Memorandum by the Secretary of State to President Roosevelt 7

In reply to your memorandum of February 23, 1935, in regard to the international traffic in arms and related matters, I submit the following considerations and recommendations.

I. It Is Recommended That No Message in Regard to Arms Traffic and Related Matters Be Sent to Congress at This Time

I do not believe that it would be wise to send a Message to Congress at this time on this subject. Such a Message would not serve any useful purpose and might result in a head-on collision with the Nye Committee, which would delay the accomplishment of the purposes which you have in mind and perhaps stir up antagonisms which would have repercussions in connection with other features of your program. It is my understanding that the Nye Committee is planning to submit a preliminary report on or about April 1st. A Message by you at this time could easily be misconstrued as an attempt to take the wind out of the sails of that Committee. Until the Committee has reported, it is doubtful whether the Senate would be willing to enter upon any serious consideration of legislation in the premises.

II. The Two Principal Methods Which Have Been Suggested for Dealing With the Evils of the International Traffic in Arms

Government Monopoly. The suggestion has been made in various quarters that a Government monopoly of the manufacture of and trade in arms and implements of war is the best method of dealing with the evils which have arisen from the present lack of Governmental supervision and control in that field. From various public statements made by Senator Nye, it would appear that this is the solution which he favors. The Committee has not, however, committed [Page 319] itself to this program and there appears to be reason to hope that it may be willing to support a program in accord with the policy of the Administration. In your discussion with Mr. Phillips8 and Mr. Green of our telegram of May 28, 1934, to Norman Davis,9 you decided, wisely I believe, that although the elimination of all private manufacture of arms and munitions might be admirable as an ultimate objective, it is not feasible at this time. In this connection, it may be pointed out that the institution of a Government monopoly would seriously dislocate our whole economic structure, would curtail or put an end to the business of several hundred private companies, and would put this Government in business to an extent unknown anywhere else in the world except in the U.S.S.R. It would substitute for our present elastic system, under which arms may be produced in greater or less quantities as occasion may demand, a series of large Government arsenals employing thousands of men. Under such a system, there would tend to arise a vested interest in continuous manufacture on a scale incommensurate with our needs. Non-producing nations, accustomed to purchase arms in the United States, would be obliged either to purchase from our Government—a procedure which would involve complications unnecessary to elaborate—or make their purchases in other countries, or establish, to the extent of their ability, factories and arsenals of their own. Thus, as far as the effect upon the world at large is concerned, the establishment of a Government monopoly, even by this country acting alone, would probably result in an increase in the total quantity of arms manufactured and perhaps in an increased menace to peace.
Supervision and Control Through Licenses and Publicity. Since the negotiation of the Arms Traffic Convention of 1925, this Government has consistently followed the policy of attempting to establish, by international agreement, a system of supervision and control of the international traffic in arms based upon export and import licenses and full publicity. Under your administration, we have proceeded one step further and have attempted to establish by international agreement a similar system of licenses and publicity for the manufacture of arms. The Arms Traffic Convention of 1925 has not as yet been ratified. We are encountering serious and discouraging difficulties in our attempt to negotiate the more far reaching convention which Mr. Wilson proposed in Geneva on November 20 last.10 Although this Government has been foremost during the last two years in efforts to obtain an international agreement along [Page 320] the lines I have indicated, we have lagged behind almost all the other civilized nations of the world in our domestic legislation. The Nye Committee, in preparation for its forthcoming report to the Senate, asked Mr. Green of the Department to prepare a draft of legislation following the principles embodied in the Draft Articles now under discussion in Geneva, in so far as they could be put into effect by constitutional legislation in advance of the Convention. Mr. Green was authorized by me to comply with the Committee’s request and he has submitted a draft of legislation to the Committee. I attach a copy of this draft legislation.11 Two Articles—5a and 5b—were submitted separately because they embody the principle of the Arms Embargo Resolution, which encountered opposition in the Senate. Should the Committee decide to present this legislation, it might wish to omit these Articles, in order to avoid the controversy which arose when the Arms Embargo Resolution was under discussion. Should the Committee decide otherwise, these Articles could be incorporated in the draft legislation. I believe that this draft legislation embodies the wisest and most practical method of dealing with the evils inherent in the manufacture of and traffic in arms.

III. Cooperation With the Nye Committee

I recommend that you take occasion within the next week or ten days to summon the members of the Nye Committee to the White House for a conference. Such a conference would serve several useful purposes.

It would strengthen the hand of our Delegation in Geneva, give support 3to the policy which we are following in our negotiations there, and help to check any tendency on the part of the Committee to adopt a program of Government monopoly.
It would demonstrate to the public that the Administration is not leaving the active formulation of a program to deal with arms matters entirely to the Committee.
It would demonstrate to the public that the Administration is to some degree cooperating with the Committee.
It would enable you to get behind the type of legislation to control the manufacture of and traffic in arms which it is hoped the Committee may be willing to propose.
It would give you an opportunity to advise the Committee to refrain from any unnecessary agitation in public hearings of questions which would handicap this Government in its relations with other Governments.
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If you approve of this recommendation, I suggest that you consider to what extent you may feel that it is wise to tell the Committee:

That you have been informed that Mr. Green of the Department of State has, at the Committee’s request and with my authorization, presented a draft of legislation to establish some measure of supervision and control of the manufacture of and traffic in arms; that you understand that the Committee now has this legislation under consideration; that this legislation is based upon the same principles as the Draft Articles which are now under discussion in Geneva; that you hope that the Committee may decide to report favorably on legislation of that type; and that if so you are prepared to give the Committee the backing of the Administration in this matter and, if desired, to send an appropriate Message to Congress.
That our Delegation in Geneva is encountering serious difficulty in the negotiation of a Convention dealing with the manufacture of and traffic in arms and that you hope that the Committee may find it possible to include in its report a statement in support of the Draft Convention, in order to help to dispel any idea that the Senate would not give its advice and consent to the ratification of such a Convention if it were negotiated.
That as it may prove impossible to negotiate successfully the more far reaching Convention now under discussion at Geneva, you hope that the Committee may assist in obtaining the advice and consent of the Senate without reservations to the Arms Traffic Convention of 1925.
That the studies which your advisers have been making of the possibility of taking profit out of war have convinced you of the great difficulty of framing satisfactory legislation to that end; that you are looking forward with interest to such recommendations as the Committee may make on that subject; and that you and your associates will be glad to collaborate with the Committee in dealing with this matter to any extent which the Committee may desire.
That the Commission on War Policies is not in any sense working at cross purposes with the Committee.
That you understand that the Committee is planning to investigate the relation of the loans by American bankers to the Allied Governments, before our entry into the War, toour declaration of War, and that you hope that if such an investigation is considered necessary, the Committee avoid in any public hearing the agitation of any question which would offend the governments of the Powers associated with us in the War, thus making it more difficult for this Government to deal with those Governments.

C[ordell] H[ull]
  1. Marginal note reads: “Handed to the President by the Secretary March 15.”
  2. William Phillips, Under Secretary of State.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1934, vol. i, p. 75; Norman Davis was Chairman of the American delegation to the Disarmament Conference at Geneva.
  4. Department of State, Press Releases, December 22, 1934, p. 391.
  5. Not printed.