Courtesy Reuters

Oil for Italy

TO ITALY, engaged in a military venture in East Africa, oil is probably the commodity of the greatest strategic importance. A committee of experts of the League of Nations has estimated that if a general embargo were laid down on oil shipments to Italy the present stocks of that country would be exhausted in from three to three and a half months. This obviously would halt the campaign in Ethiopia.

In its early efforts to check the flow of oil to the belligerents the United States went further than any of the other Great Powers. It gave a broad interpretation to existing legislation, and where legal authority was lacking it resorted to moral suasion. Its policy during the autumn of 1935 clearly indicated a desire to prevent any action by American citizens which might thwart efforts of the League of Nations to end the war by economic pressure against the aggressor. Despite that, the League's committee of experts, in its report of February 12, 1936, found that the policies of the American Government were an obstacle to the adoption of an oil sanction by members of the League. It believed that such a sanction would be ineffective unless the United States agreed formally to restrict oil exports to Italy to the normal peace-time level.

The committee's action was widely interpreted in the United States as an effort to shift to American shoulders the responsibility for the failure of the member states to agree promptly to discharge their duties under the Covenant. But motives need not concern us here. The important question is whether the judgment was in accord with the facts. Had the United States indicated a purpose to break through an embargo which might be imposed against Italy and thereby to reap rich war profits at the expense of self-denying members of the League? Were the normal American shipments of oil sufficient to frustrate collective action by the League members against an adjudged aggressor?

At least two facts seem well established: (1) the amount

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