Revision of American Neutrality Policy

December 4, 1935

Report Outline
The Neutrality Question and the European Crisis
The United States and Traditional Neutral Rights
Mandatory and Discretionary Neutrality Principles
Economic Effects of New Policy in Major Foreign War
National Honor in Relation to New Neutrality Policy

The Neutrality Question and the European Crisis

Expiration at the end of next February of that section of the neutrality resolution of August 31, 1935. under which an embargo has been laid on the export of arms and ammunition to Italy and Ethiopia makes probable the enactment before that date of permanent legislation defining the policy to be pursued by the United States in the event of wars between foreign states in which it is not a participant. The continuing danger of a general conflict in Europe has directed public attention to this subject and promises to make it a leading issue at the next session of Congress. The special Senate Munitions Committee headed by Senator Nye (R., N. D.) is planning to resume public hearings early in January and to inquire further into matters bearing on the question of American neutrality in the period from 1914 to 1917, and into their relation to this country's eventual entrance into the World War.

The neutrality resolution now in effect is satisfactory neither to the administration nor to the Senate group which, by threatening a filibuster, forced its adoption as a compromise in the closing days of the last session, when the Italian-Ethiopian affair was rising to the stage of crisis. It now seems unlikely that hostilities in East Africa will have ceased before the present legislation expires, or that tension in Europe will have sufficiently relaxed by then to permit Congress to postpone final action on revision of American neutrality policy. In the meantime, actual application of sanctions by the League of Nations against Italy is serving to demonstrate inadequacies in the current policy and to provide an experience of value in the shaping of future legislation.

Central Point of Conflict in Shaping of New Policy

Dissatisfaction with the present legislation on the part of the administration derives from the fact that it does not give the President discretion to apply its provisions against only one of the belligerents in a foreign war if he so desires. Embargoes or other measures initiated under its authority must be directed against both or all of the belligerents. This distinction involves the central point of controversy among advocates of a revision of American neutrality policy. It is a point which, in consideration of arms-embargo resolutions in the past as well as in the more recent discussion of general neutrality legislation, has also divided Congress and the executive. Both the Hoover and the Roosevelt administrations have desired a grant of discretionary authority to facilitate more effective cooperation of the United States with the League of Nations in action against an aggressor. Congress has consistently refused to make such a grant.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
World WarII Catalysts
Oct. 17, 1939  Coalition Government and National Unity
Oct. 03, 1939  Present and Proposed Neutrality Legislation
May 10, 1939  Demands of the European Dictators
Apr. 01, 1939  American Neutrality Policy and the Balance of Power
Jan. 10, 1939  Nazi Objectives in Eastern Europe
Oct. 18, 1938  Changing European Political Alignments
Jan. 27, 1938  The Spread of Dictatorship
Oct. 21, 1937  Neutrality vs. Sanctions
Feb. 05, 1937  Germany's Demand for Colonies
Dec. 04, 1935  Revision of American Neutrality Policy
May 06, 1935  The Great Powers and the Danubian Problem
Jan. 16, 1935  Neutrality Policy of the United States
Jun. 04, 1928  The International Cartel Movement
Regional Political Affairs: Europe
U.S. at War: World War II