871A.014 Beasarabia/189

The Rumanian Minister (Davila) to the Secretary of State

Dear Mr. Secretary: As agreed in our last conversation, I have embodied in the attached aide-mémoire my views on the opportunities for constructive cooperation now arising for the new American administration, insofar as the relations between Russia on one side and Roumania and the Little Entente on the other side are concerned.

I wish to make it clear that the first part of the aide-mémoire contains my own interpretation of my Government’s views with regard to the possibility of friendly mediation by the United States, and that should they be favourably received, I would be grateful if I could be notified as promptly as possible, in order to acquaint my Government with this development and obtain its formal approval of the suggested course of action.

I take the liberty of stressing here an idea outlined in my aide-mémoire: that Russia’s policy towards Roumania can well be regarded as a touchstone for the value of her pacific protestations. Even leaving Roumania’s interests completely aside, no better test could be imagined for the ultimate aims of Russian policy, in view of the great interest she has in making the normalization of her relations with the countries [Page 662]forming the Little Entente possible, than her attitude on the Bessarabian question. As I have indicated, if Russia insists on a plebiscite, which in its turn explains why she refuses a satisfactory formulation of the nonaggression pact she herself proposes, it proves one thing very clearly: that stripped of all sophisms, Russia’s policy is not one of genuine and lasting peace. If one really wants peace, one has to be willing to fulfill the conditions which alone can make it lasting. Otherwise, it has no value.

Neither Roumania nor her allies have been able so far to obtain from Russia a frank avowal of her aims, for she knows perfectly well that her demand for a plebiscite is absurd, cannot be granted, and is, therefore, a mere subterfuge to mask ulterior motives. In her anxiety to obtain American recognition, she might be forced to formulate her objectives clearly and unequivocally, in order to satisfy a perfectly legitimate American demand for a reassuring statement of her aims, inasfar as they affect world peace. She could not refuse, neither could she risk an unsatisfactory reply. And I repeat, as long as she puts impossible conditions for the normalization of her relations with her neighbours, her policy cannot be considered pacific.

I beg [etc.]


The Rumanian Legation to the Department of State


Assuming the widespread belief that the new administration is not opposed to the idea of recognizing the Russian Government, to be correct, it must be assumed that the numerous implications and consequences of such a step are receiving the renewed and most careful consideration of the Department of State.

The Department will, therefore, undoubtedly welcome an exposé from the Roumanian point of view, of some of the aspects of this question, particularly as Russia and Roumania are neighbours and there are a certain number of problems, mostly deriving from the union of Bessarabia with Roumania, still unsettled. This situation vitally affects world peace, and, to quote the words of a recent statement of the Department of State, “the promotion of peace, in no matter what part of the world, is of concern to all nations. It has been and is the desire of the American people to participate in efforts directed towards that end.”

Roumania’s attitude, briefly, is the following:

Bessarabia, that is the territory which, since the foundation of the ancient Moldavian Principality, in the Fourteenth Century, constituted its eastern half, situated between the Pruth and the Dniester, was [Page 663]annexed in 1812, in violation of treaties and international law, by Russia, after her victory over the Turks, the suzerain power. After a series of vicissitudes, marked by renewed treaty violations on the part of Russia, the population of that province, christened by her conquerors Bessarabia, decided to take advantage of the right of self-determination of peoples, including the complete separation from the state into the composition of which they enter, proclaimed by the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic in 1917, and declared themselves first an autonomous republic, later independent and finally, in March 1918, voted their reunion with Roumania,13 a state itself resulted from the union, in 1859, of Moldavia and Wallachia.

Roumania takes the stand that this act is internationally valid regardless of its recognition by any other power, including Russia. However, it is not denied that even a valid act needs general recognition, which although it adds nothing to its validity, is necessary in order to produce its full effects “inter tertios,” and that the creation of new states or territorial changes having important international consequences, it is customary, in order to give them effect, that these changes should be recognized by other states, either formally or else implicitly, by the fact of settling by negotiations the consequences above referred to.

The explanation of the apparent inconsistency between the action of Roumania in securing formal treaty recognition by the principal European powers* of the union of Bessarabia (in the Treaty of Paris, October 1920),14 and its contention that formal Russian recognition is not only unnecessary but not even desired, is to be found in the circumstance that Russia herself had never secured either in 1812 or 1878, Roumanian recognition of the seizure and incorporation of that province. If recognition by the parent state is deemed essential for the acquisition of title, to a territory, Russia would have had to obtain it from Moldavia in 1812 and Roumania in 1878, as Turkey could never validly cede territories which did not belong to her. Turkey had only rights of suzerainty over the Roumanian principalities and had expressly guaranteed by treaty the integrity of their territory. This did not prevent Russia and Roumania from signing treaties affecting the consequences of the change of sovereignty over Bessarabia. Furthermore, should Roumania have seemed to admit that the validity of the Union of Bessarabia was dependent upon formal recognition by the Russian Government, the danger arose that the whole question might again be reopened in [Page 664]case of a change of government in Russia, which might not have recognized the acts of her present dictatorial rulers.

The Russian position is very curious: In September 1921, in the course of the Russo-Roumanian negotiations which took place in Warsaw, the chief Russian delegate, Mr. Karakhan, said (privately) to the Roumanian delegate, Mr. Filality: “We know that Bessarabia will remain yours, as we do not want to, or cannot, take it back; but you must pay the price of our recognition of your title to Bessarabia, an act which will weigh heavily in the balance later on.”

