Memorandum by the Secretary of State  to the Committee On
Foreign Relations, United States Senate, May 17, 1933
It is impossible to foresee all the circumstances under which the President might exercise the authority granted by this Resolution. In many cases of threatened or actual international conflict an embargo on the export of arms placed by other nations not involved in the conflict would be of little or no avail in preventing or putting an end to that conflict. In such cases, the President would obviously take no action. In other cases, an international embargo on the shipment of arms and munitions to both parties to the conflict might be an effective means of preserving or restoring peace. It is conceivable that in certain cases the matured opinion of this Government might accord with the opinion of the rest of the world in fixing the responsibility for a conflict upon an aggressor nation. In such cases, an international embargo on the shipment of arms and munitions to one party to the conflict might be deemed an equitable and effective method of restoring peace. This method nevertheless would certainly not be adopted by this Government without such effective guarantees of international cooperation as would safeguard us against the danger of this country's being involved in the conflict as a result of such action. In a case of this kind, this Government would naturally take into careful consideration the international law of neutrality taking into account the definite, although perhaps as yet undefined, effect of the Kellogg-Briand Pact and other treaties designed to prevent war upon the concept of neutrality.
It has been urged by some that action by the President pursuant to this Resolution might result in involving this country in war. If a President were disposed to stir up conflicts with other countries, he would have, under the authority already conferred upon him many simpler and more expeditious means of doing so than by the use of an arms embargo. This is a peace measure and it would be used to promote peace.
It is natural that this Resolution, although it was originally proposed in pursuance of the development of the peace policy of this Government and without reference to specific cases, should be considered with reference to the cases of actual international conflict existing at the present time.
If this legislation were enacted, this Government would be disposed, in cooperation with other governments, to place immediately an embargo on the shipment of arms to Paraguay and Bolivia. The information in our possession leads us to believe that a request from other powers for our cooperation would be forthcoming and that international cooperation could be obtained to a degree sufficient to ensure the complete stoppage of shipments of arms to those countries. As neither country is a producer of arms or munitions of war, such action would tend to bring about a cessation of the hostilities now being carried on between them.
Efforts are now in progress to put an end to the conflict between Colombia and Peru. Both Governments are members of the League of Nations. The Council of the League has submitted to these Governments a proposal for the settlement of the differences between them. The Government of Colombia has accepted this proposal. The Government of Peru still has this proposal under consideration. The question of an arms embargo in this case does not, therefore, arise at this time. The action if any which this Government might be disposed to take in this case pursuant to the proposed legislation would depend upon the unpredictable conditions which may exist in the future.
It has never been the intention and is not now the intention of this Government to use the authority which would be conferred upon the Executive by this Resolution as a means of restoring peace between China and Japan. An embargo on arms and munitions of war would not be an effective means of restoring peace in this case. Japan is an important producer of arms and munitions of war. Her industry is sufficiently developed to supply her present and probable future needs. China is dependent upon her importation of these commodities. An embargo on the exportation of arms and munitions to both China and Japan would, therefore, militate against China and in favor of Japan. An embargo directed against Japan alone would probably result in a Japanese blockade of Chinese ports, in the seizure by the Japanese of arms and munitions intended for China, and thus its ultimate effects would probably be to decrease China's supply of arms and increase, by virtue of seizures, Japan's supply. As this Government concurs in general in the findings of the Lytton Commission which place the major responsibility upon Japan for the international conflict now proceeding in China, this Government would not be disposed to take any action which would favor the military operations of the Japanese. From the information in our possession, it would appear that this view of the situation is shared by the principal powers members of the League of Nations. We do not, therefore, envisage the probability of proposals by the League or by its principal members to this Government to cooperate with them in an embargo on the shipment of arms and munitions to Japan. Should such proposals be made, we would not be disposed to give them favorable consideration, and we would not under any circumstances agree to participate in an international embargo of this kind unless we had secured substantial guarantees from the governments of all of the great powers which would ensure us against the effects of any retaliatory measures which the Japanese might undertake. In brief, this Government does not expect to take any action of this nature in connection with this case; if any action is taken it will certainly be taken with a due and prudent regard for American interests and in particular for our paramount interest of remaining free from any entanglements which would involve this country in a foreign war. One of the most important reasons for the passage of this Resolution at this time is, however, connected with the present situation in the Far East. There is danger that if this legislation is not enacted, certain European governments may find it to their interest to make it appear that this Government is responsible, by virtue of its not being in a position to cooperate, for a failure on their part to proceed with the imposition of sanctions to which they are committed by reason of their membership in the League of Nations. Thus they would make this country appear in the eyes of many of their nationals and of a large section of public opinion in this country to bear the onus of their failure to make effective the peace machinery which they have built up. If the Resolution is passed, it would no longer be possible for them to make the excuse that their failure to come to an agreement among themselves in regard to a course of action was due to the fact that we were not in a position to cooperate with them if requested to do so. Under these circumstances, failure on their part to take action would manifestly be due solely to their own inability to reach an agreement on the basis of which to request our cooperation, and the facts of the situation would be obvious to all the world; they could attribute no responsibility or blame to us.
It is not our policy to have this Government posing before the world as a leader in all the efforts to prevent or put an end to wars but on the other hand it is not our policy to lag behind the other nations of the world in their efforts to promote peace. The passage of this Resolution is necessary in order that this Government may keep pace with other Governments of the world in this movement.
[l4] Presented orally by Joseph O. Green, Division of Western European Affairs, Department of State, to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, May 17, 1933, at a hearing on H.J. Res. 93, 73d Cong., 1st sess. (see doc. 13).
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. 183-185.
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