7. Minutes of a Policy Review Committee Meeting1


  • Latin America


  • State

    • Warren Christopher
    • Terence Todman
    • William Luers
  • Defense

    • Charles Duncan
    • Major Gen. Richard E. Cavazos
  • Joint Chiefs of Staff

    • General George S. Brown
    • Lt. General William Smith
  • CIA

    • Deputy Director Enno Knoche
    • Robert Hopkins
  • Treasury

    • Anthony Solomon
    • Edward Bittner
  • Arms Control and Disarmament Agency

    • Leon Sloss
  • Commerce

    • Frank Weil
  • NSC

    • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • David Aaron
    • Thomas Thornton
    • Robert A. Pastor

Overall Approach: Should the U.S. Move Away From the Special Relationship?

Deputy Secretary Christopher opened the meeting by saying that the new Administration had been dealing with many specific Latin American problems—for example, Panama, Cuba, and Mexico—but we had not had an opportunity to develop an overall approach, particularly with respect to those economic issues which were of greatest concern to the Latin Americans.

He suggested that the best overall policy may be a non-policy. To follow the remarks in the President’s United Nations speech,2 the U.S. should treat Latin America in a global context, rather than think about a regional policy. The President’s Pan American Day speech on April 143 provides the natural culmination of this process and the opportunity to suggest this approach.

He then initiated a discussion of whether the U.S. had a special relationship with Latin America or not.

Assistant Secretary Todman suggested that we drop the rhetoric about a special relationship and deal with Latin America on bilateral, regional, or global levels depending on the issues. In the major economic areas, it is necessary to deal on a global basis and develop a single policy, and this is also the case on nuclear proliferation and immigration. But because of the geographical proximity, Latin America impinges on us more directly than other areas. For example, we share a border with Mexico and that requires special policies. We have certain regional institutions, and they require special policies.

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Under Secretary Anthony Solomon agreed that we had special problems with respect to Mexico and Brazil, but the question of the special relationship relates to the region rather than to individual countries. He suggested that we would need special policies to these two countries. He said that the arguments against an overall special relationship to the region are very powerful.

Enno Knoche said that the possible consequences of ending the special relationship would be that it would tend to encourage Latin America to form blocs against the U.S., but he added that since this would not be in Latin America’s long-term interest, he felt such blocs would not endure.

Deputy Secretary Charles Duncan said the U.S. has had a special relationship with Latin America, and it still does. General Brown agreed, but he said that our special military relationships are eroding, and that we are going to miss them when they are gone. He said that this relationship—for example, the training assistance program for foreign air force personnel—provides an opportunity for us to influence these governments on human rights and other matters.

Todman said that this issue aroused the greatest interest and controversy in Latin America where the U.S. has had a long history of intervention—most recently in the Dominican Republic and Chile. Now, we are being accused of intervention on behalf of human rights. The question is: to what extent do we need to intervene?

Duncan said that we first needed to define our interests in the hemisphere, and said such a definition would be necessary to decide on the need for a “special relationship.” Then, he prefers the option of “limited intervention.”

Brzezinski returned to the question of whether we should have a special policy to Latin America. He said that the notion of a special policy is ahistorical. In the past, it has done nothing more than lock us into a cycle of creating unrealistic expectations and then having to live with the subsequent disappointments. The Monroe Doctrine which underlines this approach is no longer valid. It represents an imperialistic legacy which has embittered our relationships.

He recommended that if our relationships are to become healthier, then we need to put them on a more normal footing. He said that we can do this by stressing our bilateral relations and in seeing the region’s problems in a global context, as the President said in his UN speech. And we should use this as a point of departure in the Pan American Day speech. What was needed was a normalization of our relations with Latin America. We did not want another Alliance for Progress.

Christopher said that he agreed with Brzezinski’s assessment.

General Brown agreed and said that we should put the statement in the context that we have recognized that Latin America had reached [Page 37] adulthood. Brzezinski warned, however, that such an approach was also patronizing. Instead, he said that we should encourage Latin America to diversify its relationships with other countries and regions, and that we, in turn, should differentiate our approach to different governments.

Duncan agreed that a bilateral approach makes sense, but he said the relevant question on intervention is how should we react to the Soviets in this hemisphere.

