Memorandum of Conversation, by the Liaison Officer (Chapin)
Participants: His Excellency Dr. Francisco Castillo Nájera, Ambassador of Mexico.
Colonel Frank S. Clark, War Department.
Captain C. J. Moore, Navy Department.
Mr. Selden Chapin, Department of State.

In accordance with arrangements made between the Under Secretary of State and the Mexican Ambassador, Colonel Clark, Captain Moore, and Mr. Chapin called at the Mexican Embassy on June 11, 1940 to discuss with the Ambassador cooperation between the Governments of Mexico and of the United States for hemisphere security and defense.

The Mexican Ambassador first outlined his talks with Mr. Welles and with President Cárdenas and emphasized the interest of the Mexican Government and specifically of President Cárdenas in cooperating with the United States and with other American republics for the defense of the hemisphere. He said that President Cárdenas was fully aware of the real threat to the security of the American continent, both from Europe and from “the other side”. He said that under the President’s directions the Secretariat of National Defense was working feverishly on plans both for the defense of Mexico against foreign aggression and for the participation of Mexico in Pan American defense. An army officer, probably a brigadier general, and a naval officer, probably a commodore, now engaged in this important work would be sent to Washington as soon as the Mexican plans had crystallized. The Ambassador expected that this would certainly not be longer than three weeks.

The Ambassador said that he himself was, of course, not competent to discuss technical problems and that he had already conferred and planned to continue to confer on the more purely political phases of defense cooperation with Mr. Welles. Specifically he felt that a general political agreement between the American missions was a necessary basis for concerted and coordinated military and naval action when the emergency arose.

The Ambassador indicated that while he did not feel there was any great menace of physical intervention on the part of totalitarian powers in this continent in the near future, such a possibility could not be entirely discounted and might even be classified as a probability in years to come if the American republics were not prepared to defend themselves adequately. In this he said he reflected the views of [Page 138] President Cárdenas. He added, however, that he hoped that any active aggression was a question of years rather than of months.

It was apparently on this basis that the Ambassador developed the ensuing part of his conversation. He said that the Mexican Government was actively considering compulsory military service, although the only reference to this in the Mexican constitution was to the maintenance of a “National Guard”. The Mexican Government had various plans under consideration in this regard. One great difficulty was the lack of uniformity of the Mexican people with respect to education and physical qualifications, and furthermore a complete levy of all eligibles would result in conscript classes which were too big and too costly for the Mexican Government to keep on foot. The present standing army of approximately fifty thousand men might be expanded to an army training contingent of two hundred thousand men, which would roughly give Mexico one million effectives, active and first line reserve.

The Ambassador said that of course the greatest need of Mexico is for matériel: the infantry is equipped with obsolete Mausers, the other branches of the service are equally poorly equipped, and the artillery is practically non-existent. The officers who are coming to Washington will undoubtedly bring a list of equipment which is needed for the Mexican Army. He noted in this connection that previously Mexico had always obtained its arms and munitions from Europe but that the Mexican Government now realized that it was far better to obtain them from the United States. He further stated that such a course would result in obvious advantages from the point of view of repair, replacement, and uniformity with the other American armies. He said that the Mexican Government, while it had one or two small munitions plants, was convinced that manufacture in Mexico was impracticable and expensive.

In response to a specific question the Ambassador appeared to discount the possibility that foreign totalitarian activities in Mexico presented any serious threat to continental security. He said that the total number of Germans in Mexico amounted to only some six thousand, so that disregarding women and children the German colony was reduced to a very small number indeed. Two thousand Germans were in the State of Chiapas on the Guatemalan border and could perhaps, in concert with the German colony in Guatemala, create some disturbance. The Ambassador said, however, that the Mexican Government had already taken measures to control this element. …

The conversation then turned to the question of active collaboration, and the Ambassador intimated that the Mexican Government was prepared to develop air fields and naval bases in Mexican territory at [Page 139] places to be chosen strategically, not only from the purely national point of view but from the broader point of view of hemisphere defense.

The three officers expressed their appreciation of the Ambassador’s kindness in outlining the situation to them and asked whether there were any specific questions which could usefully be discussed in advance of the arrival of the two Mexican officers. The Ambassador replied that he did not think that that was the case but that he had wanted to talk to the American officers to explain to them personally the deep interest of President Cárdenas in cooperation for hemisphere security and to stress that the Mexican Government was prepared unreservedly to collaborate with the United States in the development of plans for the common defense.

[Note: The text of this memorandum has been approved in draft by Colonel Clark and Captain Moore.]92

Selden Chapin
  1. Brackets appear in the original.