To the many government workers with offices near the New War Department Building on Virginia Avenue in the nation’s capital, the mention of the Inter- American Defense Board in the President’s recent message to Congress on military collaboration with Latin America came as no surprise. These people have seen, for more than four years, the many-colored uniforms of the scores of foreign officers as they gather twice a month on Tuesday mornings for the regular plenary sessions of the Board. It is probable, however, that to the public the IADB is just the abbreviated name of another government commission, set up in addition to rosters already filled with alphabetical monstrosities like NWSB, SFA, and S-ESP, and designed to fill a wartime need which has been obviated by the return of peace.
Even some of those who do know more about the Board have made the mistake of judging the book by its ornate cover. Certainly its lavish quarters in the green-paneled and plush-carpeted wing of the New War Department Building convey the impression that the agency is concerned primarily with making a good impression on the many delegates coming from south of the border.
This unfortunate impression is strengthened by the fact that several times a month the Board, through its Social Committee, hires a private dining room in one of Washington’s better hotels in order to give a large cocktail party in honor of a delegate about to be relieved of his duties with the Board. In these days of neutral spirits and chicken only, it is difficult for the outsider to understand why a large group of foreign military personnel should, at apparently regular and frequent intervals, enjoy unlimited alcohol and sumptuous suppers all at the expense of the American taxpayer. Before examining what the Board really is and what it has accomplished in the four years of its life, let us see something of the background from which it has emerged.
Without probing too deeply into the history of Pan-American relations, it may be said that numerous conferences among the American Republics during the last half- century have prompted the establishment of many inter-American agencies concerned with social, economic, and cultural objectives. The attainment of these ends has, of course, been sought largely as a means for the pacific settlement of disagreements which might arise between two or more of the member countries.
It should be noted, however, that the Pan-American movement originally involved only questions of a legal, technical, and scientific nature. From the very first conference, held in Washington in 1889-90, the spirit of inter-American co-operation was manifest in spheres which excluded that of politics. Such agencies as the International Conference of American Jurists and the Pan- American Institute of Geography and History limited themselves to subjects such as customs regulations, copyrights, and patents. Even the large-scale diplomatic conferences, known as the International Conferences of American States, refused to list political items on their agenda. Elihu Root summed it up at the third conference, in 1906, when he stated: “No political questions are to be discussed; no controversies arc to be settled no judgment is to be passed upon the conduct of any state.” Indeed, the Pan American Union in Washington, providing the permanent secretariat for these International Conferences, was called for the first twenty years of its existence, “The Commercial Bureau of American Republics.” Disturbed by the ill wind that was sweeping across the Atlantic from a gangrenous Europe, the governments of the New World in the 1930’s became more directly concerned with the need for collective action in defense against the causes of these odors. Then, for the first time, the diplomatic discussions turned from dollars to defense. In 1936 the Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace was held in Buenos Aires, and it announced the principle of “American solidarity in all non-continental conflicts.” The delegates to this conference also recommended consultation among the governments of the American republics if the peace of the Hemisphere appeared to be in jeopardy.
Two years later, at the Eighth International Conference of American States in Peru, this principle of the Hemisphere’s solidarity was reaffirmed in the Declaration of Lima, since then generally considered a vital beacon in the course of inter-American co-operation. This meeting produced two important results: the recognition by the Latin-American governments of their responsibility for the defense of the New World against aggression from abroad, and the provision for future meetings of American foreign ministers at the request of any one of them.
The first meeting of the foreign ministers was held at Panama City in the fall of 1939, under the tension resulting from Germany’s march into Poland. The three principal subjects discussed were neutrality, protection of the peace of the New World, and economic co-operation. It was this meeting which produced the concept of the Pan-American “chastity belt,” a zone from 300 to 1,000 miles surrounding American shores and within which “non-American belligerents” were expressly forbidden to commit any hostility whatsoever. It was also decided to hold the next meeting just a year later, in Havana.
The success enjoyed by the forces of aggression in Europe in the winter and spring following, culminating in the shattering fall of France, prompted the advancement of the date for the Havana conference, and it convened two months earlier than planned. Hitler, to be sure, had stated many times that he had no designs on the New World, and he had asserted that just as he did not intend to intervene in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere, so he hoped we should not mix in those of Europe. We were, however, at last waking from our deep dream of peace, and it is not surprising to learn that the most important decisions made at the Havana Conference in July pertained to politics and to military matters. These decisions included the “Declaration of Reciprocal Assistance and Cooperation for the Defense of the Nations of the Americas,” and also the “Convention for the Provisional Administration of European Colonies and Possessions.”
