Briefing Book Paper1
Memorandum Regarding the Montreux Convention
The U. S. S. R. indicated at Yalta briefly, without stating its desiderata, that it was not satisfied with the existing Convention, and it was agreed by the Big Three that the U. S. S. R. would make known its wishes at a later date to the American aind British Governments for discussion at the prospective “Meeting of Foreign Ministers.”2 In a memorandum handed to the British Embassy June 233 the Department [Page 1012] stated that: “this Government stands ready to discuss the question of the Straits at the forthcoming meeting of the Heads of Government when, presumably, the Soviet Government will present its desiderata in this connection”.
Thus this Government, which is not a signatory to the Montreux Convention (signed July 20, 1936 by Bulgaria, France, Great Britain, Greece, Japan, Rumania, Turkey, the U. S. S. R. and Yugoslavia) has been brought fully into this picture by Britain and the U. S. S. R. without consultation with Turkey, although the latter would undoubtedly be pleased to know that the United States is interested in the future of the Straits.
U. S. Interest
The chief United States interests in this problem are (a) freedom of commerce and (b) a regime of the Straits which would appear most effectively to promote the cause of world peace in accordance with the principles of the International Security Organization to which this Government is pledged.
Minimum Changes to be Hoped For
There would not appear to be any real justification for the U. S. S. R. to propose radical changes in the Montreux Convention at the Heads of Government meeting because:
- The Montreux Convention has in general proven satisfactory in application. Non-use of the Straits as a supply route to Russia was due to Axis command of neighboring regions and not to any shortcomings in the Convention.
- Any major changes in the regime of the Straits without the free consent of Turkey would violate Turkish sovereignty and might well affect adversely the strategic and political position of Turkey.
- The Convention was drafted originally to fit into the League of Nations’ collective security system and consequently can be adapted easily to the International Security Organization.
No valid claim can be made for altering the Convention so far as merchant vessels are concerned, because, under its provisions, unarmed or defensively armed merchant vessels of any flag, with any cargo, are free to transit the Straits subject to certain Turkish security provisions.
Although the British and American Governments have agreed to discuss the Russian desiderata at the meeting of the Heads of Government, it should be remembered that the Montreux Convention is an international undertaking signed by all the nations who subscribed to the Lausanne Treaty of July 24, 19234 except Italy. Under its terms (Article 29) any signatory of the Convention may communicate [Page 1013] any revisions it desires to the other signatories three months prior to the end of each five-year period of the Convention’s existence (in this case August 1946) and if agreement on the proposed revisions cannot be reached through diplomatic channels, the signatories agree to be represented at a specially convened conference of signatories. With such time-tested international machinery already in existence, it might be preferable to allow desirable changes to be made within the framework of the Convention itself, although, if considered urgent, the date for reconsideration could be advanced by a unanimous decision of the signatories.
This Government is [in?] expressing its views beyond the principles of the I. S. O. would be justified in insisting that Japan, a signatory, has no longer any proper place in the Convention and should be formally excluded therefrom.
This Government might not object to minor changes in the Convention suggested by the U. S. S. R. (the Great Power primarily at interest) with respect to the transit and navigation of warships in the Straits and their right of sojourn in the Black Sea because there seems to be some validity to the Russian trend of thought that the Convention recognizes to an insufficient degree the special importance of the Straits to the Black Sea powers. Suggested changes of this sort should, of course, be considered carefully by the Navy and War Departments.
If asked whether the United States would be willing to participate in a revised Montreux Convention or some other regime of the Straits within the I. S. O., the reply might be that we would be prepared to participate in the event that it appears that the participation of the United States would serve the ends of world peace.
- Annex 12 to the attachment to document No. 177. In Truman’s copy of the Briefing Book, this paper has been marked for deletion and document No. 681 has been inserted as a substitute.↩
- See vol. ii, document No. 1416, section xiv .↩
- Document No. 688.↩
- League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. xxviii, p. 115. Text of the substantive provisions also in Howard, The Problem of the Turkish Straits, p. 21.↩