Our foreign relations are largely shaped by the physical geography of our country, the characteristics of our people, and our historical experience. Those who are in charge of the conduct of foreign policy must suit their actions to these underlying facts with due regard to the shifting circumstances of the times. This is particularly true in a democracy, where even in the short run the policies of the government must rest upon the support of the people.
We inhabit a large country which provides the basis for satisfactory and improving conditions of life. We do not seek or threaten the territory or possessions of others. Great oceans lie between us and the powers of Asia and Europe. Though these are now crossed much more quickly and easily than they used to be, they still enable us to feel somewhat protected against physical impacts from abroad. We are a numerous, strong, and active people. We have lived and developed in deep traditions of tolerance, of neighborly friendliness, of personal freedom, and of self-government. We have had long training in the settlement of differences of opinion and interest among ourselves by discussion and compromise. The winds of doctrine that are blowing so violently in many other lands are moderated here in our democratic atmosphere and tradition.
Our contribution must be in the spirit of our own situation and conceptions. It lies in the willingness to be friends but not allies. We wish extensive and mutually beneficial trade relations. We have the impulse to multiply our personal contacts, as shown by the constant American travel abroad. We would share and exchange the gifts which art, the stage, the classroom, and the scientists' and thinkers' study contribute to heighten life and understanding; we have led the world in promoting this sort of interchange among students, teachers, and artists. Our wish that natural human contacts be deeply and fully realized is shown by the great number of international conferences in which we participate, both private and intergovernmental. In such ways we would have our relations grow.
In deciding upon the character of our political relations with the outside world we naturally take into account the conditions prevailing there. These, today, are not tranquil or secure, but on the contrary in many countries are excited and haunted by mutual dread. In less than 20 years events have occurred that have taken away from international agreements their force and reliability as a basis of relations between nations. There appears to have been a great failure of the spirit, and out of this has come a many-sided combat of national ambitions, dogmas, and fears. In many lands the whole national energy has been organized to support absolute aims, far reaching in character but vaguely defined. These flare like a distant fire in the hills, and no one can be sure as to what they mean. There is an increasing acceptance of the idea that the end justifies all means. Under these conditions the individual who questions either means or end is frightened or crushed. For he encounters two controlling rules-compulsory subordination to autocratic will and the ruthless pressure of might. The result is dread and growing confusion.
Behind this lies the knowledge that laboratories and shops are producing instruments which can blow away human beings as though hey were mites in a thunder storm, and these instruments have been placed in the hands of an increasing number of young men whom their leaders dedicate to the horrors of war. When Foreign Offices engage in discussion with each other today, they have an inescapable vision of men living in concrete chambers below the earth and concrete and steel forts and tanks upon the earth and operating destructive machines above the earth. They have strained and striven in many negotiations since the war to dispel that vision, but it appears to grow clearer and clearer.
The world waits. You may be sure that in most human hearts there is the steady murmur of prayer that life need not be yielded up in battle and that there may be peace, at least in our time.
It is in these circumstances we must shape our foreign relations. It is also these circumstances that present to us the problem of seeking to achieve a change in the dominant trend that is so full of menace.
I find as I review the line of foreign policy we have followed that we come close to Thomas Jefferson's expression-"peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none." It is dangerous to take liberties with the great words of a great man, but I would add-settlement of disputes by peaceful means, renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy.
I think that the term "good neighbor" is an apt description of that policy. We have tried to give full meaning to that term. The good neighbor in any community minds his own essential business and does not willfully disturb the business of others. He mends his fences but does not put up spite fences. He firmly expects that others will not seek to disturb his affairs or dictate to him. He is tolerant, but his toleration does not include those who would introduce discord from elsewhere. He observes his agreements to the utmost of his ability; he adjusts by friendly methods any troubles that arise; he mingles freely in the give and take of life and concerns himself with the community welfare. All of this is in contrast with the hermit who isolates himself, who ignores the community, and, in his resistance to change, decays in a mean and bitter isolation. But the role of the good neighbor is a positive and active one which calls upon the energies, the friendliness, and the self-restraint of man or nation.
In affairs between nations the neighborliness obviously is less direct than
between individuals in the local community. Its expression takes the form of
just and fair dealings, without encroachment upon the rights of others, or oppression
of the weak, or envy of the more fortunate. It contemplates liberal economic
relations on the basis of mutual benefit, observance of law, and respect for
agreements, and reliance upon peaceful processes when controversies rise.
In the everyday work of the Department of State dealing with critical issues, we have resolutely pursued this course.
We have tried to bring together American opinion and opinion in other countries in a common determination against the use of force for the settlement of disputes or for other national purposes. n that connection we have sought to maintain the vitality of the international agreement to renounce war which was signed by virtually all countries of the world when Mr. Kellogg was Secretary of State. But strong nations have chosen to proceed in disregard of that agreement, and this basis for international trust has thus been greatly impaired. We have tried to soften quarrels between other countries when they have arisen.
