Memorandum by the Director of the Office of American Republic Affairs (Briggs)

top secret


The British Embassy informed the Department on May 16 of the conclusion of a contract between Argentina and Hawker Siddeley83 to sell Argentina 100 Meteor jet fighter planes, deliveries beginning this month and ending by September, 1948. The amount of the order is over four million pounds.

For the past two years until this sale, the British and Canadians pursuant to a “Gentleman’s Agreement” with the United States did not sell arms to Argentina,84 In recent months the British have indicated their desire to us to withdraw from the agreement and to regain their freedom of action. They have been impelled by:

Need for Argentine foodstuffs. (Argentina is blackmailing the world with food. For example, Canada in order to obtain 26,000 tons of fats and oils was recently forced by Argentina to ration further her own and the U.S. press on news print in order to supply Argentina with larger quantities thereof. Canada nevertheless did refuse to sell Argentina fighter planes).
Need for hard currencies to bolster the British economy.
Desire of British armament manufacturers to resume their lucrative Latin American arms business.

The British Government in an aide-mémoire of April 3085 (delivered to the Secretary by Lord Inverchapel on May 6) served notice that it would no longer abide by the Gentleman’s Agreement, but at the same time declared that contemplated arms sales would neither embarrass the plans of the American Chiefs of Staff, nor re-arm Latin America unduly. (The jet plane sale would do both. As indicated in the proposed statement to the British Ambassador this transaction cannot be reconciled with the British assurances set forth in the aide-mémoire).

The aide-mémoire repeats an earlier British suggestion (to which we made no reply) that the British and American Governments jointly examine Latin American arms requirements with a view to seeing how best to meet them in the light of 1) basic U.S. plans, i.e. our standardization [Page 222] program, 2) requirements of other countries concerned, and 3) need to keep British shipyards and factories employed, now and in the future.

The aide-mémoire also discussed British dependence on Argentina for food supplies, suggested that Argentina should be treated in respect of arms in the same manner as other Latin American governments (i.e. regardless of the character, record and aims of the Argentine Government), and mentioned pending contracts with Argentina for military aircraft, for war vessels, and for “insignificant” amounts of matériel desired by the Argentine army.

Finally, the aide-mémoire suggested that there be excluded from the proposed Anglo-American discussion of the over-all Latin American arms situation, pending sales by Great Britain of naval vessels and military aircraft (for example, it now appears, the jet plane order in question).

In replying orally to the British Ambassador on May 6, the Secretary stated that the British aide-mémoire would receive further study, and that the Department hoped that U.S.–Argentine relations would shortly be on a more satisfactory basis.

Facts Bearing on the Situation:

Argentina tends toward an authoritarian state and should accordingly be treated with reserve. There is a danger that Argentina aspires to organize a “southern bloc” under Argentine political and economic domination.
The U.S. seeks hemisphere unity, which would be endangered by the formation of a “southern bloc”. The policy of the U.S. should therefore be to oppose any development (and in particular any substantial increase in the Argentine military potential) which would facilitate the formation of such a bloc.
Jet fighter planes are weapons of aggression. They are not only unnecessary for hemisphere defense, but their acquisition would vastly increase the Argentine military potential, greatly alarm the other American republics …, and threaten an arms race disastrous alike to hemisphere unity and to the Latin American economy.
The developments mentioned in 2 would make for confusion and power politics and thus facilitate Communist penetration of Latin America as well as the establishment of military dictatorships. Both are inimical to democratic institutions.
Acquisition by Argentina of 100 British jet fighter planes would dislocate U.S. standardization plans. (It should be noted however that Argentina has not thus far indicated any enthusiasm for standardization; in the event of the adoption of such a program, Argentina may be expected to acquire U.S. arms to the limit thereof, and then to seek additional arms from whatever source available. It is President [Page 223] Perón’s publicly stated intention to establish an Argentine arms industry which will make that country independent of other sources).

Alternative Courses of Action:

Induce Great Britain either to cancel or substantially reduce the jet plane sale. (Whether we wish to accept the British suggestion for a joint Anglo-American examination of Latin American armament requirements would doubtless be a matter for preliminary discussion with War and Navy).
Inform the other American republics that we propose to arm them (with the attendant dangers of an arms race, of dislocating their economies, and of facilitating Communist penetration). It is doubtful whether the U.S. public would support such a program. Furthermore Brazil and all the small states bordering on Argentina, lack funds; they can compete with Argentina only if the U.S. underwrites the program.
Call the Rio Conference86 and negotiate a hemisphere defense pact. But the hemisphere is already protected from aggression from overseas by the Declaration of Habana,87 which does not expire with the end of war powers. The Act of Chapultepec,88 which expires with the end, of war powers, merely adds aggression from within the continent to aggression from overseas. However, there is no assurance that Argentina will accept permanent obligations along the lines of Chapultepec. Although a signatory of the Declaration of Habana, Argentina did not comply therewith after Pearl Harbor; the Argentine record with respect to the Mexico City agreements needs no comment.
Seek to add the hemisphere defense pact to the agenda of the Bogotá Conference (January, 1948),89 where it will be only one of three or four important questions under consideration. (Neither Brazil nor any other Latin American Government is pressing for holding the Rio Conference).


Persuade the British to cancel the jet plane contract. If this proves impossible, induce the British greatly to reduce the size of the order and to make only “token deliveries” pending the Bogotá Conference.
Should War and Navy so desire, agree to the suggestion contained in the British aide-mémoire that a joint Anglo-American study of Latin American arms requirements be undertaken.
Transfer the hemisphere defense project to the agenda of the Bogotá Conference (abandoning the idea of holding a conference at Rio de Janeiro). At Bogotá we should strive to obtain a politicojuridical defense pact, without armaments commitments.
  1. Hawker Siddeley Aircraft Company of London.
  2. According to a memorandum of conversation of April 8, by the Chief of the Division of Special Inter-American Affairs (Dreier), the Canadians were considering the sale of 100 to 150 Mosquito bombers to Argentina to improve the Canadian exchange position and fats and oils supply. The Department spokesman indicated such a breach of standing policy would be viewed with great disappointment. (835.248/4–847)
  3. Not printed.
  4. For documentation on this Conference, see pp. 1 ff.
  5. See resolution XV in Second Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the American Republics, Havana, July 21–30, 1940, Report of the Secretary of State (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1941), p. 71.
  6. Resolution VIII of the Inter-American Conference on Problems of War and Peace; for text, see Department of State, Treaties and Other International Acts Series No. 1543, or 60 Stat. (pt. 2) 1831.
  7. For information on the preliminaries of this Conference, see bracketed note, p. 94.