The New Concert of Powers
How to Prevent Catastrophe and Promote Stability in a Multipolar World
IN THE space of five years Congress has presented us with an almost equal number of versions of a neutrality policy. The most recent, though I hesitate to say the last, became law on November 4, 1939. With the important exception that it raised the arms embargo, the new law, known commonly as the Pittman Act, is far and away the most restrictive and the most isolationist of the series. The purpose of the Pittman Act is to keep the United States from becoming involved in the present European war for the causes which allegedly led us into war in 1917. Every other consideration has been subordinated to that one. Our legislators felt that their aim could be accomplished by keeping our ships, our goods, our money, our citizens, and last and most important of all, our prestige, out of the European war zones.
From the viewpoint of our traditional American policy, legislation of this nature represents (with the one exception of Jefferson's policy of embargo and non-intercourse) a new departure. True, the preamble to the present law states that the United States "waives none of its own rights or privileges, or those of any of its nationals, under international law" and expressly reserves all such rights. The law then proceeds, however, to make it a crime for citizens to exercise them. Writing in 1916, President Wilson insisted that the maintenance of the rights which we are now "holding in abeyance" involved "the honor and self-respect of the nation." The United States, he said, could not yield them without "virtual surrender of her independent position among the nations of the world."
Today the country is taking a very different view. In the last war we discovered that having once asserted rights, we might then be faced with the choice of surrendering them or going to war. When such an issue is put to us in that way by a belligerent, we, a proud and powerful country, have little choice. In 1917 we fought. On such an issue we would fight again. We therefore have now decided that we shall not permit ourselves to be faced with that particular dilemma. We may have other problems to meet, there may be other ways in which our national interests or prestige may be affected. But we have decided not to become involved through insistence on any rights to trade or travel.
We recognized that the abandonment of these rights involved serious sacrifices, but we have attempted to mitigate them. Many of the things that in the past we did directly we shall continue to do, but by proxy, as it were. Our trade will continue, but the purchaser must take the risk. American controlled ships may travel the seas if bearing another flag. The law, in other words, is designed to protect American prestige from outward offense rather than to effect a very vital change in our commercial relations with the rest of the world or even with the belligerents.
When early in 1939 there were unmistakable signs that war in Europe was imminent, the Administration made a somewhat belated effort to prepare the country for it -- first, by urging a repeal of the arms embargo, and second by trying to reinstate and strengthen the cash and carry features of the 1937 law which were about to lapse. This effort failed when, later in the summer of 1939, the Senate refused to give consideration to the Administration's proposals. The refusal was due in part to the fact that a large section of the public and many members of Congress refused to share the Administration's apprehensions regarding the danger in Europe, and in part to the public's sentimental if rather vague attachment to the idea of an arms embargo.[i] Domestic politics -- the desire of Republicans and conservative Democrats to block the President -- also played a rôle.
In making the repeal of the arms embargo its chief objective, the Administration added to the inconsistency of its record over the past four years. State Department spokesmen and even the President himself, having reluctantly accepted the arms embargo in the 1935 Act, afterwards endorsed the idea as a desirable part of our neutrality policy. Indeed, the Administration had specifically favored the embargo in the Spanish civil war. And on January 3, 1936, the President in his annual message to Congress had said that as part of a consistent policy the United States declines "to encourage the prosecution of war by permitting belligerents to obtain arms, ammunition or implements of war from the United States." A few days later Secretary Hull, testifying before the Foreign Relations Committee, spoke approvingly of tightening up our neutrality by embargoing shipments of finished arms, ammunition and implements of war to any belligerent. At that moment attention was directed primarily to wars in Ethiopia, in Spain, and possibly in the Far East -- wars where it seemed that American embargoes might promote the interest of peace or free the League of Nations from fear that the United States might intervene to nullify League efforts to make wars of aggression more difficult to wage. But whatever may have been the causes, and they were many, the outbreak of the European war in September 1939 found us with legislation on the statute books which imposed upon the President the duty to decree an arms embargo and which at the same time did not authorize him to put our trade on a cash and carry basis.