The price was the abandonment by Roumania of her demand that the gold reserves of the National Bank of Roumania (about $80,000,000) which had been sent to Moscow for safekeeping during the war, be returned, and the signature of a treaty of neutrality with Russia. Roumania refused to pay for what she considered the mere reparation of an ancient wrong, and the negotiations were broken off.

In 1924, Russia made fresh advances to Roumania, and another conference was arranged in Vienna. On this occasion, the conference broke up before it really began, as the Russians unexpectedly came out, at the outset, with a new theory: They had decided to consider themselves as invested with a kind of moral trusteeship for the races formerly part of the Russian Empire, and this sacred trust obliged them to see to it that former subject races could express their will without any shadow of a doubt as to its freedom. Therefore, they had to insist on a plebiscite in Bessarabia, before recognizing the status quo. At the same time, Mr. Krestinsky solemnly declared that Russia did not and never would base her claims on former imperialistic czarist rights of sovereignty. (The same point of view was reiterated in 1929 by Mr. Litvinoff to Mr. Davila in Moscow, on the occasion of the signature of the Litvinoff Peace Pact).15 The inconsistency, to say the least, of the Russian thesis, is too glaring to need any rebuttal. Not only did they never allow any plebiscites in Russia proper, but there never has been any suggestion on their part of a plebiscite in any of the territories which they reconquered, after having even formally recognized their independence, (The Far Eastern Republic, Georgia, etc.), not to mention all the other countries, formerly part of Russia, which broke away and whose territorial status is now recognized by her.

It is hard to discern the reasons for the Russian attitude. Perhaps they are putting conditions which they know Roumania cannot accept, in the hope of inducing Roumania to offer, in exchange for their withdrawal, in the words of Mr. Karakhan, a higher price for their acquiescence [Page 665]in the territorial status quo. Perhaps, on the other hand, they have no intention of abandoning their claim at any price, but in that case, its maintenance can only be explained by the intention of keeping open indefinitely a source of friction, which might sometime offer a convenient pretext for creating trouble, to be taken advantage of when world conditions may seem favourable for communist expansion.

It would obviously be of paramount interest not only for Roumania, but also for the rest of the capitalist world, to force the Russian Government to lay its cards on the table. Should it insist on the plebiscite in Bessarabia, which it knows perfectly well can never be granted, and whose acceptance no foreign country would think of urging, and its corollary the wording “existing conflicts” (litiges existants) in the draft of the proposed nonaggression treaty, the conclusion would be obvious that Russia persists in nourishing ulterior motives, which cannot be but highly disquieting for the capitalist world and should give those contemplating resumption of normal relations with Russia food for serious thought.

There exists, however, a third possibility: That the argument advanced by Russian statesmen on various occasions in conversations with Roumanian diplomats (for instance, by Mr. Litvinoff to Mr. Davila in 1929), namely that their public opinion makes it exceedingly difficult for them to reverse their attitude towards Roumania, is more than a mere pretext for raising their price and that they indeed would need some outstanding success in the foreign field to overshadow a retreat from their stand on the Bessarabian question. They undoubtedly would demand some direct concessions from Roumania, probably the same they demanded in 1921, that is abandonment of her claim for the return of the gold of the National Bank, and a nonaggression treaty. It is not impossible that Roumania might accept now what she refused in 1921, it being very unlikely that much of that gold is still available, and the same reasons for Roumania to refuse a nonaggression pact, no longer existing, providing it is satisfactorily worded.

The Russian Government would probably prefer to avoid a formal and explicit recognition of Roumanian sovereignty over Bessarabia, and as Roumania, for the reasons outlined above, does not wish it either, a treaty could probably be agreed upon, in which the consequences of the change of sovereignty might be settled, i.e., questions of navigation on the Dniester, communications, the exact boundary in the “liman” of the Dniester, abandonment of mutual claims for property and damages, consular and commercial questions, etc. It goes without saying that the controversy concerning the inclusion of the word “existing conflicts,” which prevented the conclusion of a non-aggression pact until now, [Page 666]would “eo ipso” become without object and no difficulty should stand in the way of its conclusion.

As a matter of fact, even the signature of the latter treaty alone, would go far towards improving relations between the two countries, an improvement which might easily lead to a friendly settlement of the other outstanding matters, deriving from the change of sovereignty over Bessarabia. Although Mr. Litvinoff is still anxious to sign this treaty, he insists on the formula “that the settlement of ‘existing conflicts’ (litiges existants) or ‘present and future conflicts’ must only be sought by pacific means”, and that the treaty should only run for five years. The Roumanian Government holds that the words “existing” or “present” might imply a recognition by Roumania of the Russian contention that her acquiescence in the present territorial status of Bessarabia is indispensable and that should it be withheld, the dispute would have to be settled by arbitration. This, of course, Roumania refuses to do, and neither would any other country accept to arbitrate a foreign claim on one of its provinces. The limitation of the treaty’s validity to five years also gives ground for serious misgivings, as it is hard to explain why similar treaties concluded by Russia with France and Latvia for instance, are of unlimited duration, and that with Roumania not. The inference is that Russia is actuated in this matter also by ulterior motives, a fact which is far from reassuring. There are various other minor objections to the wording of the proposed nonaggression treaty, but it can safely be assumed that should Russia abandon her insistence on the wording “existing” or “present and future” (conflicts) Roumania would be prepared to sign the treaty. If Russia really desired to live on friendly terms with her neighbour and not merely sign a truce to gain time for her consolidation, it is difficult to understand why she insists on that formula. She certainly knows, that in order to ensure a durable peace and the indispensable feeling of security and confidence, without which peace can only be precarious, she must acquiesce in the Bessarabian status-quo. A nonaggression treaty would naturally be a valuable corollary. However, Russia is much more anxious to obtain it than Roumania.

