810.20 Defense/7–2645

The Ambassador in Brazil (Berle) to the Secretary of State

No. 2186

Snt: I have the honor to report on the Naval Staff Conversations had between the United States and Brazil, which are embodied in a secret document dated April 15, 1945 from the Commander of the South Atlantic Force (Admiral Munroe) to the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations,4 together with its annexes. Further despatches follow with respect to the conversations covering the ground forces and the air forces.

[Page 601]

These Staff Conversations were conducted entirely between the officers of the Navy, without intervention of the Embassy. The Department is therefore clearly in a position to take any view which it chooses. The text of the Staff Conversations is presumably available to the Department in Washington through the Navy.

(1) Form: The form of the paper resulting from the Naval Staff Conversations is an official statement by the Brazilian Ministry of Marine as to what Brazil considers necessary for her post-war naval needs. Approval by the President of Brazil5 is taken, by the Navy, to mean that Brazil considers the plan feasible within her economy, and that Brazil will endeavor to maintain the proposed naval force at an effective level. For the purpose of this report, these assumptions are taken as correct.

(2) Political theory: The American naval officers based their suggestions on the assumption that “it is the desire of the United States that Brazil be able to play a strong and cooperative role in the maintenance of hemispherical defense as a component of post-war world order, thereby relieving the United States of the military burden and political embarrassment of playing this role directly in South America.” I believe that the last phrase is open to some question. It implies that Brazil will be placed navally in a position to maintain peace substantially by herself in South America as well as to take her part in hemispheric defense. Certainly the Brazilian Naval General Staff wishes this. The size of the program projected supports this implication. The sense of the inter-American agreements do not contemplate anyone as a senior enforcement agency, but rather assumes that there is to be a cooperative enforcement of peace and a cooperative hemispheric defense. Nevertheless Brazil, as the largest South American country, necessarily will take primary rank in view of her superiority in size, resources and possibly ultimate strength. …

(3) Organization: The organization envisaged is a continuing Naval Mission upon the existing contract basis, which, however, is to be enlarged through the assignment, on non-contract status, of specially qualified officers and men needed for training requirements. This personnel is to report to the Chief of Naval Mission, which is to be one of three such missions, the other two being an Army training mission and an Air training mission. It is contemplated that the senior members of these three missions will sit on the Joint United States–Brazil Military Commission.

This is sound organization as far as it goes; but there is the distinct danger that the American Section of the Commission would undertake to carry on foreign relations as well as military training. This Embassy has had a series of Army and Navy officers who not only have [Page 602] carried on direct relations with the Ministries of War, Navy and Air, but who also ask for and occasionally get direct relations with the President. In time of war this might be permissible. In time of peace it is not; and a civilian officer of the Embassy should at all times sit with the Military Commission. The Military or Naval Attachés will not do, since they are fundamentally reporting to their Departments. There is no point in duplicating the existing situation in which the Military Attaché, responsible as such to the Embassy, is also Chief of the Military Commission, in which position he appears to have independent jurisdiction. As long as the Naval Mission contemplated by the Staff Conversations, either acting by itself, or acting as a part of the Military Commission, is sticking to training, of course no difficulty arises. But these missions have a habit of extending their scope of operations, as we know from our experience with the Theater Commanders. To contemplate such a situation as a continuing and permanent part of the peace-time American machinery in Brazil would obviously be out of line.

The Naval Mission, like its companion Army and Air Missions, therefore should be required to report to the Embassy as well as to their respective Departments, and a civilian member of the Embassy should be required to cover it and the other two missions; and also the proposed American Section of the United States–Brazil Military Commission. In this connection, the Department should review the so-called Political Military Agreement of May 19426 to assure itself that the functions therein set forth are appropriately defined on a peacetime as well as a war-time basis.

(4) Size of fleet: The Brazilian Naval General Staff proposes that the United States shall make available to Brazil a number of vessels which are listed in paragraph 6 of a memorandum from the Chief of the Naval General Staff to the Minister of Marine and dated at Rio de Janeiro on February 21, 1945. This is attached to the report of the Staff Conversations. The principal items consist of two battleships of the Nevada class; two light aircraft carriers of the Independence class; four cruisers of the Cleveland class; fifteen destroyers; nine submarines, and a variety of auxiliary craft. The Staff Conversations do not suggest how these ships are to be paid for; but there is no question in my mind that the Brazilians hoped that they would be turned over either on Lend-Lease7 or on a nominal price basis. The American naval officers continuously refrained from making a recommendation.

