Memorandum by the Secretary of State

The Ambassador of Turkey2 called and handed me a paper, or memorandum, giving this Government what purports to be a copy, in French, of the representations that the Turkish Government is making to the parties3 to the Lausanne Treaty, having for its object the fortification by Turkey of the Dardanelles.

I thanked the Ambassador, and added that while this Government is not a party to the Lausanne Treaty it is naturally interested in all important phases of world affairs, including developments in the Ambassador’s part of the world, and that my Government appreciates the courtesy of his Government in giving us at this time a copy of its representations as aforesaid.

C[ordell] H[ull]

Note of April 10, 1936, From the Turkish Government to the Parties to the Lausanne Treaty of 1923

In 1923, when Turkey consented, at Lausanne, to sign the Straits Convention establishing liberty of passage and demilitarization, the [Page 504] general situation of Europe, from the political and military points of view, presented an aspect totally different from that which she presents today.

Europe was moving towards disarmament and her political organization was to be based solely on the immutable principles of law sanctioned by international engagements. Land, sea and air forces were much less formidable and their tendencies were in the direction of reduction. At that time Turkey signed the respective clauses of the Straits Convention with the assurance given her by Article 18 which had just added, to the guarantee of Article 10 of the Covenant of the League of Nations,4 the engagement that the signatories and, in any case, four great Powers undertook to assume jointly and by all means decided upon for that purpose by the Council of the League, the defense of the Straits when menaced.

Since then the situation which existed in the Black Sea has come to present an aspect of concord reassuring in every way, while uncertainty has settled little by little over the Mediterranean, Naval Conferences have shown a development in the direction of rearmament, and maritime shipyards will soon pour into the sea ships of a power never reached before. In the domain of the air, the curve is dizzily rising, and continental and insular fortifications are constantly multiplied.

During this complete change of conditions the only guarantee which was to have prevented entire insecurity of the Straits has just disappeared in its turn, and while the most interested Powers proclaim the existence of a threat of a general conflagration, Turkey, at her most vulnerable point, finds herself exposed to the worst dangers without any counterpoise to that disquieting insecurity.

In acceding to the pressing requests which were addressed to her, Turkey accepted the demilitarization of the Straits at that time entirely occupied by foreign forces, after having long weighed, under the existing conditions, the value of the minimum guarantees which were granted to her, “in order that the demilitarization of the Straits and of the contiguous zones shall not constitute an unjustifiable danger to the military security of Turkey.”

To Article 18 of the Convention which sanctioned the security guarantee indissolubly linked to the ensemble of the clauses governing the régime of the Straits, the signatories attached such great importance that they solemnly affirmed that the guarantee in question formed an integral part of the clauses of demilitarization and of freedom of passage.

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This is equivalent to saying that without an effective, practical and efficacious assurance there could not have been imposed on Turkey a diminution of sovereignty over a part of her territory the security of which is indispensable to that of the whole country.

It is likewise obvious that if this guarantee becomes inoperative or uncertain the equilibrium of the whole Convention is destroyed to the prejudice of Turkey and to the prejudice of the peace of Europe.

Now, the political crises have clearly demonstrated that the present mechanism of collective guarantee goes into motion too slowly and that a tardy decision is of such a character as to cause the loss, in most cases, of the benefit of an international action. It is for this reason that Turkey, like many other countries at the present time, could not, in 1923, content herself with the collective guarantee which the Covenant would have assured to her as soon as she became a member of the League of Nations, that she considered insufficient the collective guarantee of all the signatories of the Straits Convention and that only the joint guarantee of the four great Powers seemed to her capable of assuring, under the conditions then prevailing, the minimum of security indispensable to her territorial integrity.

But if that minimum itself is weakened or rendered problematic by political and military circumstances entirely different from those existing when it was established, the Government of the Republic cannot, without rendering itself guilty of grave negligence, expose the whole country to a sudden and irreparable attack (coup de main).

The position of the guarantors of the security of the Straits with respect to the League of Nations, the special circumstances which render at least doubtful the military and effective collaboration of those guarantors as regards the objective assigned to them, are factors which have overturned the general economy of the 1923 Convention.

Today it cannot be affirmed that the security of the Straits is still assured by a real guarantee and Turkey cannot be asked to remain indifferent to the possibility of a dangerous default.

It should be added to these considerations that the Straits Convention only mentions the states of peace and war, Turkey being a neutral or belligerent in this latter case, without contemplating the possibility of a special or general threat of war and permitting Turkey to then take steps for her legitimate defense. Now, it is fully demonstrated today that the most delicate phase of an external danger is precisely that phase of menace, there being a possibility that a state of war might supervene unexpectedly and without any formality.

This lacuna can by itself deprive the guarantees envisaged of their efficacy whatever may be the value of the latter.

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From the beginning of its existence, the Turkish Republic has marked out for itself a policy of peace and understanding the realization of which in all fields has not failed to impose upon her sacrifices which have often been heavy.

The Turkish Government has shown under the many circumstances which have presented themselves during the last decade a spirit of conciliation, of fidelity to its engagements and of sincere attachment to the cause of peace which has been appreciated by all the Powers.

The security which Turkey has always assured to others she has a right to claim for herself.

Circumstances independent of the will of the signatories of Lausanne have rendered inoperative clauses laid down in complete good faith, and as the stake is the existence of Turkey and the security of all her territory, the Government of the Republic may be led to take before the nation the responsibility incumbent upon it by adopting measures dictated by the imperious necessity of circumstances.

Taking into view the circumstances set forth above and believing with good reason that the provisions of Article 18 of the Straits Convention referring to a joint guarantee of the four great Powers have become uncertain and inoperative and that they no longer can in practice protect Turkey against a foreign danger to her territory, the Government of the Republic has the honor to inform the Powers which took part in the negotiations of the Straits Conventions that it is ready to set on foot pourparlers for the purpose of arriving promptly at the conclusion of accords intended to regulate the régime of the Straits under conditions of security indispensable to the inviolability of Turkish territory, and in the most liberal spirit towards the constant development of commercial navigation between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

  1. Mehmet Munir Ertegun.
  2. Bulgaria, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Rumania, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, United Kingdom, and Yugoslavia; for text of treaty signed at Lausanne, July 24, 1923, see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. xxviii, p. 115.
  3. Treaties, Conventions, etc., Between the United States of America and Other Powers, 1910–1923 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1923), vol. iii, p. 3336.