At times there has been criticism because we would not depart from our traditional policy and join with other governments in collective arrangements carrying the obligation of employing force, if necessary, in case disputes between other countries brought them into war. That responsibility, carrying direct participation in the political relations of the whole of the world outside, we cannot accept, eager as we are to support means for the prevention of war. For current experience indicates how uncertain is the possibility that we, by our action, could vitally influence the policies or activities of other countries from which war might come. It is for the statesmen to continue their effort to effect security by new agreements which will prove more durable than those that have been broken. This Government would welcome that achievement. It would be like full light overcoming dense darkness. It is difficult to see how responsible governments can refrain from pushing compromise to its utmost limits to accomplish that result.
Of late we have increased our defense forces substantially. This has appeared essential in the face of the universal increase of armaments elsewhere and the disturbed conditions to which I have alluded. We would not serve the cause of peace by living in the world today without adequate powers of self-defense. We must be sure that in our desire for peace, we will not appear to any other country weak and unable to resist the imposition of force or to protect our just rights. At the same time I would make clear with the utmost emphasis that we stand ready to participate in all attempts to limit armaments by mutual accord and await the day when this may be realized.
I need say little of our relations with our great neighbor Canada. The American people and the Canadian people have lived in unbroken friendship. A new index of that friendship is the trade agreement signed last year. I have had to reckon with a number of attacks on this or that schedule of the agreement. In virtually every instance I have found, and I do not wish to be partisan in this remark, that the criticism represents misjudgment or distortion of the facts. I have watched the malicious attempts of some to juggle a few minor figures in the trade returns in such a way as to prejudice the minds of particular groups against an agreement which was the first step taken within the past half century to enable the American and Canadian peoples to obtain greater mutual benefit from their work and trade.
We have confirmed our good-neighbor policy by our actions in dealing with the American republics to the south of us. This Administration has made it clear that it would not intervene in any of those republics. It has endorsed this principle by signing at the Montevideo Conference the inter-American convention on the rights and duties of states; it has abrogated the Platt Amendment contained in our treaty with Cuba; it has withdrawn the American occupying forces from Haiti; it has negotiated new treaties with Panama, which, while fully safeguarding our rights to protect and operate the Canal, eliminate the rights we previously possessed to interfere in that republic. In all this we have shown that we have no wish to dictate to other countries, that we recognize equality of nations, and that we believe in the possibility of full cooperation between nations. Later this year there will be held in Argentina a conference between the American republics, which has been warmly welcomed, and there is general confidence that further ways can be found to assure the maintenance of peace on this continent.
Certainly the economic troubles that have pressed so hard on the world during these past few years are one of the main causes of the disturbance of spirit and upset of relations that have taken place. This Government has taken the lead in trying to bring about changes in the international trade situation which would improve conditions everywhere. The needs of our own domestic situation have coincided completely with this undertaking. By 1933 a serious emergency had arisen in our trade relationships with other countries. We had repeatedly increased the barriers to the entry of foreign products into this country, and the sale of American goods abroad was being subjected to increasingly drastic retaliation and restriction on the part of other governments. In addition, we had most substantial investments in foreign countries which our previous policy had thrown into great jeopardy. Many branches of American agriculture and industry required a revival of our trade with other countries if they were to escape continued depression, idleness of resources, and unemployment. The other countries had no smaller need.
Under the authority conferred by the Trade Agreements Act of 1934, we have entered into numerous commercial agreements whereby most carefully selected and limited reductions have been made in our own tariffs. In return, we have secured reductions of the barriers imposed against American goods by other countries and assurance of various kinds against the operation of the trade-control systems that have come into existence elsewhere. The vast decline in our foreign trade has ceased. A substantial and steady increase is being recorded. During 1935 our sales abroad exceeded those of 1932, the lowest year, by 671 millions of dollars. The trade records of 1936 to date indicate that this figure will be surpassed. This has been an extremely wholesome factor in the improvement in our own conditions and in building up the world's purchasing power. Our imports of foreign goods have similarly increased, reflecting chiefly the enlarged American demand for raw materials, arising from the improvement of productive activity in the United States and our increased purchasing power.
In the negotiation of these agreements the principle of equality has been maintained in the belief that trade conducted on this basis brings the greatest economic benefit, has the greatest possibilities of expansion, and involves the least conflict. We are vigorously striving to secure similar equality of treatment on the part of other countries with which we have negotiated. In connection with this program we have refused to be drawn into a system of bilateral balancing between pairs of countries because this system is comparatively sterile and requires direct government management of international trade, which soon extends to management of domestic production. At the same time, we have been alert to the problem of protecting our trade interests against the incidental disadvantages that we might suffer from the practice of such a system by other countries.
