17. Memorandum From the Special Assistant to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Hill) to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Snow)1


  • US Military Policy Towards Latin America


It appears to me desirable for ARA to use the current revision of the “US Policy toward Latin America” (NSC 5613/1)2 as an opportunity to seek a clarification of US policy with respect to military assistance for the other American republics. The present policy, expressed in paragraphs 31–46 and especially in paragraphs 32–34, appears to be inconsistent in some respects with existing legislation and to omit the factors which are basic to our consideration of the extent and type of military assistance we should grant to the republics to the south. As a result, much of the justification for our specific Latin American country [Page 147] programs seems to have been contrived on a basis of fiction which misleads and confuses the Executive Branch of the Government more than it does the other American republics, the press, or the Congress.
A principal danger of the present policy formulation and the procedures which flow from it is that, if strictly and impartially applied, they would automatically and continuously involve the United States in the internal affairs of the American republics which receive military aid from us. Under paragraph 33, as interpreted by General Cutler’s memorandum of October 31,3 the maintenance of “internal security” is one of the “limited missions” which would qualify for US grant aid. However, our military assistance agreements provide for consultation with the US prior to the utilization of such grant aid, thus imposing on ourselves the duty of making a determination in each case as to what internal security action is or is not within the purview of proper “limited missions.” In other words, we say on one hand that we should grant aid for internal security purposes and on the other that grant aid should not be used for this purpose without prior consultation.
The position is further confused by the Morse Amendment recently adopted by the Congress. This provides, in essence, that aid should not normally be granted to Latin American countries for internal security, and the Senate report made it clear that what was meant was that aid should be given only in exceptional cases. Thus, there has come to be a divergence between the NSC position which generally legitimizes “internal security” as a basis for military aid and the legislative position which would require a specific finding of exceptional circumstances. In addition, further confusion is introduced by the placement of the justification (paragraph 37) for aid to the police, constabulary, etc., in the “Military” courses of action of the policy paper.
Meanwhile, the position was reached in NSC 5613/1 that only in “exceptional cases” should the US be prepared to accept participation by a Latin American country in combined operations in the ocean approaches to the hemisphere and, specifically, to the Canal. Thus the position is logically reduced to eliminating the Latin American military programs, unless we can find an “exceptional” internal security condition or an “exceptional” need for participation in combined operations for hemisphere defense. How many such “exceptions” could we find in good conscience?
From such information as is readily available, it appears that what has in fact happened is that we have improvised justifications— especially for ground forces—which have allowed us to do what was considered necessary but which would not stand up to close policy [Page 148] scrutiny. These justifications may, in fact, some day cause us acute embarrassment if there is a searching inquiry by the press or the Congress. For instance, it appears that our ground force aid to Cuba technically rests on a concept that Cuban ground forces would assist in the defense of the Canal, thus making Cuba eligible for grant aid for combined operations. However, is it really the desire or intent of our Chiefs of Staff to use Cuban forces for this purpose? In Ecuador, it appears, our military program rests on an initial justification that Ecuador should be provided with an anti-aircraft unit in order to participate in Canal defense; later, when the AA unit turned out to have insufficient martial-appeal for Ecuador, it was decided to support an infantry unit instead. On what “combined operation” concept would we find ground forces aid to Guatemala rests?


There is no discussion in the policy paper as to whether or not it would be desirable for the US to support a limited number of Latin American units to participate in UN actions. Korea, UNEF and the present Middle East situation suggest the political utility of having readily available token forces from other countries. Without having gone fully into all of its implications, I would suggest that it might be timely to give consideration to the possibility of channeling our support for combined operations into the creation of a number of small, crack units formed into an Inter-American Brigade something along the line of the Commonwealth Brigade in Korea and the present Commonwealth Strategic Reserve in Malaya. I recognize that basing the justification of such a unit on the possible provision of forces outside the hemisphere for the UN is likely to raise objections from many countries which do not want to make implied commitments to send troops overseas. However, this might be minimized if justification was also based on (a) hemisphere defense and (b) possible support to the OAS.

