300.115(39)/233: Telegram

The Acting Secretary of State to the Ambassador in the United Kingdom ( Kennedy )

1446. Your 2098, October 19, 6 p.m. We have carefully considered your telegram and the public statement from the Ministry of Economic Warfare. We have the following observations to make in reply.

In view of the conditions to which shipping and cargoes have been subjected during the first 2 months of war, we regret that we are unable to concur in the statement of the Ministry of Economic Warfare that belligerent rights in this respect are being “exercised in strict accordance with the law of nations”. In this connection it is to be borne in mind as a fundamental principle that cargo moving from one neutral country to another neutral country has in its favor the presumption of legitimate character, whereas the suggestions of the Ministry of Economic Warfare seem to proceed from the hypothesis that all such commerce has an obligation to prove such legitimate character to British authorities as a condition to being allowed to proceed to neutral destination. That is to say, the British authorities are apparently seeking to reverse the legal presumption and to consider all such commerce illegitimate until the contrary is proved by the interested persons or concerns. It seems inevitable that many just claims must result from such procedure and the attitude of the [Page 807] United States Government must not be taken as indicating that it will not support such claims.

While this Government is disposed to do everything consistent with its neutral status to facilitate legitimate commerce with other neutral countries, it cannot of course lend its sanction to any system which would have a coercive effect in those countries. This Government takes the view that belligerents carrying on economic warfare do not thereby acquire the right to deprive neutrals of the economic basis necessary for their normal existence, and in consequence that any system leading to that end, or carried to a point which reaches that result, cannot receive the approval of this Government.

This Government naturally expects that interference by the belligerents with trade originating in the United States and destined to neutral countries will be kept at a minimum and that the British Government will be prepared to offer appropriate reparation in all specific cases in which its action results in injury to American nationals in violation of their rights under recognized principles of international law.

Please communicate the foregoing in writing to the Foreign Office84 and to the Ministry of Economic Warfare if you consider it desirable. You may add in this connection that the suggestions of the Ministry of Economic Warfare as expressed in your telegram have been communicated as a matter of information only to American shippers and shipping interests.

Welles
  1. The foregoing was communicated to the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs as the Ambassador’s note No. 1569, November 20, 1939.