The trade policy this country is pursuing fits well into our domestic economic situation and policies. I am willing to leave this judgment to the arbitration of facts. Certainly by now it should be clear, even to those engaged in industries that have been the most direct beneficiaries of excessive tariffs, that this alone will not bring them prosperity. It should also be apparent that they can thrive only when other branches of production thrive, including those that habitually dispose of a large part of their products in foreign markets.
The rebuilding of international trade offers a splendid opportunity for governments
to improve the conditions of their people and to assure them the necessary means
of acquiring the essentials of well-being and the raw materials for production.
If this result can be achieved, one of the fertile causes of dissension and
possible war would be weakened or removed. The plans and hopes of millions of
individuals now appear to have no place except in military formation. An improvement
of economic conditions would guarantee anther place. Advancement in this direction
need not await a solution of all political difficulties. Terms have been found
by which advance can be made even in the face of the monetary uncertainty which
still exists. A great opportunity awaits great leadership.
In trade interchange baleful elements enter particularly the race in arms, ammunition, and implements of war. This trade is at present mainly incidental to the preparation for war. However, in some times and circumstances, it may itself be an element in stimulating or provoking war. Therefore, we have established a system requiring full disclosure regarding American trade in this field by placing those engaged in it under a license plan. Whether and to what extent it may be wise to regulate or restrict such trade between ourselves and other nations, for reasons other than the protection of military secrets, is a matter on which we are constantly weighing our current experience. Our existing legal authority is limited. But, as in the present Spanish situation, we assert our influence to the utmost to prevent arms shipped from this country from thwarting national or international efforts to maintain peace or end conflict. But action of that character cannot best be governed by inflexible rule, for, to a large extent, it must be determined in the light of the facts and circumstances of each situation. This much is certain-we are always ready to discourage to the utmost the traffic in arms when required in the interest of peace.
Up to this point I have dealt with the principles of our policies and relationships with other countries when peace prevails. Lately, after a lapse of almost 20 years, we have been called upon to consider with great seriousness the question of what these relationships should be if war were unhappily to occur again among the other great countries of the world. We must squarely face the fact that to stay clear of a widespread major war will require great vigilance, poise, and careful judgment in dealing with such interferences with our peaceful rights and activities as may take place.
Legislation recently passed provides some of the main essentials in a wise anticipatory policy. I have in mind the resolutions of Congress of 1935 and 1936 which, in addition to providing for the licensing of all imports and exports of arms, ammunition, and implements of war, prohibit their shipment to belligerent nations. Those same resolutions prohibit the flotation of loans and the establishment of credits in our market by belligerent countries, and otherwise strengthen our existing neutrality laws. On some of these matters the Congress by law has modified policies formerly pursued by this Government in times of war abroad. There are other vital aspects of this problem which will continue to receive the careful attention and study of the Department of State.
The problems arising during a period of neutrality are so great that they constantly renew in one the determination to spare no reasonable effort to play a full part in the encouragement of the maintenance of peace. We have sought to demonstrate that we are interested in peace everywhere. Surely this endeavor must continue to command our full abilities if war elsewhere can create such difficulties for us, if it can change for the worse the world in which we must live, if it can threaten the civilization with which all of us are concerned.
I cannot believe that the world has completely changed in mentality and desire since those great decades when the principles of liberty and democracy were extending their reign. I believe that this was a natural evolution of our civilization. I do not believe that with the great and growing facilities for education and for personal development people will permanently abandon their individual liberties and political rights. In my judgment it is not a basic defect of democratic institutions that has led to their decline in so many places but rather the onset of weariness, fear, and indifference, which can and must be dispelled. These are the heritage of the last war. They must not be permitted to bring on another.
Let me return to a remark that I made in the beginning-that the direction of our foreign policy must be acceptable to the people. Our task is to formulate out of the wishes and wisdom of a popular democracy a sound foreign policy which will ensure peace and favor progress and prosperity. In the conduct of that task we must be able to distinguish between the sharp voice of excited or prejudiced minorities which may from time to time arise and the fundamental and more lasting welfare of our nation. We must be on guard against the hasty, excited impulse, the quick upsurge of passing emotion.
Satisfactory foreign policy must be able to count upon the qualities of patience, of sympathetic understanding, of steady poise, and of assured inner strength among the people. In the past crises of our history Americans have shown that they possess these qualities in full measure. I do not doubt that they are still present as a firm support. Against the walls of our democratic methods and institutions storms from elsewhere beat violently. Let us avoid flabbiness of spirit, weakness of body, grave dissent within our own numbers, and we shall have nothing to fear from these storms. We must keep before us the knowledge that our democracy was builded on the solid qualities of hardihood, individual self-reliance, full willingness to put general welfare above personal interest in any great matter of national interest, forebearance in every direction, and abiding patriotism. They alone can furnish the necessary assurance that our foreign policy and our foreign relations will continue to bring peace with the whole world and will not fail in that leadership appropriate to a country as great as ours.
Source: U.S., Department of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1943, pp. 333-39.
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