The first of these provided a recognized channel by means of which effective action could be taken, even unilaterally, to implement the declaration. The second authorized one or more of the American states to set up an emergency administration of any possession of a European power which became separated from its government through Axis military success. Furthermore, the “nontransfer” principle was applied to the Monroe Doctrine, and it was announced that no colonial possession, located in the Western Hemisphere and belonging to a European power, could be transferred to another nation of Europe. It is significant that these two items were based on more than general statements of a desire for co-operation: they were a realistic application of definite techniques to a specific problem. Even more significant, however, was the Fifteenth Resolution, which reads, in part:
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.
In case acts of aggression arc committed or should there be reason to believe that an act of aggression is being prepared by a non-American nation against the integrity or inviolability of the territory, the sovereignty, or the political independence of an American nation, the nations signatory to the present declaration will consult among themselves in order to agree upon the measures it may be advisable to take.
All the signatory nations, or two or more of them, according to circumstances, shall proceed to negotiate the necessary complementary agreements so as to organize cooperation for defense and the assistance that they shall lend each other in the event of aggressions such as those referred to in this declaration.
An act of aggression by a non-American state against the territorial integrity of an American State was not long in coming. Two days after that Sunday of infamy, tire following message was sent to the Director General of the Pan American Union by the Foreign Minister of Chile:
In view of the unjustified aggression against the United States by a non-American power, and pursuant to Resolution XV and XVII adopted by the Havana Meeting of Consultation in July, 1940, I beg to request Your Excellency to consult with the other American Governments on the advisability of convoking a Third Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the American Republics in order to consider the point that has arisen and to adopt suitable measures required by the solidarity of our nations and the defense of the hemisphere.
On the day following, the United States made a like request of the Pan American Union and suggested that the Third Meeting be held at Rio de Janeiro. Accordingly, less than five weeks after Pearl Harbor, the Foreign Ministers met again, this time in Brazil.
By this time, January 15, 1942, just half of the other American Republics had declared war on the Axis, and three of the remaining ten had severed diplomatic relations with the totalitarian aggressors. With the last conference mentioned, this résumé of past history will end, for it was at the Rio meeting that the Inter-American Defense Board was founded.
The Twenty-Ninth Resolution of the Third Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the American Republics is here quoted in full:
(1) In accordance with the action taken at the Conference for the Maintenance of Peace and in conformity with the Declaration of Lima, a system of coordination exists between the American Republics which fortunately responds to the spirit of sincere collaboration animating the peoples of our Continent; and
(2) This system, the results of which have heretofore been satisfactory, is, from every point of view, the most effective means on the part of the Western Hemisphere for meeting the present grave emergency in a coordinated and solidary manner. The Third Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the American Republics
The immediate meeting in Washington of a commission composed of military and naval technicians appointed by each of the Governments to study and to recommend to them the measures necessary for the defense of the Continent.
As if, symbolically, to refute the charge of the dictators that democracies are slow to take positive action, the inaugural meeting of the new Inter-American Defense Board was called to order on March 30, 1942, in the Hall of the Americas in the Pan American Union in Washington. The governments of the twenty-one American Republics had been invited by the Chairman of the Governing Board of the Pan American Union to send delegates, and the latter were welcomed by the acting Chairman as well as by the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of War. General Marshall also spoke, and the fact that these key men took time from their vital duties so soon after Pearl Harbor to address the delegates of the new organization attests the value they attached to it.
The Inter-American Defense Board did not stay long in the Pan American Union building, for it soon moved to more suitable quarters in the Federal Reserve Building, and in September, 1944, it occupied its permanent space in the New War Department Building. There, in a city crowded beyond belief with telephones and typewriters, the Board has managed to stay ever since, despite flurries of threatened evictions by agencies jealous of offices which contain space for decks as well as desks.
