810.20 Defense/7–2645

The Ambassador in Chile (Bowers) to the Secretary of State

No. 12498

Sir: Referring to my despatch 12,452 of July 25, 194540 transmitting a summary of the report on Bilateral Staff Conversations between the United States and Chile, I have the honor to submit below the Embassy’s views and a general discussion on the scope of the Conversations and what I deem are, or should be, their objectives.

I believe the Staff Conversations were admirably conceived and well executed but they are of no value unless implemented. In fact, I regard the implementing of these conversations as a matter of the first importance in its bearing on the future political and strategic position [Page 747] of the United States and one in which success or failure can bring good or ill fortune to us for many years to come.

Judging from the very incomplete information which I have been able to obtain, the distribution of Lend-Lease equipment to American countries, a policy forced on us by exigencies of war, has sown dragons’ teeth in this continent and I assume that the extracting of these teeth is one of the principal reasons for the program, the first chapter of which was the Staff Conversations. In other words, one of our objectives is to try before it is too late to conduct negotiations which will in effect be the equivalent of a limitation of armaments conference. Given the character of the problem and the inherent rivalries among the American republics, I think it is most unlikely that success would result from a limitation of armaments conference attended by these countries and therefore the oblique approach to that problem through Bilateral Staff Conversations constitutes statecraft of a high order.

Assuming that the foregoing is correct my next premise is that, as stated in the agenda for the staff conversations and underscored by the Department’s secret telegram No. 73 of January 22, the Department approached the political question of security arrangements on the multilateral basis shown by the Dumbarton Oaks proposals,41 which preceded the Conversations, and by the Act of Chapultepec42 and the United Nations Charter43 which came after the Conversations. Similarly, arrangements for supply of arms is to be subject to the overriding consideration of the international security system of the Charter; and the arms traffic is to be controlled by international agreement.

Certainly, regardless of what may be argued as to our position in other parts of the world, there can be no doubt of our perpetual security obligations in this hemisphere based on every ground; tradition, the solemn declaration of the Monroe Doctrine, the commitments at many Pan-American Conferences, and finally the Act of Chapultepec and the Charter, all of which adds up to the protection of the United States. And given the changing scene of Latin American politics and our traditional policy, the advantages of multilateral commitments are too obviously indicated to need emphasis.

Granting, therefore, the patent fact that we must protect this hemisphere from outside attack, that other great powers will, under the Charter, be committed to the obligation of keeping peace between all countries of the world, I am strongly of the opinion that, if possible [Page 748] under existing commitments, the American countries should keep the peace among one another without the intervention of non-American states; and I assume that nearly the whole burden of this task will in the last analysis fall upon the United States.

It is in the light of the foregoing that we should consider with the utmost care how strongly we should arm those countries. Theoretically, large military forces in the South American countries with our arms and organization would form a stronger force to resist foreign invasion. I feel, however, this is open to question and that it is not unlikely that some very strongly armed South American countries might be a hindrance rather than a help to our protection of this hemisphere. In fact in reply to direct question on this point by a member of the Embassy, General Smith, head of the American Delegation at the Bilateral Conversations, stated categorically that the Lend-Lease arms given to Central American states had been used to our disadvantage.

As pointed out above, the United States will in all probability have to carry the burden of the defense of this hemisphere and though, to be sure, we want ample and suitably placed air and naval bases with adequate protection furnished by the local military forces, we should not be too sanguine that a combination of circumstances may not eventuate in which one or more South American countries might be more disposed to help the foreign power than to help the United States. We need only take Argentina as an example.

Therefore, as regards defense of the hemisphere, I believe that we should endeavor to keep the armed establishments in these countries down to a minimum in our own strategic interest, to say nothing of the fact that there are very few American countries whose budgets can really afford their present military establishments, much less larger ones.

The next question is whether very strong military establishments in South American countries would increase the risk of war between them and whether, in that event, such forces would increase our difficulties in settling these differences?

I do not think there is the slightest doubt that, in general, strong military forces in the Latin American Republics, as has been the case everywhere throughout the world’s history, increase the danger of war with their neighbors. It seems therefore self-evident that from this standpoint also it is in our interest to keep military forces down to the minimum required to defend the above mentioned air and naval bases which we will need to use for the defense of this hemisphere.

The foregoing is of course much easier said than done. In Chile and in some other American republics there is strong feeling of pride in the armed forces based on what they regard as “glorious pages” in the history of the country. I think, however, that as presumably [Page 749] in other American republics, Chile could be persuaded to accept a modest military force, provided we can prove to Chile’s satisfaction that she is in no danger of attack from her neighbors by (a) convincing her of the efficacy and sincerity of our commitments under the United Nations Charter and the Act of Chapultepec and, what is perhaps more important, (b) proof that her neighbors are not dangerously armed.

