Memorandum by the Under Secretary of State (Phillips)34

I welcome this opportunity to meet and consult with this group of Senators with regard to possible legislation to modify the neutrality policy of the United States. In the absence of the Secretary, let me assure you on his behalf, and on my own, that the Department is glad to cooperate wholeheartedly in the effort to revise and strengthen our neutrality laws.

The Department has for some time been convinced of the desirability of a thorough revision of our neutrality legislation, with a view to preventing, so far as this can be done, those acts by belligerents and by our own citizens which experience has shown are likely to involve us in wars between other powers. A year ago the Secretary appointed a committee of officers of the Department to study the subject. Such a task cannot be lightly undertaken or rapidly completed. The more extensively we have examined the subject, the more we have found ourselves confronted by perplexing problems of domestic law, of international law, and of foreign policy—problems which cannot be solved without laborious and protracted consideration. Some of the problems can effectively be dealt with by domestic legislation, but there are others, as for example those arising in connection with the international traffic in arms, and the traffic in contraband, which, in the absence of international agreement, can be dealt with only in partial fashion by domestic legislation.

It is possible that the Committee may decide against piece meal legislation, attacking separately this or that specific problem, and that, on the other hand, there should be enacted a single well considered and thoroughly coordinated and integrated measure. Furthermore, it may be the view of the Committee that there should be enough flexibility in whatever legislation is enacted to enable our Government to deal with changing conditions and shape its course according to all the varying and unforeseen situations with which, as times goes on, it will doubtless be confronted. Rigid provisions might perhaps, in given circumstances, serve to defeat their own ends.

May I suggest to the Committee that in its study of this subject it may be well to bear in mind that a cardinal policy of the Government of the United States is and has been for some time the promotion of peace through disarmament and the control of the international traffic in arms, which can be satisfactorily dealt with only by international [Page 344] cooperation and agreement. In the pursuit of this policy this Government has endeavored to conduct its diplomacy in conformity with our national traditions and the highest interests of this country. Although the present prospects for an early agreement on these subjects are not very promising, we have not abandoned hope, and we do not wish to give to others the impression of any lessening of our earnest desire to achieve it. It seems to us, therefore, important that there should be no provision in the legislation which your Committee has under consideration which would give such an impression or which would diminish in any way our ability to throw the weight and influence of this Government toward disarmament and the effective control of the international traffic in arms by international agreement.

I am prepared to comment upon the three pending resolutions and to furnish such suggestions as may, perhaps, be helpful in regard to them and also in regard to other important aspects of the problem under consideration which are not dealt with therein, such as, for instance, the carrying of arms on American vessels, the use of American ports by belligerents as bases of supplies, the use of the American flag on vessels of belligerent nations and the entrance of the submarines of belligerent nations into American waters.

I should particularly like to refer now to Senate Bill 2998,35 which has been reported favorably in both branches of Congress, and suggest that its enactment will provide a most useful basis on which other legislation should rest. This bill has the approval of the President, and of the two Committees that have reported it. Its enactment would enable our Government to carry out its international obligations under the recently ratified arms traffic convention of 1925; it would enable the Department of State to enforce efficiently those restrictions on the export of arms already in effect which we have found it impossible to enforce effectively under existing legislation; it would subject to the full light of publicity the exportation of arms from the United States, which is now shrouded in secrecy, and most important, in connection with a subject now being canvassed, it would enable our Government to enforce any further restriction on the export of arms which may be included in neutrality legislation. It is not too much to say that the enactment of this bill will furnish the necessary foundation for such legislation as that which is now being considered by the Committee.

Following the frank discussion now to be had, the State Department will be prepared to present within a few hours drafts of such legislation as may be deemed desirable.

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In conclusion, permit me to repeat that the Secretary and I desire to cooperate wholeheartedly with you in dealing with the problems now under consideration by your Committee.

  1. Read at a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, July 30, 1935.
  2. Congressional Record, vol. 79, pt. 8, p. 8666.