It is with regard to the mutually satisfactory normalization, on the bases outlined above, of Russo-Roumanian relations, that the United States might now have a unique opportunity to interpose their good offices, in case, of course, they do begin conversations with Russia on the subject of recognition.

As suggested above, Russia might be in reality quite anxious to resume friendly relations with Roumania, but her pride might prevent her from making the first step, and neither would Roumania be willing to weaken her position by requesting a resumption of negotiations. The [Page 667]friendly interventions of Poland and France in the past, have failed, and it is not impossible that their efforts may have been more harmful than helpful, Russia not wishing to appear to have given in to the pressure of these two European powers, insofar as the settlement of her relations with Roumania are concerned. The United States are the only great power left which can still offer Russia something she ardently desires, namely recognition. It is, therefore, not impossible that she might be quite willing to listen to a suggestion from a disinterested power like the United States to settle the Bessarabian question, in the first place to please them, in the second because she would only stand to gain from a resumption of normal relations with Roumania and the whole Little Entente (providing, of course, she is sincere in her pacific protestations), and in the third, because the gain in prestige for the Russian Government accruing from American recognition would completely outbalance and overshadow whatever internal dissatisfaction might be stirred by receding from her stand on the Bessarabian question.

It should be observed that the Russian Government has repeatedly seemed quite anxious to settle outstanding differences with Roumania, provided it could be done without “losing face.” In the first place, it is undoubtedly worried about the possible attitude of Roumania in case of a conflict in the Far East. Although it is unthinkable that Roumania could have aggressive designs against Russia if they enjoyed normal relations, the Russians probably fear that if, under present conditions, they were engaged in a hard struggle, Roumania might be tempted to intervene on behalf of the unfortunate inhabitants of the “Moldavian Republic,” rather imprudently created by the Bolsheviki themselves on the eastern bank of the Dniester, or in case of not unlikely separatist movements in the Ukraine, might be in a position, as a neighbouring power, to give them direct or indirect assistance. Although such fears have but slight foundation, the Russian complex of continual fear of a capitalist onslaught would force her to keep a substantial force on her western frontier, thus considerably weakening her military power in the East.

Furthermore, the Russian Government is obviously more and more anxious to take its place in the family of nations, and it cannot be a matter of indifference whether it has or has not normal relations not only with Roumania, but also, as said above, with Czechoslovakia and Jugoslavia. It must not be forgotten that the agreement signed recently between these three powers,16 with a total population of fifty million inhabitants, binds them to follow a common foreign policy, and failing [Page 668]normal diplomatic relations with Roumania, they cannot be resumed by Russia with the other two members of the Little Entente either.

The importance of this point cannot be sufficiently emphasized, especially in view of the slavic character of Roumanian two partners in this newly created weighty international unit. There is no doubt that the Little Entente having recently manifested in Geneva its firm resolve to have an independent policy—which will be one of the determining factors in the European situation—an American suggestion would certainly be received in Moscow with great interest and in case of success would furnish America an opportunity to achieve a diplomatic triumph of immense importance for the consolidation of peace.

Another argument of great weight must be the fascist victory in Germany. This event might easily hasten a rapprochement between the U.S.S.R. and the democratic states of the world and prove to be an important milestone on the path of Russian evolution towards western ideals. It might well turn out to be the most important result of American recognition, if this materializes, as chances for commercial benefits do not seem very encouraging after the experiences of France, Germany and England. As the countries forming the Little Entente are to be found in the camp of democracy (Yugoslavia is only a temporary exception, as her ruler is firmly resolved to reintroduce parliamentary democratic government, as soon as the present difficulties, principally in the foreign field, will have disappeared; a step in that direction was made recently by the introduction of a new electoral law, and the process will undoubtedly be hastened after the recent strengthening of the Entente) a contribution of democratic America towards a rapprochement between the Little Entente and Russia would be of the greatest significance for the pacification and the reorganization of Europe, providing, of course, such an evolution on the part of Russia is deemed likely by the U.S.A.

That friendly relations between Roumania and her eastern neighbour would greatly facilitate disarmament, is obvious.

A further practical benefit for the United States, which would accrue from successful mediation in this controversy, would undoubtedly be improved trade with Roumania. Her exposed position forces her, whether she likes it or not, to rely to a great extent for assistance in case of need on those powers which are able and willing to help. That promise of assistance has to be balanced by the grant of commercial and financial concessions. Consequently, the lesser the probability of needing assistance, the more independence Roumania would enjoy in her economic policies, and she would be able to open her markets more widely to other countries, particularly to those for whom also sentimental considerations and popular feeling would militate.

