ON THE WORLD TODAY
IN THE short time since the resignation of Cordell Hull, the whole machinery for conducting interAmerican relations has changed hands. Mr. Nelson Rockefeller has moved from his quarters as Coördinator of Inter-American Affairs in the massive Commerce Building into a more solemn office in the gloomy State Department Building. There he presides as Assistant Secretary of State in charge of relations between the American nations.
With him often is Mr. Avra Warren, just returned from his post as Ambassador to Panama, to become the new chief of the Office of American Republic Affairs in “State.” The Secretary, Mr. Stettinius, spends a good share of his time with the two men, planning, considering, looking for new orientations.
Mr. Sumner Welles, who as Under Secretary of State managed the Latin American phase of Washington’s foreign policy up to September, 1943, has been gone for a year and a half and has been opposing the Hull policies from the outside. Now Mr. Norman Armour, our former Ambassador to Chile and Argentina, and since last summer the chief of the Office of American Republic Affairs, is leaving to become Ambassador to Spain. He is the last of the outstanding men of the old Hull-Welles team while it was a coördinated body.
The new men know that it is their function to make Western Hemisphere policy, not simply in momentary emergencies and on a catch-as-catch-can basis, but for a considerable period ahead. Perhaps they can set the course for a permanent policy which will outlast the transition period and strengthen the ultimate peace.
Furthermore, they are not afraid of doing things differently. But at the outset of their responsibility they are wrestling a little desperately with the problem of doing things effectively, whether differently or not.
Taking the bull by the tail
They have tackled their first and knottiest Hemisphere problem with a disregard for precedents. They plan to hold a meeting of the foreign ministers of the American republics — a meeting with two countries, Argentina and El Salvador, excluded, and one which will be the first important diplomatic conference of the American powers not held under the auspices of the Pan American Union. Moreover, they have been hoping to use this device of a gathering outside the normal framework of inter-American coöperation to strengthen their position for dealing with the unfriendly authoritarian government in the Argentine.
The Argentine government, unrecognized by the United States and by all but four of the Latin American republics, formally proposed a meeting just before the Presidential election, to discuss its obligations to the other American republics in the war and to settle the recognition question. An embarrassing number of Latin American republics were at least informally open to the Argentine suggestion. They wanted a foreign ministers’ conference to discuss the Dumbarton Oaks peace organization program and certain common economic concerns of the Latin countries growing out of the protraction of the European war.
For a time the State Department, under Mr. Stettinius as Acting Secretary and then as Secretary, played with the idea of holding such a conference, with the Argentine question ruled off the agenda. But no parliamentary maneuvering could positively ensure that the Argentine question would not make trouble. An effort to restore the Argentine matter to the agenda might provoke just as bad a series of floor and committee fights as a scheduled discussion. Such an effort would almost certainly be made by an Argentine delegation if the Buenos Aires government chose to exercise its privileges as a member of the Pan American Union in full standing and send a delegation.
About the time the State Department’s “new team” members were confirmed by the Senate, the idea of another kind of meeting began to crystallize. Credit at least for the general outline of the plan is given to Foreign Minister Ezequiel Padilla of Mexico. It bears traces, in any event, of Mexican political subtlety and also of traditional Mexican unconcern over political dynamite.
The plan, as it was proposed to nineteen of the twenty-one American republics late in December, was simply to hold a session of the foreign ministers in Mexico City, probably in February, at which Dumbarton Oaks matters and the urgent economic problems would be discussed fully, but which would bear no official relation to the meeting suggested by Argentina under Pan American Union auspices. The foreign ministers would simply be invited to Mexico City to talk over these questions without any organizational background at all.
The plan had two advantages: an uninvited government could not send a delegate, and Argentina’s rights to raise a point of order under the previous proposal for a meeting to discuss her own status as a member nation of the Pan-American organization would have no parliamentary value. The whole Argentine question could be ruled out and kept out.
In Mexico City during the week after Christmas, Foreign Minister Padilla gave legitimacy to the project at least to the extent of releasing it in the form of a press “feeler.” Such a meeting was under consideration, he told a news conference. Mexico would be happy to be the host; and it remained for the American republics to decide which ones would attend. The question of who was sending out invitations was not clarified, but presumably Mexico was.
Two is company
Meanwhile during the speculative discussions of the mysterious meeting, El Salvador has been mentioned, both in Washington and in Mexico City, as an associate of Argentina in exclusion. The little Central American republic, since the overthrow of its dictator, General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, last May, has been going through a series of disturbances which have landed it in the hands of an oppressive rightist faction in domestic politics. As a result, its present government is also unrecognized by Washington and by a number of other American republics.
Certain risks are implicit in the Mexican plan. For one thing, Foreign Minister Orlando Peluffo of Argentina, shortly after the proposal of the meeting was noised about Washington, made veiled threats that Argentina would withdraw from the Pan American Union if her request for a meeting to consider her status was denied and if a foreign ministers’ conference was held to consider other inter-American affairs.
Time for a gamble
On January 8 the plan for by-passing the Pan American Union was adroitly carried through, actually with Union collaboration. A motion adopted by the Union Governing Board proclaimed that, “since the American nations coöperating in the war effort” have agreed on a conference “through diplomatic channels,” the Governing Board “abstains for the time being from acting on the Argentine request.”
The import here is obvious. “Diplomatic channels” means that the meeting is being arranged, not through the Pan American Union, but directly through the foreign offices. Limiting attendance to “nations coöperating in the war effort” means that Argentina can be excluded as a non-coöperating government. El Salvador’s exclusion was left dangling, but otherwise the conference awaited only the formal invitations. Argentina’s Washington Chargé d’Affaires, Rodolfo Garcia Arias, complained that his government could not overlook a procedure so harmful to Pan-Americanism, and two days later Argentina informed the Union that it will “abstain” from participating in meetings of the Union “so long as Argentine rights continue to be disregarded.”
In the reorganized State Department, however, the feeling exists that, while the risks are considerable, much may be gained by a procedure without precedents. In the first place, the successful arrangement of a conference deliberately devised to exclude Argentina would be a rebuke to South America’s maverick republic calculated to encourage the more moderate elements in the Argentine government.
Next, the device of an “off the reservation” meeting is expected to make it actually easier for the delegations of the other American powers to discuss the Argentine question informally in extra-committee sessions than it would be if there were always the threat of an open and official argument over putting Argentine relations on the agenda.
If these strictly informal discussions should happen to settle the issue to everyone’s satisfaction, there would be no technicalities which would prevent the conference from suddenly resolving itself into an official Pan American Union meeting and welcoming Argentina back into the fold.