Memorandum of Telephone Conversation, by the Acting Assistant Chief, Division of Foreign Activity Correlation (Longyear)
I called Colonel Meals43 in order to apprise him of recent developments in the matter of the Colombian request for five thousand rifles. I informed him that we had had several exchanges of telegrams with Ambassador Lane at Bogotá and that it had finally been determined by the officers in ARA and in NWC44 that this quantity of rifles should be provided to Colombia if they are available, and preferably on a cash basis.
Colonel Meals immediately reiterated the War Department’s view that, in the light of requests for such armament from virtually every other American republic, the allocation of five thousand rifles to one of them would bring about great pressure from the others to have their requests filled.
I pointed out that the Colombian Government’s request was on a more specialized basis, as it had reference to the providing of adequate equipment to the police for maintaining order and that the Colombians were willing to pay for the rifles. I admitted, however, that this basic purpose had been somewhat clouded in the course of the development of this affair as the Colombian Ambassador had made the request on behalf of the Army and as Ambassador Lane had indicated that the Chief of Police had been seriously concerned and had requested of Ambassador Lane this quantity of rifles for the use of the police.
Colonel Meals then indicated that the War Department would be reluctant to share the responsibility for such an intervention in the internal affairs of another country and offered the opinion that providing armaments to maintain a regime in power was something in which the War Department did not wish to become involved.
I endeavored to give Colonel Meals a somewhat different point of view regarding the purpose of this request of the Colombian Government [Page 818] by suggesting that failure to provide the police with adequate armament to maintain order, after being informed that the police equipment was so obsolete that ammunition could not be obtained for it, might develop into a condition requiring much greater intervention; and so far as the maintenance of the present regime in power was concerned, it was not beyond the realm of possibilities that certain developments might conceivably alter the loyalties of the forces receiving such armaments to the detriment of the present regime; the furnishing of arms necessarily involved the element of chance.
I indicated to Colonel Meals the type of rifles are “5,000 semiautomatic carbines model M–31 General Motors 5–43 (Inland Manufacturing Division) with ammunition. Caliber M–1 weight 5 pounds, 2 clips with capacity for 15 cartridges each”. Colonel Meals at once said that these could not be provided and they were in insufficient supply for our own troops and indicated that any rifles that would be made available would probably be Springfields.
Colonel Meals then stated that a written request from the Department of State on the basis of what I had told him would probably result in a negative reply from the War Department and he inquired whether the matter was of such urgency that it could not be deferred for a few months pending the determination of a basic over-all policy which, he gave me to understand, he had discussed in some measure recently with General Brett. The policy as suggested by Colonel Meals, and in particular connection with the provision of rifles and ammunition appeared to contemplate the establishment of a stock of 5,000 to 10,000 rifles and appropriate ammunition (once Colonel Meals mentioned 50,000 rifles, but, in view of his later comments, the former figure is believed correct) at Panama to be delivered in small lots to petitioning countries. Such deliveries will be made at the discretion of General Brett (or his successor) when, in his opinion, the countries requesting the rifles had indicated by their organizing of national troops along American lines and their ability to absorb training along the lines laid down by our military missions that they were willing to “play ball” with us. I told Colonel Meals that, while I agreed that an over-all plan was desirable in connection with the problems involved in coordinating hemispheric defense, it appeared that this request of the Colombian Government lay outside that field and deserved consideration upon its merits, particularly as the Colombians offered to buy the rifles. I suggested that if they could not purchase the rifles from us, they might very well seek to obtain them from other sources, but Colonel Meals pointed out that, with the exception of Brazil, he doubted that any country in the world had any rifles to spare and that those that Brazil had to spare were probably so obsolete that a serious ammunition problem would remain a [Page 819] stumbling block as it is now to the use of obsolete equipment by the Colombian Army.
I terminated the conversation by saying that I would report its essentials to the officers concerned in ABA and NWC and that I thought it would be helpful if a meeting could be arranged to endeavor to find a common ground upon which the Colombian request could be furthered. Colonel Meals expressed himself as very willing to attend such a meeting and I informed him that I would suggest one being called as soon as convenient to the officers concerned.