The purpose of the Board is to study and to recommend to the Governments of the American Republics, by means of resolutions, the measures necessary for the defense of the Continent, in detail as follows:
(a) To study the developments of the present war and their possible effect upon the security of the Western Hemisphere;
(b) To appraise the dangers to which the American nations are exposed, considering all factors which may, directly or indirectly, affect their security;
(c) To conceive plans and suggest procedures for execution, in order that the American Republics may be able to unify their common defense;
(d) To recommend the measures which, in the opinion of the Board, should be adopted by one or more of the American Republics, in order to render effective the provisions for the common defense;
(e) To clarify the significance or purposes of the resolutions or other documents emanating from the Board, upon request of any American Republic;
(f) To inform itself of the action taken by each nation on the Board’s resolutions;
(g) To inform itself regarding action taken by other organizations dealing with continental defense, in order that the Board may collaborate with them whenever it may be necessary;
(h) To consider and act upon any other matter important to the defense of the Continent.1
To assist the delegates in the accomplishment of these tasks, there are at present ten Army officers, exclusive of the Chairman, assigned to the Board by the United States War Department. This represents about half the number that was assigned during the war. The Chairman of the Board, at present a Lieutenant General with an outstanding war record, is ex officio the head of the delegation of the country in which the Board is located. According to the Regulations, he fixes the agenda and presides at each session, manages the Board in conformity with the established routine, represents the Board before other organizations, and prescribes the uniform of the day for its meetings. Should an urgent matter make it necessary for the Chairman to leave a session before it has been adjourned, he is supposed to request the next senior delegate from his own government to relieve him. In actual practice, he usually offers his seat at the head of the table to a delegate of his own choice— sometimes one has just informed his colleagues that he is under orders to return to his native land. If the Chairman cannot attend a session, his place is taken by the head of the Latin-American delegation whose turn it is. This question is solved, as are all matters of protocol, in accordance with the alphabetical order of the countries in the English language.
One of the most valuable of the assigned officers is the Coordinator, appointed by the Chairman. The duties of this billet, at present performed by a United States Army Major General, consist of keeping the Chairman advised in matters pertaining to his office and of assisting the delegates in making studies relative to the defense of the Continent. Being the ranking non-delegate of all the officers assigned, he is in an excellent position to expedite all sorts of miscellaneous functions which any agency must sporadically accomplish.
The paper work, and there is literally reams of it, is handled by the Secretary General, also appointed by the Chairman. Functioning under the Coordinator, he keeps the minutes of the sessions, transmits to the delegates all pertinent communications, exercises the necessary fiscal, personnel, and secretarial supervision of the Board’s activities, and seats the delegates as the membership of the Board changes. The expenses of the Secretariat are paid by the host country, while those of the delegates are defrayed by their own governments.
Other personnel at the service of the delegates, aside from their own personal Aides, are assigned by the government concerned at the request of the chief of the delegation. There are at present fifteen of these Advisors with the Board, and although they are allowed no vote at the sessions, they are usually present in inconspicuous places, ready to assist their delegates when requested. Their work is done behind the scenes, where they offer technical knowledge of their specialties to the delegates to whom they are assigned.
The delegates themselves, not including those representing the United States, are almost without exception officers of the Navy, the Army, or the Air Forces of the Latin-American republics who are on duty in Washington as attaches with their respective ambassadors. The senior officer in the delegations from the larger countries is usually of flag or general rank, with the others not much junior to him. Brazil has sent a Major General and a Rear Admiral to the Board; Argentina’s delegation consists of a Brigadier General, a Rear Admiral, and a Colonel. Our own country is represented not only by the three-starred Chairman, but by two Rear Admirals, one Major General, and a Brigadier General. The Dominican Republic, on the other hand, is represented by her Assistant Military Attach6, an Army Captain. Each country may send as many delegates and advisors as desired, but the senior delegate in each case does the voting for the delegation, and of course each vote counts as heavily as the next. At the time of writing, there were forty-one delegates.
It would be out of place here to attempt to evaluate the work that the Board has accomplished during its four years. How far has the Board lived up to the expectations of its founders, as expressed by the late Colonel Knox at the opening session four years ago? He concluded his welcome with: “This Continent is in imminent peril from non- American aggression. We must cooperate in making effective the combined plans recommended by the Inter-American Defense Board.” An examination of the record of Resolutions forwarded to the Governments of the American Republics will serve to explain what this organization has actually accomplished so far.
Exactly fifty-one days after the first meeting of the Board, three resolutions were adopted in plenary session and sent to the American governments. The first of these recommended that certain steps be taken to train and equip the personnel necessary to detect and eliminate clandestine telecommunication activities. Another proposed a continual exchange of intelligence affecting the continental defense, particularly that pertaining to air operations. The third paved the way for the simplification of the legal procedure involved in the transit of military aircraft. These resolutions, dated May 20, 1942, could well justify in themselves the establishment of the Board, but they were only the first of many steps taken to accomplish the mission of the delegates.
