500.A15A4 Steering Committee/538

The Minister in Norway (Biddle) to the Secretary of State

No. 435

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my telegram No. 13 of April 30, 9 a.m.,27 sent in reply to the Department’s confidential telegram to the American Legation at Stockholm, No. 7 of April 27, 1937, 6 p.m.,28 relative to a reported intention of the Swedish Foreign Minister, Mr. [Page 12] Richard Sandler, to present, at the forthcoming meeting of the Bureau of the Disarmament Conference, a convention providing for publicity regarding national expenditures for purposes of defence and for control, as well as publicity, of the arms industry and trade.

In view of the Department’s desire, also expressed in the telegram above-mentioned, to receive additional data on this subject, I took occasion, at the time of a talk with the Foreign Minister, arranged for the morning of April 29 prior to the receipt of the Department’s instruction under reference, to introduce the subject. Mr. Koht spoke frankly and, without prompting, admitted the existence of the convention, of which the main points were as described in the Department’s telegram. Thus, the convention provided for a) publicity on expenditures of national defence; b) publicity on the manufacture and trade in arms; and c) control of the manufacture and trade in arms.

By way of background, Mr. Koht stated that for some years past, on the occasion of sessions of the League of Nations, not only had the representatives of Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden, but also those of Spain, Switzerland and The Netherlands, conferred informally on matters of common interest. It had, moreover, been decided that each State should, in rotation, appoint a delegate who should represent this group collectively and should sit in all meetings held during a given session of the League. Switzerland, however, had never appointed a delegate, when it became its turn to do so. Mr. Koht also recalled that some years ago, a proposal had been introduced at one of the meetings of the Disarmament Conference (he did not say by whom) which resembled that which was now about to be presented. At that time, though, no definite action had been taken on the proposition and the matter had lapsed.

It had not been forgotten by the Northern States, though, and the Governments of these had come to feel that it was now time for their group to take the initiative in starting a constructive move in what they considered to be the right direction, i. e., toward establishing firmer bases for continued international peace.

Consequently, at the meeting of their four Foreign Ministers held at Helsingfors during the current month of April, it had been decided to formulate a draft convention for presentation at the coming meeting of the Bureau of the Disarmament Conference. This convention covered, in substance, the points set forth above.

The adhesion of Switzerland and The Netherlands (States with which the Northern countries’ representatives had in times past consulted at Geneva) had at once been invited. In view of the present situation in Spain, no invitation to adhere had been extended to the authorities in that country. Belgium had also been invited in view [Page 13] of its announced neutral status and, with Holland, had accepted the proposal. Switzerland, however, had declined, not from lack of sympathy therewith, but because the international situation, coupled with its belief that the convention would not be adopted by any of the large States on its borders, rendered present action not feasible. The standpoint of Switzerland was appreciated in Norway and no resentment was felt here in consequence.

However, despite the absence of Switzerland and the probability that the convention would be rejected by the Powers, the six States sponsoring it were resolved to propose the convention as a constructive move toward peace and a sequel to that which had some years ago been proposed at a meeting of the Disarmament Conference.

In thus proposing their convention, the interested States would invite further international participation, while cognizant of the probability of a general refusal. However, irrespective of the result of their endeavor, the six States would be prepared to put the convention into effect as among themselves.

Mr. Koht pointed out that although the six States mentioned are identical with the parties to the Oslo Convention of 1930,31 their action in regard to this convention is distinct from it, since the Oslo Convention chiefly foreshadowed an economic program.

Respectfully yours,

A. J. Drexel Biddle, Jr.
  1. Not printed.
  2. See last paragraph of telegram No. 8, April 27, 6 p.m., to the Minister in Sweden, p. 9.
  3. Signed December 22, 1930, League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. cxxvi, p. 341.