Memorandum by Mr. R. Kenneth Oakley of the Division of River Plate Affairs to the Director of the Office of American Republic Affairs (Daniels)


Ambassador Briggs inquired on August 5 concerning possible US assurances to Uruguay in case of an overt action by Argentina. We replied on September 30, 1948 that it appeared logical that United States armed assistance would result from an armed attack on Uruguay, although the Rio Treaty of 19472 is not binding as to armed assistance.

In reply to a similar inquiry by Uruguayan Ambassador Domínguez Cámpora on February 10, 1949, Mr. Daniels replied as follows.3 If [Page 781] Uruguay should be the victim of an armed attack, and if the United States were completely and unquestionably satisfied that such attack came within the provisions of the Rio Treaty, he supposed (“supongo”) that the United States would immediately render armed assistance, without waiting for a meeting of the Organ of Consultation. He added that he would even consider it “probable” that the United States would so act, since he agreed that such action would be within the spirit of the Rio Treaty. However, Mr. Daniels prefaced these statements by pointing out that it might be unnecessary to act unilaterally and even more desirable to take collective action; that he did not wish to make any statement which might be misinterpreted as a threat to a third country; and that he could not commit his government because circumstances at the moment of any attack are difficult to evaluate now and that officials of the United States Government at any such time might have a different point of view.

On armed assistance, that is about as far as we can go. We cannot bind ourselves to action under unforeseeable and perhaps impossible conditions although we fully intend to live up to the spirit as well as the letter of our commitment “to assist in meeting the attack in the exercise of the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense”. (Article 3 (1))

Expanding somewhat on Mr. Daniel’s statement that collective action might be more desirable than individual though immediate armed assistance, reference is made particularly to Article 7 of the Rio Treaty. An examination of a report of the American Delegation indicates that this Article was inserted because of the desire of the majority that, in case of a conflict between two or more American states, every effort should be made to avoid having other states take sides and spread the conflict.4 The right to immediate action “to assist in meeting the attack” remained unimpaired nevertheless.

A Uruguayan policy statement, now in draft, but, for all effective purposes, approved (an identical statement re Paraguay already has been approved), states that “the US recognizes that Uruguay naturally lies within the economic orbit of Argentina, and that the two nations have largely identic interests.5 Therefore, we do not oppose any natural movement toward greater collaboration between the two countries, either economic, cultural or political. On the other hand, the US would oppose any Argentine action of an aggressive nature.”

[Page 782]

This statement includes [options?] other than armed assistance, to confront aggression, armed or otherwise. In the case of an aggression which is not an armed attack, the Rio Treaty calls only for a meeting of the Organ of Consultation to decide on measures to assist the victim of aggression or measures for the common defense and the maintenance of the peace and security of the Continent.

Uruguay obviously is not so much concerned with the possibility of armed aggression by an American State as it is with the less remote prospect of political-economic pressure and penetration by one of its more powerful neighbors. Article 6 of the Rio Treaty merely implies (albeit strongly) support for the victim in such cases, and only when the measures are determined to constitute aggression. Furthermore, Article 6 can be effective only if there is agreement on the difficult question of the nature of aggression and on the equally difficult question of whether the actions constitute aggressive acts. It is recognized that, in any case, considerable time might elapse before Inter-American measures might be adopted and put into force for the support of an American nation confronted with aggression not in the nature of an armed attack, particularly should such aggression derive from another American state.

Although, as mentioned above, Article 6 carries only an implication of support in cases of this nature, the United States considers itself bound to render such support. Although it would not resort to the measures of support against aggression envisaged in Article 8 of the Rio Treaty (recall of chiefs of diplomatic missions; breaking of diplomatic relations; …; partial or complete interruption of economic relations; …;6 and use of armed force) without prior consultation with the other American States, the United States undoubtedly would act unilaterally to support an American State by interim measures such as supplying basic foodstuffs on a temporary basis (for example, the specific problem of wheat mentioned in Amb. Brigg’s despatch7), provided of course that this Government were convinced that aggression actually were involved. However, again we could not irrevocably bind ourselves for an unforeseeable and perhaps impossible situation.