Brzezinski said that we should not react reflexively; rather we should judge our response in terms of the likely consequences if the U.S. did not intervene. Nevertheless, he does not see a great likelihood of the U.S. intervening in Latin America in response to Soviet probes. He said that individual governments have a good sense of their own independence and therefore our reactions should be contingent on the way the other Latin Americans respond. But we cannot accept a blanket policy for all cases. Later, he said, and Solomon agreed, that a statement on nonintervention might be misinterpreted.

Leon Sloss of ACDA said that he agreed with Brzezinski’s emphasis on a global and a bilateral approach, but he said that we should not discourage some regional institutions which have potential to contribute to the solution of certain problems—for example in arms control areas.

Brzezinski agreed that we should not discourage regional institutions, but he suggested that the healthiest approach would be a hands-off one, where the Latin Americans would approach us—instead of we, them—to pay attention to the regional institutions.

Solomon and Brzezinski agreed that the President should redefine our relationship rather than renounce it. Solomon said that the only viable regional economic institution was the Inter-American Development Bank, and a sign of its relative importance is the fact that Secretary Blumenthal will attend its annual ministerial meeting whereas he would not attend the one at the Asian Development Bank.4 Even the IDB has diversified its relationships—bringing on donors from Europe and Japan—although we are still the biggest contributor. But in trade or aid, it is hard to see a special relationship.

David Aaron pressed the issue of the special relationship a couple of steps further. One implication of a change in strategy would involve a shift in the distribution of U.S. resources abroad. Secondly, he noted that there was, in fact, a collective consciousness in Latin America.

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Brzezinski said that we should not deceive ourselves. The consciousness is only collective when it is negative and in opposition to the U.S. Constructive relations demand greater specificity.

—In ideology, we want to show an affinity for democratic states.

—Security considerations demand that we recognize the geopolitical importance of Brazil and perhaps the special importance of the Caribbean to the United States.

—Economically, we need a more diversified strategy.

However, Brzezinski said we should not try to package these clusters of interests into a single policy.

Weil from Commerce agreed.

Relationships With Military Regimes

Christopher applied the approach suggested by Brzezinski to this next issue. He suggested that we adjust our relations so as to differentiate according to the kind of regime: warm relations with civilian and democratic governments, normal relations with nonrepressive military regimes, and cool but correct relations with repressive governments.

Brzezinski agreed, noting that Brazil was not so repressive as is commonly thought. Duncan and General Brown also agreed with Christopher and repeated the need to distinguish between kinds of military governments.

David Aaron suggested joining the two agreed approaches—the movement toward globalism and establishing a closer affinity with democracies—by a Presidential trip to selected democracies, say in Latin America as well as in Africa or Asia.

Aaron also said that if we are going to be sincere about moving toward a global approach, we must make clear that our policies with respect to democracies or repressive regimes must be the same in Latin America as in Africa or Asia. Given the special constituencies in the U.S., that would not be easy. We will have to go out of our way to do that.

Human Rights

Christopher said that it was very important for us to stay committed on our policy on human rights, but at the same time, we must explore affirmative ways to express our policy.

Solomon said that we should work with Congress to make clear why they should not be thinking about a Latin American policy on human rights. He and Christopher agreed on the need to obtain more discretionary authority and make more relevant distinctions in the application of our policy. If we define gross violations as torture or degrading treatment, instead of denial of due process, then we only [Page 39] single out seven-ten countries rather than 60–80. Then, we can have some impact.

Todman said that we should look at aid as a way to improve human rights conditions in very poor countries. For example in countries like Haiti, violations of human rights occur often because of impoverished conditions, and it does not make much sense for us to cut off aid in these circumstances.

Arms Transfers

Christopher asked whether the United States, as a declining source of arms to Latin America, is justified in adopting a special policy on arms transfers to Latin America.

General Brown reminded everyone that in the early Kennedy years we tried to get Latin American governments to shift defense expenditures to nation-building, but as sovereign states, they just turned to other sources to buy arms. As long as they are going to buy, he preferred that they buy from us rather than the Russians.

