The Consul at Geneva (Gilbert) to the Secretary of State

No. 1110 Political

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my despatch No. 956 Political dated July 12, 1934, and particularly in view of the Department’s interest in this question as evinced in its instruction dated June 29, 1934,17 to submit the following information on the Commission established by the Straits Convention signed at Lausanne on July 24, 1923 in execution [Page 986] of the Treaty of Lausanne of the same date. The Department doubtless is fully informed respecting the Commission itself and this report is therefore limited to an examination of the relations of the Commission with the League.

Constitutional Basis of League Relations.

The constitutional basis of League relations with the Commission is provided in the following articles of the Straits Convention signed at Lausanne July 24, 1923:

Article 15

“The Straits Commission will carry out its functions under the auspices of the League of Nations, and will address to the League an annual report giving an account of its activities, and furnishing all information which may be useful in the interests of commerce and navigation; with this object in view the commission will place itself in touch with the departments of the Turkish Government dealing with navigation through the Straits.”

Article 13

“The governments represented on the commission will pay the salaries of their representatives. Any incidental expenditure incurred by the commission will be borne by the said governments in the proportion laid down for the division of the expenses of the League of Nations.”

Article 18 of the Convention states in part as follows:

Article 18

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Should the freedom of navigation of the Straits or the security of the demilitarized zones be imperiled by a violation of the provisions relating to freedom of passage, or by a surprise attack or some act of war or threat of war, the high contracting parties, and in any case France, Great Britain, Italy, and Japan, acting in conjunction, will meet such violation, attack, or other act of war or threat of war, by all the means that the Council of the League of Nations may decide for this purpose.

“So soon as the circumstances which may have necessitated the action provided for in the preceding paragraph shall have ended, the régime of the Straits, as laid down by the terms of the present convention shall again be strictly applied.

“The present provision, which forms an integral part of those relating to the demilitarization and to the freedom of the Straits, does not prejudice the rights and obligations of the high contracting parties under the Covenant of the League of Nations.18

In addition to the provisions cited above the annex to Article 2 of the Convention stipulates that the Commission shall ascertain, on [Page 987] January 1 and July 1 of each year, the number of naval vessels of various categories as well as the number of naval aircraft of the strongest naval force in the Black Sea and shall inform the powers concerned. The Commission is also charged with immediately informing the powers concerned when any alteration in that force has taken place. When the Commission was first established the Chairman requested of the Secretary-General of the League that this duty should be carried out through the intermediary of the Secretariat of the League and on September 10, 1925, the Council authorized the Secretary-General to accede to this request.

The formal acceptance by the League of the relations with the Straits Commission established by the Convention did not take place, however, until June 10, 1926, when the Council had before it the first (1925) Annual Report of the Commission.19 On that date the Council adopted the following resolution:

“The Council accepts the duty assigned to it by the provisions of Article 15 of the Convention relating to the Régime of the Straits, signed at Lausanne on July 24th, 1923, to the effect that the Straits Commission carries out its mission under the auspices of the League of Nations . . .”

Normal League Procedure.

The first report of the Commission made several observations regarding the unsatisfactory nature of its status vis-à-vis the Turkish Government, and pointed out that the provisions of the Treaty of Lausanne were not being fully carried out. The report concluded with the following statement:

“In this direction the duty of the Commission is limited by the Straits Convention to reporting the facts to the League of Nations. It is for the latter to adopt any means which may seem to it effective to hasten the application in their entirety of the principles laid down in the Treaty of Lausanne.”

The Council’s rapporteur, however, commenting on this section of the report, said that Article 15 of the Convention merely placed the Commission under the auspices of the League and on his suggestion the Council agreed simply to forward the Commission’s report to all the signatory powers to enable them to judge for themselves what action should be taken on this communication.

This procedure was firmly established the following year when the Commission in its annual report for 192620 submitted further observations for the consideration of the Council. On that occasion the Council’s rapporteur stated that “apart from exceptional circumstances, the Council should, as a first step, simply submit the report to [Page 988] the powers signatory to the Straits Convention. Then, if one of these powers so desires, it can request the Council to consider the merits of any suggestion the Commission may make.” He then proposed the following resolution which was adopted by the Council on July 16, 1927:

“The Council:

Takes note of the report which the Straits Commission, in fulfilment of its duties under the auspices of the League of Nations, has submitted to it on its work during the year 1926.

And communicates this report for any necessary action to the States signatories of the Convention and for information to the States Members of the League.

The Minutes of the present meeting shall be attached to this communication.

The Secretary-General is also authorised to communicate the Straits Commission’s report and the Minutes of the present meeting, for any necessary action, to any technical organizations of the League to which the information contained in the report may be of interest.