That legislation contained certain provisions which remain in the present law and which are of a more or less non-controversial character. Thus there was universal agreement on the principle that American citizens should not travel on belligerent vessels. The unanimity on this point is understandable when we review our diplomatic correspondence with Germany in the last war. Nine-tenths of our difficulties arose over the sinking of belligerent vessels and the consequent loss of American lives. Until we broke relations with Germany in February 1917 the loss of American vessels was negligible; and during that entire period of two and one-half years, only three American lives were lost as a result of submarine action against vessels carrying our flag. This happened when the Gulflight was torpedoed in 1915 -- and the ship was approaching the coast of Britain under British patrol at the time. It was the Lusitania, and then the Arabic and the Sussex that involved us in the "strict accountability" correspondence which ended eventually in the break in relations with Germany.
When we abandon the right of travel on belligerent vessels we certainly seem to be taking out wise insurance. We give up very little that is of real value. Possibly we have gone unnecessarily far in making such travel a criminal offense. The simple statement that the traveller went at his own risk and specifically waived all right to American protection ought to have sufficed.
There also was general agreement upon the ban on financing for belligerent governments which appeared in the earlier as well as in the new law. This ban has now been strengthened by eliminating short-term credits of any nature. Money, Secretary Bryan said in 1914, was the worst of contrabands, because it commands everything else. But this position was soon reversed. Now Congress has given the Bryan position the sanction of law, and the Executive is not left the authority to modify it in any respect. After a somewhat feeble effort to retain some form of short credits as a desirable aid to normal commercial transactions, the Administration accepted the prohibition on all loans and credits to belligerent governments and their agencies, except renewals of existing indebtedness. The theory in permitting such renewals was that no new money would reach the belligerents.
Nevertheless the prohibition on loans is not watertight. Loans can still be made or credit extended to individuals or private companies in belligerent countries provided they are not acting for the government and provided the loan is not extended in connection with an American sale of munitions. Further, during the debate on the Pittman Act the question was raised, and never satisfactorily settled, as to whether any of the loaning agencies of the United States Government -- the Export-Import Bank, for example -- could extend loans to belligerents even though private individuals may not do so. This, however, would be a breach of the usual practise under international law. And although we have extended credits to China to help her in her undeclared war against Japan, our Government is not very likely, whether or not prevented by the Pittman Act, to give direct financial aid to any European belligerents.
However, in this connection it is interesting to note that at the recent Panama Conference, held to determine a common neutrality policy for the Americas, a resolution was adopted declaring that the Conference did not consider as "contrary to neutrality the granting of credits to belligerents for the acquisition" of foodstuffs, clothing and raw materials for peacetime industries, "whenever permitted by the domestic legislation of the neutral countries." Does this resolution open up the possibility that the United States Government might some day make loans to Britain or France (even though belligerents) to finance cotton, grain and other similar imports? The President once suggested that there are measures short of war but stronger than mere words which might be used in situations like the one that now confronts us.
Were it not for its effect on our relations with Canada, the ban on loans to belligerent governments could be accepted as an entirely wise precaution. If the war lasts any considerable length of time, the problem of Canadian financing may become perplexing, entirely apart from any consideration of Canadian loans for war purposes. Canada is one of our best peacetime customers and a growing country which needs new capital for the development of its natural resources. If the only manner in which it can obtain that capital in this market is by private as distinct from governmental borrowing, it may have to curtail its own development and at the same time cut down its normal purchases here of peacetime products. Further, certain early-maturing loans of the Canadian Government are held by American, Canadian, British and other investors. Whether the provisions of the neutrality legislation allowing a "renewal or adjustment" of existing indebtedness would permit the normal payments of these loans at maturity, out of the proceeds of new loans floated exclusively in the American market, is one of the many undetermined questions of interpretation under the Act.
The Pittman Act contains other non-contentious provisions carried over in large part from earlier measures. Among them is the provision giving the Executive the right to regulate the use of our ports by armed merchantmen and submarines. Restrictions on submarines have already been imposed. The armed merchantmen question, however, remains a perplexing one. It is continually brought to our attention by pictures of large merchant vessels mounting substantial guns arriving in the port of New York.
