wish that you would consult Mr. Root and Mr. John Bassett Moore51 and then give me the benefit of their views, as well as of your own, on the following questions:

Do you agree that articles I and II of the 1922 submarine treaty are a more desirable form of statement than is the proposed French clause?
Is inclusion of article III essential? Some hold opinion that the prescription of punishment of an individual for act ordered by his Government would not have much preventive effect.
In event that the number of powers participating in the submarine treaty were reduced from five to three, would you think desirable the inclusion of article IV, which prohibits use of submarines as commerce destroyers as between the three powers while other powers [Page 35] are not bound by this prohibition unless it be by later accession to the treaty? This last question is not to be considered from the standpoint of national policy but from that of the enforceability of articles I and II.

  1. Telegram in three sections.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1922, vol. i, p. 267.
  3. Conference on the Limitation of Armament, Washington, November 12, 1921–February 6, 1922 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1922), p. 268.
  4. Experts in international law. Mr. Root had been Secretary of State, 1905–1909; Mr. Moore had been Counselor of the Department of State, 1913–1914.