810.20 Defense/5–2147

The British Ambassador (Inverchapel) to the Secretary of State

top secret
personal and immediate

Dear Mr. Secretary: In continuation of my letter of the 19th May90 I am asked to give you the following personal message from Mr. Bevin91:—

“I have now considered carefully with my colleagues your letter of the 18th May90 about British aircraft sales to Argentina.

I have certainly never had any wish to put difficulties in the way of your relations with Argentina nor to contribute to an arms race in South America. As long ago as July 1946 our Embassy in Washington asked the State Department92 for information regarding the Inter-American Military Cooperation Bill and regarding press reports of plans under consideration by the Inter-American Defence Board for Western Hemisphere Defence. From the Aide-Mémoire which Mr. Acheson sent in reply on August 26th93 I learned that full standardisation of training organisation and equipment was intended. But we have had no further communication from your Government on this subject.
The Gentlemen’s Agreement not to supply Argentina was then being enforced by both our Governments but in January last I made it clear to you that (in the light of the degree to which Argentina had then fulfilled her obligations as regards enemy persons and interests) we no longer regarded it as appropriate to maintain this Agreement and that we proposed to treat Argentina henceforward in all respects on the same footing as other Latin American countries.94
I cannot feel therefore that we have in any way misled you as to our intentions. In the Aide-Mémoire which Lord Inverchapel handed you on May 6th95 it was clearly stated that we had given firm promises of export licences to British firms in respect of important current [Page 225] tenders for military aircraft. I am sorry that the fact of their being jet aircraft should come as a surprise to you. These aircraft are on the open list and are available for any country to buy and indeed we have already sold manufacturing rights of a later engine to your country; and I am assured that any country wishing to equip its airforce today would want jet types. Representatives of the British Manufacturers of Jet Aircraft have been in Buenos Aires for a considerable time and there has been press speculation regarding possible sale of such types. It had not occurred to us therefore that your people would think we were confining ourselves to Airscrew Types.
This contract for 100 Meteors (of which 20 are non-combat dualcontrol trainers) has been signed and we cannot possibly go back on it. Moreover, I must tell you that a contract for 30 Lincoln bombers is likely to be signed at any moment with our approval, export licences having been promised. In this case also we cannot go back on legitimate undertakings to supply.
I need not repeat to you the reasons for our vital need of pesos and why we cannot allow ourselves to be excluded from this market which is quite indispensable to us. I have mentioned to your predecessor our necessity for purchasing essential foods from Argentina and the need to trade in order to purchase. But I pointed out we could not abstain from trading forever. I held to the Gentlemen’s Agreement for as long as I felt justified in doing so. But on the 27th January for the reasons already given I felt bound to instruct Lord Inverchapel to inform your Government that we considered ourselves free to sell arms to Argentina. And therefore the main object of our previous approaches to your Government and to you on May 6th was to suggest a general examination of the arms requirements of Latin America and I trust that such discussions will be possible and will take place without delay because we do not wish to be in conflict with you over this matter. I ought to advise you that this is all the more necessary now in that our firms have had other enquiries for aircraft etc. (including an enquiry for Spitfires from Argentina) which we are most anxious to fill.”

I shall be happy, when you have considered this message, to discuss it fully and frankly with you; from the angle more especially of rearmament of Latin America, on which we readily recognize that no one is better qualified to speak than yourself.

May I therefore hold myself in readiness for such a personal talk, as soon as it may suit you to indicate a convenient time?

Yours sincerely,

  1. Not printed.
  2. Ernest Bevin, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Aide-Mémoire dated July 16, handed to the Under Secretary of State by the British Ambassador on July 18, 1946; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. xi, p. 278.
  5. Ibid., p. 307.
  6. See memorandum of January 27 and annex, p. 171.
  7. Not printed, but see the memorandum of May 20, supra.