Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Miller) to the Secretary of State1


Subject: Department of Defense Proposal to Bill Colombia Currently for Battalion in Korea.

The Department of Defense has informally proposed that the Department of State begin negotiations with the Government of Colombia with regard to the cost of equipping, training, transporting, and logistically maintaining the battalion of troops which the Colombian Government has sent to Korea. I understand that the E area of the Department supports this position. The reason given is that in its note of November 14, 1950 the Government of Colombia recognized “that there will be an obligation to reimburse the United States Government for the training, logistical support and other services which this battalion will have to receive, the details to be arranged later between the Government of Colombia and the Government of the United States”.

Furthermore, the Department of Defense pointed out that discussions with regard to reimbursement to the United States for similar services have been commenced with all other Governments having troops in Korea except Ethiopia. Finally the Department of Defense pointed out that in his letter to you of September 30, 1950,2 the Secretary of Defense3 stated that: “I should like to observe that the Department of Defense attaches great importance to preserving this principle of reimbursement. In my opinion, the precedent which we are now establishing in the case of Korea will set the pattern for future collective military action by the United Nations. In a larger sense, this Government is acting as executive agent for the United Nations, and it would appear undesirable to establish any general principle that U.S. military supplies, services or equipment will be donated without creating any obligation on the part of their recipients. This is indeed an uncharted area in international affairs, and I therefore do not consider that we should be bound by such precedents as Lend-Lease, which was conceived and executed before the establishment of the United Nations”.

ARA is opposed to beginning negotiations at this stage with the Government of Colombia, I understand this view is shared by NEA and UNA and it is also shared by General Bolté.4 Our position is [Page 1308] based primarily upon the fact that to begin negotiations now will not be consonant with the quoted part of the Colombian Government’s note of November 14, 1950 which states that details with regard to reimbursement will be arranged later. The entire import of our arrangement with Colombia is that the amount and form (i.e., currency) of payment will be negotiated later, i.e., when the full amount of the cost of bur services rendered can be measured in the light of Colombia’s capacity to pay. Capacity to pay can be measured only in the light of the total sum subject to reimbursement and any effort to discuss capacity to pay in relation to sums falling due periodically would be futile.

It is clear that there exists a split of opinion in the Pentagon between those charged with the responsibility for fiscal matters and those in charge of operations. It is the latter who have participated in the actual negotiations with other Governments in which we have endeavored to obtain offers of troops for Korea. You will recall that in the discussion with the Brazilian Foreign Minister5 in which General Bolté was present, it was made very clear to the Brazilians that all in which we were interested was a recognition of an eventual responsibility for some kind of reimbursement. In all of the discussions which have taken place with goverments of countries in our area in which high officials of the Pentagon have been present, emphasis has been placed upon the same point, namely, that the obligation to repay was a remote one which would be left to future diplomatic discussions. In other words, the main objective has been to get troops and to worry about payment later in the light of the country’s capacity to pay in relation to the total obligation incurred.

I am fearful that if, in the light of the informal discussions which were held by General Ridgway6 and General Bolté with the Colombians last fall, the Colombians should now be presented with a formal bill for current expenses, such action would have an adverse repercussion upon our ability to obtain any further troop offers for Korea from other countries in Latin America. Nor do I see that any useful purpose would be served, even from a fiscal standpoint, in beginning these negotiations now since even those who advocate such action admit that if the Colombians plead inability to pay, no payment will in fact be exacted at this stage.

Consequently, it is my recommendation that you either direct UNA to prepare a letter for your signature to Secretary Marshall requesting the deferment of the negotiations with Colombia or that Mr. Matthews be requested to take this up through some other channel with the Department of Defense.

  1. Sent through the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of State, H. Freeman Matthews.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. i p. 666.
  3. George C. Marshall.
  4. Lt. Gen. Charles L. Bolté, Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans, U.S. Army, and Chairman, Inter-American Defense Board.
  5. João Neves da Fontoura.
  6. Lt. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway was Deputy Chief of Staff for Administration, U.S. Army, during 1950.