IO Files: USGA/GEN/17 8

Position Paper Prepared in the Division of International Security Affairs


1. Traffic in Arms

the problem

In view of the reported intention on the part of the British Delegation to urge consideration of controls for the international traffic in arms at the first part of the First Session of the General Assembly, what position should the United States be prepared to take?


Article 11 of the Charter permits the General Assembly to “consider … the principles governing disarmanent and the regulation of armaments.” This authority is believed to be broad enough to include such subjects as limitation, reduction of armaments, and establishment of a level for armaments, as well as controls for governing the international traffic in arms. The provisional agenda for the first part of the First Session is composed of organizational matters with provision made for introduction of substantive matters of urgent importance. Although the urgency of the arms traffic question is debatable in the light of the array of organizational details that must be disposed of at the first part, it is unquestionably a problem of immediate importance to the maintenance of international peace and security. The existence of huge stockpiles of arms in various parts of the world combined with the lack of an international agreement concerning their diversion or even a declaration of principles relating [Page 717] to their use may well increase in number and complexity the political and military problems confronting the United Nations Organization when it completes its organizational work and can undertake the study of such problems. As the traffic in arms is a phase of the regulation of armaments of immediate interest to all members of the United Nations Organization, as exporters or importers of arms, it would be especially appropriate for the General Assembly to deal with this matter. The proposed committee structure of the General Assembly provides that the Political and Security Committee shall include within its province the regulation of armaments, and this Committee, when organized, could undoubtedly proceed to consider proposals for the regulation of the arms traffic. However, a directive from the General Assembly to this Committee, as possibly contemplated by the British, might serve the purpose of accelerating international action in this field.

the united states position

The United States Delegation should lend sympathetic support to a proposal at an appropriate time during the first part for the study of the problems of peace and security arising out of the international traffic in arms so that general proposals might be submitted to the General Assembly for the regulation of this traffic.

In the event that it may be necessary to state the current views of the United States with respect to the supervision of arms manufacture and traffic, the Delegation should adopt, pending the formulation of definitive proposals by this Government, a tentative position along the lines of the attached draft.


I. With respect to the supervision of arms manufacture and traffic.

The registering of manufacturers, importers, and exporters; the licensing of each shipment of arms and munitions in or out of a country; and the publishing of statistics comprise the minimum of what is involved in international agreement in this field. These matters are relatively non-controversial and, in view of existing American legislation, the position of this Government is already determined.
Recommendation V adopted at Mexico City states that “It is highly desirable that governments exercise a complete control over the production and distribution of armaments, thus eliminating the profit motive in the traffic in arms.”9 This expresses a rather widely [Page 718] held view. However it carried implications for relations between government and business which would be difficult for this Government to enact into legislation. Thought should be given, therefore, to the character of internal controls which might be both practicable and effective in the American case.
The circumstances in which exports of arms and munitions should be prohibited involve both national and international policy. We shall insist on remaining free in the future as in the past to impose prohibitions by virtue of our own unilateral action (e.g., the Joint Resolutions of January 31, 1922, November 4, 1939, and July 2, 1940); and, also we shall be under treaty obligations in old and new forms, to impose prohibitions in certain circumstances (e.g., the Cuban treaty, the peace treaties, the charter of the international organization). However, this issue arises most immediately in connection with the negotiation of international agreements other than one concerning supervision of arms manufacture and traffic. The only concern is that the machinery of control be sufficiently adaptable to be of use in the various circumstances in which it may be necessary to employ it and is more directly dependent on domestic legislation than it is on an international agreement for supervising arms manufacture and traffic.
  1. IO Files” is the short title for the Reference and Documents Section of the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, Department of State.
  2. The USGA series consists of twenty-nine position papers prepared in various divisions of the Office of Special Political Affairs on subjects with which the General Assembly was expected to concern itself.
  3. For the full text of the resolution, see Report of the Delegation of the United States of America to the Inter-American Conference on Problems of War and Peace, Mexico City, February 21–March 8, 1945, Department of State Publication 2497 (Washington, 1946), p. 69.