39. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Johnson1


  • OAS Charter Amendments


At the OAS Conference in Rio last November, it was unanimously agreed that the Charter of the OAS should be amended in three respects:
To improve the structure of the organization by holding annual meetings of Foreign Ministers and in other respects;
To strengthen the capacity of the organization to assist in the peaceful settlement of disputes among member countries; and
To incorporate as treaty obligations the basic principles of the Alliance for Progress, including self-help and mutual assistance to accelerate economic and social progress. It was made clear that mutual assistance included actions by the Latin Americans for one another as well as actions by the United States.
A special OAS Committee met in Panama in late February and March of this year to draft Charter amendments in accordance with the decisions of Rio. Substantial agreement was reached on the matters of structure and peaceful settlement of disputes, but there was disagreement between the Latin American and United States delegations regarding the economic and social chapters. We believed that the Latin American proposals were unnecessarily elaborate, and that they might involve treaty commitments to aid and trade policies which would be [Page 94] opposed by the Senate as an unacceptable infringement on Congressional prerogatives. We, therefore, reserved our position, indicating that further consultations were required with the Senate on the basis of which we would offer counter-proposals. We stated, however, that the United States Government stands by the basic principles of the Economic and Social Act of Rio, and that our differences related only to the appropriate form for incorporation of these principles into treaty language.
After Assistant Secretary Gordon returned from Buenos Aires in early April,2 a revised draft was prepared and presented to the Latin American Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It was discussed at length on April 25 with about 12 members of Senator Morse’s subcommittee. Senator Fulbright participated as Chairman of the full Committee.
On Monday afternoon, May 2, Senators Fulbright and Morse, together with Senators McCarthy, Aiken and Carlson met again with Assistant Secretary Gordon. Senator Morse, speaking for the group stated that it was the Committee’s considered opinion that commitments to mutual assistance, even with the safeguards contained in the State Department’s draft, should not be incorporated into treaty obligations, but should be left to normal legislative action. The Senators recognized that Article 26 of the present Charter (adopted in 1948) does include a broad commitment to economic cooperation. The discussion made it clear that their objection to going further is related to concerns arising from the Vietnamese situation and generally from concern about the breadth of international commitments of the United States. All efforts to persuade them that the Western Hemisphere situation differs from others, in view of our long-standing special relations within this Hemisphere and the collective security engagements under the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio treaty) of 1947, proved unavailing.
We have prepared a revised draft of the relevant articles which removes the qualified undertaking “to extend mutual assistance”, thereby meeting the central objection of the Committee. In an effort to keep faith with the understandings of Rio and to avoid a potential major setback in the climate of inter-American relations, we have drawn from the present Article 26 and then tied the use of resources under that Article to the self-help commitments and other provisions [Page 95] of the Alliance for Progress. Even this proposal will probably be regarded by the Latin Americans as a significant retreat from the Rio agreements; but we believe that it might barely suffice to bridge the gap. Anything less would not do so.
Enclosure 13 contains in parallel columns (1) the “Panama Draft” on mutual assistance as approved by all the Latin American Delegations, (2) the draft submitted to the Senate Committee and opposed by them, and (3) the new proposed draft, the first article of which is identical with Article 26 of the present Charter.
Enclosure 2 contains in parallel columns the entire chapter on economic standards (1) as approved by the Latin American Delegations at Panama, and (2) as contained in the United States counterproposals submitted to the Senate Committee.
The problem of timing is very tight. The Buenos Aires conference of Foreign Ministers to approve Charter amendments is now scheduled for July 30. To meet this date the OAS Council must submit its report by May 31. We do not want to maintain the present Buenos Aires schedule unless agreement on assistance among all the Member Governments can be reached before May 31. Assistant Secretary Gordon leaves Friday morning for Central America and Chile and hopes to discuss this matter on his trip. Any significant slippage in the Buenos Aires schedule would affect adversely the proposed Presidential Summit Meeting.

Alternative Courses of Action

(Linc Gordon and I would welcome the opportunity of a few minutes’ discussion with you on these alternatives at your earliest convenience.)4

We can proceed to negotiate the revised language without further consultation with the Senate. In this case, we should inform them that we have taken their basic point into account and are seeking to negotiate the new language which would be given to them.
We could take the revised proposals back for further discussions with the Senate Committee at the State Department level. In the present frame of mind of key members, this would run the risk that they would object on the ground that the proposed Article 7 gives a [Page 96] broader construction to the existing obligation under Article 6, and constitutes in spirit, if not in form, a commitment to mutual assistance.
The new proposals (or a return to something stronger) could be discussed with the Senators with your own participation.
Dean Rusk
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt W. Rostow, Vol. 2. Confidential. No drafting information appears on the memorandum. Rostow forwarded the memorandum to the President on May 4.
  2. Gordon went to Buenos Aires in late-March for the fourth annual meeting of the Inter-American Economic and Social Council. For text of his remarks before the Council, March 29, see Department of State Bulletin, May 9, 1966, pp. 738–746. Gordon’s report on the outcome of the meeting is in telegram 1470 from Buenos Aires, April 2. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, AID (AFP) 3 ECOSOC–IA)
  3. Both enclosures are attached but not printed.
  4. No decisions are recorded on the memorandum. According to the President’s Daily Diary Johnson met Rusk and Gordon on May 5 to discuss the proposed amendments to the OAS charter. (Johnson Library) Although no substantive record of the meeting has been found, the administration apparently proceeded on the basis of the first alternative.