The fleet thus proposed, if Brazil could effectively operate it (which is questionable now) would make the Brazilian Navy incontestably [Page 603] the strongest naval force in South America, and substantially capable (assuming organization) of patrolling the East Coast of South America and the bulk of the South Atlantic. Such a fleet could not be challenged from within the hemisphere; equally, it would be wholly ineffective against challenge from a strong power from without the hemisphere. It could, if organized, be of considerable assistance to the United States in the event that the hemisphere were attacked from outside, by relieving our country of part of the patrol duty in the South Atlantic. My impression is that the aid is apparent rather than real, and that actually the United States would have to send technicians, officers, et cetera, to organize, supply and handle the fleet. Probably the United States Navy could do this work better under the American flag than under the Brazilian. The possession of such a fleet would give to Brazil a naval prestige which would be a solid political advantage on the assumption that Brazil continues her historic policy of collaboration with the United States. For the foreseeable future this assumption is warranted. It is conceivable, however, that a different situation might arise, and in such case the Brazilian naval force would become an embarrassment. Actually, I strongly doubt whether the Brazilian Navy could handle a force of this size in the immediate future. My recommendation would be that a force of this size be left as a possible ideal to be attained at some future date; but that the program for realizing it be left fluid, and that a considerably less program be envisaged for the immediate future. One cruiser of the Cleveland class might be scheduled for turnover to the Brazilian Navy as and when it becomes sufficiently clear that the Brazilian Navy is able to handle it, with possible turnover on a similar basis of a second cruiser, and later, one light aircraft carrier. The destroyer program should also be appropriately cut down. Even to realize this, in my judgment, would be a matter of at least three or four years.
My reason for being skeptical about the battleships likewise proceeds from a doubt whether in any foreseeable period of time the Brazilian Navy would be able to defend a battleship against an air attack even from an inferior power. In practice, battleships of the Nevada class could only be used as floating batteries requiring a possible enemy to deploy more force in the event of a landing. In a naval engagement it is highly questionable whether they could stand up. It has still to be demonstrated that the Brazilian Navy could carry on the maintenance of as complicated and formidable a piece of machinery as even a Nevada class battleship.
The foregoing two paragraphs are based on the assumption that the United States could find some way of turning over these ships to Brazil for nothing or on a nominal price basis. Actually, in my judgment, Brazil would do well not to spend any great amount of money in acquiring a fleet, beyond perhaps a single cruiser. She could better rely on cooperation with the United States Navy, which will be able to detach a naval force for purposes of assisting in maintaining hemispheric peace. In case of defense against attack from outside the hemisphere, the United States would have to expand its entire Navy as rapidly as possible to cover all contingencies. The money and effort used in organizing a naval force at this point in Brazilian history would be infinitely better spent on putting in an internal transport system, and building and maintaining public schools. If another war [Page 604] test actually comes, this particular kit of naval machinery will probably be out of date; and Brazil’s real reliance will then have to be on a wider sector of literate and trained people, and a better ability to mobilize her internal resources. Meantime, she can safely rely on the United States Navy for her defense. In my judgment, this would be sound policy. For this reason, I should not favor a too rapid development of the Brazilian Navy if this involves any great expense to Brazil.
The foregoing observations apply in considerable measure to the maintenance cost contemplated by proposed increase of the Brazilian Navy.

(5) Naval bases: While I am dubious about the size of the fleet, quite different considerations apply to the naval base program. Paragraph 9 of the memorandum of February 21, 1945 proposes six naval bases and an arsenal, namely, a Main Base at Rio de Janeiro; the Ganchos Base at Santa Catharina; the Rio Grande Base for small craft; the Natal Base with auxiliary installations at Recife; the Bahía Base; the Pará Base located near Belém, and an arsenal at Ladario, to serve the Paraguay River Force.

These bases would be of solid use in the event of operations of any kind whether to maintain peace in the hemisphere or to defend the hemisphere from attack from without; but their principal use would probably be to assist operations of the United States Navy. In case of real trouble, if Brazil had not built these bases, we should probably have to build them for Brazil, for joint United States-Brazilian use. I should recommend the implementation of the Staff Conversations through creation as recommended of a special commission to organize the definite projects for the bases, and the rendering by the United States of all possible assistance in constructing, maintaining and setting up these bases upon the understanding that they would be available for joint operations in case of war, and for periodical maneuver and practice operations in time of peace.

