Latin America


THE United States delegation to the Inter-American Foreign Ministers’ Conference at Petropolis won a limited victory. It held the line, despite considerable opposition, for a mutual defense treaty among the American republics against aggressors from within or without the Hemisphere.

The delegation beat down Argentina’s demand for unanimity in all important decisions on Hemisphere defense. And Argentina’s equally sinister desire to leave each American republic free to choose its own methods of defending its neighbors, after any decision had run the unanimity gantlet, hardly reached the stage of public expression.

The U.S. delegation adroitly postponed to the regular Pan American Conference scheduled for Bogotá in January all issues not directly related to Hemisphere defense. Cuba’s frantic and justifiable squawks about the effect on her economy of the new United States sugar quotas were passed over to the tangled future. So were the requests of a considerable number of Latin American republics — a kind of “Cuban bloc,”it appeared — for a showdown on Hemisphere economic coöperation.

At Petropolis, talk of establishing a kind of Hemisphere “Marshall Plan” was in the air. But the U.S. delegation and friends from the less economically troubled or more economically expectant republics saw to it that, until Bogotá at least, in the air is where it will stay.

Likewise passed over to Bogotá was the delicate question of who will get arms from the United States, from its shrinking treasury of missiles and weapons, and how much. The statesmen at Petropolis were concentrating on the ideals of Hemisphere defense arrangements, not on their practicalities. And the question of drafting a regional constitution for the inter-American system — after fifty-seven years of Pan-American organization — was not seriously put forward. That has been on the Bogota agenda for a long time.

From Chapultepec to Petropolis

The quarry stalked and brought back from Petropolis is officially christened the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance. The meeting which produced it now goes down in Pan-American annals as the Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Continental Peace and Security. It, in turn, was provided for by the Inter-American Conference on Problems of War and Peace held in Mexico City early in 1945 — known as the Chapultepec Conference.

The Chapultepec Conference itself drafted a program of Hemisphere defense and put it essentially into effect through wartime agreements between the foreign offices and the executive departments of the governments in the Western Hemisphere. Most of the Petropolis treaty simply repeats the Chapultepec agreements, and adapts them, functionally, to governments operating on a peacetime basis.

Such adaptations are considerably involved. First, the Petropolis treaty had to be adapted to twentyone governments, all of which are acutely sensitive on points of sovereignty. It had to be adapted to governments like our own, where the decision to wage war and many other major decisions in foreign policy reside in an elected Congress; and to governments which are all but dictatorships. Above all, the treaty-makers had to take into consideration that many American governments, ours included, fear commitments which enable other governments to involve them in war.

Within the limitations, the Reciprocal Assistance Treaty deals ostensibly with two, but actually with three, kinds of attack or aggression against the peace of the Western Hemisphere.

1. Armed attacks upon American powers from without the Hemisphere.

2. Aggressions against the peace of the Hemisphere by American powers committing acts of war or aggressions against each other.

3. Aggressions against the Hemisphere’s peace from “extra-continental conflict,” not immediately involving the Americas in a military sense; or actions by powers from within or without the Hemisphere not involving armed attack; or “by any other fact or situation that might endanger” the Hemisphere’s security.

Plainly enough these provisions would sanction the American republics in taking joint action against belligerents in a war on other continents; against overseas governments attempting to apply undue economic or political pressure on any American nation; or in the event that any peace-endangering “fact or situation” arose out of, say, an attack on United States security bases far outside the Western Hemisphere, as in the South Pacific.

Disciplining an aggressor

In the case of an armed attack from overseas on any American state or its Western Hemisphere possessions, procedure is simple. The American governments agree “to assist in meeting the attack” until an inter-American consultation can be held to decide on permanent modes of joint action.

There is, however, one joker in this assistance arrangement. Until the consultation meets, each power may determine the “immediate measure” by which it will extend assistance to the attacked neighbor. It may throw its full military power into the struggle. On the other hand, if Ruritania should happen to be the aggressor, it can equally meet its engagements and presumably satisfy its conscience by writing a note of casual disapprobation to the Ruritanian Foreign Minister.

The treaty provides that the “organ of consultation” must meet without delay. And the organ of consultation is a conference of the Foreign Ministers of the American republics which have ratified the Petropolis treaty. When the Foreign Ministers’ conference meets, its job will be to decide on the joint course of action which the American nations will take toward the attacker or aggressor. Here the Petropolis treaty allows for half a dozen or more courses of action.

The Foreign Ministers may try to discipline the aggressor simply by recalling American chiefs of diplomatic missions from his capital. Or they may completely break diplomatic relations, or both diplomatic and consular relations. Or they may go further and partially or entirely suspend economic relations with the aggressor — cut off his trade and supplies from the Americas. Next, they may interrupt all his communication with the Americas. Finally, the Foreign Ministers’ conference may recommend the use of the inter-American armed forces.

But along these paths of action, too, there are jokers. It takes a two-thirds vote, rather than a simple majority, of the governments represented at a Foreign Ministers’ consultation, to decide on an operating method against an aggressor. Then the decision shall be binding upon all parties to the treaty unless the decision calls for the use of armed force. No government can be compelled to fight an aggressor against another American power.

Taken together the concessions whittle the treaty down into something considerably less than an allout defensive alliance. Governments nominally complying with the decisions of a Foreign Ministers’ council to break diplomatic, economic, or cultural relations with an aggressor would be able to carry out their treaty commitments with lip service rather than with effective action, as Argentina carried out many commitments to Hemisphere “solidarity” in World War II.

Boundaries of the Western Hemisphere

An outstanding achievement at Petropolis was to redefine and expand the boundaries of the Western Hemisphere. From the North to the South Pole the Hemisphere’s security is guaranteed by such protection as the treaty offers; including the entire continental land mass, Antarctica, the Aleutian Islands, Newfoundland, and Greenland. The Hawaiian Islands technically are not placed in the Hemisphere defense area. But their case is covered by a clause providing that an attack on the “territory” of any American power is to be considered an aggression.

Iceland was left out, apparently out of deference to Soviet Russia’s sensitivity concerning spheres of defensive interest. But under the treaty’s vague generalizations regarding aggressions not directly involving attacks on Hemisphere territory, a case could be made for an all-American coalition to prevent anything unpleasant happening to Iceland.

Although Panamanian Foreign Minister Ricardo Alfaro specifically maintained that the treaty-makers had not drafted an “alliance” against Russia, nothing in the Petropolis model could manifestly discourage Soviet Russia from constructing by ostensibly similar democratic processes a potent regional defensive edifice in Eastern Europe. Such a common front could, as the Petropolis treaty explicitly does, maintain that everything was being arranged in full accord with the regional collective security provisions of the United Nations Charter.