Sloss from ACDA said that we must approach this problem globally at both ends. Discuss it with the Soviets and with other suppliers, and at the same time urge restraint by purchasers. If this does not work, he is inclined to agree with George Brown.

Organization of American States

Christopher asked whether the OAS was part of the special relationship.

Todman thought the OAS was useful, but that it wasted a lot of time because it is not well-focused. He said he would like to see it strengthened.

Christopher suggested that we alter our relationship to the OAS to the way we relate to other regional organizations, like CENTO or ASEAN.

Solomon asked Todman how he would strengthen the OAS, and Todman answered that he would eliminate the Permanent Council and reduce the U.S. contribution, but we should do so after consulting with the Latin Americans.

Solomon said that in his experience in State and in ARA, every Administration had tried to strengthen the OAS and tried to make it more efficient, by cutting personnel and reorganization. The trouble is that the Latin Americans are very sensitive to their “perks,” and they perceived every effort to strengthen the OAS as an attempt to weaken it. He concluded that the OAS was useless, and there was nothing that could be done.

David Aaron said that if we want to follow the global approach to its logical conclusion, then our involvement in the OAS, which once [Page 40] played the role of a mini-UN, should be phased out. We really do not need it any longer. We should say we want to deal with Latin America like other regions.

Solomon acknowledged that that would indeed be perceived as the end to the special relationship, but noted that before doing that, we should look at the political ramifications and the domestic reaction, which he predicted would be negative. In converations he has had with Latin American leaders, they all acknowledged privately that it was a worthless organization, but at the same time, they were horrified at the prospect of its being abolished. But he did not see anything we could do.

In fact, Latin Americans use the global North-South forum more and even take the SELA more seriously than they do the OAS.

Christopher said that the OAS was one of those institutions which would not die a natural death. Whenever it looks like it will, somebody turns the oxygen back on, and it has another life.

Aaron said that rather than try to leave it, abolish it, or resuscitate it with new ideas, the U.S. should just ask the OAS to justify itself.

William Luers from State said that we should be careful in formulating our policy to the OAS and more generally to the hemisphere, least our new policy be perceived as a massive rejection of Latin America.

Cultural and Educational Exchanges

Todman said that the value of individual contacts is very important to increase mutual understanding.

Christopher asked whether we should return to a more enlightened and generous policy with respect to cultural and educational exchanges with Latin America. Todman nodded yes.

Technical Assistance

Christopher asked whether we should put more money into technical assistance to Latin America.

Weil from Commerce said that question brought the discussion back to the beginning: What are our interests? If they are not special, then we should not give special assistance.

Summary and Miscellaneous

Christopher noted that Todman will be meeting with the Cubans in New York,5 that the Canal Treaty negotiations will be continuing, and that we should be increasingly sensitive to Brazil. Any overall [Page 41] statement needs to take into account our concern for special problems. He noted that the discussion was a little more philosophical than usual, but that we were probing for a relationship which adapted to the new realities.

The next step is the speech at the Organization of American States.6

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, 1977–1980, Box 60, PRC 008—Latin America—3/23/77. Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. Portions of the minutes are also printed in part in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXVI, Arms Control and Nonproliferation, Document 266.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, Document 29.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 5.
  4. The Inter-American Development Bank Board of Governors was scheduled to meet in Guatemala City May 30–June 1; Asian Development Bank representatives were scheduled to meet at its headquarters in Manila April 21–23.
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXIII, Mexico, Cuba, and the Caribbean, Document 11.
  6. See footnote 3 above. Pastor sent Brzezinski a draft Presidential Directive, based on this meeting, under a March 25 covering memorandum. Pastor wrote that the draft was “picking up most of the conclusions and suggesting a few which were not completely discussed. I need some feedback on this from you. The value of having such a PD is that it would give explicit direction to the bureaucracy. This would be particularly helpful since the PRC meeting left a great number of people confused and uncertain of what consensus and decisions had been reached.” (Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, 1977–1980, Box 60, PRC 008—Latin America—3/23/77) No PD based on PRM–17 or this PRC meeting was issued. Brzezinski sent Carter a Summary of Conclusions of this meeting, dated March 30, which Carter initialed. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Subject Files, Box 65, PRM–17 [Latin America]: 3/15/77–5/78)