765.84/4684: Telegram

The Minister Resident in Ethiopia (Engert) to the Secretary of State

428. Department’s 279, June 16. There has been no appreciable change in the situation since my telegram No. 395, June 5. I am reliably informed that 3 or 4 days ago an Italian convoy was attacked by a large band of “Shiftas” id est, ex-soldiers and local inhabitants, some 80 miles from here on the road to Dessie and that 3,000 Italian troops had to be detached from the local garrison to ensure greater safety in that area. Skirmishes continued to be [apparent omission] from the neighborhood of Addis Alam about 40 miles from the capital, and similar encounters must be quite frequent all over northern Ethiopia although the Italian authorities never admit any officially.

I estimate that over 40 per cent of the country is not even nominally under Italian control and as the heavy rains are about to begin military operations on a large scale and even air reconnaissance would be suspended for about 4 months. In the meantime leaders like Ras Imru and Ras Desta may be able to collect sufficiently large forces to offer a certain amount of resistance when the Italians attempt to occupy the southern and southwestern provinces.

Although the Italians in order to impress the natives announced that an army of 30,000 had occupied Addis Ababa I feel convinced from personal observation that only about half that number actually arrived. Since then the garrison has been reduced to less than 8,000 men which has given rise to anxiety—privately admitted by Italian officers—lest the rainy season find them ill-prepared not only to insure communications but to defend the city itself. It is an incontestable fact that even now columns of less than 1,000 Italians dare not move outside a radius of 5 miles from the capital.

The military considerations [aside?] I venture to submit that the revocation of the President’s proclamation of October 5 at the present [Page 211] moment would, because of the peculiarly confused situation in Europe, assume a very definite political and diplomatic significance which the Department would presumably wish to avoid. The Italian Government would at once seize upon it as an indication that America desires to give a lead in an attack upon the sanctionist front. It might therefore be preferable if we waited a reasonable time after the next meeting of the Council of the League, even though its decision would of course have no bearing on our policy, the revocation of the proclamation would then be much less Republicanized and less likely to be construed in a political sense.

Furthermore, for purely practical reasons, it would be to our advantage not to display undue haste. There are already many indications that Italy proposes to deal with all foreign interests in Ethiopia in a very high-handed manner and that the principle of the open door will not be respected either as regards concessions or ordinary trade. Without in any way connecting the two questions we could, I believe, very properly evince concern regarding the future treatment of American interests at the hands of the Italians before taking a step which cannot but be exceedingly pleasing to the Italian Government.

I realize fully, of course, that the abandonment of the arms embargo would in no sense imply recognition of the Italian annexation of Ethiopia but I felt I should point out certain psychological factors which may indirectly have a considerable influence on utilitarian bargaining as may later become necessary or possible.

  1. Telegram in two sections.