Inter-American Relationship


By PHILIP W. BONSAL, Chief, Division of American Republics, Department of State

Over the Blue Network, April 25, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 461-463.

I AM deeply grateful to Edward Tomlinson for affording me this opportunity of addressing his radio audience. Mr. Tomlinson is a pioneer and remains a leader among those who on the air and in the press have made and continue to make important contributions to that mutual understanding and community of interest which is at the basis of the relations today so happily existing between the twenty-one American republics. His work has been well and favorably known to all of us who are familiar with this important phase of the political and economic relations of our country.

Unfortunately the work of Mr. Tomlinson and his colleagues, based as it is upon intimate knowledge of American problems—and I use the term American in the broadest sense of the word—is from time to time counteracted by irresponsible and unfounded statements which are widely circulated. One such statement was called to my attentionrecently. It was to the effect that at the recent meeting in Rio de Janeiro the United States representatives made a large number of promises which they did not have the ability to carry out. It was alleged that our delegation offered to the other American republics priorities in the furnishing of a long list of supplies, equipment and machinery urgently needed by the fighting fronts and by our own war industries. The purpose of the offer is alleged to have been to secure certain commitments, presumably of a political nature, from our neighbors. These promises, it is stated, have not be fulfilled and our neighbors are alleged in this statement to feel that they were deceived at Rio.

These allegations are completely false. The American republics understand and have confidence in each other. Furthermore, they understand the world conditions and particularly the world emergency today confronting free nations. They are conscious of the inter-dependence of theireconomies. They appreciate the factors which make it more or less possible to transport goods between them. They have resolved together to take all adequate measures for the maintenance of their economic stability.

They know, however, that that stability as well as the prospect of an increased development of their own economic possibilities is intimately tied to the achievement of the military victory to which the peoples of the Americas look with the utmost confidence.

Those who lightly accuse our Government of deliberately making false promises demonstrate among other things their own ignorance of the background of the inter-American relationship as it exists today. That relationship is not the creation of a moment's inspiration. Its foundations were laid over a century ago.

The twenty-one American republics are, in fact, united in many measures to meet danger threatening them all. However, the action which they are now taking is possible because the machinery for collaboration and the mutual confidence necessary for solidarity had been created before the danger arose in its present form. In other words, ours is not an improvised policy.

A very brief survey of the major steps taken over the past few years in order to build up our inter-American solidarity to the point where it is now successfully meeting almost daily emergencies of an international character is appropriate. The first of these steps was taken at Montevideo in 1933 at the seventh of a series of international conferences of American states which had been held since 1889. There twenty-one American republics defined the rights and of sovereign states and renounced any intervention eachther's internal affairs. By treaty the United States renounced the right which it had previously asserted in circumstances to intervene forcibly in the affairs of its neighbors. By its actions in the succeeding years the United States demonstrated its adherence to the new principles and its dedication to the policy of the good neighbor. Thus was the spectre of imperialism laid to rest in the political field and the juridical equality of each sovereign nation firmly established.

Nineteen hundred and thirty three—this was the year in which the American republics laid the cornerstone of international confidence and cooperation in this Hemisphere; it was also the year of Hitler's coming to power in Germany.

Three years later the American republics assembled at Buenos Aires at a special conference called by President Roosevelt. It was there agreed that the peace of any one of the American republics was a cause of common concern to all. A procedure of consultation was devised and the obligation to consult together was assumed in the case that peace was threatened from any source.

Many of the statesmen of our Hemisphere were in 1936 already thoroughly aware of the degree to which the path of the aggressor in Europe and Asia had been smoothed because those nations interested in the maintenance of international law and order had failed to stand together and to agree upon common measures of resistance. In 1936 the fatal policies of appeasement and self-delusion had already borne fruit, and the Third Reich had been allowed unilaterally and by force to overthrow the international statutes upon which the peace of Europe rested.

Still further seeking to weld together their continental community, the American republics met at Lima in December of 1938. Europe was already in the shadows. Munich had come and gone and few believed that even the highly—favorable terms which Hitler had there extracted from the unprepared democracies would long be respected by him.

At Lima the American republics magnificently re-affirmedtheir continental solidarity and provided that in order to facilitate the necessary consultations the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the American Republics or their representatives when deemed desirable and at the initiative of any one of them would meet together.

