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


Dear Mr. Secretary: I refer to Deputy Under Secretary Matthews’ letter of 9 August 1950,1 transmitting a study by the Department of State concerning Latin American participation in the Korean operation.

These proposals have been thoroughly reviewed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who are in general agreement with the Department of State as to the desirability of Latin American forces joining the unified command, under the United Nations’ aegis, in the war in Korea. They also concur in the view of that Department that positive United States assistance is essential to any effective military contributions from Latin America.

In view of the problems involved, the Joint Chiefs of Staff feel that it will be difficult for any existing Latin American army or air combat units to be effectively trained, properly equipped, and transported to the Korean theater in time for participation in the military operations to clear South Korea of the North Koreans. However, in view of the long-range potential benefit to hemisphere relations, the Joint Chiefs of Staff feel that extraordinary efforts should be made by the Department of State without delay to obtain offers and to facilitate the participation of such units. Certain of the larger Latin American nations, furthermore, possess naval vessels which, if immediately proffered, could, in all probability, be used in such combat operations. It is also possible that army, navy, and air units from certain of the Latin American nations could participate in the United Nations occupation in Korea after hostilities have ceased.

In the light of the foregoing considerations, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that prompt action be taken by the Department of State to obtain offers of completely organized and, insofar as possible, fully equipped and self-sustaining army, navy, and air units from the Latin American nations as occupation forces in Korea or for combat operations if this proves possible. While it would be highly desirable to have army units of not less than 1,000 total strength, and air units of not less than squadron strength, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are willing to accept organized units of smaller size which can operate under the flag of the offering country. The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that those Latin American nations which are unable to contribute organized combat military units be encouraged to proffer organized service elements, such as surgical teams, ambulance units, engineer detachments, and port or labor battalions.

[Page 650]

For those nations which could not make contributions of battalion size or greater, the Joint Chiefs of Staff would give sympathetic consideration to the organization and employment in the Korean operation of some such units as an Inter-American Force of national units, each under its own flag and preserving its own national identity, providing the plan for such an organization is worked out through the appropriate agency of the Organization of American States, namely the Inter-American Defense Board, and subject to Department of State approval. On the other hand, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are of the opinion that it would be wholly impracticable and militarily unsound for the United States to attempt at present to organize, train, and equip an international unit composed of unorganized volunteers from the several Latin American nations. Furthermore, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have consistently opposed the organization of any United Nations force, other than armed guards, in lieu of the forces to be provided that Organization under Article 43 of the Charter.2 Accordingly, the general recruitment of volunteers under United Nations aegis of an international unit from Latin America is opposed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, particularly since this would set a precedent. The grouping together of units from an area included in a United Nations security arrangement under the aegis of the Unified Command for the United Nations Forces in Korea would not be inconsistent with previous positions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff would welcome offers from Latin American nations possessing troop transports or merchant vessels registered under their flags to provide water transportation for their own contingents and those of other participating countries.

The procedures now in effect between our respective Departments, whereby the Joint Chiefs of Staff are consulted in each instance prior to the acceptance of offers of military assistance, should, of course, be followed with respect to offers by Latin American nations. Once the United States Government has accepted a firm offer of assistance from another nation, then the military representatives of that nation will complete negotiations pertaining to the assistance directly with the United States military department concerned.

The Department of Defense recognizes that many of the Latin American nations will not be able to reimburse the United States for some of the equipment, supplies and service which will have to be provided by the United States in order to make their contribution of armed forces effective. As you know, with the concurrence of the Departments of State and Treasury, and after approval by the President, [Page 651] I issued on 1 September 1950 a memorandum3 to the military departments and the Joint Chiefs of Staff furnishing them interim guidance with respect to this problem, which is of world-wide scope and not confined to the Latin American area. That memorandum does not, however, develop the possibilities of reimbursement in kind or mutual reciprocal aid among the participating nations, which are matters of intergovernmental scope. The Department of Defense would be prepared to assist the Departments of State and Treasury in considering and resolving them. The Joint Chiefs of Staff regard the solution of this broad problem as a matter of great importance, and recommendations for the acceptance of organized Latin American units except on a reimbursable basis will have to be contingent upon its favorable resolution.

In closing, I should like to observe that the Joint Chiefs of Staff are convinced that the inability to date of the Latin American nations to furnish immediately adequately equipped and trained combat forces points up the necessity for the prompt implementation of NSC 56/2.4

Sincerely yours,

Louis Johnson
  1. Supra.
  2. For text of the Charter of the United Nations, signed at San Francisco, June 26, 1945, see Department of State Treaty Series (TS) No. 093, or 59 Stat. (pt. 2) 1031.
  3. This memorandum said in part:

    “The several Services should seek arrangements under which the foreign governments will completely equip and supply their forces. To the extent that such complete support is not practicable but the offer is otherwise desirable, the military departments of the United States will make available necessary supplies or services on a basis of immediate reimbursement in U.S. dollars. To the extent that the foreign Government cannot make prompt reimbursement in U.S. dollars, the U.S. Government and the foreign government will negotiate the terms of settlement.” (795B.5/9–650)

    In a memorandum of September 14, 1950, to Mr. Merchant, Edward W. Doherty, Officer in Charge of Economic Affairs in the Office of Northeast Asian Affairs, said in part:

    “. . . Mr. Johnson’s letter of September 12, in the last paragraph but one, expressly states that the acceptance of Latin American units, except on a reimbursable basis, will be contingent upon the conclusion of arrangements among the participating nations for reciprocal aid and reimbursement in kind. This is a gross misconstruction of the purpose and effect of the memorandum of September 1, which was to permit offers of military assistance to be accepted without hindrance from issues involving compensation or reimbursement, but also without prejudice to the ultimate settlement of questions of reimbursement between the U.S. Government and the foreign government.” (795B.5/9–1250)

    Additional documentation on discussions of this question held between officials of the State, Defense, and Treasury Departments prior to the letter from the Secretary of State to Secretary Marshall, September 27, 1950 (p. 664), is in decimal file 795B.5 for September 1950.

  4. Of May 18, 1950, p. 628.