[Page 669]

One of many precedents for the suggested mediation can be found in the history of American relations with Spain.

The words of Mr. Clay, Secretary of State, (to Mr. Middleton, Minister to Russia, May 10, 1825) can mutatis mutandis be applied exactly to the present situation between Russia and Roumania:

“When the epoch of separation between a parent state and its colony, from whatever cause, arrives, the struggle for self-government on one hand, and for the preservation of power on the other, produces mutual exasperation and leads to a most embittered and ferocious war. It is then that it becomes the duty of third powers to interpose their humane offices, and calm the passions and enlighten the counsels of the parties. And the necessity of their efforts is greatest with the parent country, whose pride and whose wealth and power, swelled by the colonial contributions, create the most repugnance to an acquiescence in a severance which has been ordained by providence.”17

John Bassett Moore adds:

“In conformity with the views expressed by Mr. Clay in the foregoing extract, the United States sought, by direct representations, as well as by the counsels which it solicited friendly European governments to tender, to induce Spain to recognize the independence of Mexico and of the Central and South American governments.”18

Should the Government of the United States, for some reason or other, deem it inadvisable to use their good offices in order to attempt to remove radically the cause of friction between the U.S.S.R. and Roumania, or should the attempt prove unsuccessful, which seems unlikely, it would appear highly desirable that the New Deal announced by the President should include at least a revision of the attitude taken so far by the Department of State, with regard to the political status of Bessarabia.

Alone among all the countries of the world, excepting of course Russia, which tacitly or formally have recognized that Bessarabia is an integral part of Roumania, the United States maintain an overt discrimination intended to show that they still consider this matter unsettled. This discrimination is to be found in the immigration quotas, which provide a separate quota for Bessarabia.

The question can well be raised whether there is any justification for the maintenance of this double anomaly, if there ever was one. It might undoubtedly create a great deal of resentment in Roumania and constitute another barrier against economic concessions. The feeling exists among Roumanians that it is hard to see why Roumania should grant more favourable treatment to American trade, when in the only important matter in which the United States so far had occasion to discriminate [Page 670]against Roumania, they chose to do it. As will be more fully shown later, America is not only the only country which adopted that attitude, but it is only with regard to Roumania that it is maintained, whereas it has long since given it up in all similar cases involving other countries (the Baltic States, Wilna, etc.) The contention that in refusing to recognize Bessarabia as an integral part of Roumania, the Department of State has merely refrained from taking sides, is untenable, for the Russians do not claim that that province is Russian, but merely that it is not Roumanian. The Department has therefore adopted the Russian thesis, purely and simply. Furthermore, Roumania is de facto in possession of Bessarabia and expects recognition of that fact, in conformity with all precedents of international law, whereas Russia is merely advancing a nebulous and specious objection founded solely on a novel communist principle, invented “ad hoc,” six years after the event.

The American attitude, if persisted in, also tends to stiffen Russian reluctance to settle her differences with Roumania on reasonable terms, as it seems to give moral support to their attitude on the Bessarabian question.

It might also put the United States in an embarrassing position, in case of a Russian aggression in that province. Recent developments in the American peace policy seem to preclude an attitude of complete aloofness in any conflict. The fact that Russian jurists might be quite capable of evolving a theory of self defense in what the United States would be considering “no man’s land” would create a difficult situation for the Department of State.

The attitude preserved so far by the United States towards Bessarabia has been described above as constituting a double anomaly:

In the first place, it is an anomaly that one of two states enjoying normal and friendly relations should not recognize the sovereignty of the other over its entire territory. The American Government has signed numerous treaties and agreements with the Roumanian Government since 1918, which are meant to apply to Bessarabia also. The “exequaturs” asked for and granted to American consuls include that province too.

In the second place, although the Department of State has never explained or justified its point of view in writing, it has given to understand that it was based on the principles enunciated by Mr. Colby in his note of August 10, 1920,19 but when confronted by the objection that in that case neither Lithuania, Esthonia, etc., should have been recognized, replied that the difference was that these territorial changes had been recognized by the Soviet Government. Yet the Colby note expressly stated that the Soviet Government could not speak for Russia. The [Page 671]recognition of the Vilna territory as part of Poland is another striking instance of disregard for the principles of that note, and could well serve as a precedent for Bessarabia. The only conclusion to be drawn is that the Colby doctrine was abandoned as far back as 1922, in so far as former Russian territories were concerned, with but one sole exception, Bessarabia. The history of the United States themselves provide more than one precedent exactly applicable to Bessarabia for recognition of territorial changes, regardless of the consent of the former sovereign, and even when it was charged that foreign interference had helped to bring about the successful revolution which preceded them, Panama and Texas, for instance. The similarity between the case of Texas and Bessarabia was discussed at length in a memorandum of the Roumanian Legation (Apr. 1932),20 but it might be of interest to review the situation briefly once more, from the point of view of precedents and international law.

No one will nowadays dispute the advantage, for the “comitas gentium” of creating, whenever possible, a stability of international order, by recognizing existing conditions, unless it be achieved in violation of international agreements specifically destined to prevent such violations. Prior to the signature of the Pact of Paris, every mode of acquisition of territory, even through a war of ruthless conquest, was considered legitimate and was recognized by the nations of the world, provided the situation seemed destined to be of sufficient durability. Since 1929, war cannot create a valid title, but all the other time honoured modes of transfer of sovereignty have remained legitimate. It is hard to see on what grounds any state can justify, in any particular case, an exception to well established traditions, especially when it has consistently followed them itself.

