Freedom of the Seas

Resolutions offered by Senators Nye and Clark to restrict the issuance of passports and the making of loans to belligerent nations are of particular significance at this time, since the policy of Great Britain at the forthcoming Stresa Conference depends largely upon the attitude of the United States. The Nye-Clark resolutions, which express a willingness to abandon our traditional insistence on the "freedom of the seas" in a technically legal sense, would--if adopted--encourage the English in the belief that the American navy would not oppose British blockade of an aggressor nation. Thus the way for acceptance by England of greater responsibility for the maintenance of peace actually a strengthening of the League of Nations--would be opened.

The United States potentially neutral--may choose between two courses in the event of a European war. It may, in the vivid phrase of Frank Simonds, "wage neutrality"--that is, insist on maintaing to the utmost each of its rights under international law. This plan, however, as the experiences of 1914-1917 demonstrated, leads almost inevitably to involvement, since in modern warfare economic factors are of such vital importance, the blockade is so deadly a weapon, that self-preservation forces belligerents to curtail neutral trading privileges. The other course, less glorious but more realistic, is to withdraw the protection of the government from those who engage in commerce with warring nations. The Nye-Clark resolutions would be a step towards the adoption of this attitude.

When the United States refused in 1919 to join the League of Nations, its refusal had positive as well as negative implications. Our insistence on full neutral rights would, of necessity, have conflicted with the projected League policy of blockading aggressors. It was this possibility that caused English support of the League to cool and in particular explained her refusal to sign the guarantee treaty desired by France at that time. The present crisis, which may force the British into a more vigorous stand, coupled with a possible change in American policy (foreshadowed by some of Mr. Roosevelt's statements and given concrete expression in the proposed Senate resolutions) will perhaps cause the League of Nations, in its present truncated form, to approach more nearly to Woodrow Wilson's original conception.