765.84/4336: Telegram

The Chargé in Italy (Kirk) to the Secretary of State

141. There are certain preliminary problems of special interest to our Government arising out of the situation created in Abyssinia which the Department is no doubt considering and regarding which I shall appreciate advice as soon as decisions may be reached.

The first of these problems in order would seem to be the question of belligerency, namely, that a state of war between Ethiopia and Italy proclaimed by the President in his proclamation of October 5, 1935, is to be regarded as still existing. A formal declaration of war between the two countries was never made and the war was carried on with only the interruption of diplomatic relations other than upon the entrance of the Italians into Addis Ababa Mussolini declared that the war was over and that peace was restored. As a matter of fact, however, although the usual military communiqués are no longer published the newspapers announce further military advances on Abyssinian territory and it is today reported that Harrar has been taken. The question therefore arises as to whether a state of war may be regarded as terminated merely by a declaration on the part of only one of the belligerents that the war is over while military measures which could scarcely be characterized as police measures are still in operation.

Another phase of the same question relates to the present status of the Ethiopian Government and the character which may be ascribed thereto. According to the information available the Ethiopian Government has entirely disappeared from the territory over which it exercised sovereignty and there is no proof as yet of its continuation elsewhere unless it may be regarded as established in the person of the Negus. Judging from published expression, the Italians are [Page 194] contending that with the flight of the Negus and the members of the Government, Ethiopia as a state has ceased to exist. On the other hand a press report circulated this morning states that France and England will continue to recognize Ethiopia as a sovereign state. This phase of the problem therefore resolves itself into the question as to whether the Ethiopian State can be regarded as in existence and if the Italian thesis is accepted as to whether a state of war can be regarded as prevailing when one of two belligerents shall have ceased to exist.

The foregoing observations are apart from the question as to the attitude to be adopted in regard to the actual status of the Abyssinian territory as a result of the Italian occupation. This attitude will no doubt be determined in its general application on considerations of principle involved in the Italian war of conquest itself and in particular may be affected by the nature of the juridical form which the Italian Government is expected to ascribe by unilateral act to the conquered territory. Until this is announced it would seem that no definite decision on the practical aspects of the situation can be taken and it is possible that even after this confirmation is made the special circumstances prevailing in the conquered territory may obviate the necessity on the part of the foreign governments of actually declaring their attitude toward the status created. It seems clear, however, that the Italians once having succeeded in justifying this war from their own standpoint, will be astute to take advantage of any gesture in order to ascribe to any foreign government acquiescence in that status and conversely will be inclined to resent a manifestation of an unfavorable attitude.