Other problems studied and reported on, with appropriate recommendations, have been the protection, control, and security of the Merchant Marine, security against sabotage, the training of Home Defense Units, censorship, naval and air bases, and antisubmarine defense. Lest it appear, in this short summary, that all this work was finally represented in mere generalities aimed at friendly co-operation, let us look at one of the recent resolutions, the Seventeenth. Dated June 12, 1945, it not only recorded the Board’s approval of wartime improvements in continental telecommunication, but it recommended specific measures in urging that the Americas deal with the problem on the basis of sustained civil and military cooperation. In considerable detail the Board suggested military and police action to insure security; standardization of equipment and operating procedures; a widespread training program for telecommunication personnel; continued radio-frequency allocation through Hemisphere agreements; the creation of a centralized co-ordinating agency with representation of the armed forces to integrate international airways radio service; the maintenance of an adequate radio-communications network for radio detection and for aids to sea and air navigation; and the maintenance of monitoring systems to enforce radio regulations. It should be easily seen that this last study by the Board is the result of the well-directed effort of competent workmen and not the mere expression of mutual good will by friendly brothers-in-arms.
Nor have the delegates been content to limit their activities to purely military considerations. Now that it has become painfully obvious that in the effort to impose one’s will upon another no realm of human endeavor may be neglected, the delegates know that beans and bullets alone no longer bring victory. Notwithstanding the derision of the writers on globaloney, the officers of the Board have been equally industrious with the more strategic concepts of total war, involving the production of materials ranging from rubber and Rotenone to cultivated Loofahs. One of the most specific resolutions was the one pertaining to inter- American Transportation, again outside the field of pure military consideration. This recommended that all transportation equipment and procedures be standardized; that certain measures be taken to make sufficient merchant shipping available in emergencies; that civil airways be developed with due consideration for existing strategic bases; that freedom of transit and technical stop for civil aircraft be permitted and emergency stop for military aircraft of the American Republics for repair and refuel; and that the need for open government support of transportation be recognized even to the extent of those utilities not commercially self-supporting but certainly necessary for hemispheric defense.
These resolutions are passed at the plenary sessions of the Board which are held in the conference room, “The Hall of the Liberators.” Here, at their places around the outside perimeter of the long tables, seated in accordance with the alphabetical protocol, the delegates hear the motions, debate on them, and then take an oral vote. There must be at least eleven delegations present to make up a quorum, and of these an affirmative vote of a simple majority is enough to carry. As far as is known, no motion yet made has been carried by a mere majority, for unanimity has always been achieved. The language barriers are conveniently handled because of two facts. One of these is that nearly all the delegates, picked for special duty in Washington by their respective governments, speak English fluently and even eloquently. Spanish, of course, is the mother tongue for eighteen of the delegations, with the Brazilians and their Portuguese, and the French-speaking Military Attaché from Haiti as the outstanding exceptions. It has been almost axiomatic for the United States personnel to bone up on their Spanish idioms and vocabularies, with the result that often through an office door, will be heard an American Colonel complaining to his civilian secretary, “No entiendo. Tonga la bondad de hablar despacio, dammit!”
For the benefit of newcomers, however, provision has been made for the translation of every verbal expression uttered during a session. The Coordinator, sitting at his own table, is flanked by two or more United States Army officers who act as interpreters. These specialists, in the Army for the emergency only, have been assigned to the Board primarily for their knowledge of languages. Some of them have spent much of their lives in Central or South America; others have been Spanish teachers in American schools. Usually their duties are eased by the thoughtful practice of handing to them ahead of time the speech a delegate knows he will make at a future session. It often happens, of course, that only the initial motion or recommendation can be translated by the interpreter before the session, for once it has been delivered to the Board, anyone is at liberty to comment on it. And everyone does. Those readers familiar with the Latin temperament can easily visualize the difficulties of keeping up with the flow of words forthcoming when a delegate believes his work on a committee is being criticized, or his words of greeting to a new delegate being outdone by a friendly rival! To someone who does not speak Spanish, these interpreters appear to be supermen, as they stand with their eyes riveted upon a gesturing delegate, their pencils at the half-cock and their brows unruffled. Then, ten minutes later and when the flood has subsided, the speech is reproduced in faultless and flowing English. It is significant that every one of the junior Army officers assigned to the Board proudly wears the familiar green Army Commendation ribbon and some with Oak Leaf Clusters.
The delegates at these plenary sessions merely place their stamp of approval on the resolutions, however, for it is at the meetings of the small committees that the pick-and- shovel work is done. The Regulations provide for a standing Steering Committee which consists of three members, representing Navy, Aviation, and Army. This committee, the membership of which is appointed by the Chairman and rotated every two months, advises the Coordinator, recommends topics for the agenda and lectures, and is available to study any other matters referred to it. In addition to this committee, there are others temporarily formed to study and to report on technical or general matters. These groups are dissolved as soon as final action on their reports has been taken at a plenary session. Each recommendation submitted for approval to the Board is accompanied "by a full report in explanation, and these, like all the Board’s communications, are printed in English and Spanish. The members of these committees, only five in number, belie the Washington definition of a committee—a group of important people who, singly, can do nothing but, together, can decide nothing can be done. It was one of these committees that was responsible for the basis of the President’s message to Congress on May 6, in which he recommended a program of “military collaboration with other American States including the training, organization, and equipment of the armed forces of those countries.”
