740.0011 European War 1939/1177a: Circular telegram

The Secretary of State to Chiefs of Missions in the American Republics

You are requested to call immediately upon the Minister for Foreign Affairs and to submit for the consideration of the Government to [Page 95]which you are accredited the desirability of the issuance by all of the governments of the American Republics, in accordance with the principles unanimously agreed upon at the recent Consultative Meeting at Panamá, of a joint statement with regard to the naval engagement which took place on December 13 off the coast of the Republic of Uruguay. You may say that your Government submits for such consideration, and as a basis for discussion, the following draft statement:

“On the morning of December 13, 1939, a naval combat took place off the northeastern coast of Uruguay between certain British naval vessels and the German naval vessel Graf von Spee after the latter is alleged to have attempted to overhaul the French merchant vessel Formose at a time when the latter vessel was plying between Brazilian ports and the port of Montevideo, and after the Graf von Spee is alleged to have sunk other merchant vessels in the same vicinity.

There would seem to be no question that all of these activities took place within the zone described in the Declaration of Panamá on October 3, 1939, the first paragraph of which reads as follows:

‘1. As a measure of continental self-protection, the American Republics, so long as they maintain their neutrality, are as of inherent right entitled to have those waters adjacent to the American continent, which they regard as of primary concern and direct utility in their relations, free from the commission of any hostile act by any non-American belligerent nation, whether such hostile act be attempted or made from land, sea or air.’

From the evidence so far available it would appear that such interference with merchant shipping plying between the ports of one American Republic and the port of an adjacent American Republic took place within the zone fixed by the American Republics as that area which should be maintained free from belligerent activities in order to insure their own right to self-protection. Such interference has further been followed oy engagements between armed vessels of the opposing belligerents within the security zone. The Governments of the American Republics state that as soon as they have clearly ascertained the facts and established the responsibilities involved, they will, through the method of mutual consultation provided in the Declaration of Panamá, determine upon the representations which they should appropriately make, or determine the action to be taken individually or collectively in this case.”

You may further state that your Government believes that the security zone established in the Declaration of Panama, if respected by the belligerents, will afford a very great measure of security to all of the American Republics and is calculated to avoid involvement of the American Republics in controversies arising out of the European war. It further believes that if this first flagrant violation by the belligerents of the Declaration of Panamá is permitted to occur without vigorous protest on the part of all of the American Republics, the Declaration of Panamá will inevitably become a dead letter.

If the Governments of the American Republics are all in accord with regard to the suggested step, the Government of the United [Page 96]States would recommend that the President of Panamá be requested to issue any statement that may be agreed upon and communicate copies thereof to the governments of the belligerents involved in this incident.

Please telegraph immediately the views of the Government to which you are accredited.15

  1. Replies generally not printed. See circular telegram of December 18, 4 p.m., to Chiefs of Missions in the American Republics, p. 105.