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


Dear Mr. Secretary: The Service Departments of the National Military Establishment have carefully considered the request of the Government of Colombia for military equipment from the United States, transmitted to me by your letter of 29 October 1948.

It is impracticable to judge properly the adequacy of the forces desired by Colombia for the purpose of maintaining internal stability as reflected by the list of requested munitions. The complexities, prerogatives, and plans of any sovereign nation, of necessity require such decisions to be made by its own leaders.

However, as a guide in determining the propriety of the present request of the Colombian Government, reference has been made to the [Page 481] recommendations contained in the records of the Bilateral Staff Conversations which were held with all of the other American Republics, except Argentina, during 1945.1 In general, the recommendations of these Bilateral Staff Conversations provide for armed forces agreeable to the various Latin American countries and considered adequate by them and the United States representatives for the purpose of guaranteeing territorial integrity, maintaining public order and for integration into forces which may be required for hemisphere defense. Consideration was also given to the economy of the country in its ability to support this force. From the overall hemisphere aspect, the size and composition of the forces recommended in the Bilateral Staff Conversations tend to preserve the relative military strengths of the Latin American nations. The recommendations of the Bilateral conferences have been approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff for planning purposes.

In 1947, in preparation for an interim allocation of equipment amounting to about eight percent of the total recommended, the Bilateral Staff Conversations with Colombia were reviewed unilaterally and no need for modification was indicated. Accordingly, the recommendations of the Bilateral Staff Conversation may be used as a criterion in determining the propriety of Colombia’s present request.

In the specific case of Colombia, the recommended size of the post war armed forces approximates 23,000 men with the primary mission of maintaining internal stability. These were apportioned as follows: (a) An Army of slightly less than 20,000 comprising an Army Command Headquarters, 3 Regimental Combat Teams, a Light Battalion Combat Team and miscellaneous small units, (b) an Air Force of approximately 1800 with 41 aircraft of the transport and trainer type to be added to the 68 aircraft on hand, and (c) a Naval Force of about 1300 equipped principally with two (2) destroyers, five (5) gunboats and eight (8) vessels of transport, cargo and patrol types. The presently reported size of all the armed forces is approximately 23,000 including 5000 uniformed police.

Attached as “Tab A”2 is an itemized comparison of the principal Army weapons requested by Colombia with similar equipment included in the units established in the Bilateral Staff Conversations. The table also shows items of Ordnance equipment received by Colombia under the provisions of Lend Lease or in the Interim Allocation Program. No cognizance is taken of the considerable amount of European equipment now in the hands of the Colombian Army, which should be to a large degree satisfactory for the maintenance of internal [Page 482] stability. It will be noted in the majority of the items that the present request of the Colombian Government considerably exceeds the needs envisaged by both the United States and the Colombian representatives in the Bilateral Staff Conversations. This statement is predicated to some extent on the assumption that the principal items of Army equipment are intended for that service and not for Navy, Air or police forces.

With respect to the Naval equipment requested by Colombia it is believed that with the exception of the Destroyer Transport (APD) and the Oiler (AO–30,000 barrels) the units requested may be considered as contributing to the maintenance of internal stability by enhancing the mobility of the Armed Forces of Colombia, taking into consideration the limited development of overland communication facilities.

The Air Force requirements of Colombia were previously referred to the Department of the Air Force and by Memorandum dated 20 August 19483 the Department of State was advised that the aircraft requested were considered appropriate. Subsequently, action was taken to offer to Colombia such aircraft as were available, through the Field Commissioner for Military Programs, Office of the Foreign Liquidation Commissioner. Details regarding the Air Force equipment are included in “Tab D”.3

It is considered feasible to assist the Colombian Government in procuring part of the desired Army equipment from commercial sources; however, a complete and detailed study cannot be accomplished successfully in less than several months time and at a considerable monetary cost by the Department of the Army. Consequently, only a rough estimate of the problem has been made, the results of which are indicated in “Tab B”.3 Where desired items are currently in procurement and the price is available, the approximate cost and procurement-lead “time are shown. Specific attention is invited to the fact that many items of individual equipment and of civilian application are requested although in accordance with established policies such items have never been made available to Latin American Governments from military sources and are not rightfully military equipment. Desks, typewriters, athletic equipment and similar items may usually be procured commercially without requiring the assistance of the National Military Establishment.

The Department of the Navy is prepared to assist the Government of Colombia in procuring from commercial sources, under the authority of existing legislation, that Naval equipment considered appropriate. [Page 483] Current procurement prices and lead times are indicated in “Tab C”.4

Existing legislation requires payment of full procurement costs and in view of current prices, some of which are indicated in the attached tabs, it is questionable whether the economy of Colombia would permit purchases of the scale envisaged. However, it is estimated that such procurement, if undertaken, would not materially affect the current overall procurement program of the National Military Establishment.

The possibility has also been explored of providing the desired equipment from current Army stocks. The results of this study (included in “Tab B”) indicate that the majority of the principal items desired are available only in high priority groups comparable to the priority of military aid programs such as Greece and Turkey. The National Military Establishment is unaware of any compelling military necessity for the establishment of such a priority for Colombia or for the preferential treatment of Colombia to the prejudice of other Latin American nations such as Brazil and Venezuela whose requirements in safeguarding vital interests of the United States are more readily apparent. If political considerations so dictate, it is assumed that the Department of State will initiate necessary action for the establishment of a sufficiently high priority for the Government of Colombia.

Sincerely yours,

  1. See bracketed note Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. ix, p. 265.
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