In any instance of a claimed aggression, we must needs be absolutely, certain that aggression did exist. In this regard, it must be remembered that public opinion, to say nothing of the press, is too easily excited into hasty judgment of certain actions as aggression. Furthermore, too precipitate action by the United States to support an [Page 783] American State against actions which might be based only on misunderstanding, might well compound rather than relieve a difficult situation.

Another problem is that, should US assurances to some State become known to some of its neighbors, the latter might consider themselves offended on the grounds that the assurances imply the existence of a threat where none actually exists. Since this situation invariably is present at some point or other in the Americas, we must limit ourselves to multilateral assurances, although our position is identical with regard to every one of the 20 other American republics, and is entirely nondiscriminatory.

Recent events in United States-Argentine relations are recognized to have provoked a certain fear among neighbors of Argentina that the United States is cultivating its relations with the latter nation at the possible sacrifice of its good relations with other American nations, especially Uruguay and Brazil, which proved themselves in the recent war to be good friends and allies of the combatant United Nations. The United States indeed is endeavoring to cement better relationship with Argentina. Under no circumstances, however, does it propose to sacrifice its already proven relationship with Uruguay, Brazil and other American nations which exhibited their support for the United Nations war effort before Argentina did. We firmly believe that it is of great and direct interest to Uruguay and other nations that United States-Argentine relations be improved in every possible way, within the concept mentioned above, and that Uruguay and these other nations should not only view with favor but should encourage such a development in their own self-interest and for their own protection over the long period.8

  1. For the text of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, see Department of State Treaties and other International Acts Series (TIAS) No. 1838, or 62 Stat. (pt. 2) 1681.

    The United States had also given Uruguay certain guarantees of support in 1944. Department of State telegram 412 to Montevideo, July 12, 1944, not printed, instructed the Ambassador to “… inform the President [Juan Jose Amezaga] and the Foreign Minister [José Serrato] in strict confidence that in the event of attack we are prepared to extend the necessary military and naval assistance. You may, in your discretion, also state that we have consulted the Brazilian Government and have been assured of its cooperation. We are likewise prepared to extend all necessary economic assistance in the event of Argentine reprisals and you may so inform the President and Foreign Minister.” (733.35/7–1144) In telegram 676, July 15, 1944, not printed, Ambassador Dawson reported that he had delivered these assurances on July 13 and 14, 1944, but had omitted any mention of Brazil (733.35/7–1544).

    This question had been raised by Uruguayan officials at a time when the United States was urging the other American Republics to recall for consultation their respective Chiefs of Mission in Buenos Aires. The Department’s instruction was sent after consultation with President Roosevelt and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

    Further information on these previous assurances to Uruguay is in files 733.35, 734.35 and 835.01 for 1944. For documentation relating to U.S. efforts to enlist the American Republics in a common policy towards Argentina, see Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. vii, pp. 288377.

  2. In his memorandum of this conversation dated February 10, 1949 (not printed), Mr. Daniels stated: “The Ambassador had reminded me that the United States, on at least one other occasion, had given a specific commitment, even before the Rio Treaty.” (811.003 Barkley, A. W./2–1049)

    For further information on the Argentine attitude toward Uruguay, see despatch No. 167 from Buenos Aires, March 8, 1949, p. 483, in the compilation on Argentina.

  3. Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Continental Peace and Security, Quitandinha, Brazil, August 15–September 2, 1947: Report of the Delegation of the United States of America, Department of State publication 3016 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1948).
  4. In the Policy Statement for Uruguay adopted November 17, 1950, this sentence read: “We recognize Argentine influence in Uruguay as natural and understand the large identity of interests between the two nations.” (611.33/11–1750)
  5. Omissions indicated in the source text.
  6. Despatch No. 745 from Montevideo, November 8, 1948, not printed, included a comprehensive review of Uruguayan economic and other relations with Argentina (733.35/11–48).
  7. A brief note from Mr. Daniels to Mr. Oakley, dated February 18, 1949, and attached to the file copy of this memorandum, says in part: “Excellent analysis. I agree throughout.”