711.00111 Armament Control/1255

The Secretary of State to the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations ( Pittman )

My Dear Senator Pittman: I refer to your letter of March 31, 1937,6 with which you transmitted to me for “consideration and report” a copy of S. J. Resolution 120,7 which provides in part that “from and after the approval of this joint resolution it shall be unlawful to export, or attempt to export, or cause to be exported, arms, ammunition or implements of war from any place in the United States, except to nations on the American continents engaged in war against a non-American state or states”. I venture to offer the following observations with regard to the resolution:

The bill does not define “arms, ammunition, or implements of war”. That expression is now almost universally understood to include articles, such as aircraft, revolvers, rifles, and small arms ammunition, which have a commercial as well as a military use. Those articles have been specified in the definitions of “arms, ammunition and implements of war” proclaimed by the President pursuant to the provisions of the Neutrality Resolution of August 31, 1935.8 Thus, the prohibition provided for by this bill would destroy our export trade in such articles intended for commercial use.

A statement of some of the reasons why it has been found necessary to consider such articles as arms, ammunition, and implements of war will be found on pages 34–39 of the First Annual Report of the National Munitions Control Board, of which I enclose a copy.9

An indication of the magnitude of the export trade which would be prohibited if this bill were enacted into law may be obtained from that report. You will observe from the statistical tables that licenses authorizing the exportation of arms, ammunition and implements of war to the value of $26,568,722.30 were issued during the period November, 1935–November, 1936, and that the majority of the articles exported under these licenses were articles which have both a military and a commercial use. This is notably true of the so-called civil airplanes valued at $7,690,307.50, the airplane parts valued at $1,830,142.16, and the airplane engines valued at $5,863,433.97. A prohibition on the exportation of aircraft, aircraft parts, and aircraft engines would be disastrous to the aircraft industry as nearly one-third of its production is now exported. The enactment of this bill in its present [Page 871] form would add to the number of restrictions upon normal peace-time international trade—restrictions which it has been our policy to reduce to a minimum.

The bill provides that the prohibition on the exportation of arms, ammunition, or implements of war from the United States shall be absolute “except to nations on the American continents engaged in war against a non-American state or states.” This provision would permit an American nation to obtain arms, ammunition, or implements of war from the United States only after a war had broken out between the American nation and a non-American state. The provision would not permit the American nation to obtain such articles from the United States to prepare against a threatened attack; until war had actually begun the American nation would obtain its desired arms, ammunition, and implements of war from other nations than the United States.

The Neutrality Resolution of August 31, 1935, for the enactment of which you were so largely responsible, set up a salutary system of supervision and control of the export trade in arms, and that system is functioning satisfactorily. Under it we already have provision for an embargo on the exportation of arms, ammunition, and implements of war to belligerents and a strict and constant supervision of exports to countries at peace.

It is hardly necessary to point out the obvious reasons why the enactment of the resolution would not promote the cause of world peace, and might indeed have the contrary effect.

I have not commented on the relation of S. J. Resolution 120 to the national defense program of the United States or to proposals for the nationalization of the arms industry; I have assumed that the departments directly concerned will submit comments on those aspects of the bill.

Sincerely yours,

Cordell Hull
  1. Not printed.
  2. Introduced by Senator Gerald P. Nye, March 30, 1937, and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations; Congressional Record, vol. 81, pt. 3, p. 2865.
  3. 49 Stat. 1081.
  4. Not attached to file copy of this letter.