32. Letter From the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Merchant) to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Irwin)1

Dear Mr. Irwin: I am grateful for the prompt preliminary consideration which your Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff gave, prior to the President’s Latin American trip, to this Department’s paper entitled “Review of Bases of Present Hemispheric Defense Policy” which was transmitted to you and to General Twining under cover of my letter of February 8, 1960.2 I take note, from your reply dated February 20,3 that the Joint Chiefs consider that at this time there is no justification from a military point of view for a major reorientation of U.S. military policy toward Latin America nor for a change in the U.S. strategic concept for the defense of the Western Hemisphere. In your reply, you also acknowledge that there may be compelling political or economic reasons for a review of our military policy toward Latin America, and suggest that such a review of military policy should be conducted not in isolation but in conduction with the political and economic aspects which occasion such a review.

Current developments have tended to strengthen our view that there are compelling political and economic factors which make a timely review of our military policy toward Latin America necessary and we very much appreciate your offer to aid in whatever way you can. These developments include the emphasis placed on arms limitation by Latin American leaders during the President’s trip, the intensified need of Latin American Governments which are committed to more rapid economic growth to keep military expenditures to the minimum consistent with actual defense requirements and internal security, the possible need to make more effective provisions to give military backing when appropriate to the collective efforts through the OAS to maintain the peace particularly in the context of the present Caribbean situation, and continued opposition to our present Latin American military program in Congress.

As to procedure, we suggest that it be agreed, at the OCB meeting scheduled for March 23 to consider the current draft OCB “Report on Latin America,” that the OCB recommend to the NSC that our military policy toward Latin America (paragraphs 43–55 of NSC 5902/1) be reviewed in the light of the relevant political and economic considerations. In this way, political and economic, as well as military, factors [Page 192]would be taken fully into account in the NSC’s re-examination of the adequacy of the present military section of the NSC Latin American policy paper without requiring review of those sections concerned with such matters as our established non-intervention policy, trade, loan and aid policies, and exchange of persons policies.

We believe, in the absence of any concrete and realistic alternative proposals or of a demonstration that our present policies are unachievable or counter-productive, that it is not necessary for the NSC to review those sections of the NSC paper which are purely political, economic, informational or cultural; although we would, of course, be happy to consider any specific changes to those sections proposed for military reasons during the course of the proposed NSC review of Latin American military policy.

If this procedure is agreeable to you, it would be our hope that our two Departments could consult further on this matter between the time that the OCB recommends a review of our Latin American military policy and the time that the NSC Planning Board initiates its consideration of this policy. This interval might serve to eliminate or narrow any differences.

As to substance, I should emphasize that we do not consider that a review of our Latin American military policy would necessarily result in a major reorientation of what we are doing in this field. We are conscious that our military training programs—from which the U.S. derives political as well as military benefits—the anti-submarine warfare component of the hemisphere defense program, and special grant and sales programs such as those for Brazil and Venezuela together comprise the great bulk of our expenditures in Latin America and are subject to little, if any, change. In these fields, perhaps the most that can be hoped for is a greater degree of precision and focus than is contained in present policy with a resultant greater ability on the part of the Departments concerned to develop their programs and to justify them to the Congress and to U.S. and Latin American public opinion. We anticipate that a policy review would yield the most profit in two fields: first, that of arms limitation, including taking advantage of the current Latin American desire for arms limitation and developing more concrete policy guidance for the United States to discourage the transfer of excessive arms and equipment to Latin American countries by countries other than the U.S.; and, second, that of U.S. policy toward Latin American land, sea, and air forces, needed exclusively or primarily for internal security and Intro-hemisphere defense. The latter is an area in which U.S. policy is in especially urgent need of review in the light of the conflict between Congressional opposition to grant assistance and the continuing requirements for the U.S. to be active in this field because of the threat of International Communism and its allies in some countries and of special situations such as Bolivia, the violence [Page 193]problem in Colombia, the security of the Quito Conference, and the problem of maintenance of law and order in places adjacent to the Panama Canal. A review at an early date would tend to strengthen the hands of all concerned against critics who maintain that present policies are outmoded. It would be our hope, however, that there would emerge a strengthened and better defined policy in this important area of our Latin American policy.

Sincerely yours,

Livingston T. Merchant4
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 710.5/3–1960. Secret. Drafted by John C. Hill.
  2. See footnote 4, Document 30.
  3. Supra.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.