Neutrality vs. Sanctions

October 21, 1937

Report Outline
Roosevelt and the Chino-Japanese War
Mandatory Neutrality Legislation, 1935–37
Discretionary Neutrality and Sanctions
Traditional Neutrality as Peace Safeguard

Roosevelt and the Chino-Japanese War

Recent events have thrown into sharp focus a conflict over American foreign policy that has engaged public attention almost continuously since the summer of 1935. In neutrality legislation enacted at that time, and subsequently renewed and expanded, the views of adherents of a so-called mandatory policy prevailed over those of administration and other proponents of a discretionary policy permitting outright cooperation with other nations in attempts to restrain an aggressor. Notwithstanding the fact that Congress provided by law for mandatory application of non-discriminatory arms embargoes in the event of war between foreign states, the administration has followed a directly opposite course in the Chino-Japanese crisis. Not only has the President failed to invoke the law, despite the obvious existence of a state of war, but the State Department has issued a statement declaring that the action of Japan in China is violative of the Nine-Power treaty and the Kellogg Pact, thus officially branding Japan as the aggressor and inferentially conceding the existence of a state of war.

An address by President Roosevelt at Chicago on October 5, the day before the State Department issued its declaration, made plain the breadth of the gulf separating administration policy from that laid down by Congress in the neutrality act. The President declared that “the peace-loving nations must make a concerted effort to uphold laws and principles on which alone peace can rest secure,” and he suggested that lawless nations must be subjected to a quarantine by the peace-loving members of the international community. Departure from a course of strict impartiality toward foreign belligerents and participation in a system of sanctions against aggressors seemed clearly to be implied. While the President spoke more guardedly of foreign affairs in his fireside chat a week later, he asserted that we could not “view with indifference the destruction of civilized values throughout the world” and insisted that “peace must be affirmatively reached for.” Cooperation with the other signatories of the Nine-Power treaty in seeking an agreement for solution of the situation in China, he said, “would be an example of one of the possible paths to follow in our search for means toward peace throughout the world.”

Opposing Trends in Foreign Policy of United States

The contradictions in American foreign policy typified by the present struggle between the advocates of cooperation against aggressors and the adherents of an isolationist and strictly impartial policy go back to the immediate post-war period. In 1919 the United States refused to join the League of Nations even under reservations which would have relieved it of the obligation to preserve the territorial integrity of member states by cooperating in application of sanctions against an aggressor. Yet in 1922 it sponsored and subscribed to the Nine-Power treaty under which it agreed to respect, although not to preserve, the territorial integrity of China and to engage in full and frank communication with the other signatories whenever any situation arose involving application of the treaty.

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
Conflicts in Asia
International Law and Agreements
War and Conflict
World War II