In Chile, as I daresay in most South American countries, when they talk about national security they think of the possibility of an attack from a neighboring country, rather than a violation of the Monroe Doctrine, in the confident conviction that the United States will prevent the latter. It will, therefore, be a most difficult and delicate problem for the appropriate departments in Washington and the joint United States Chiefs of Staff to allot arms to South American countries in such a way as will not arouse the fears of their neighbors, and at the same time remove the fears which now exist. Of course this is a very large order, but I believe it is an objective toward which we should strive and strive with the utmost effort. The potential future difficulties to the United States through failure to remedy the growing bellicose atmosphere in some countries of South America, increased in no small degree by ad hoc Lend-Lease arms shipments, are of course familiar to the Department of State, but I wish to say that I regard them as alarming.

I would emphasize that I do not mean to imply that I regard Chile as a country likely to violate the peace of the continent. On the contrary, as explained below, Chile strongly feels that she is surrounded by enemies; she has territory won in a war of the Pacific fought some 65 years ago when Bolivia and Peru united against her.44 Argentina wants contiguous Chilean territory in the Magallanes and a port on the Pacific. Accordingly, it is obviously Chile’s policy to remain at peace and maintain intact her territorial integrity. In view of this and Chile’s exceptional vulnerability, due to her enormous coast line and frontier as discussed in more detail by the Embassy’s Military Attaché in Enclosure No. 6 to the despatch under reference,45 this policy should be taken into consideration in any distribution of arms; in fact, failure to do so might afford further temptation to her neighbors to attack.

The memorandum from the Ministry of Defense enclosed in my despatch No. 11,564 of January 26, 194545a (Subject: United States–Chile general staff conversations; transmitting copy of an undated memorandum from the Chilean Minister of Defense regarding Chile’s desire for assurances of help from the United States in case of an [Page 750] attack from another American State), sets forth Chile’s fears of its immediate neighbors, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru; Argentina’s ambitions in Chilean Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego and its desire for a Pacific coastline; Peru’s ambitions to recover the poor province of Arica and possibly some of the more valuable territory farther south; and Bolivia’s aspirations for a port of her own on the Pacific.

Argentinian and Peruvian questions are chronic and do not lend themselves to an obvious solution. With farseeing and courageous statesmanship in Chile and Bolivia and a reasoning and impassionate public opinion, the problem of a Bolivian outlet would seem to be fairly easy of solution, since the area which could be given to Bolivia—that is the port of Arica and the railway line—comprises a narrow strip of territory of small value. One could contend that satisfying Bolivia in this respect would tend to remove the ever present danger that Bolivia will one day join Peru in attacking Chile. Furthermore, such a strip of Bolivian territory might be a useful buffer between Chile and Peru. However, as the Department is only too aware, the historical background and character of the people involved make this rather obvious solution very remote. The recent renewed agitation in Bolivia for such a port and Chile’s vigorous popular reaction in denial shows how little chance there is of satisfying Bolivia. (See despatch No. 12,369 of June 30, 1945.46)

As regards the purely military aspects of the Staff Conversations, it would seem that a formula providing a suitable quota and a fair ratio of strength between Chile, Bolivia and Peru could be arrived at without too great difficulty. The problem of Argentina with her thriving infant arms industry presents, however, a very different problem.

Probably as great a problem in the adjustment of the South American arms is the position which Brazil will occupy at the end of the war. I don’t for the moment question the necessity of rushing arms to Brazil at the time of the gravest crisis, but the inescapable fact remains that the American republics judge their own needs in the light of the strength of their neighbors, and the arming of one country such as Brazil starts the vicious spiral; her neighbors will feel insecure without large military forces and, in turn, their neighbors will feel a similar need. Thus, armament in Brazil has set a pace which will tend to increase the tempo of armament throughout the entire continent.

I would add one more point which I consider of the greatest importance. In the Agenda of our Staff Conversations we wisely provided that we are to be the only source of arms for American republics and that all arms received by those countries from other sources are [Page 751] to be scrapped or exchanged. I need hardly point out to the Department that, in spite of this wise provision, an unfriendly Russia or Britain starting the old vicious arms racket could upset our well laid plans.

I earnestly hope and recommend, therefore, that in one way or another we will arrive at some hard and fast arrangement which will prevent any non-American country from sending any arms whatsoever to this hemisphere.

Respectfully yours,

Claude G. Bowers
  1. Not printed.
  2. For documentation on the Dumbarton Oaks conversations, see Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. i, pp. 713 ff.
  3. See Resolution VIII, Pan American Union, Final Act of the Inter-American Conference on Problems of War and Peace, Mexico City, February–March, 1945 (Washington, 1945), pp. 40–44.
  4. Senate Document No. 123, 81st Gong., 1st sess.: A Decade of American Foreign Policy, Basic Documents, 1941–49, p. 117.
  5. For documentation on the War of the Pacific, see sections on Bolivia, Chile, and Peru in Foreign Relations for the years 18791883.
  6. I.e., despatch 12452 of July 25; not printed.
  7. Not printed.
  8. Not printed.