The Secretary of State to the Secretary of Defense ( Forrestal )


My Dear Mr. Secretary: I received your letter of January 21, 1948 advocating that consideration be given, at the coming Ninth International Conference of American States at Bogotá, to the conclusion of an agreement concerning the extension of rights to military bases among the American republics.

The Committee representing the Departments of State, Army, Navy and Air Force on matters regarding the Ninth International Conference at Bogotá has been informally considering the proposal advanced in your letter during recent weeks. To this group, representatives of the Department of State have explained the interest of this Department in the acquisition of rights, such as those of transit and technical stop by aircraft or vessels, and our complete willingness to proceed along any lines that may effectively achieve such rights.

The view has been expressed, however, that it is extremely doubtful whether the Conference at Bogotá will provide an appropriate opportunity in which to negotiate a reciprocal, multilateral agreement on this subject. The Conference at Bogotá is not considered by the Latin American states as having a military character. Aside from the inclusion [Page 210] of certain principles of collective defense, taken from the Treaty of Rio de Janeiro, in the proposed Organic Pact of the Inter-American System, the only item on the agenda of a military nature is the drafting of provisions for an Inter-American Defense Council which will permanently supplant the present Inter-American Defense Board. Major emphasis at this Conference will be placed upon the reorganization of the Inter-American System, and upon the conclusion of an agreement on inter-American economic cooperation. The Delegations of the Latin American countries to the Bogotá Conference will no doubt consist primarily of political rather than military-representatives.

In view of the controversial political nature of questions concerning bases, as was clearly evidenced by the action of the Assembly of Panama in rejecting the proposed Treaty with the United States, it is likely that the introduction of the subject of bases into the Conference would result in extensive and widely publicized political debate with a poor prospect of this Government’s being able to achieve the conclusion of an agreement such as the National Military Establishment desires. A failure on our part to succeed in our initiative would, I believe, seriously hamper rather than facilitate the acquisition of rights for the United States on a bilateral basis.

It has also been pointed out to representatives of the Service Departments that quite apart from the problem of the extension of base rights to the United States by the Latin American countries, a very large problem arises in connection with any proposal that the Latin American countries reciprocally extend such rights to each other. There are at present several situations involving international tension among the American republics which make it highly likely that several Latin American countries would refuse to sign an agreement which would enable aircraft of a neighboring country freely to use their bases.

In the light of the above considerations, the Department has informally proposed to representatives of the Service Departments that they submit for consideration by the Committee dealing with the Bogota Conference a draft resolution which would concern itself only with the extension of reciprocal rights to bases in time of emergency, leaving the extension of rights during peacetime, for the present, to further bilateral negotiations between the United States and other American republics. The Department has indicated that it will be glad to initiate further bilateral negotiations without delay for this: purpose.

Pending further consideration of the subject as indicated above, the Department is not taking any steps to have the subject of bases placed upon the agenda of the Conference. For your information the agenda of the Conference was fixed several months ago by action of the Governing [Page 211] Board of the Pan American Union and the addition of new subjects will require the favorable vote of two-thirds of the delegates, at the organizing session of the Conference.

Please be assured that the Department approaches this problem with every desire to facilitate the achievement of the objective which you outline in your letter and that our conclusion with respect to the discussion of the subject of bases at the Bogota Conference will be reached solely on the basis of whether such a step would in fact contribute to the development of the defense arrangements which this government desires.

Faithfully yours,

G. C. Marshall