That Roumania has, since 1918, exercised continuous and undisturbed sovereignty over Bessarabia, is undisputed. There are apparently two opinions concerning the mode of acquisition of this sovereignty, but whichever theory is adopted, the legitimacy of that title is undisputable, and hence its recognition should be accorded by all friendly or even impartial third powers.

The Roumanian contention is that Russia, the former sovereign state, abandoned whatever rights she had over Bessarabia, by the well known proclamation of November 2, 1917,21 recognizing the right of all subject races to complete secession. Bessarabia, like many other Russian provinces, immediately proclaimed her autonomy, in January 1918 her independence, and in March of the same year her reunion with Roumania. But even if Russia had not recognized the right to secession, Bessarabia [Page 672]enjoyed the right, universally conceded but especially so in America, to break away and establish her independence. As an independent state, it had the further right to dispose of its sovereignty as it thought fit, in this case to merge it with Roumanian sovereignty. The parallelism between Roumanian acquisition of Bessarabia and the acquisition of Texas by the United States is too striking to need further amplification. But as in some instances the Russian claim has been reechoed that the presence in Bessarabia of some Roumanian troops for police purposes vitiated the freedom of expression of popular will in Bessarabia, and, therefore, made it impossible that the fact of her independence should be recognized, even retroactively, by third powers, the reproduction of a part of President Pierce’s message of May 15, 1856, should be of striking interest:

“We do not go behind the fact of a foreign Government exercising actual power to investigate questions of legitimacy; we do not inquire into the causes which may have led to a change of Government. To us it is indifferent whether a successful revolution has been aided by foreign intervention or not; whether insurrection has overthrown the existing government and another has been established in its place according to preexisting forms or in a manner adopted for the occasion by those whom we may find in the actual possession of powers. All these matters we leave to the peoples and public authorities of the particular country to determine. And their deliberation [determination], whether it be by a positive action or by ascertained acquiescence, is to us a sufficient warranty of the legitimacy of the new government.”22

The reason usually advanced by representatives of the Department of State to justify its exceptional attitude in the case of Roumania, has been that the independence of Bessarabia had been of too short duration to satisfy the traditional (but by no means invariable, as the case of Panama proves) requirement of proof of stability before recognizing a new state. In that case, the acquisition of Bessarabia by Roumania would not fit exactly into any of the modes recognized by international law. It would not be exactly occupation, neither would it be conquest, as Roumania was never at war with Russia (this Russia recognized formally in the preamble to the Litvinoff Pact of 1929). Some new mode would have to be defined, somewhere between the two, partaking of some of the characteristics of relinquishment, albeit with the implication of conditionality on the part of Russia, and some of those of occupation. Whatever name would be chosen is, however, immaterial, as the mode of acquisition would in any case fall well within the limits drawn by international law and practice for legitimate acquisition of title. It would be absurd to maintain that a change of sovereignty can be properly [Page 673]recognized, regardless of the consent of the parent state, if a seceding territory remains independent, but not if it merges its sovereignty with that of another state. And the policy of the United States has been invariably to ignore the refusal of recognition by the parent state. All the South American republics, for instance, were recognized by America long before Spain did so.

Likewise, even if title to Bessarabia had changed hands as the result of conquest, it ought to be recognized, as consent of the former sovereign has never been deemed indispensable, for the good reason that often the whole former state was absorbed and there was no one left to grant that consent (for instance, the South African Republics, conquered by Great Britain). It might at most be conceded that in case the new territory does not remain independent, a somewhat closer examination of the acquiescence of the population might be insisted on. The other conditions would obviously remain the same. But, as stated above, the history of the last fifteen years, confirms beyond any possible doubt the complete and active acquiescence of the vast majority of Bessarabians in the present situation.

The well established American doctrine in the matter of changes of sovereignty is to make recognition conditional on:

A reasonable period of stability of the new situation;
Acquiescence, even tacit, of the population;
Willingness and ability of the new government to discharge its obligations.

The case of Bessarabia meets all these tests. More than that: It has in its favour, in common with Texas, the unusual circumstance that Russia conceded in advance her right to independence. The relevant part of the proclamation, reproduced in the Izvestia of November 3, 1917, is as follows:

“The Congress of Soviets in July of this year has decided the right of the peoples of Russia to free self-determination.

“The second Congress of Soviets in October of this year confirmed this inalienable right of the peoples of Russia with greater finality and definiteness.

“In carrying out the will of these congresses, the Council of Peoples’ Commissars decided to lay down as a basis for its activity on the question of the nationalities of Russia the following principles:

The equality and sovereignty of the peoples of Russia;
The right of the peoples of Russia to free self-determination to the point of separation and formation of independent governments;
Abolition of all and sundry national and national-religious privileges and restrictions;
The free development of national minorities and ethnic groups populating the territory of Russia.

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“The concrete decrees resulting from this will be worked out immediately upon the organization of a commission on affairs of nationalities.

“In the name of the Russian Republic,
the People’s Commissar on Affairs of Nationalities
Iosif Dzhugashvili-Stalin
President of the Council of Peoples’ Commissars
V. UI’lanov (Lenin).”