Some indication of the attitude of the Administration toward armed merchantmen is to be found in the final act of the recent Panama Conference. The "General Declaration of Neutrality of the American Republics" -- an extremely significant document as reflecting the present views of the United States and the other nations of the Hemisphere with regard to belligerent and neutral rights -- provided that the various signatory states "shall not assimilate to warships belligerent armed merchant vessels if they do not carry more than four 6-inch guns mounted on the stern, and their lateral decks are not reinforced, and if, in the judgment of the local authorities, there do not exist other circumstances which reveal that the merchant vessels can be used for offensive purposes." Now four 6-inch guns form a very substantial armament, and all that an ordinary merchant vessel could very well mount. The declaration would seem to commit us to continue to receive armed merchantmen in our ports as we did throughout the last war. Nor would such a position be inconsistent with the attitude taken in 1928 when the American Delegation in signing (and the Senate in ratifying) the Havana Convention on Maritime Neutrality refused to accept the clause which assimilated armed merchantmen to warships. Incidentally, under the present law our own merchantmen are not to be armed.
The Pittman Act also includes the earlier provisions for a Munitions Control Board, the registration of arms manufacturers and the licensing of the export of arms. It also contains regulations for the collection of funds for belligerent charities, as well as other technical provisions which do not call for special comment.
So much, then, for the less controversial features of the present law, as carried forward with little change from previous legislation.
The arms embargo, which first appeared in the 1935 Act, has gone by the board after a checkered career. Whether or not it should be repealed was the central point of the Congressional debate. Was repeal the first step on the road to war? Was it a violation of our duties as a neutral? The opposition contended, in hundreds of thousands of words, that it was. Or was it merely a return to our traditional policy, sanctioned by international law? Was it a step toward the preservation of our own interests and the reëstablishment of peace in the world by furnishing proper aid and comfort to Powers attacked by more heavily armed antagonists? Such was the answer, in an equal flow of oratory, given by the proponents of repeal. History will give the final answer. All one can say now is that the majority of Congress, undoubtedly reflecting the views of a majority of the people, concluded that the interests of the United States would be served if in the present European war any belligerent (which in practical fact meant Britain and France) were permitted to buy our munitions (particularly airplanes) on the same basis that they might buy our other exports.
Some of our Senators and Representatives faced the issue clearly. Others tried to justify the proposed action on the ground that we ought to return to our traditional policy. Such had been the burden of the President's message to Congress asking the repeal of the Act. "Repeal of the embargo and a return to international law are the crux of this issue," he said. To this argument the obvious answer is that the new law, viewed as a whole, is a retreat from, rather than a return to, international law. Repeal of the arms embargo is practically the only feature of it which involves a reversion to our traditional policy. In any event, the country understood quite clearly what the issue was and sympathized wholeheartedly with the idea that Britain and France should not be deprived of their advantage as sea Powers to come here and buy what they could. Public opinion was unanimous in the desire to do nothing which might involve us in war; but there was reluctance to assume the responsibility of withholding aid which could properly be given to the democracies. Since the American people are far from impartial in their thoughts, they were not particularly worried by the idea that the new legislation would not work out in an entirely impartial manner owing to circumstances (British supremacy on the seas) which the United States did not create and over which it does not have any control.
The other aspect of the debate -- namely, whether under the accepted principles of international law the United States was violating its duties as a neutral by raising the embargo after the outbreak of war -- was too subtle to interest the people generally. It was argued chiefly among international lawyers. Even Congress rather shied away from this particular issue. Legislators are always reluctant to admit that they are impotent to legislate. Furthermore, it was hard for those who attacked repeal as "unneutral" to explain satisfactorily how, once war had started, we could impose entirely new restrictions on our trade and commerce by adopting cash and carry provisions and defining prohibited zones of combat -- all of which worked to the detriment of Great Britain and France -- and yet could not make a change like raising the embargo. Nobody, of course, was willing to accept the thesis that the United States never could make any change in its neutrality legislation once a war had begun. Even the most rigid conception of international law would not support that sort of doctrine.
The legalistic opponents of modifying the embargo were finally forced to adopt the theory that if our motive was pure, i.e., purely selfish, and in no way related to a desire to advance the cause of one belligerent or the other, but sprang exclusively from a regard for our own domestic welfare, then a change in the neutrality law was permissible, even after war had broken out. On the other hand, if the motive for the change was to aid a belligerent, then the change was improper and might even entail eventual claims for damage by the injured belligerent. In any event, Congress took its courage in its hands and maintained its right to change the law as and when it wanted. And in the preamble it expressly reserved "the right to repeal, change or modify" the new legislation "in the interests of the peace, security or welfare of the United States and its people." [ii]
While the embargo argument was raging in Congress, a proposal was made by Ex-President Hoover and seconded by Colonel Lindbergh in the nature of a compromise. Offensive arms should be embargoed, defensive arms should be freely exported. The idea found hardly an echo in Congress. The task of defining what would constitute arms, ammunition and implements of war was difficult enough already, and Congress did not wish to decide, or even leave to the Executive to decide, what arms had a "humanitarian" purpose. It was hard to get away from the fact that the real test is the use to which a particular arm is put rather than the particular form it is given at the factory. Concrete and mortar fortifications, well behind one's own frontier, together with their fixed armament and anti-aircraft defense -- provided this armament really is not movable -- constitute, perhaps, the only truly defensive arms. If the present war proves that such defensive fortifications, adequately manned, can resist the offensive arms which may be brought against them, then we will have made a real step forward in developing a strategy of peace.