The Council also requests the Secretary-General, as a standing rule, to forward the future reports of the Straits Commission as soon as they are received to the Members of the Council and States signatories of the Convention.”

A further attempt by the Commission to obtain League action was made in 1929 when a squadron of 34 hydroplanes of the Italian Air Force flew to the Black Sea via the Straits. The consent of the Turkish Government had been obtained for the passage of the Straits, but the Commission reported to the League that the presence of 34 aircraft in the Black Sea at a time when the air force of the strongest Black Sea fleet (Soviet Russia) consisted of only 21 seaplanes, was in conflict with the provisions of the Straits Convention. The Commission’s report concluded with the statement that “the Commission would be glad if the League would settle for the future the differences of interpretation in connection with the entry of naval and air forces into the Black Sea, in order that no such case may recur”. The Commission’s report of the incident was forwarded by the Secretariat to the interested powers, but as no state saw fit to raise the question in the Council, no action was taken by the League.

Up to the present time, the League has merely acted as a medium of communication for the Commission. Two hundred copies of the Commission’s Annual Report are forwarded to the Secretariat for distribution, and in accordance with a Council resolution of July [June] 5, 1928,21 the Report is forwarded by the Secretariat to all members of the League as well as to all powers signatory to the Convention and to any technical organisation of the League which may be interested in the information contained in the Report. The status of [Page 989] the strongest Black Sea fleet is reported to the Secretary-General by a letter from the Straits Commission which is forwarded to the interested governments and appears in the Official Journal of the League.

On July [June] 5, 1928, the Council decided that reports of the Straits Commission should not be included in its agenda unless one of the countries to which they are regularly communicated wished to raise a question in regard thereto. A brief summary of the information contained in the Commission’s Annual Report has nevertheless been regularly included in the Secretary-General’s report on the work of the League. This was, however, omitted from the last report of the Secretary-General. I am unable to ascertain whether any special motive occasioned this omission.

League relations with the Straits Commission are handled by the Political Section of the Secretariat. It is understood that this subject will be assigned to M. Prunas, an Italian who has recently been appointed to this Section.

League Procedure in Exceptional Circumstances.

Since the Council has never acted under the Convention, other than as indicated above, the question of its procedure under Article 18 of the Convention has never been settled. In the event of a serious violation of the Convention, the Commission would no doubt immediately notify the League and would directly inform the interested powers as well. It appears to be clear that this action would not in itself be sufficient to require action by the Council under Article 18 of the Convention but it is probable that the Council could become seized of the question on its own initiative as well as by the action of a state signatory to the Convention.

The Convention does not stipulate whether the Council would have to decide upon what action it would recommend to the guarantor states by unanimity or by a majority vote; but it would seem that under the provisions of the League Covenant a unanimous decision of the Council would be necessary. This view is emphasized by the circumstance that at the time the Straits Convention was being drafted a proposal to provide for a two-thirds vote by the Council in certain circumstances was put forward but was not incorporated in the final Convention.

Political Considerations.

The régime of the Straits is guaranteed by all states signatory to the Convention, but four states, Great Britain, France, Japan, and Italy are made particularly responsible. At the time the Convention was signed all four were members of the Council, while Turkey and Russia were not members of the League. Both Turkey and Russia now hold Council seats, while Japan has given notice of her withdrawal [Page 990] from the League. If Japan’s withdrawal becomes definitive, she will then be bound by a convention to carry out the decisions of the Council upon which she could only be represented by invitation, whether in a consultative capacity or under Article 17 of the Covenant. The view here is that this circumstance would be of little consequence unless Japan should consider that the maintenance of the present régime is not in her best interests.

The representation on the Council of Turkey and the Soviet Union, in view of the present policy of friendship between these states, is important not only in respect of the contingency of Council action under Article 18 of the Convention, but also in relation to any steps which Turkey and Russia might take looking toward the abolition of the present Régime. In the latter connection I was recently informed by a member of the Political Section of the Secretariat that the Turkish delegate to the League had stated to him that he had no intention of bringing the question before the League at present, but my informant added that he felt that Turkey has this possibility very much in mind. Previous information on this question was submitted in my despatch No. 956 Political, dated July 12, 1934, to which I have already referred. The issue will doubtless depend on general political considerations, but in certain quarters here the view is held that the possibility of the question being raised is by no means remote.

Respectfully yours,

Prentiss B. Gilbert
  1. See footnote 87, p. 973.
  2. Treaties, Conventions, etc., 1910–1923, vol. iii, p. 3336.
  3. League of Nations, Official Journal, July 1926, pp. 951–974.
  4. Ibid., July 1927, pp. 778–779.
  5. See League of Nations, Official Journal, July 1928, p. 879.