With regard to Texas, President Polk wrote in his first annual message (December 2, 1845):

“The agreement to acknowledge the independence of Texas whether with or without this condition (i.e., that she should not annex herself to any other power) is conclusive against Mexico. The independence of Texas is a fact conceded by Mexico herself, and she had no right or authority to prescribe restrictions as to the form of government which Texas might afterward choose to assume.”23

It having been shown that no reason of policy, logic or absence of precedents can justify a refusal by any third state to recognize the union of Bessarabia with Roumania, quite the contrary, there would only remain to be examined whether such action might be refused, on the practical grounds that it might be legitimately resented by the parent state. But as mentioned above, the United States have consistently refused to admit that recognition of new states, prior to that of the parent state, can be considered an unfriendly act, providing the above conditions are fulfilled. Practically all the Latin American republics were recognized in the face of protests from Spain and other countries.

“This recognition is neither intended to invalidate any rights of Spain nor to affect the employment of any means which she may yet be disposed or enabled to use with the view of reuniting those provinces to the rest of her dominions. It is the mere acknowledgment of existing facts …” Mr. Adams to the Spanish Minister, April 6, 1822.24

Mr. Cheney Hyde, “International Law,” (page 62, Vol. I), writes with regard to Poland, for instance:

“No duty on the part of the United States with respect to Germany or Austria-Hungary forbade recognition, while the freedom of the new Republic from actual domination by Russia removed from the act of recognition a character to be regarded as hostile to that country.”

No one will claim that the recognition of the loss of Poland in 1919 could not be resented by Russia, but that that of Bessarabia could be in 1933.

The above considerations are believed to show that there is no reason for the United States not to recognize the de facto situation and to continue to discriminate against a Roumanian territory. As pointed out [Page 675]in the memorandum of 1930,25 any international agreement between the United States and Roumania, ratified by the Parliament of the latter Country, in which sit the representatives of Bessarabia, would be of doubtful validity if America does not recognize even tacitly that Bessarabia is an integral part of Roumania.

If the immigration quotas had not existed, the whole question would not have arisen. America would have been in the same position as the majority of the other countries, from whom Roumania has never asked any formal recognition, but who, by maintaining the usual diplomatic relations implicitly recognize the territorial integrity of Roumania.

Unfortunately, an American law, the Immigration Act, establishes geographical quotas which can reflect overt discriminations against foreign territories. Conceding the right of any country to legislate for itself as it pleases, yet the question may well be raised whether it is compatible with international custom to establish by a domestic law public discrimination with regard to the territories of another friendly state, signifying thereby that one country, in this case the United States, openly takes a stand on a territorial situation, with which it has no direct concern and which is subject to no treaty provisions.

This paradoxical situation can be summed up as follows:

If it is adopted as a guiding principle that the recognition of the former sovereign is indispensable (a very doubtful principle, particularly after the Russian proclamation of November 1917;)
If the “Colby” doctrine25a had as its object the protection of the Russian people against themselves, or better still against the regime which they had accepted,

it is evident that no act signed by the Soviet Government should be recognized as valid and logically none of the liberated states should have been recognized by the United States.

If on the other hand America recognized the new states—which obviously could not be explained by their recognition by the U.S.S.R., themselves not recognized by the United States—it must be assumed that she judged their races to be entitled to their freedom (thus making her protectress not only of the Russian, but also of the other races), and their states sufficiently stable, and in this case there is no reason why she should not do the same thing for Bessarabia and extend her protection to the Roumanian race inhabiting Bessarabia. No one will deny moreover that Roumania shows at least as many signs of stability as the other new states formerly part of Russia.

Neither has the Russian argument that Bessarabia was “occupied” by the soldiers of “Roumanian capitalism” any value, as the other states [Page 676]whose freedom they recognized without any plebiscite, were overrun by the troops of the Central powers, when they seceded from Russia.

But it is in the case of the Wilna territory that the application of the Colby doctrine is the most curious. Here, the principle of recognition by the former sovereign, as in the case of the Baltic States, and that of protection as in the Bessarabian case, have both been discarded. Indeed, neither has Russia, first former sovereign, or Lithuania, second former sovereign, by virtue of the cession of Wilna in the Treaty of Moscow (July 12, 1920)26 which antedates the Treaty of Riga between Russia and Poland (March 18, 1921),27 ever signed a treaty by which Wilna was ceded to Poland. As for the protection of the population of Wilna, formerly part of Russia, the question never seems to have been raised. Nevertheless, although avoiding any definite stand on the matter, the United States have merged the immigration quota for Wilna with the Polish quota, thus implicitly recognizing the de facto situation.

Of course, a formal reason has been advanced to justify such a departure from the above formulated principles: The appearance of a new factor, namely a decision, favourable to Poland (but hotly contested by Lithuania), of the Council of Ambassadors. But it must seem very strange that a decision of four Ambassadors recognizing Wilna as Polish should carry more moral weight than that of the same four Ambassadors and a Prime Minister (the French Premier), who signed the Treaty of Paris28 recognizing the union of Bessarabia with Roumania. Surely the additional subsequent ratification by three Powers can hardly be considered to have weakened it either. It goes without saying that there can be no question of anything but moral weight, as the decisions of the Council of Ambassadors could not be legally binding for the United States.

