25. Letter From the Under Secretary of State (Hoover) to the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Anderson)1

Dear Bob: This memo has come to me from our Latin American Division.2 I am in full accord with the conditions set forth therein and with the courses of action recommended.

[Page 228]

I do hope you will have the opportunity to dig into it personally. After you have had a chance to do so, please telephone me so we can discuss what further steps may be indicated.3


Herbert Hoover, Jr.



Unsatisfactory Status of Military Assistance Program with Latin America

(1) The Latin American Grant Aid Program

Grant military assistance, in the form of military equipment and training, is being provided to eleven Latin American countries and the provision of assistance to additional countries is under consideration. The Congress has appropriated to date about $118 million for the program, which was begun in 1951 on the initiative of the Defense Department.

The basic concept of this program is that certain countries which have a military capability should be helped to develop designated units of their armies, navies and air forces for employment in collective hemisphere defense missions in the event of war or grave emergency. According to the Defense Department, the use of effective Latin American units for such a purpose would minimize the diversion of U.S. military forces for the defense of the hemisphere.

The provision of assistance to a Latin American country is subject to the conclusion of a bilateral agreement in which the other Government agrees to make effective use of U.S. assistance for the purpose for which it is provided. A supplementary and secret bilateral military plan specifies the units eligible to receive U.S. assistance and describes the tasks for which they are to be developed and employed. The type of bilateral planning embodied in the agreements and plans is consistent with the planning recommended to the Governments of this hemisphere by the Inter-American Defense Board, . . . .

[Page 229]

(2) Problems which have Arisen in Connection with the Grant Aid Program

During the period in which the program has been in operation, a number of important problems have arisen. The most recent and urgent are whether it would be desirable to provide assistance to Argentina and whether we should increase the amount of assistance planned for Brazil and Colombia. It is necessary that the decisions made regarding these problems reflect the best military judgment available in the Defense Department, inasmuch as they will have an important effect upon our relations with the Governments concerned:

Argentina. Argentina was omitted from the original program because of the then unsatisfactory state of U.S. relations with that Government. As a result of the greatly improved climate, President Perón has requested discussion of that country’s role in hemisphere defense, an overture which may well mean that he would be prepared to agree to the terms of a grant aid agreement. It is doubtful, however, that Perón would agree to conclude such an agreement without U.S. assurances to provide assistance that would bear a reasonable relationship to that provided Brazil, which has received in the form of equipment and training roughly one-fourth of the approximately $118 million appropriated for the Latin American program. Defense has indicated that Argentina’s defense role is important, but has not to date given us a statement of even the general dimensions of the program which it would approve. A clear-cut Defense position on this question is highly important.
Brazil. Defense has requested us to obtain Brazilian agreement to rights necessary to place important U.S. military installations in Brazil. Preliminary discussions with Brazilian military officials have been authorized. In our view it is inevitable that increased military aid will either be a Brazilian condition for granting the rights desired or that such aid will greatly facilitate reaching agreement. Over a year ago, the Joint Brazil–U.S. Military Commission submitted to the Defense Department a recommendation, endorsed by the three U.S. flag officers representing the United States on the Commission, that Brazil be provided with additional grant assistance estimated at $50 million. Defense has made slight additions to the Brazilian program, but these are believed insufficient to assure Brazilian agreement to the establishment of the U.S. military facilities desired in Brazil.

Colombia. Colombia has requested additional aid, including the large amount required to equip and train two infantry and one marine battalions. We have emphasized that Defense take special note of the Colombian contribution in the Korean conflict. The position taken by Defense formally to the Department on two occasions is that there is at this time no Western Hemisphere requirement for additional forces from Colombia. Defense has indicated that the Colombians are not using equipment already provided satisfactorily and are not likely to be able to support additional equipment in any volume.

[Page 230]

Advised of the conclusive Defense position, the Colombians have sought the intervention on their behalf of Dr. Eisenhower, Amb. Lodge and Mr. Rockefeller, and have claimed support from such important Defense officials as General Ridgway and Admiral Carney.

Engineering Battalions. Repeatedly the idea has been suggested that the military defense program in general should be revised to contemplate the establishment of engineering combat units in various countries in the hemisphere. The concept has been given considerable impetus by high-level Defense and other officials. The advantages of such a program are obvious. It would give otherwise idle soldiers something to do and would enable them to undertake road and bridge building programs which would be of great value and which otherwise could not be financed by the countries involved. We were informed in April that the JCS were studying this proposal, but no results have been made known to the Department.
The Sale of Military Equipment on Credit Terms. The sale of military equipment to foreign governments on terms providing for repayment over a three year period, and under certain conditions over a longer period, is authorized by the Mutual Security Act of 1954. It is consistent with the NSC statement of policy on Latin America that this authority be used to promote arms standardization in Latin America. It is desirable, however, that the military equipment sold to Latin American countries on credit terms, particularly under long-term credit arrangements, bear a clear relationship to legitimate hemisphere defense requirements and objectives that provide the basis for the grant military assistance program. With regard to the extension of long-term credit, it is in the interest of the attainment of our over-all economic objective of encouraging Latin American countries to finance necessary economic development projects that there be imposed a specific limitation on the amount of such credit approved for countries in the area during any one year, but that the assurance be given that the amount specified will be available. Assurances are also required from the Defense Department that it will continue to finance three-year credit for the sale of military equipment to Latin American countries. Inability to finance credit for such countries as Colombia and Ecuador, having financed credit for Chile, Uruguay, Guatemala, Brazil, Cuba, Peru and Venezuela, would expose us to the charge of discrimination by the former countries.