(6) Training: The proposed plan of joint United States and Brazilian training of technicians should, in my judgment, go forward, though on a restricted basis, substantially along the lines indicated.

(7) Cost: The cost of putting the program into effect is estimated roughly by the Brazilian Naval General Staff at Cr.$799.863.280,00, covering three years. This is assumed to include everything except any payment for the fleet itself. The estimate looks low to me. Obviously if the plan were put into effect slowly, annual costs would be correspondingly reduced.

On the other hand, the Brazilian Naval General Staff estimates that construction of all bases plus training of personnel would result in an additional cost of Cr.$133.375.000,00 (approximately 6½ million dollars) roughly for each of the years 1945, 1946 and 1947. Alternatively, by proceeding with the program more slowly, and dividing the bases into groups, the money could be spread out so that [Page 605] about Cr.$70.000.000,00 a year (approximately 3½ million dollars) could keep the program moving forward. I should recommend the latter method.

Neither the Navy, the Army or the Air Force representatives considered economics very much in their Staff Conversations. They figured, as military men usually do, that providing the money was the job of a civilian government which would have to judge its own ability in that regard. My own feeling is that a limited amount of money for a base program is probably well spent, all things considered. Additional sums suggested for fleet development and maintenance would be of more solid military advantage both to the United States and Brazil if they were put into developing the transport and economic and human resources of Brazil. For a country which has at the moment a total national income of less than 3 billion dollars, a total additional expenditure for Navy alone which the Naval Staff estimates at Cr.$799.000.000,00 and probably would run to not less than Cr.$l,000.000.000,00 (i.e. $50,000,000) exclusive of any additional cost of the ships themselves, is a huge sum. This does not take account of the fact that continued maintenance would have to be provided for and aircraft carriers are especially expensive to maintain. Yet naval expense is only a fraction of the total program with the bills for air and ground forces still to come in.

(8) General policy: I feel that the sound policy for Brazil is to have a reasonably capable naval police force, with enough large ships (one or two cruisers) to maintain her prestige; but that her real defense at this point in the world’s history should be her virtual alliance with the United States within the framework of the inter-American arrangements envisaged by the Act of Chapultepec8 and presently to be carried forward into a definitive treaty. This policy is peculiarly applicable to the Navy, since the United States will at all times maintain a powerful mobile fleet, which will be more efficient in American hands than in Brazilian. The money which might be used to provide a sixth rate fleet, will tend to impoverish and weaken the country. That same amount of money spent in educating Brazilians, and developing transport, industry and resources, will strengthen the country. It is probable that if and when a test comes, the Brazilian naval force would have to be thoroughly reorganized anyhow in the light of new weapons and new methods.

The existing measures should accordingly be trimmed to a manageable program providing for building of the bases, limited fleet additions for patrol and police purposes, a social training program, and maintenance of firm and continuing relations enabling the United [Page 606] States Fleet to move to the defense of Brazil, or to work in conjunction with Brazil for defense of the hemisphere, or maintenance of peace within the hemisphere, as the case may be.

(9) The Brazilian naval expectations have undoubtedly been greatly raised by the Staff Conversations themselves, and even more by the very unfortunate speech of Admiral Ingram,9 which was taken to be a promise of full delivery of the entire amount of Navy matériel. This speech was unauthorized. Admiral Ingram is presently a Brazilian hero for having promised the Brazilians a Navy free of charge.

Yet we have to cope with the results. To throw overboard the Naval Staff Conversations now would undoubtedly create a very considerable crisis. I should therefore recommend that the Department and the Navy, retaining the program as an ideal, propose measures designed to make progress toward realizing it without commitments as to time, accompanied by an understanding with the Brazilian Naval Staff that the program be subject to review and revision in the light of new weapons and new conditions.

Respectfully yours,

A. A. Berle, Jr.
  1. Adm. Ernest J. King.
  2. Getulio Vargas.
  3. See bracketed note, Foreign Relations, 1942, vol. v, p. 662.
  4. For draft text of basic agreement, generally applicable to the American Republics but with special reference to Brazil, see Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. vi, p. 139.
  5. March 8, 1945, Department of State, Treaties and Other International Acts Series No. 1543, or 60 Stat (pt. 2) 1831.
  6. Adm. Jonas H. Ingram, Commander of the United States Atlantic Fleet based at Recife. For an account of his remarks concerning Brazil, see the New York Times July 5, 1945, p. 3, col. 7, and July 7, 1945, p. 3, col. 6.