The main structure of our new neutrality policy is built of the cash and carry provisions. There was something about the very name, familiar from grocery store practice, which appealed to the American people. It sounded simple. But actually it will not prove easy to apply in such an intricate field as foreign trade. We shall need to show a good deal of ingenuity in accommodating our commercial transactions to the cash features of the Act. Goods are likely to pile up on our docks while shippers anxiously wait for the cash that will permit them to sign the affidavits of change of ownership. Our whole commercial and banking machinery for carrying on an export trade is built so largely on a credit basis that time will be needed to make the necessary readjustments. However, now that we have ventured thus far with a "noble experiment" we shall have to make the best of it.
Several unique problems have already arisen under cash and carry. An American businessman who was off for Europe by Clipper decided to send his heavier luggage by boat. When he went to arrange for its shipment, he was advised by the Customs authorities that as far as they could see he would have to transfer title of his baggage, clothing and personal effects to a foreign owner before it could be shipped to France. As the person in question had not incorporated himself in the form of a foreign subsidiary, which might have enabled him to transfer the title of his personal effects without losing them, he had to be rescued by a general regulation issued by the State Department to meet such situations. Another curious result of the technical operation of cash and carry is found in the delivery of airplanes. If they are dismantled and crated and if title has been transferred, they can, of course, go like any other arms; but if they are to be flown across our boundary for delivery in Canada real difficulties are encountered. Some annoying questions might be raised if airplanes were allowed to be flown from American to belligerent soil after a belligerent had taken title. At any rate, the Alabama award was made on the basis of a somewhat similar action by the British in allowing a Confederate raider to sail from a British port; also our own criminal statutes relating to neutrality might come into question. On the other hand, arms cannot be delivered from the United States to a belligerent, including Canada, unless title has passed. Therefore, they cannot be flown to Canada while they still are owned by the American manufacturer. To meet this dilemma the somewhat ridiculous expedient has been worked out of taking the planes to a level field on the border where they can be pushed across, coincident with the passing of title. If this proves to be the only procedure permitted, bombing planes cannot be sold in this country to be flown directly for delivery to any belligerent.
The British and French Governments naturally welcomed the raising of the embargo and the passage of the Neutrality Act in its revised form -- even including, as it did, cash and carry. For them it had great psychological significance. But when historians turn back to analyze the effect of this legislation upon British and French fortunes, they well may find that the disadvantages for those countries on the whole outweighed the advantages. Cash and carry and the establishment of zones of combat operations are, in effect, an American invitation to Germany to sink on sight any merchant vessel which approaches England and France. The other neutral states which send their vessels through the war zones will probably receive short shrift, for Germany will be much less exercised about angering them than she would have been about angering us and risking a new American intervention. While our policy will make it easier for the British to carry out their blockade of Germany, since there will be little danger of protest from us, it will, on the other hand, greatly facilitate Germany's submarine campaign and other naval and air operations in the North Sea, the Channel, and the Bay of Biscay. The reality of this new danger to neutrals and to British sea patrols is borne out by the recent sowing of mines in the lanes of commerce surrounding the British Isles. Germany timed this action, be it noted, after the passage of our neutrality legislation. It is closely analagous to the unrestricted submarine warfare which Germany started in February 1917. This may be a "strange" war; but in many respects it is starting where the last war left off. We have promptly taken action to see that vessels under our flag are not again exposed to risks in those waters. But the Scandinavians, the Dutch, the Italians, the Belgians and others are left to reap the disagreeable results of our allegedly temporary waiving of neutral rights under international law. One may speculate whether Germany would have dared take such violent and reckless steps against neutral shipping if American vessels were still involved.
