Memorandum by the Assistant Chief of the Division of Caribbean and Central American Affairs (Newbegin)9
The Honduran Ambassador in a note dated May 28, 194610 requesting the Department’s cooperation in obtaining AT–6’s had posed a question which may make desirable a review of the Department’s position with regard to two major policies which would appear to be, at least in part, incompatible, namely: (a) The withholding of arms and ammunition from the dictator countries in order that they may not be in a position to use them against their own people, thus perpetuating their regimes; and (b) The military cooperation with the other American Republics with a view to standardization of equipment and to a better and more unified defense of the Hemisphere.
The Honduran Ambassador in presenting his note (which pointed out that the Honduran Government had not only failed to obtain the permits but had been given no reason for their non-issuance) stated “off the record” that he had learned that the planes were being kept from Honduras for “political reasons”.
As regards the two policies under reference, the following points might be considered:
- Factors making continuance of withholding of arms desirable:
- This has been one of the most effective means of bringing our disapproval to the attention of the dictatorial regimes and of encouraging and reinforcing those local democratic elements which we should like to see succeed the present dictators.
- Our record remains clear and we cannot be accused either by our own people or by the dictators’ victims of supporting or making possible the continuance of dictatorships through supplying arms susceptible of use by a dictator against his own people.
- We remain faithful to our general professions of the basic reasons for which we fought the war.
- Should we supply arms to one of the dictators, we will be in a position of having to do likewise to the others.
- Should the present policy be modified it would probably be interpreted [Page 959] by the public in dictatorship countries as support for and approval of the dictators.
- Factors Adversely Affecting Continuance of Policy of
- Failure to supply equipment requested weakens and may nullify the military cooperation and standardization program. The question has already been raised in Central America of the utility to the receiving country of American military missions when equipment is withheld; and there is at least one example (Dominican Republic) of a country which having failed to receive arms from the U.S., sought and obtained them elsewhere.11
- Possibility of effectiveness of withholding programs being nullified by other powers. Even assuming British cooperation in withholding arms from any given country, we cannot count on similar cooperation from Russia which might supply arms either directly or through a third country such as Argentina.
- Resentment resulting from failure to obtain arms would facilitate Russian infiltration and possible formation of anti-American blocs.
- There is a striking discrepancy between the attitudes taken to date towards the American dictators and the Russian dictatorship. Notwithstanding obvious explanations for the discrepancy, our inconsistency exposes us to charges of hypocrisy and ulterior motives.
- Our policy to date has not succeeded in bringing about the removal of any American dictator.
- The program of military cooperation contemplates the supplying of equipment in accordance with the needs of each country and the contribution which it may make to continental defense, at the same time taking into consideration the necessity for preventing such countries from becoming a menace to their neighbors. In short, the program envisages a form of control and limitation although not total withholding, as is now the policy with regard to certain countries.
- Such limited equipment as might be given to dictatorship countries under the program would not necessarily alter the ability of a dictator to perpetuate his regime. Most present American dictatorships already have sufficient arms to control their people unless there is a disaffection among the military elements. Additional equipment would not, therefore, materially affect the present situation.
Specific Problem of Honduras—
When Ambassador Cáceres presented his request to Mr. Cochran on May 28, he was accompanied by Colonel Stewart, who is in charge of pilot training in Honduras. The latter states that were he to obtain six AT–6’s he would ground nine other planes, including five Vultees. He emphasized that the sole reason for the request was to provide more suitable equipment for training purposes, pointing out that Honduras [Page 960] already had sufficient equipment to take care adequately of any disturbances which might arise.12
Should the Department reject the Honduran application, it would appear desirable to inform the Ambassador of the reasons therefor as was done in the case of the Dominican request for arms. Unfortunately, we would have greater difficulty in this instance in presenting as good an explanation since Carías (probably as a result of our present policy) has permitted the opposition press to function, has at long last released political prisoners and observed other democratic forms which might enable him to make, what would be on the face of it, a fairly effective reply.
After considering the various factors involved it is recommended that the AT–6’s be released to Honduras. However, although the specific request under consideration is not of outstanding importance in itself, it should be fully understood that acceding to it would probably involve a similar change in policy toward supplying arms to other dictatorship countries of the Hemisphere since it would be difficult to draw the line between Carías and, for example, his neighbor dictator, Somoza,13 or other more objectionable dictators.
- Addressed to the Assistant Secretary of State for American Republic Affairs (Braden) and to the Director of the Office of American Republic Affairs (Briggs).↩
- Not printed.↩
- For documentation on this subject, see pp. 816 ff.↩
- Chargé Faust, in a letter of May 14 to Acting Secretary Acheson, stressed this opinion: “Unless the United States is prepared to give real assistance in standardizing Honduran military equipment, the Mission might as well be withdrawn; obviously, it cannot do its work properly unless given the necessary tools. The Department’s fear that Carías might strengthen his dictatorship if given modern equipment appears to be without basis. He already has virtually 100% control and does not need modern arms to defeat the sporadic attempts of oppositionist elements to overthrow his regime. His several thousand rifles of the type used by American forces in the First World War constitute far better equipment than any which his opponents are likely to obtain.” (711.00/5–1446)↩
- Gen. Anastasio Somoza, President of Nicaragua.↩