Memorandum by Mr. R. Kenneth Oakley of the Division of River Plate Affairs


At the time of receiving an advance copy of Ambassador Briggs’ despatch no. 254 of June 6, 19491 I was about to leave the office for [Page 791] an informal talk with Uruguayan Ambassador Domínguez Cámpora who had sought the meeting to discuss, among other things, “the different interpretation placed in Montevideo on the Secretary’s message to President Batlle (Deptel 123 of May 19, 1949) from the interpretation given it by” Ambassador Domínguez. Ambassador Briggs’ despatch under reference indicated that there probably exists in Uruguayan Government circles a slightly different interpretation of the Domínguez Cámpora-Daniels-Sanders-Dreier conversation about the interpretation of the Rio Treaty of 1947, than that understood in the Department as outlined in a memorandum of conversation of February 24, 1949. The Uruguayan understanding of our interpretation is that in the case of an armed attack, the US would give immediate assistance without waiting for a meeting of the Organ of Consultation. In other words, no reservation about Article 7 is understood to exist.

Accordingly, and with the concurrence of Mr. Atwood, I broached the matter with Ambassador Domínguez on the afternoon of June 15. He was much upset since he had placed much importance on what he thought was the complete understanding reached on this matter. I realized when I broached the matter that I was risking a disagreeable episode wherein the point of difference was relatively slight and concerning a matter which in some ways the Department preferred not to become too involved. However I considered that there was a greater risk in the possibility that a wrong interpretation involving an exaggerated responsibility on the part of the US might cause serious future difficulties, especially if such an interpretation should become more widely known. At any rate, I was convinced that, by raising the matter at my initiative and at the first moment a misunderstanding was suspected, I would at least clear us of any possible future charges of bad faith. The Uruguayan Ambassador has dealt with us in a most frank and honest manner and I am convinced we must do likewise.

Ambassador Domínguez Cámpora and I went over the entire conversation of February 24 and there was no question of any disagreement whatsoever except with regard to Article 7 of the Rio Treaty. I repeatedly made it quite [clear] that we in the State Department believe that Article 7 does definitely apply to cases of armed attack and that there might conceivably be some cases of armed attack in which it would be preferable to await a meeting of the Organ of Consultation before coming to the assistance of the victim in order to avoid a generalization of the conflict. The Ambassador insisted that Article 7 does not apply to cases of armed attack.

We agreed that the matter should be explored informally at greater length before considering any renewal of official conversations. Therefore [Page 792] I discussed the matter with Messrs. Dreier and Jamison2 of IA in order to be more certain of our position. With their agreement I returned to discuss the matter with Ambassador Domínguez Cámpora on June 22. I insisted that in theory there might be a slight difference in interpretation of Article 7 but that the Uruguayans might be completely certain that in practice and in spirit we are thoroughly in accord. We believe that Article 7 does apply to cases of armed attack and cite the mention therein of call for cessation of hostilities. (The Ambassador said that there might be cases of hostilities not arising out of armed attack. Apparently he referred to such possible cases as border incidents in which hostilities begin almost accidentally.) I reiterated that our interpretation is that there might be cases in which assistance in meeting an armed attack might best await a meeting of the Organ of Consultation. I emphasized that my explanations were entirely unofficial.

I pointed out to the Ambassador, however, that the US at the Rio Conference had opposed Article 7 and had agreed thereto only when its amendment was accepted providing for the terminology “without prejudice to the right of self-defense in conformity with Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations”. (The Ambassador quotes a Pan-American Union report as authority for his interpretation that such self-defense is either individual or collective.) This, I stated, should be considered strong indication of the US attitude with regard to this Article. Furthermore, I understood our interpretation to be that the US would want to wait for consultation and the application of Article 7 only in such instances in which the effective defense of the victim of an armed attack would not be seriously prejudiced by such a wait. For example I gave him the hypothetical case of Bolivia attacking Paraguay in the Chaco jungle in an undisputed case of unprovoked armed attack. Assuming that Bolivia should take only a few square miles of territory of little apparent value and should be unlikely to make progress for several weeks, delay for a consultive meeting might avoid a “choosing of sides” and a generalization of the conflict. Thus the basic objective of peace might be realized. The Ambassador would not accept this thesis since he said that any attempt to judge the degree of dangerousness of any armed attack would nullify the spirit of the whole Treaty. He believed that the greatest deterrent to an unprovoked armed attack is the conviction by the would-be aggressor that such an attack would bring immediate and effective armed reprisal.

I believe I left the Ambassador in a reasonably calm state of mind although he is definitely not happy about this misunderstanding. Nevertheless he suggested and I agreed that he would not take it up [Page 793] on a formal basis with the State Department and would not mention it to the Government, at least at this time, if our Embassy in Uruguay likewise would not mention it to the Uruguayan authorities. However the Ambassador will seek an opportunity to discuss these matters informally with Messrs. Sanders and Dreier. Later he hopes to take up the whole thread of conversation concerning the interpretation of the Rio Treaty with Assistant Secretary Miller.3

  1. Not printed.
  2. Edward A. Jamison, Assistant Chief, Division of Special Inter-American Affairs.
  3. United States obligations to Uruguay under the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance were among the subjects discussed by Ambassador Domínguez Cámpora and Edward G. Miller, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, on December 21 and 27, 1949 (memoranda not printed). On these occasions Mr. Miller did not go beyond the language of those assurances given earlier in the year 1949. (710.33/12–2149 and 711.33/12–2749)