The Diplomatic Agent and Consul General at Tangier (Blake) to the Secretary of State

No. 656

Sir: I have the honor to inform the Department that the Resident General of France in Morocco has communicated to me, under cover of a note dated September 21, 1931, copies of two Dahirs and two Residential Instructions, in force since January 1930, relative to the requisition for military purposes, of motor vehicles, animals and animal-drawn vehicles. The note contains a request that this legislation be made applicable to American nationals and ressortissants in the Zone of the French Protectorate in Morocco.

The French text and English translation of the French Resident General’s note above mentioned, and of the Shereefian Dahirs and Residential Instructions in question, are annexed hereto.13

In connection with the information concerning the military preparations of France in North Africa, reported in my No. 547 of September 30, 1930,13 the desire now expressed by the French Authorities, that the application of the requisition laws be extended to American citizens and protégés, may perhaps not be without significance.

It is unnecessary to point out that the requisition of American property by the Military Authorities in Morocco impinges upon the immunities enjoyed by American ressortissants and European residents [Page 748] in Morocco under the provisions of the treaties, since the object of the Resident General’s note above referred to is to request the assent of the American Government to a partial waiver of these immunities. However, whether or not such assent should be given is a matter which appears to require exceptionally careful consideration.

Inasmuch as the legislation under discussion deals with military action, it carries with it, perhaps unavoidably, provisions of an inherently arbitrary character, but it is also impossible to eschew the apprehension that the general application of the regulations will in practice be equally arbitrary.

These legislative and administrative measures would therefore constitute a weapon, in the hands of the Franco-Shereefian Authorities, susceptible of abuse to the prejudice of American commercial interests in Morocco.

Aside from the inequity of the arbitrary fixation of indemnities, it would be extremely difficult to obtain assurances of any practical validity for instance that the recruitment of requisitioned property, or that the provisions as to relief from these military servitudes, or that the eventual release of the property, would be carried out with impartiality and without discrimination.

Official acquiescence in the application of the measures to American ressortissants would impart an aspect of legality to means which the Protectorate Authorities might be only too prone to utilize for the purpose of crippling beyond recovery the activities, among others, of certain important American concerns in Morocco such as distributing companies of petroleum products, or of the sales organizations of American automobiles and agricultural tractors, while their competitors of another nationality might be enjoying relatively complete or partial freedom.

The interjection of military jurisdiction and the pretexts of military exigencies would, it is greatly feared, render any redress of eventual complaints an illusory speculation.

It will be seen moreover that the measures referred to are not confined to periods of menacing disturbances, but that the annual census and classification, and particularly the material assemblage and inspection of vehicles and animals which may be ordered at any time, at the whim of the military authorities, are susceptible of occasioning vexatious inconveniences to traders even while normally peaceful conditions are prevailing in the country.

From the point of view of the protection of American economic and trading rights and interests, I am therefore of the opinion that it would be distinctly inadvisable to permit American nationals and ressortissants in the French Zone of Morocco to be subjected to the interferences with their legitimate activities, which are implied in the application to them of the Dahirs and Decrees in question.

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It is only remotely conceivable that requisitioned material would ever be actually required in connection with military operations conducted purely for the pacification of Shereefian territories, and it cannot be doubted that the Dahirs and Residential Instructions, now issued for the enforcement of requisitions of private property, contemplate military needs arising from a conflict which will primarily concern France and some other European Power. In such an eventuality it may be asked to what extent the Government of the United States might deem that its voluntary relinquishment of the pertinent treaty immunities of its ressortissants from military contribution of any kind in Morocco would constitute a derogation from the obligations of impartial neutrality.

The foregoing observation is obviously suggestive of a wide field of implications connected with the political aspects of the question of the American Government’s assent to the legislation under discussion, and the Department might be reluctant upon considerations of this order, as well as upon the grounds of the economic objections above signalized, to grant such assent.

At the same time the Department, while entirely reserving its position, may desire for reasons of general political expediency, to attenuate the effect of an unqualified rejection of the proposition of the Protectorate Government, and in this direction I venture respectfully to suggest that the reply to the Note of the French Resident General might appropriately state that although the Department regretted its inability to assent to such recurrent interferences in the normal commercial activities of American nationals and ressortissants in Morocco, as would appear to result from the application to them of the provisions of the Dahirs and residential instructions referred to, nevertheless, in the event that a situation of exceptional difficulty or disturbance might arise, and upon a specific request made in such circumstances by the Protectorate Government, the Department would not be unwilling to examine with every attention, such action in the premises as the American Government might then deem it possible and proper to take.

I shall await with interest the Department’s instructions in the above matter.

Respectfully yours,

Maxwell Blake
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