The United States and the World Crisis


By SUMNER WELLES, Under Secretary of State

Delivered at the Annual Dinner of the Alumni Association of the New York University School of Law, at the Hotel

Biltmore in New York City, January 30, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 269-271

YOU have asked me to speak to this great annual gathering of the New York University Alumni Association on some of the basic issues with which the people of the United States today are confronted in the determination of this nation's foreign policy. I have welcomed your invitation because of my abiding conviction that so long as the American people have available the true facts concerning the main factors involved in the shaping of their nation's foreign policy, they will accurately appraise the fundamental issues involved. In other words, I believe that the United States has proved, and will continue to prove, that democracy works in the realm of foreign policy as well as in the realm of domestic policy.

However much I, as an individual, may dissent from the point of view which has recently been publicly expressed by many Americans with regard to the course which our foreign policy should take, as an American citizen I give thanks that they are guaranteed the right to speak their opinions freely. That freedom has proved to be one of the cornerstones of our system of government.

It is apparent to all of us here tonight that the nation is confronting what is probably the most critical moment it has had had to face during the days of its independent life. All thinking men and women throughout the United States today are searching their minds and hearts in the effort to reach a conclusion as to what is best for the United States.

I am going tonight, in an effort to clarify some of these issues with which we are all grappling, to remind you of certain of the developments of the past few years and the way in which these recent developments have culminated in the crisis of the present.

At this moment of apprehension and disquiet, I am glad that I can commence this brief discussion with a reference to one aspect of our foreign relations which should be a matter of profound satisfaction to every American citizen. I refer, of course, to the relations which exist between the United States and the other twenty republics of our hemisphere, and to the existence between the peoples of the New World of a solidarity, and of an identity of interests which a scant eight years ago would have seemed incredible.

The existence of this real and practical Pan Americanism is not the result of chance, and it is by no means a mere by-product of the events which have taken place in other parts of the world. It is the result of constructive statesmanship on the part of every one of the twenty-one American Governments. We have all of us made our contribution to its existence. But there is no greater danger to its continuance than that any one of us should take it as a matter of course. Its continued vitality depends upon the constant willingness on the part of every one of the twenty-one sovereign republics of the New World to continue to make such contributions, moral and material, as are required to insure the joint security and welfare of all.

Some of us may remember that as far back as February 1936 the President of the United States, because of the mounting dangers which he saw so clearly already looming on the world horizon, took the initiative in suggesting to the

Governments of the other American Republics that a conference be held between them while the world was still at peace, so that they might determine the steps which they might best take to safeguard the peace and the security of the Western Hemisphere.

That conference of Buenos Aires was held more than four years ago, and it is because of the agreements there reached, later enhanced and strengthened at the Conference of Lima in 1938, that when the conflagration broke out, the American Republics were solidly united and prepared to deal with emergencies as they arose.

And it was under the agreements there adopted that the Foreign Ministers of the American nations met at Panama within three weeks after the outbreak of war. At Panama by unanimous accord permanent committees were constituted, one to sit at Washington and one at Rio de Janeiro. The former, which has remained in continuous session, has been dealing with all of the economic and financial problems with which the American Republics have been beset since the outbreak of the war, and has already been enabled greatly to relieve the economic strain which in many instances would have been calamitous save for the practical solutions which this committee has been enabled to devise. The second committee was charged with the study and the recommendation of solutions for all of the problems which have arisen which affected the neutrality of the Americas.

A second meeting of the American Foreign Ministers, held at Habana last July, was again productive of great practical benefits to all of our countries, and through the measures there adopted safeguards were established which would function in the event that the repercussions of the war raging beyond the Atlantic threaten the security of the New World.

In the present emergency, when so many of our neighbors find themselves with their normal export markets either completely cut off or seriously curtailed, this Government is prepared to render all practicable economic cooperation. Furthermore, so far as our own national requirements and the policies which we are pursuing make it possible, we are preparing to render them likewise all possible material assistance, so that they may prepare for their own self defense and, more than that—in full accord with the spirit of our traditional policy, and with the great principles unanimously agreed upon at Buenos Aires, that any threat to the peace of any American Republic will be regarded as a threat to the peace of all of them—the United States will join in the defense of the independence and integrity of any one of its American neighbors against any aggression from abroad.

We stand today a united continent, united not for agression but for social betterment and self-defense, united in the determination to uphold those great freedoms which the New World cherishes, and united as sovereign and independent equals in a great enterprise of safeguarding civilization.

During these same years we have seen three nations, two in Europe and one in Asia, undertake to arrogate to themselves the creation of a new world order in which they would be the overlords.

None of us here tonight, I am sure, would for a moment deny that the world order which has prevailed since 1914 was an order which left much to be desired, but I am equally sure that we would likewise agree that the kind of new world order envisaged in every official declaration uttered by the spokesmen for the partners in the Tripartite Pact—a world order characterized by the denial to the individual of the rights of freedom to worship, freedom to speak, and freedom to think; carried out by fraud and by deceit; and founded upon brutal conquest—is not a new order but the oldest which the world has known. It is the world chaos of the Stone Age, and if such an order is imposed upon the world not only will our modern civilization vanish, but mankind will revert to barbarism.

