Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs ( Miller ) to the Consultant to the Secretary of State ( Dulles )


Export of Jet Aircraft to Venezuela

In our conversation on May 24 you expressed concern over our possible export to Venezuela of jet aircraft, and the fact that the British had already begun to do so. I have drawn up for your further information and background certain of the considerations which the Department is weighing in arriving at a decision on whether to permit the export of U.S. jet aircraft to Venezuela, and the reasons why it was considered impracticable at the time to seek an understanding with the British on this matter.

Discussion: The present Government of Venezuela has during the last six months acquired four jet aircraft from the de Haviland Corporation of Great Britain for the Venezuelan Air Force. It is understood from our Air Attaché in Caracas that the Venezuelan Government has under order an additional four jet aircraft and is considering the purchase of another 12 from this firm to be delivered during the next year. Venezuela, which at the moment has no serious foreign exchange problem, has thus become the second country in Latin America to acquire jet aircraft. Argentina, which purchased slightly under 100 jets from the de Haviland Corporation in 1947, was the first to do so.

This latest action on the part of Venezuela in acquiring British “jets” in preference to U.S. jet aircraft has, of course, caused great concern to the Air Force. Ever since September, 1948, when the Lockheed F–80 was declared “standard for purchase” by the Air Force, the Air Missions in Latin America have conducted a persuasive campaign in favor of U.S. jet aircraft. General Vandenberg, in a letter of January 28, 1949 to the President of the Lockheed Corporation, advised him to “go flat out for this business” in Latin America, since the Air Force had had to make a major cut-back in its own procurement. This stimulation of interest on the part of the Air Force and Lockheed was carried on in the absence of any defense scheme known to the Department which required the use of high potential aircraft by any of the Latin American countries. The concern of the Air [Page 638] Force is now compounded by a report from a Lockheed representative in Latin America that, as an aftermath of the Venezuelan purchase, Colombia, Brazil and possibly Mexico are interested in acquiring de Haviland jet aircraft which can be purchased, with armament included, at a cost estimated to be 50% less than the Lockheed F–80’s, and under conditions of sale which are far less restrictive.

Peru to date is the only Latin American country which has manifested a concrete interest in U.S. jets in spite of persuasive sales efforts. Even Peru, however, was hesitant on account of the cost, and canceled its order for four F–80’s when it became apparent that the Department was reluctant to approve an export license.1 The view of the Department in the Peruvian case was based primarily on the obvious lack at that time of any hemisphere defense role for Peru, or any other Latin American country, which would require expensive high potential fighter aircraft, and the heavy drain on the Peruvian economy of the cost of this equipment.

These developments are inescapably linked with the Venezuelan case and have a bearing on the present decision confronting the Department of whether to grant an export to Venezuela of the four F–80 jet aircraft rejected by Peru, in the event that the Venezuelan Government should indicate a desire to purchase them.

In conversations with the Departments of the Air Force and Defense on this subject, the Department has stressed the impropriety of stimulating the sale of costly weapons to Latin America unless they were essential for hemisphere defense plans. The Department has explained that, just as the military have their plans for the defense of the hemisphere, the State Department has its security plans, among which the political cooperation and economic productivity of the Latin American countries are regarded of the utmost importance. The Department has, therefore, emphasized that it is just as anxious to avoid any action that would jeopardize these two factors, as the Defense Department is anxious to promote their ideas of standardization of hemisphere defense equipment, etc.

The Department of the Air Force has informed us in these discussions that the present strategic plans for the air defense of the Caribbean region are predicated on the ability of Venezuela and Colombia to protect their coasts from submarine-launched attacks. For this purpose it is stated, the use of jet fighters such as the Lockheed F–80’s used by our Air Force are essential. The Department has advised the Department of Defense that, if it is ready to certify in writing that [Page 639] they consider that jet fighters are an essential requirement for Venezuela’s defense role, the Department will not oppose the acquisition by Venezuela of jet aircraft, either through private commercial transactions or under the MDAP.2

Since one of the main reasons why the Air Force has strongly backed the efforts of American producers to sell jet aircraft to Latin American countries has been the fact that sales by the British have already taken place, the Department considered whether we might get the British to agree to prohibit further sales in that area. In discussing this with the Office of European Affairs, we were informed that, while we might obtain from the British an agreement to withhold certain types of armaments, such as jet planes, from Latin America, if we did likewise, it would be futile to attempt to get the British to agree not to sell such weapons there if we intended thereupon to pre-empt the market for ourselves.

You will see from the above report of the views of the Department of the Air Force that it would be most unlikely that agreement could be reached within this Government to withhold the sale of all jet aircraft to Latin America. In fact, if our Defense Department makes strategic plans which require the governments, such as Venezuela,3 we could not very well, in my opinion, bind ourselves with the British not to make such planes available.

Furthermore, it is likely that the Latin American countries would learn of any effort we might make to get the British to restrict the export of arms to them and would resent such action on our part as being excessively paternalistic. Finally, we must recognize that, since two Latin American countries already have jet aircraft, it is even more difficult than might otherwise be the case for us to attempt to prevent others from getting them.4

The President recently approved a policy paper drafted in the National Security Council on inter-American military cooperation.5 Should you wish to look this paper over, Mr. Dreier of the Office of Regional American Affairs will be glad to bring it up to you. This paper sets forth the steps which should now be taken in order to clarify the basis for military cooperation with each of the other American republics. The principal steps outlined are: (a) preparation by [Page 640] the Inter-American Defense Board of a hemisphere defense scheme; (b) preparation by the Defense Department in consultation with the State Department of a specific role for each Latin American country within the above defense scheme, (c) agreement of each Latin American country to be sought on its defense role. When these roles are established they will serve as a basis for measuring the requirements for military equipment of each country. The Department is charged with coordinating the implementation of the policy paper and we have already expressed to the Defense Department the necessity for their formulating without delay the defense roles which are to be discussed with Latin American countries.

Edward G. Miller, Jr.
  1. In a note to the Peruvian Embassy of April 4, 1950, the Department had denied Peru’s request for an export license, which had been pending since November 3, 1949. (923.537/4–450) Peru, previously informed of the Department’s attitude, had already lost interest in the planes. (Files 423.118 and 923.526 for 1950)
  2. Correspondence on this subject between the Departments of State and Defense is in files 731.5622 and 731.5811 for 1950.
  3. Apparent omission of a clause.
  4. In a memorandum of March 29, 1950, to Mr. Miller, Mr. Dreier, in summarizing discussion within the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs of an approach to the British on this subject, stated, in addition to the points mentioned above: “It is doubtful that the Secretary would wish to raise this controversial issue with the British at the present time, when so many other difficult questions of major importance are being discussed.” (723.5 MAP/3–2950)
  5. Reference is to NSC 56/2, p. 628.