The conclusion is unavoidable that the attitude of the United States with regard to the union of Bessarabia with her mother country is dictated by three guiding principles, which seem to contradict each other and are in turn applied or rejected in similar cases:

Principle of recognition by the former sovereign state. This principle was contradicted in the case of Panama, Texas and almost all other Latin American republics, not applied in the case of the forcible annexation of Bessarabia by Russia in 1812 and 1878, and not respected in the case of Wilna.
Principle of protection of Russia after the bolshevist revolution. This principle was not applied in the cases of Finland, Lithuania,[Page 677]Esthonia, etc., or for the benefit of the people of Wilna, but strictly adhered to in the case of the people of Bessarabia. If, on the other hand, the application of the principle was not intended to be limited to the Russian people, but to be extended to all races inhabiting the former Empire, there is no reason why it should not apply to the Roumanians of Bessarabia, who want to be protected against the Russians.
Principle that the policy of the United States is based on decisions of four Ambassadors. But then, why should they have no weight in the case of Bessarabia?

One can add that a comparison of the cases of Bessarabia and Wilna is all the more interesting, as Lithuania formally claims Wilna, on ethnic, historic and juridical grounds and made formal reservations in that respect when she joined the League of Nations, whereas Russia does not claim Bessarabia, but merely demands a plebiscite and that not even on ethnic or juridical grounds, but admittedly for “political” reasons.

Under the circumstances, it seems very difficult to find any reasons to justify the United States in maintaining any longer their attitude on a matter of small consequence to Russia, but which is of such vital importance to Roumania, a country with which America has maintained friendly relations and in which important American interests have always received the most favourable treatment possible under circumstances existing at any given time.

It will suffice, in order to substantiate this statement, to recall, among other instances, that Roumania has always granted and still grants most favoured nation treatment to American imports, without demanding any compensations. The tremendous advantage for America is obvious, as in normal times America’s exports to Roumania reach a substantial sum, whereas Roumania could never expect to sell any of her agricultural products to America in more than negligible quantities. For the five year period (1926–1930), American imports to Roumania were valued at $32,182,000, while Roumanian exports to America were valued at $3,297,000, according to American statistics. The Roumanian statistics are even much more favourable to America, owing to the inclusion of goods shipped through a third country, not only direct shipments. Other instances of minor importance could be quoted, which alone more than offset the occasional complaints of some American firms and which, as mentioned elsewhere, are unavoidable under present conditions.

It must be borne in mind that should the United States neglect to adopt now an attitude conforming with all precedents and satisfactory to Roumania with regard to Bessarabia, and in case no settlement can be reached by Roumania with Russia, it will be undoubtedly much more difficult ever to settle the question as between Roumania and the United States. If the United States now decided to tacitly recognize Bessarabia as part of Roumania, Russia could not protest, or if she did, it would be [Page 678]a mere gesture, like the one she made when the French Parliament ratified the Treaty of Paris of 1920, prior to recognizing the Soviet Government. Once diplomatic negotiations were resumed, such a protest might be more embarrassing, although it is true that when Italy ratified that Treaty in 1926,29 the Russian Ambassador’s protest was simply disregarded and had no perceptible consequences.

Should the American Government concur in these views, that is that regardless of whether it decides to mediate between Roumania and Russia in the matter and this mediation is successful or not (of course, in the case that it intends to recognize Russia) it is urgent that it should itself recognize Bessarabia as Roumanian, if it does not wish to miss a favourable opportunity which may not reoccur for a long time, it is suggested that this might be done most simply by an ambiguous but confidential communication similar to the one concerning the case of Wilna. When the immigration quotas are established sometime in June, the Bessarabian quota would merely be omitted and the Roumanian slightly augmented. If negotiations began with Russia before the establishment of the quotas and they protested against this change, the significance of which they would undoubtedly realize, they would be told that the decision was made sometime before and would not be rescinded.

One of the fundamental American prerequisites in the matter of recognition is stability of the new government and ability to exercise its authority with the acquiescence at least of the population. If the Government of the Soviet Republic is recognized now, the argument will undoubtedly be used that its existence for fifteen years is sufficient proof that it satisfies those requirements. The identical argument would be equally applicable to Roumanian sovereignty over Bessarabia. No better proof could be adduced than the fact that at no time since 1918 and although numerous elections were held, was there a secessionist or even autonomist deputy returned from that province. The record of Bessarabia compares extremely favourably with that of the Ukrainian parts of Poland and many other provinces in various countries.

Finally, it is very significant that although labor troubles of communist inspiration recently obliged the Roumanian Government to proclaim martial law in a number of cities, in the early part of February, it was not deemed necessary to extend it to Bessarabia.

No one will deny that it is of paramount importance for the United States, as for any other power anxious to consolidate peace, to assist in stabilizing and regularizing as far as possible, existing territorial situations, or alternatively to suggest a solution it favours. The question then arises: If Roumania were willing to grant the concessions outlined [Page 679]in the first part of this aide-mémoire (financial and nonaggression treaty) and if Russia still refused, the only way to ever settle the problem would be by a war or by granting the Russian demand for a plebiscite. America certainly does not recommend the first solution. Would it advocate the second? For it must not be forgotten that the Russians themselves freely admit the existence of a Roumanian majority in Bessarabia (according to the Russian census of 1897 there were only 19.6% of Russians and Ruthenians) and that the question would be decided on social grounds. The issue would be communism versus capitalism. Would the United States urge Roumania to grant the Third Internationale such an opportunity? Should by any chance the Russians be victorious, it would be the most severe blow to the economic organization of the rest of the world. It would be the first time the issue of capitalism versus communism had been submitted to a free popular vote. A communist triumph in Bessarabia would justify a demand for similar expressions of opinion everywhere. But even if capitalism won, as it undoubtedly would, the propaganda preceding the plebiscite would leave the seeds of most serious unrest in Bessarabia and elsewhere.

