740.00111 A.R./1044: Telegram

The Ambassador in Argentina (Armour) to the Secretary of State

138. Embassy’s telegram 137, May 12, 6 p.m. The following is a translation of the communiqué which the Minister for Foreign Affairs informs me he has just given the press:

“News transmitted from Washington and published in the local press today refers to conversations held in this Chancellery regarding American neutrality.

The Argentine Chancellery, about the middle of last month, taking into consideration the developments which the present war is assuming, suggested to certain colleagues, among them Mr. Armour, Ambassador of the United States, the possibility that the American countries might reconsider their position as neutrals in order to adapt themselves to the reality of the present situation.

Neutrality is a situation governed by legal rules, by virtue of which belligerent states are obliged to respect the will of the neutral and the latter is obliged to make respected its neutrality. It therefore implies bilateral obligations; it creates obligations, but it also creates guarantees. Without this basis of reciprocity, no one could ever have imagined the ideal of neutrality, nor made it conform to the series of rules by which it is governed today.

But, in the present situation, neither the belligerent states respect the will of the neutrals, nor are the latter able to cause their neutrality to be respected as a juridical form of their isolation. Neutrality, created in order to preserve sovereignty, under present circumstances makes a mock of sovereignty or undermines it, but it does not protect it. It is a fiction, a dead concept, which should be replaced within the reality of the times in which we live.

The American countries, with their Declaration of Panama and the Zone of Security, which was the result thereof, made their utmost efforts to observe neutrality within the rules and reciprocal obligations of international law. In order the better to observe it they created in Rio de Janeiro a permanent commission which in the face of the problems of an ineffective neutrality, is only a wheel which turns in a vacuum. Compelled to decide between belligerency and the present system of neutrality, non-belligerent countries can only now opt for a fiction. It is precisely in order to free themselves from that fiction and to restore to non-belligerency a strong legal position, in keeping with the reality, that the Argentine Chancellery has suggested the revision of the present position.

This suggestion should not be considered as an aim or even as an indirect method of bringing the continent closer to the war. But in the face of methods of aggression and the systematic spreading of the war it is fitting for the American countries to set forth their concept with regard to a system which they have accepted as a reciprocal method of guarantees, abandoning rules and limitations which, complied with only in a unilateral sense, hinder them in their action in the external as well as in the internal field without compensating benefits. [Page 765] For the supreme interests of America a merely juridical concept of neutrality should be replaced by a circumstantial and coordinated policy of vigilance.”

Dr. Cantilo called my attention to the fact that while certain passages of the statement follow the general lines of his memorandum of May 694 in reply to our aide-mémoire he has, of course, refrained from making any reference to our Government’s position as set forth in the latter document.

He told me that the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uruguay today telephoned him that his Government had submitted a proposal to the Panamanian Government reaffirming American neutrality in the light of European events and that the text would be communicated to the Argentine Government probably tomorrow or Tuesday. Cantilo had gathered that the Uruguayan Government had been in communication with our Government with regard to the proposal and that it had our general support. Cantilo had informed Guani that in principle he saw no objection to the procedure suggested and would be glad to examine the proposal when received. He told me, however, that if it were to be merely a reaffirmation of the position taken [in?] Panama he could not see that it would accomplish much and still felt that the situation called for something more vigorous along the lines outlined in his proposals to us and to the Brazilian Government.

I am inclined to believe that the Minister for Foreign Affairs has used the occasion offered by the Natión telegram from Washington, referred to in telegram No. 133, May 10, 3 p.m., to make public his Government’s attitude in anticipation of the action proposed by the Uruguayan Government.

Repeated to Rio de Janeiro and Montevideo.

  1. See telegram No. 127, May 7, 6 p.m., from the Ambassador in Argentina, p. 758.