Memorandum by Mr. Bainbridge C. Davis, Division of North and West Coast Affairs49

I have been informed by Mr. Johnson of RL50 that General Brett wishes to sell to Colombia twelve AT–24 planes. This type of plane [Page 821] was originally designed as a dive bomber, but has recently been used by our air forces as an advanced trainer. These planes are no longer in short supply and are considered obsolescent as bombers. A few months ago the Colombian Government requested some AT–24’s but the application was rejected on the grounds that the planes were in short supply.

These planes would be delivered to Colombia as advanced trainers without any combat equipment for “operational training”. It is my understanding, however, that it would not be technically impossible to convert these planes for combat use whenever the Colombian Government so desires. It might be difficult to accomplish without technical assistance and our help in getting equipment.

This Department’s policy is and has been for some months to approve the transfer to the other American republics of training planes, but not combat planes. The proposal to transfer AT–24’s to Colombia presents a borderline case of some importance to our future policy. It is difficult enough to be logical in furnishing equipment to train the neighboring republics in aerial warfare while at the same time withholding the bombers and other implements with which to attack each other. If we are now to approve the delivery of planes which were designed as dive bombers and can be reconverted to that purpose, on the ground that they are called training planes today, we are making it practically impossible for ourselves to follow any consistent policy.

I am looking at this problem from the standpoint of general policy and not the particular country involved. I believe that Colombia is less likely than most of the American republics to use bombing planes against its neighbors. However, it will be noted that we have been warned by the President of Colombia and the Foreign Minister, and repeatedly by former President Santos,51 that the policy of arming the other American republics would lead to discord and conflict between the American republics and is no longer justifiable on the grounds of continental defense against external aggression. El Tiempo, the leading newspaper of Colombia and one of the outstanding papers of South America, has expressed itself strongly in the last few weeks in its leading editorial along the same lines.

It will be increasingly difficult as large quantities of armaments become available to resist the desire of the War and Navy Departments to sell or give these weapons as a “friendly” gesture to the other American republics. Unless we are willing to take a clearly defined and consistently firm attitude in respect to such plans and of course use our influence to prevent the arming of these countries [Page 822] by other nations, we shall be making much more difficult our task of keeping peace in this hemisphere.52

  1. Addressed to Mr. Heath, Mr. McGurk, Mr. Armour, and to Mr. Stokeley W. Morgan, Chief, Aviation Division.
  2. Joseph E. Johnson, Chief, Inter-American Section, American Republics Analysis and Liaison Division.
  3. See telegram 1509, August 28, 7 p.m., p. 813.
  4. This proposed policy was approved by all of those to whom addressed. The Department of State informed the War Department of its position, and the latter agreed to cancel the assignment of the planes.