Sea Power and Sea Law

January 15, 1929

Report Outline
The United States and the Law of the Sea
Sea Law and the World War
The Law of the Sea and Cruiser Limitation
Neutral Rights the League Covenant. And the Kellogg Pact

At the final session of the Sixty-sixth Congress, during the closing months of the Wilson administration, Senator Borah offered a resolution urging the President to invite Great Britain and Japan to a conference for the purpose of “promptly entering into an understanding or agreement” by which naval expenditures might be reduced. The resolution won wide public support. It was reoffered at the first (special) session of the Sixty-seventh Congress and was approved by both houses as an amendment to the naval appropriation bill. The bill was signed by President Harding July 12, 1921, and on August 11, invitations were issued to the Washington Conference on Limitation of Armaments.

The Washington Conference was the most successful of its kind in the history of the world, but a second naval conference, initiated by the United States in 1927, for the purpose of applying limitations to those classes of war vessels not covered by the Washington treaty, resulted in failure. At the next meeting of Congress—following the submission by the administration of a $740,000,000 naval building program—a new resolution touching naval armaments was offered by Senator Borah. This resolution looked to the summoning of a conference of the great naval powers to restate the law governing neutrals and belligerents at sea in time of war. The resolution attracted little public attention at the time it was offered, although it was believed by Senator Borah to hold the key to any further reduction or limitation of naval armaments.

Call for Restatement of Rules of War at Sea

The preamble to the Borah resolution recalled that the rules of the sea in time of war, as understood prior to 1914, were “in important respects departed from during the late war,” and stated that “the present chaotic state of maritime law—leaving the seas subject to no definite rules save that of force and commerce to no ultimate protection save that of battle fleets—constitutes an incentive for great naval armaments,” The essential clauses that followed have now been offered as an amendment to the cruiser construction bill pending in the Senate. They declare;

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