Debating on the results of the work of the committees does not consume all the time of the plenary sessions, however. At many of the sessions there is a lecture given by either a delegate or an outside authority. Some of these talks indeed have been war reminiscences such as that given by Manuel Quezon on the Japanese attack on his country; “A Day in Guadalcanal,” by a Major General in the United States Marine Corps; or “Personal Experiences in the South Pacific,” given by a Navy Captain. These talks have been in the distinct minority, however, for most of the others have been didactic: “The Problem of Supply Between Nations in Combat,” “Statistical Requirements for the Control of Manpower in Wartime,” “Hemisphere Transportation from the Maritime Viewpoint,” or a talk by a representative of the Chief of Naval Operations on the subject of control and protection of shipping. Joseph Grew once spoke to the Board in 1943 on the subject of the characteristics of the Japanese government and people; the Vice President of the United States has spoken on achievements in hemisphere co-operation; the Coordinator of Inter-American affairs of our own country told the delegates about the activities of his organization; and the Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has addressed the Board on the subject of the FBI’s activities for national defense.
One other frequent item on the agenda of the Inter-American Defense Board must be mentioned, for it is one of the most important. On an average of once in three sessions, a delegate will give a carefully prepared presentation about his own country. New facts are rarely offered in these talks, but the interpretation is always interesting. Almanacs and history books contain more data about any state than a delegate knows himself, but they were written by statisticians and scholars, and neither speaks the universal tongue of the soldier. A Naval Attaché, however, knows what is of significance to sailors from other countries, and his words are heeded carefully by the other delegates, who care more about a frank appraisal of the Merchant Marine than they do about a mere list of tonnage lifted by those vessels.
This exchange of honest opinion, permeating all the activities of the Board as it does, has resulted in a mutual confidence which speaks well for the future. The spirit of sincerity and cordiality, fostered in an atmosphere of absolute equality, becomes a habit. The delegates, exposed to the germs of mutual understanding and respect for one, two, three, or four years, will hardly fail to show signs of their infection for the rest of their lives. The relationship between the United States Navy and that of Brazil, for example, was firmly cemented when the Fourth Fleet commenced operations, jointly with Brazilian units, in the waters of the South Atlantic in the last war. It is expected that this relationship will be enhanced in the years to come, for the officer who four months ago was the head of the Inter-American Defense Board delegation from his country is now Commander in Chief of the Brazilian Navy. Regardless of what personal convictions he may have about dollar diplomacy, the good neighbor policy, and other principles, it will be hard for him to forget the many friends he made and co-operative concepts he formed during his seventeen months with the Board. By this time every Navy and Army in this hemisphere save the Canadian has, in many responsible billets, officers who at one time or other have learned to know what motivates the actions and thought patterns of other officers in other services. Furthermore, this influence is not confined to military men and matters alone. Less than two months ago one of the present United States delegates to the Board was greeted effusively in Mexico City by an ambassador from a third country who had served on the Board while in this country as an army officer. The lessons learned by association with one’s colleagues arc not forgotten when terminal leave or present duty has expired.
In conclusion, and regardless of the personal opinions of a very few of the delegates, the Inter-American Defense Board has been afforded a definite and objective appreciation of its past accomplishment and present promise. On March 6, 1945, at the Inter- American Conference on Problems of Peace and War held in Mexico City, it was recommended that the American Republics, at the earliest possible time, create a permanent agency formed by the representatives of each of the General Staffs, for the purpose of proposing to the respective governments measures for a closer military collaboration for the defense of the Western Hemisphere. Until this new agency could be set up, it was further recommended that the Inter-American Defense Board continue as an agency of inter-American defense, because:
The Inter-American Defense Board has proved to be a valuable agency for the exchange of views, the study of problems, and the formulation of recommendations relating to the defense of the Hemisphere, and for the promotion of close collaboration on the part of the military, naval, and air forces of the American Republics.
That last statement, coming as it does from the Foreign Ministers who had established the Board some four years before, sounds like a “Well Done,” and indeed it should be so considered by any well-informed American.
1. Art. 2, Regulations of the Inter-American Defense Board.