The cash and carry provisions alone would not have prevented American vessels from going directly to any neutral ports, even if that would have involved passing through the present areas of sea warfare. The President was authorized to stop up this loophole. He therefore has now defined as zones of combat operations all the waters surrounding the British Isles and France from the northern coast of Spain in the south to Bergen in Norway on the north, and far enough out into the Atlantic to include (much to its disgust) Eire, the still neutral member of the British Commonwealth. American vessels cannot enter this forbidden zone and American citizens cannot cross it except by permission from Washington. Failing to obtain such permission, an American in the British Isles would be forced to remain there for the duration of the war.
No American vessel can now touch at any French or British port in the North Atlantic or the Mediterranean; but an American vessel that must pass to the north of the British Isles is quite free to go on to Bergen with any cargo, including arms and ammunition. With knifelike precision we have endeavored to say that one wave is dangerous for our shipping, and that the next wave is safe. And there may be complications with the British. What if they should desire to examine the cargo of an American vessel bound for Bergen and should force it to enter the combat zone that surrounds Britain? The captain of that vessel might have to face the fire of British guns or be guilty of an involuntary crime by taking his boat into forbidden waters. It is a real question as to whether, as the war goes on, the exigencies of a British blockade can be reconciled with the theories of the zone of combat operations.[iii]
Adoption of cash and carry and the establishment of combat zones obviously penalize our merchant marine seriously and increase the difficulty of building up American shipping. To operate under American laws is already more costly than under the laws of other countries, and our Government has not been consistent in offering compensating advantages sufficient to justify private American capital in entering shipping enterprises on any great scale. Despite this, there has been a marked improvement in our position since 1914. Then only 93 ships of over 2,000. tons, aggregating about 550,000 tons in all, were engaged under the American flag in overseas foreign trade (that is, exclusive of trade in the Caribbean area). On the recent outbreak of war there were 326 such vessels, totaling approximately 2,150,000 tons. In other words, in 25 years our overseas foreign tonnage had increased approximately fourfold.
With the adoption of the Pittman Act as expressing our national policy in time of war there will naturally be less incentive in the future to build ships and place them under the American flag. This certainly will be the case unless measures are promptly taken to compensate the shipowners and provide other work for the crews. It is easy enough to say that our ships should be diverted temporarily to South American or other trade routes far from the scene of war. Building up new shipping connections is a slow and arduous task; it cannot be done overnight. And the services we have now abandoned will not be restored overnight either.
When the initial excitement caused by the ill-timed proposal to transfer a part of our merchant marine to foreign registry has subsided, we probably shall find that a number of our ships will be permitted to sail under other flags, even though that may involve their entering belligerent areas and even though they may risk the loss of certain privileges, for example the right to engage in our coastwise trade if later they return to our flag. If the Administration continues to refuse to permit transfer to the flag of Panama or some other American republic, on the ground that we should not encourage other states in this Hemisphere to do what we are refusing to do, then the ships may be transferred to a Scandinavian or even the Irish flag. There are countries which, if they are to live, must trade, despite the dangers of submarines and floating mines.
It is difficult for the writer to become very indignant at this alleged "evasion" of the law. Running right through the law there is something in the nature of a subterfuge. The whole idea of the legislation is to permit us to continue our normal trade and commerce so far as we can do so safely, but to change the outward form of it so that if there are any incidents our national honor and prestige will not be involved. An American-owned ship, transferred to foreign registry, flying a foreign flag, and manned by an exclusively foreign crew, would not be the object of much sentimental American interest if she got into trouble.
Other interesting problems arise in connection with transfers of registry. For example, must one belligerent recognize a transfer from the registry of an opposing belligerent to a neutral? There have been rumors from time to time that the Bremen, which sought refuge at Murmansk, was to be transferred to Russian registry, and that German vessels in South American ports would be purchased for the merchant marines of various South American countries. The international law involved is far from clear. In the century prior to 1914 during which the British were the great neutral maritime Power, they were rather inclined to favor bona fide transfers where the belligerent retained no right, title or interest in the ship. As belligerents, however, their policy has changed; they now tend to adopt the French view that such a change of registry need not be recognized. The test case in the last war was that of the Dacia, a German cargo vessel tied up in one of our southern ports, which was purchased by American interests, loaded with cotton and sent off to Europe. After some hesitation and many consultations between London and Paris (and following a hint given by Ambassador Page in London), the job of seizing the ship was turned over to the French Navy. In due course she was condemned as good prize in a French Court.