Some of the advantages of an inter-American unit:

Units designated for this unit could also be designated for possible participation in combined operations for the defense of the hemisphere in wartime; thus a simple criterion could be used for extending aid for hemisphere defense purposes: those in the Brigade would get it, those not wouldn’t.
We could pass to the COAS, IADB or other appropriate inter-American body the onus of determining when the diversion of units designated for the Inter-American Brigade to internal security operations could be acceded to. Procedures developed by NATO (and SHAPE) could be adopted.
By concentrating on the training and equipment of small, elite units we could at the same time go a long way towards satisfying the Latin American officers’ craving for military prestige while putting [Page 149] ourselves on the right side of the “supporting dictators” argument. If a caudillo used the Nth Battalion of the Inter-American Brigade in domestic political strife, with or without notification to the COAS, it would at least be clearer than at present that we had not armed and trained it for that purpose.
We could treat Latin American countries more equally, according to their need, than at present where the arbitrary definitions of combined operations for hemisphere defense make geographical accident an influential factor in determining who gets what aid.
The professional esprit de corps of the military of the Latin American countries concerned could be substantially raised, especially if the unit were imaginatively organized, equipped, uniformed and trained (e.g. by including small paratroop or Ranger formations). In some of the smaller Latin American countries we might even hope to have the special troops rather than student revolutionaries be the shining examples to schoolboys.
The Latin American military would tend to draw closer together through this common bond, and the Latin American countries to have a greater sense of participation in and responsibility for the common defense.
By using such a unit as a whole or in part, we would have a standing alternative to direct intervention by US forces if something goes wrong in the Americas—e.g. eventual seizure of power by the Communists in Venezuela or a repetition of the recent Cuban kidnapping episode.

Note: While the above has been directed towards ground forces, the same principles could apply to air and naval forces, which present less of a problem.


Before real progress can be made in revising and rationalizing our military aid policy in Latin America, it is necessary to be clear on the purposes which actually determine our granting aid and then to establish suitable criteria to guide the implementation of our aid programs under them. The following divisions suggest themselves:
Combined Operations. Aid to be granted only in cases where JCS-approved US war plans clearly provide for units to be used for the defense of the hemisphere or for the common defense outside the hemisphere. This would include support to any units which, for political as well as military reasons, it is considered desirable for the United States to have available for overseas service (e.g. the Brazilian units in the last World War, contributions to UN police actions, etc.). All current as well as future justifications which are not, in fact, sanctioned by such JCS determination should be scrapped and new justifications, if any, should be made under other, more realistic headings.
Local security of strategic installations, bases, vital ports and coastal waters, and strategic resources such as oil fields. Force levels and dispositions should be determined by direct reference to the security of the installation involved: security of Guantanamo would not be good justification for programming armored cars for Habana.
Internal Security. Our “military” and “non-military” internal security programs should be viewed as a whole. We are now in the absurd position of working on an expanding number of civil OIS Programs and, at the same time, being under specific Congressional injunction not to use MAP funds for internal security purposes except in “exceptional” cases. While we should take due care not to draw further charges of coddling dictators, we should also not lose sight of the fact that every state has a duty to maintain law and order, using its total civil and military resources to the extent necessary; that ultimately neither democracy nor economic progress can be achieved in Latin America unless the state maintains an acceptable degree of internal security; and that the United States at present has a particularly important stake in preventing the development of lawless conditions in this hemisphere which are readily exploitable by international Communism. Since many Latin American countries need outside assistance to obtain both civil and military type equipment for internal security and technical training in this field, it is essential that we have a rational policy and legal authorization to extend military and civil assistance for internal security. This would appear to involve an effort by the Executive Branch to eliminate or reinterpret the Morse Amendment, as well as to define more precisely the minimum military, quasi-military and police establishments required to maintain law and order in the various Latin American countries. Our commitments under this heading should be kept to a reasonable minimum (e.g. one mobile battalion and an adequate police force should be able to keep law and order in Guatemala City, not two regiments).
Political and Prestige. There will probably continue to arise circumstances under which we will be obliged to honor requests from Latin American governments for military assistance for political or prestige reasons. It would not be surprising if a searching inquiry into our grant aid disclosed that a large portion has in fact been given for these reasons. We should, however, keep this to a minimum and not deceive ourselves by contriving justifications under other headings.
My recommendation would be that we suggest to the Planning Staff that action be deferred by the NSC for the present on a revised military policy for Latin America and that a State-Defense Working Group go over the ground thoroughly with a view to recommending a new or at least more rational policy. Few aspects of our foreign operations in the area are likely to have as great impact on our relationship with Latin America as our military policy, and it seems undesirable to miss an opportunity to review and rationalize it. Moreover, it is urgent that we do so because the OCB will need intelligible guidelines and the process of budgeting for FY 1959 is beginning.4
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 720.5–MSP/7–2958. Secret. Also addressed to John C. Dreier.
  2. For text of NSC 5613/1, approved by President Eisenhower on September 25, 1956, see Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, vol. VI, p. 119.
  3. Not found in Department of State files.
  4. A handwritten notation by Assistant Secretary Rubottom on the source text reads: “I concur in having study by State-Defense Working Group. Let’s organize it.”