Throughout these past years your Government has, time and again, made every effort within its power and within its traditional policies to bring its influence to bear so that the tragic calamity from which men today are suffering might be averted. When the history of these years can be written the people of the United States will give full recognition to the efforts which the President has made to preserve world peace.

Tonight I want to remind you of one of these efforts. You will remember that on April 14, 1939 the President, conscious, as he said, of the fact that millions of human beings were in constant fear of a new war, addressed a message to the Chancellor of the German Reich. He offered to the nations of the world the full cooperation and participation of this Government in negotiations for bringing about an international agreement upon the limitation and reduction of armaments, and for reaching agreements through which every nation of the world might be enabled to buy and sell on equal terms in the world market, as well as to possess the assurance of obtaining the materials and products of a peaceful economic life. In order that these negotiations might be promptly undertaken and humanity thereby be relieved of the increasing fear with which it was beset, the President asked the German Government to give assurance that its armed forces would not attack or invade the independent nations of Europe and of the Near East. As you all know, to that message the German Chancellor made no direct reply; but in a public address which he made two weeks later Hitler stated that "Mr. Roosevelt believes that the tide of events is once more bringing the threat of arms and that if this threat of arms continues a large part of the world is condemned to a common ruin. As far as Germany is concerned I know nothing of this kind of threat to other nations . . ." And he continued by saying, "All states bordering on Germany have received much more binding assurances, and above all suggestions, than Mr. Roosevelt has asked from me in his curious telegram." Four months later, as the result, as we now know, of plans decided upon long before, Poland was invaded: and subsequently Norway and Denmark, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, and Belgium—to all of which countries the German Government had given the "binding assurances" to which Hitler had referred.

That, it would seem, is the basic issue which is raised when a few well-intentioned persons in this country and in others urge that the influence of this Government again be exercised in behalf of a negotiated peace. Under conditions in Europe today could American public opinion conceivably favor a negotiation for peace which would sanction the continued enslavement of the nations now occupied by German military forces? But more than than, the negotiation of any lasting peace must be predicated upon the sincere desire of all the parties to such a settlement to abide by the agree-

ments reached and to carry out the pledges which they make. From the record of the German Government of the past eight years and in the light of the citation which I have read to you, is it possible to imagine that any peace arrived at under present conditions would be worth the paper on which it was written?

A cynical and flagrant disregard for the sanctity of the pledged word has become one of the most tragic symptoms of the impairment of our modern civilization.

There also are some who seem to feel that no matter what the outcome of the present war may be, the United States would nevertheless remain immune from attack, secure in its geographical isolation, and be able to continue, at least after a period of relatively brief world readjustment, its normal mode of life.

It is essential for us at this time to think that assertion out—and to think it out clearly and dispassionately.

If the Axis powers succeed in imposing their rule in Europe and in Africa and in the Far East, the control of the Atlantic Ocean will pass immediately from the hands of powers which have been traditionally friendly to the United States, and whose control of the seas has in no way jeopardized American security, to the hands of powers which have proclaimed their intention of dominating the world.

It has been asserted that if an invading force has so far been unable successfully to traverse the twenty miles across the English Channel, it would be absurd to suppose that the three thousand miles of the Atlantic Ocean would not constitute a complete safeguard for the United States. In my judgment, those who make this assertion overlook certain primary facts.

The reason why the twenty miles of the English Channel have not been successfully crossed is because the British Navy controls the approaches to the British Isles and, together with the Royal Air Force, has thereby been enabled to prevent any successful attempt of invasion of England. If that force were dissipated, the Atlantic Ocean would not longer remain under the control of a power whose control of it offers no threat to us. And more than that, the United States does not as yet possess two fleets. So long as there is no satisfactory guarantee of stability of peace in the Pacific and the United States Navy remains based in the Pacific, control of the Atlantic by a sea power friendly to the United States is an essential part of our own national security.

We are all of us fully familiar with the arguments that no successful crossing of the Atlantic by a hostile air power or a hostile invading force could be undertaken so long as we are properly prepared to defend ourselves. Those who take this point of view seem to envision ultimate danger to the United States in the event of a victory by the Axis powers solely in the nature of an immediate attack directed against continental United States. They overlook, I believe, a more probable and a more logical sequence of events.