In so far as the United States has any policy in the matter, it is expressed in one of the resolutions of the Panama Conference to the effect that the American states "shall consider as lawful the transfer of the flag of a merchant vessel to that of any American Republic provided such transfer is made in good faith, without agreement for resale to the vendor, and that it takes place in the waters of an American Republic."
Today no neutral purchaser is likely to risk the investment involved in buying German ships without the consent of Great Britain and France, unless he is prepared to gamble on the length of the war and keep the ship tied up until peace releases it, or unless he can use it within territorial or safe waters. The last war demonstrated some of the strange quirks that can happen to shipping in wartime. Thus, even after the United States became a belligerent it very nearly consummated an arrangement whereby it was to buy some vessels in South American ports from their German owners, even though Germany knew at the time that the vessels would be used to transport American troops to France to fight her. Strange as it may seem, the bargain would have been a good one from the German point of view, as many of the South American countries entered the war, seized the German ships and paid no compensation to the German owners.
When our legislators decided, in principle, to prevent our ships from going to any belligerent countries, they apparently forgot that the whole British Empire (with the single exception of Eire) was at war, and that to keep our ships from all the ports of the far-flung Empire would bar them from the greater part of the seven seas. Hence the first draft of the bill had quickly to be amended to permit our ships to go to belligerent countries except in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean areas; but they cannot take arms or ammunition to belligerent countries, even outside of the barred zone. In writing this exception into the Act, Congress, of course, tacitly admitted that the law they were passing was a law only for a war involving the British Empire. Many of the provisions would be totally meaningless in any other war. For the moment, also, the Far Eastern situation was largely forgotten. In forbidding our ships to carry arms to British and French ports in the Pacific, we also prevented ourselves from sending arms to China unless we could find other than American vessels to take them. The sole gates to Nationalist China today are French Indo-China and Burma, apart from the tenuous air connection from Hong Kong to Chungking and the caravan route from Russia.
All of which only goes to show how difficult it is to frame a general neutrality policy which will coincide with American interests both in the Atlantic and the Pacific at even a single moment, let alone in perpetuity as some of our legislators would like. In the Atlantic we want a policy which will favor the sea Powers as against the land Powers. In the Pacific the situation is reversed. There our interests lie in the direction of strengthening China as against the sea power of Japan. Here is a gulf that the subtleties of legislative draftsmanship cannot bridge. Of course, the Pittman Act is not likely to be applied in a war in the Pacific, -- as its authors may have realized. For unlike the law which it replaced, it need not be invoked unless the President or Congress finds, when some war breaks out, that this is necessary in order "to promote the security or preserve the peace of the United States or to protect the lives of citizens of the United States."
Acceptance of this provision meant that the long battle between Congress and the President over the extent of Executive discretion in determining whether and when to bring neutrality legislation into effect had ended in a compromise. But on the whole the compromise is one which favors the Executive. The President is under no duty to invoke the law unless, broadly speaking, he finds that it is in the interest of the country to do so. If the President fails to act, and Congress feels that the law should be applied, it can so find by concurrent resolution. Then the President is forced to issue the proclamation bringing the substantive provisions of the law into effect. This is a novel procedure and one which gives constitutional lawyers something to ponder over. Is the determination of a state of war between foreign states a function which may properly be delegated by the Executive to Congress? May the determination be made by a concurrent resolution which requires no Executive approval and gives no chance for a veto? Since President Roosevelt promptly issued the proclamation prescribed by the Pittman Act these questions are academic for the moment. But another President might well raise them in another crisis.
The major part of our neutrality effort, as described above, is devoted to keeping American goods, American citizens, American money and American passions out of European war zones. But there has been a parallel attempt to keep the war from the shores of the Americas. This was one of the main purposes of the Panama Conference which met at the end of September 1939. Some of its very significant decisions have already been cited. The Conference hoped to establish a common neutrality policy for this Hemisphere (omitting, of course, Canada, a belligerent), and to serve notice on the European Powers that they should not bring their war across the Atlantic. Adopting language which was a paraphrase of Jefferson's words of a century ago, the Conference said that "there can be no justification for the interests of the belligerents to prevail over the rights of neutrals," and that "as a measure of continental self-protection" the neutral American Republics "are as of inherent right entitled to have those waters adjacent to the American continent . . . free from the commission of any hostile act by any non-American belligerent nation." The delegates then proceeded to lay out a broad band of ocean surrounding the entire North and South American Continents south of the Canadian border, and extending from 300 to 600 miles to sea, and to state that within its limits no hostile act should be committed. They determined, furthermore, that if the need arises the American Republics might undertake to patrol the area so defined.