Conflicting Defense Positions. Specific or implied support has been given to additional aid to a number of countries, including Brazil and Colombia, by U.S. military representatives assigned to the field and by U.S. military officials during their frequent visits to Latin America. This has led to expectations on the part of the foreign governments which are proved false by eventual Defense decisions that such aid either is not warranted or infeasible. There are indications that incautious statements by high-level officers have abetted these expectations.

More serious is the attitude frequently taken by Defense officials that the Latin American program is essentially political rather than military, despite the fact that Defense originally proposed the program as a military requirement. Without under-estimating the political importance of inter-American military cooperation, we have, [Page 231] with the exception of the aid granted to Central American countries in connection with efforts to remedy the Guatemala situation, insisted that the decisions to provide grant military assistance should be based upon a Defense determination of a military requirement. The often serious divergencies of view by Defense officials at varying levels on this question lead to confusion.

Lack of Military Evaluation of Success of the Program. As indicated above, the grant aid program is based on the concept that the Latin American countries are capable of making effective use of grant assistance to develop military units which would be of tangible military benefit to U.S. armed forces engaged in hemisphere defense in the event of war or grave emergency. The program has been under way for almost four years. Conflicting reports have been received regarding the progress being made. To the best of our knowledge, no realistic study has been made to determine how many of the units which have received U.S. assistance are trained and equipped to the point where they could be used in hemisphere defense missions, or what needs to be done to make those which could not be so employed effective. Any valid assessment of the desirability of continuing or expanding the program in any direction should be based on the results of such a study.
Inability to Obtain Timely Defense Department Views. The specific country problems described above were posed to Defense in a letter dated November 15, 1954, in order that adequate consideration could be given to them in relation to the new Mutual Security legislation. A renewed request for Defense positions on these points and the proposal relating to combat engineering battalions was made on April 1, 1955.

The reply received on April 20 was too late to be of value in relation to the FY 1956 Mutual Security legislation. It was ambiguous on the important question of possible aid to Argentina, and negative on Colombia and Brazil. It stated that the suggestion on engineering battalions was under study. Renewed informal efforts to obtain a clear-cut position on Argentina have been fruitless.


The problems outlined above point to the conclusion that a thorough revaluation of our Defense relationship with the Latin American countries, particularly that involving the question of continued grant assistance, is essential. The crucial question is whether we move forward in the assumption that their military forces can be trained and equipped to join with our forces in collective hemisphere defense or whether we fall back on the assumption that the most we can expect of them is the maintenance of internal order and limited national defense. The answers to important questions in our relations with a number of the Latin American countries depend upon the answer to that question.

[Page 232]

Recommended Courses of Action:

That Defense be requested to undertake a review of the entire military aid picture in Latin America with particular reference to the following points:
What needs to be done by ourselves and by the other countries in order to achieve the original objectives of the Latin American grant aid program, and what changes, if any, are desirable in those original objectives;
Definitive answers to the following questions:
What is the size of the program contemplated for Argentina;
What increase, if any, is Defense prepared to make in the Colombian and Brazilian programs;
What is Defense’s position with respect to the provision of grant assistance to Latin American countries for the development of engineering combat units;
Will Defense agree to condition the granting of long-term credit for the purchase of arms in this hemisphere upon commitment to hemisphere defense; agree to make available funds within a specified ceiling for meritorious requests; and agree to finance additional three-year credit for the sale of equipment?
That Defense decisions on the above problems be cleared through the highest levels in Defense in order that we may avoid the possibility of changes as a result of political pressures from the other countries.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 720.5–MSP/6–955. Secret.
  2. The memorandum, printed as an attachment, was originally drafted in ARA, apparently by Jamison, and forwarded to the Secretary under cover of a memorandum from Holland, dated June 3. In his covering memorandum, Holland requested the Secretary’s approval of the courses of action recommended by ARA, and also stated that “it has proved increasingly difficult to obtain, in an adequate and timely manner, the views of the Department of Defense which are essential to reaching sound conclusions” on a number of problems concerning U.S. military relations with Latin American governments. In a memorandum of May 6 to Hoover, who had approved ARA’s recommendations, Murphy wrote: “We have already, as you know, had this [question of the status of the military assistance program with Latin America] before the Joint Chiefs and so far have not got much in the way of clear-cut decisions. I think, however, if you discuss it with Bob [Anderson] that perhaps after that we could hope to develop some clarification with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.” Both Holland’s and Murphy’s memoranda are attached to the source text.
  3. Attached to the source text is a handwritten note from Robert Sturgill of the Executive Secretariat to Norman Pearson, dated June 10, reporting that Hoover had handed this letter and its attachment to Secretary Anderson. It further states that “the two men discussed the possibility of setting up a State–Defense working group on this problem. No decision was taken.” The note bears Holland’s initials, indicating that he saw it.