The other American Republics depend to the extent of one-half of their total exports upon the European market. Some of the greatest of the South American nations depend almost entirely upon Europe for their export trade. Because of the fact that these other American nations produce the same commodities as we ourselves produce, there is clearly no opportunity for the United States, in the event of a German domination of Europe, to take more than a relatively small percentage of such exports in addition to those which they now consume. And yet the very lives of some of our neighbors depend upon the continuation of their export trade. Under the German barter system, with all of its complicated and attendant political manipulation, the Axis powers would inevitably attempt to impose a commer-

cial and financial strangle hold upon these neighbors of ours, and would at the same time commence immediately to undertake that same policy of political infiltration as a result of commercial concessions which has been carried out in so many instances in their dealings with the smaller nations of Europe.

If, as a result of this combination of pressure and penetration, the successful conquerors of other continents were enabled to find receptive elements in the populations of some of the South American nations, it would not be long before subversive movements on a large scale would be undertaken. Should these prove successful, physical invasion would soon follow.

Were this moment to arrive, we would, of course, undertake to join our neighbors in the defense of the Americas, and yet until and unless our own sea power had reached the full total now planned or under construction, and were thus prepared to guard two oceans, the menace to our security through the passage of the control of the high seas to unfriendly hands is to my mind overwhelmingly apparent.

What we have sought to do throughout these years is to uphold in every practicable way those principles of international law and order upon which alone we have believed a peaceful and a healthy world system could be based. In our relations with the nations of the Far East we have asked for nothing more than respect for universally applicable principles and for those international engagements into which the powers of the Far East had freely entered; and we have announced our willingness at any time, in accordance with the terms of the engagements to which we were parties, to negotiate by pacific methods modifications thereof. We have insisted as well upon respect for the rights of the United States, and of American citizens, arising from treaties or recognized and generally accepted tenets of international law.

It is grimly humorous to learn that the Government of the United States is accused by official spokesmen for the Japanese Government of pursuing an aggressive policy in the Far East, and to hear that one of the reasons for this alleged agression on our part is the further allegation that we have placed our line of defense in the Western Pacific. We are also informed by some of these gentlemen, that since the United States upholds the principles of the Monroe Doctrine and its application to the Western Hemisphere there can be no legitimate objection on the part of the American people because the Empire of Japan desires to establish its own brand of new order in the Far East.

As I have already stated, the United States has made every endeavor to promote friendship with all other powers, provided their policies made such friendship possible. The United States has never attempted nor has it intended to extend its hegemony or jurisdiction in the Pacific area during these recent years. Its lines of defense are determined solely by the acts and by the policies of other nations. Those lines of defense are fixed solely by what we estimate is required, in the light of such policies and acts by others, to ensure the inviolability and the safety of our territory.

The Monroe Doctrine is and always has been a policy of self-defense, and not a policy of agression. It provides merely that the United States will not permit the further acquisition of territory within the Western Hemisphere by

non-American powers, or the imposition of the political systems of non-American nations upon the nations of the New World. It has never questioned the title to, or control, by non-American powers, of those possessions in the New World which they held at the time when the Doctrine was proclaimed. And furthermore the United States has at no time maintained that the Monroe Doctrine vests in the United States either political hegemony within the Western Hemisphere, or the right to exclusive or preferential economic or commercial advantages. All nations have always enjoyed within the Western Hemisphere the same rights to trade on equal terms as those enjoyed by the twenty-one independent American Republics.

It is well, I think, to emphasize the distinction between the Monroe Doctrine, whose principles are now embodied in the multilateral agreements of the American republics, and the kind of political, commercial, and economic hegemony proclaimed as the basis of the new order which some Japanese desire to establish in the Far East.

In the ever-widening vortex in which so many of the nations of the world are plunged, the immediate question which confronts every American citizen is what is the wisest and safest policy for their Government to pursue.

I believe today that the people of this country are almost unanimous in supporting as the essential basis of their foreign policy a national rearmament, in such measure as to insure at the first possible moment the security of the New World.

As the President and Secretary Hull have frankly stated to the American people, every course which the United States may today pursue is necessarily fraught with danger.

But, in my judgment, the course which is least fraught with danger, and which is most likely to make it possible for the American people to stay out of war, is for this country to increase its production of armaments to such an extent as to make it possible for us to make available to Great Britain on an ever-increasing scale the armaments which she requires in order successfully to continue her war of self-defense.

The help which we have already rendered Great Britain through making it possible for her to purchase munitions in the United States has been of great assistance to her in the waging of a brilliant and successful battle against her opponents.

If we desire to insure that the control of the Atlantic Ocean shall not pass to unfriendly hands, and that other friendly nations like China and Greece can continue successfully to withstand the forces of world enslavement, the American people must be prepared in their own self-defense, to render all necessary assistance which America can produce.

The provisions of the legislation now pending in the Congress, if enacted into law, would greatly facilitate that task. I believe that the time has come when, in the manner proposed, every branch of the Government, and every element in our population, must cooperate so that these essential objectives may speedily and efficiently be attained.

The hope for the salvation of modern civilization, and for the preservation of those cherished institutions upon which the structure of our own national life rests, lies in the triumph of free men and free women. Their victory is our security. The decisions which we here make during these present weeks will in great degree determine the final outcome.