This declaration was received with very mixed feelings in the United States. Was there an implied suggestion that we should use our fleet to patrol this vast area? Did it mean that Germany could take her idle ships out of South American ports and trade between North and South America, protected by this new zone of territorial waters? And having asserted a right of this nature for the Americas, would we recognize a similar extension of territorial waters by other countries?
To meet some of these apprehensions the State Department quickly made clear that the United States had assumed no obligation to institute a patrol and that there was no suggestion of an undertaking to exercise force in order to procure observance of the neutral zone. The President of Panama was to notify the belligerents and, presumably, learn their views. As yet there is no word as to the nature of their replies. But Great Britain promptly issued a statement of general policy which significantly concluded: "The width of the general belt of territorial waters is now widely accepted as being three miles. Great Britain, in common with many other countries, has long refused to recognize claims to a territorial belt of great width." The statement does not specifically mention the point, but the difficulty of Britain's accepting any such neutral zone must have been increased by the fact that British islands are dotted all over the area and that some of them contain naval bases of a sort. The statement further pointed out that when Britain had agreed with us by treaty to permit the search of rum runners at a distance of one hour's steaming from the coast, we formally reaffirmed our adherence to the three-mile limit.
Canada presents special problems in connection with the task of keeping the war from the Americas. She is an American state, she is at war with Germany, and she is likely to be a major source of supplies for the British, both directly and as a point of transshipment from the United States. By an exception in the Pittman Act, American supplies can go over land or lake routes to Canada without any transfer of title (except in the case of arms). Further, if the war continues, Canada is likely to become the training ground for British as well as Dominion aviators.
Until recently, at least, the principles of the Monroe Doctrine were never specifically applied to our northern neighbor. But a little over a year ago President Roosevelt declared that "the people of the United States will not stand idly by if domination of Canadian soil is threatened by any other Empire." And he reaffirmed this stand even after Canada had entered the war. Certainly this expresses the view of our people, and any attempt by European or Asiatic Powers to impair or even put in peril the independence or territorial integrity of Canada would be viewed in the United States as no less a cause for war than would a similar attempt against a Latin American state. True, we have become a kind of guarantor of one of the belligerents. But while this is an anomalous situation, it does not justify Colonel Lindbergh's suggestion that because she happens to be next door to us Canada had no business to go to war. Canada has never sought from us any guarantee of protection, or surrendered any part of her freedom to engage in such wars as she may choose. Our announcements about the nature of our relations to Canada were made primarily in our own interest, not hers.
Geographical isolation may for a time at least save the Western Hemisphere from having to face serious complications due to the wars in Europe and Asia. But we must realize that there are problems which no cash and carry neutrality and no other self-denying ordinances or restrictions on our own behavior will suffice to meet. We have gone very far in seeking refuge from the storm. We cannot insure ourselves against its coming to our shores. The most that we can hope for from legislation such as we have adopted is relative freedom from incidents affecting our prestige and arousing our feelings. We have determined that some of our rights had best be held in abeyance and that some of our interests had best yield to a larger interest. In this way we hope to gain a poise of mind and a calmness of judgment that will help us to determine wisely how to conduct our day-by-day foreign policy in such troublous times.
[i] For an analysis of the 1937 Neutrality Act, and a discussion of various suggested devices for maintaining peace by legislative means, see "Can America Stay Neutral?", by Allen W. Dulles and Hamilton Fish Armstrong (New York: Harpers, 1939).
[ii] Those who voted to keep the embargo, which operated chiefly against Britain and France, forgot that most of our tin (and in August 1939 the United States possessed only a few weeks' normal supply), rubber, nickel and chromium, as well as much of our manganese, came from the British Empire. Now Britain, engaged in war, would not be likely to answer embargo with embargo. We nevertheless have every motive, entirely apart from considerations arising out of war, to keep our trade relations with the British Empire on a normal basis and not ourselves to initiate embargo legislation.
[iii] The difficulty may in part be avoided by the system called "Navicert," under which the British agree to examine and certify the non-contraband cargoes of vessels before they clear for neutral ports.