Courtesy Reuters

Supervising the American Traffic in Arms

GOVERNMENTAL supervision and control of the export trade in arms is a new development in American foreign policy. Formerly resorted to only in exceptional circumstances and on a restricted scale, it has now become a regular and continuing function of the Federal Government. Established by the Neutrality Act of August 31, 1935, it has been in operation long enough to make possible a survey of the methods by which it is administered and some indication of its usefulness to the Government in the conduct of foreign relations.

The international traffic in arms, ammunition, and implements of war has definite political implications which differentiate it from ordinary commerce between nations. Every shipment of arms from one country to another is a transaction which may affect international relations and the peace of the world. Realizing these facts, the Government of the United States has since the World War taken a leading part in efforts to negotiate effective international conventions for the regulation of the international traffic in arms. These efforts have so far been unsuccessful, and such regulation of the traffic as now exists results for the most part not from international agreements but from national legislation.

Although the negotiation of an arms traffic convention has for many years been a definite aim of American foreign policy, the United States in its domestic legislation lagged far behind most of the other important nations. Various measures designed to give the Executive some measure of supervision and control over the export of arms were introduced in Congress during the years 1921-34; but, with the exception of two, which were restricted in scope and of limited application, they failed of enactment.[i]

In 1935 there was introduced in both Houses a bill which had the support of the Administration. Its purposes, as explained by a representative of the Department of State who was called to testify before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, were threefold: first, to enable the Executive branch of the Government, the Congress, and the public to

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