500.A15A4 Steering Committee/96: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the American Delegate (Wilson)

219. This telegram is in reply to the questions raised in your 402, October 6, 8 p.m., 403, October 8, 5 p.m., and 410, October 14, 4 p.m.

1. In asking for instructions relating to a proposal for the complete abolition of all private manufacture of implements of war, you drew a distinction between expediency and constitutionality. We can see no advantage to be gained in viewing the problem from any standpoint but the former, as it is inherently unacceptable. Any differentiation of treatment of private and state manufacture, or any attempt to regulate private manufacture to the exclusion of state manufacture, would be fraught with danger to our national defence. It would oblige the United States and other nations which do not possess extensive government arsenals, either to go to the vast expense of constructing arsenals, or to remain dependent upon nations already so equipped for the supply of arms and munitions necessary to their adequate defense.

2. The prohibition of the manufacture of prohibited types of weapons is a necessary corollary of the President’s proposals. To abolish a weapon and yet permit its manufacture involves a contradiction of thought. This Government will accordingly give favorable consideration to any reasonable proposal to prohibit the manufacture of such weapons provided the same regulations are stipulated for all manufacture, both public and private.

We must of course consider our constitutional limitations. A careful study of this phase of the problem has just been completed by [Page 345]the Legal Adviser.87 As a result, we feel able to discard the assertion previously made that the control of private manufacture is unconstitutional, but we do not feel that we can go to the other extreme and assert that it is definitely constitutional, inasmuch as the courts have not passed upon the precise question at issue. Whatever the executive may think with respect to the constitutionality of a conventional arrangement on this subject, or of legislation enacted pursuant to the convention, everyone appreciates that the Senate (as to the Convention), the Congress (as to any supplementary legislation), and the Courts (as to both the Convention and legislation) must after all be the final arbiters.

All things considered, however, we believe that we would be justified in agreeing by conventional arrangement to prohibiting all manufacture of prohibited types of weapons.

A question of tactics, however, arises on which we should like your advice. In view of the uncertain situation as regards the division of authority under the Constitution, please telegraph your opinion as to whether you should pass over these doubts in silence, or make an explanation to the effect that if Congress or the Courts should decide that the former did not have the constitutional power to give effect to this part of the convention, such a decision should not be regarded as a breach of our international undertakings.

3. As to the responsibility, if any, that this Government might be able to accept with respect to the issue of licenses governing importation and exportation of arms, this is clearly and exclusively within the authority of the treaty making power and of the Congress under their power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce. We can see little advantage however for the Conference to complicate its program by introducing into the convention new provisions in regard to the regulation of the international traffic in arms before even the Convention of 192588 has entered into force. A resolution urging the ratification of this convention or even its incorporation into the framework of the new disarmament convention would seem calculated to produce the desired results. You may, at your discretion, state that this Government will make every effort to secure, during the forthcoming session of Congress, the advice and consent of the Senate to its ratification.

4. Madariaga’s specific suggestion for the deposit of copies of licenses with a central office in Geneva was embodied in the Convention [Page 346]of Saint Germain.89 It was superseded by the provisions of articles 6, 7 and 9 of the Convention of 1925. In view of these provisions there would appear to be no necessity, if that Convention were ratified, for setting up the machinery which he suggests, though we see no insuperable objection to depositing copies of licenses of arms shipments with a central coordinating office. Madariaga’s further suggestions, such as control of surplus, seem beyond the range of practical realization.

  1. Green H. Hackworth.
  2. Ratified by the United States, with reservation, June 21, 1935. Owing to insufficient ratifications (14 are necessary) to bring this convention into force, it is filed among the “unperfected treaties” of the United States. (Unperfected Treaty I–10.) For text, see Foreign Relations, 1925, vol. i, p. 61.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1920, vol. i, p. 180.