Within three weeks of the outbreak of the war in September of 1939 there was assembled at Panama the First Consultative Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the continent. At that meeting emphasis was upon immediate measures for keeping the effects of the conflict from the Hemisphere. Procedures with regard to neutrality and security were adopted. In retrospect however perhaps the most important achievement was the establishment of the Inter-American Financial and Economic Advisory Committee consisting of one representative of each of the twenty-one governments, which has been in permanent session in Washington since November of 1939 and has furnished a constant medium for the consideration of the many and serious economic problems resulting from the ever-spreading war and for the adoption of far-reaching measures designed to meet those problems. For example that Committee is responsible for the Inter-American Coffee Agreement; it devised the arrangements under which 100 former Axis vessels, immobilized in American ports are now serving the Americas.

In the summer of 1940 the surrender of France brought the war much closer to our Hemisphere. France has had for generations colonial possessions in the West Indies and on the mainland of South America. Those possessions, in the hands of a Government subservient to the aggressor nations, might prove a source of great danger to the free nations of the continent. Understanding this situation thoroughly the twenty-one American republics before the end of July 1940 had adopted at the Second Consultative Meeting of Foreign Ministers held at Habana an Act and a Convention, providing for the provisional administration of European possessions by an inter-American organization in case of a danger of a change in sovereignty over those regions.

At the same meeting the representatives of the American Republics took occasion to declare "that any attempt on the part of a non-American state against the integrity or inviolability of the territory, the sovereignty or the political independence of an American state shall be considered as an act of aggression against the States which sign this declaration". All twenty-one representatives signed the declaration.

On December 7 the United States of America, one of the twenty-one American republics, became the victim of aggression of one of the Axis partners; the other partners declared war on us. Again the procedure of consultation was called into play. Again the American republics affirmed the declaration which they had made at Habana. The Foreign Ministers acted, reaffirming the complete solidarity of the countries which they represented and their determination to cooperate jointly for their mutual protection until, in the words of the important resolution which they there adopted, the effects of the present aggression against the continent have disappeared. They recommended that each country break off its diplomatic relations with the Axis powers in accordance with the procedures established by its own laws and in conformity with the position and circumstances pertaining to each country in the existing continental conflict.

The Rio meeting covered a very wide field of matters of inter-American interest. It was fitting that it should do so since it met at a time of unparalleled crisis and since it was the third in a series of meetings held under the consultative procedure. It would not be possible here to attempt to review all that was accomplished. The record has been published. Suffice it to say that in forty carefully drafted resolutions the entire field of the political and economic problems of the Americas was covered. And in addition to these tangible and concrete resolutions it is important to stress the tremendous power of the intangible forces which are today influencing the course of inter-American relations.

At a gathering such as this at Rio—not a conference in the usual and formal sense but rather a meeting of friends and colleagues—statesmen responsible for guiding the foreign policies of 21 sovereign nations meet on informal terms. They sit down in subcommittees and work together in formulating their common policies. Their exchanges of views are not confined to formal sessions, but are continued in small groups at the luncheon table or at social gatherings. Many familiar faces are seen—old friends who have participated in previous inter-American gatherings. The intimate bonds of friendship generated through this simple and effective mechanism have had and are continuing to have a significant effect in promoting mutual understanding and a feeling of common responsibilities in the face of the dangers threatening our Continent.

We in the Americas have behind us over a decade of experience in the practical application of international fair dealings. We do not make promises to each other which we know we can not make good. There is not the slightest foundation for the allegation that promises were made at Rio which this Government was in no position to make good. Our friends know that we are fighting a war of survival; many of them are fighting at our side. They know too that the officially stated economic policy of this Government is to aid in maintaining the economic stability of the other American republics by recognizing and providing for their essential civilian needs on the basis of equal and proportionate consideration with our own. Just as no one can predict the exact future course of the war to the day of ultimate victory so no one can predict the extent of the privations and sacrifices to which the civilian populations in the United States and the other American republics may be subjected before that day arrives. Equally certainly the maintenance of economic stability in each one of the American republics which are making so important a contribution to our own war efforts is an important objective of this Government's war time policy. The details of that policy are being worked out daily in friendly consultation and conference between the officials of the various Governments concerned.

Those officials and their Governments believe in the Rio resolutions. They believe that the United States will carry out its stated policy. They have daily evidence of the carrying out of that policy. They know that since the Rio meeting, about 50 scarce articles including important groups of iron and steel products, rayon, certain chemicals, and farm machinery have been the subject of allocation for export by our Government in accordance with its stated policy regarding civilian needs in the United States and in the other American republics.

Since Rio, eight of the other American republics have sent official delegations to Washington for the purpose of entering into reciprocal commitments with this Government in a large variety of matters, mostly of an economic character. These commitments continue to be entered into in a spirit of mutual understanding, confidence, and knowledge. Surely the record is a clear demonstration that the Americas both in peace and in war have found and are following a course of cooperation for the benefit of all.