The conclusion is unavoidable that the practical solution of this question for Russia is the abandonment of her claim to have a voice in settling the political status or [of] Bessarabia and to enter into negotiations in order to settle the consequences of the change in sovereignty and other border problems. Failing a suggestion for a better solution—and it is hard to imagine what other solution could be recommended by any impartial student of the question—it would appear to be the moral duty of all powers desiring peace to make every effort, consistent with their policy, to persuade Russia to yield. One cannot well conceive that any statesman could disapprove of Roumania’s attitude and yet be unable to suggest a better one. But if nothing better can be devised, it follows that every attempt should be made to assist in reaching the best available solution.

Roumanian situation which makes of her a bulwark of the capitalist world against communism, should entitle her to expect the strongest possible assistance from the United States in these circumstances.

A further point deserves emphasis: The reunion of Bessarabia with her mother country should not only be not frowned upon by the United States, but should be eagerly welcomed. For it constitutes the perfection, as far as Roumania is concerned, of the principle of self-determmation, so ardently championed by Woodrow Wilson. No one will contest that if that principle is just, it must apply to all branches of a race; circumstances made it impossible at the time the fourteen points were formulated to mention the Roumanians of Bessarabia, alongside of those of Transylvania, but no believer in that principle could fail to welcome the [Page 680]almost unhoped for opportunity to broaden the scope of its application, offered by the Russian revolution and subsequent events. Or is the Pruth to be deemed the boundary line for principles? “Verité en deçà, erreur au delà?[”]

It goes without saying that if the American Government decides not to pursue either of the possible courses of action outlined above, Roumania trusts that in any case it will at least avoid the use of any formula which might be construed by the Soviet Government as a direct or indirect endorsement of its stand with regard to Bessarabia, should it decide to recognize the latter Government. It may be pertinent to recall that when Great Britain extended recognition to the U.S.S.R., it was specifically stated that the Russian Government was recognized within the limits of the territories which themselves recognized its sovereignty. Not to specify this and to maintain at the same time the present discrimination against Bessarabia would imply that the United States recognize publicly the Russian thesis that there is a “litige existant” between her and Roumania.

To conclude, it appears useful to recall that not only does the tacit recognition of Bessarabia’s union with Roumania by the United States seem highly desirable, nay even necessary at this time, but that in the interests of peace and legitimate trade, the constructive policy of the new administration might very properly include the tender of its good offices in order to achieve the normalization of Russia’s relations with the Little Entente, providing of course conversations in view of recognition are begun.

The United States, Roumania and the world can only stand to gain from both steps, and in no case can America lose anything.

Washington, March 28, 1933.

  1. See Foreign Relations, 1918, Russia, vol. ii, pp. 707 ff.
  2. Japan was included for technical reasons, being one of the “Big 4” which, in those days, were settling the outstanding problems left by the great war. [Footnote in the original.]
  3. British and Foreign State Papers, vol. cxiii, p. 647.
  4. Protocol between Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Rumania, and the Soviet Union for the immediate entry into force of the Treaty of Paris of August 27, 1928, for the Renunciation of War, signed at Moscow, February 9, 1929, League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. lxxxix, p. 369.
  5. Pact of Organization of the Little Entente, signed at Geneva, February 16, 1933, League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. cxxxix, p. 233.
  6. British and Foreign State Papers, vol. xiii, pp. 403, 404. Also quoted in John Bassett Moore, A Digest of International Law, vol. i, p. 94.
  7. Moore, Digest, vol. i, p. 94.
  8. Foreign Relations, 1920, vol. iii, p. 463.
  9. Not printed.
  10. Post, p. 673.
  11. James D. Richardson, Messages and Papers of the Presidents, vol. v, pp. 372–373; also quoted in John Bassett Moore, A Digest of International Law, vol. i, p. 142.
  12. Richardson, Messages, vol. iv, p. 389.
  13. American State Papers, vol. iv, p. 846. Also printed in Moore, Digest, vol. i, p. 88.
  14. Foreign Relations, 1930, vol. iii, p. 801.
  15. See note from the Secretary of State to the Italian Ambassador, August 10, 1920, ibid., 1920, vol. iii, p. 463.
  16. Treaty of peace between Lithuania and Russia, signed at Moscow, July 12, 1920, League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. iii, p. 122.
  17. Ibid., vol. vi, p. 123.
  18. Treaty between the Principal Allied Powers and Rumania concerning Bessarabia, signed at Paris, October 28, 1920, British and Foreign State Papers, vol. cxiii, p. 647. For attitude of the United States regarding this treaty, see Foreign Relations, 1920, vol. iii, pp. 426 ff.
  19. Italy ratified the Treaty of Paris, May 23, 1927; see British and Foreign State Papers, vol. cxxvi, p. 450.