716.5 MSP/4–953

The Secretary of State to the Secretary of Defense (Wilson)1

top secret

My Dear Mr. Secretary: I refer to a letter of November 9, 19512 from the Acting Secretary of State to the Secretary of Defense, which concurred in a proposal of the Department of Defense that the President be asked to approve the initiation, under the Mutual Security Act of 1951, of grant-aid military assistance programs for Latin American countries specified by the Department of Defense. The President subsequently approved the initiation of programs for the following Latin American countries by finding that United States defense plans established a need for their participation in military missions important to the defense of the Western Hemisphere: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay. Bilateral Military Assistance Agreements have been negotiated with all of the countries named, except Argentina, Bolivia and Mexico. Programs are not, at present, contemplated for the latter three countries.

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The Department of State is making every practicable effort at the diplomatic level to diminish the strength of communist elements in Central America, particularly in Guatemala, and to increase the willingness and ability of Central American States to resist communist subversion and pressure from whatever source. In these circumstances, the Department of State believes that an offer by the United States of military grant-aid to El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua would be regarded by those countries as tangible evidence of this Government’s intentions, under the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, to help them repel any unprovoked invasion of their territory. The Department of State believes that the implicit emphasis of Guatemala’s ineligibility to receive grant assistance, in the face of tangible United States assistance to neighboring states, would help establish a political climate in Guatemala of benefit to anti-communist Guatemalan elements, including elements in the Guatemalan armed forces disposed to combat communist domination of the present Guatemalan Government.

For the reasons stated, it is clear that the attainment of political and psychological objectives of this Government in relation to communist activities in Central America would be furthered by making available relatively small amounts of military grant assistance to El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, in the event that those Governments should agree to conclude the required Bilateral Agreements with the United States. As a first step in establishing the eligibility of the three countries for United States grant assistance, I therefore recommend that the Department of Defense determine the specific hemisphere defense missions which each of these countries could effectively perform with limited United States grant assistance, taking into account the present military and economic capabilities of each country. It is possible, of course, that the Department of Defense may find that the capabilities of El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua would be insufficient, even after the provision of United States grant assistance, to enable them to contribute military units comparable in type and strength to those units which are being prepared for hemisphere defense by other Latin American countries. However, even if the Department of Defense should find it possible to develop only relatively minor roles in hemisphere defense for each of the three countries, I believe that the provision by the United States of grant assistance for the performance of such roles would be justified, in view of the important considerations referred to above.

The Department of State believes that the cost of any programs which may be finally approved for El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua should be met out of existing appropriations, if possible. However, in the event additional appropriations should be required, the Department of State is prepared to support the Department of Defense in a request to the Congress for necessary funds.

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In view of the importance of our being in a position to provide grant-aid military assistance to El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua at the earliest possible date, I recommend that this matter be accorded a high and urgent priority by the Department of Defense and that the Department of State be informed as soon as possible whether the Department of Defense concurs in the proposals made herein.3

Sincerely yours,

John Foster Dulles
  1. Drafted by Mr. Spencer and Mr. Jamison on Apr. 2; cleared with the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, the Office of Middle American Affairs, and the Office of the Special Assistant to the Secretary for Mutual Security Affairs.
  2. Printed in Foreign Relations, 1951, vol. ii, p. 1027.
  3. Representatives of the Department of State and the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed the subject of military aid to the Central American countries at a meeting on May 22, 1953; for a memorandum containing the substance of their discussion, see p. 150.