DURING the brief period that has elapsed since President Roosevelt assumed office on March 4, 1933, the relations between the United States and the other American republics have undergone a transformation for the better which has seemed nothing short of miraculous to those familiar with inter-American affairs. That relations between the United States and the other nations of this Hemisphere had been increasingly unsatisfactory over a period of many decades was generally recognized by public opinion in the United States. Occasionally attempts had been made to remedy conditions, but these efforts were partial and tentative in character and it was clear that no real improvement could become possible until the whole continental policy of the United States, both political and economic, had experienced a radical change, and until it was based upon new foundations of justice and of reason.

On the political side, the peoples of the twenty Latin American republics had uppermost in their minds the numerous interventions by the United States in the smaller republics of the Caribbean in disregard of the inherent sovereignty and independent rights of those nations. By no means less rankling was the attitude of patronizing and domineering superiority which had crystallized in these acts of physical interference. On the commercial side, the economic policy which had culminated in the Smoot-Hawley tariff had dealt a staggering blow to the vital interests of many of the Latin American republics and, as an immediate consequence, had gravely prejudiced the export trade of the United States.

In 1933 suspicion of the real motives of the United States was rife throughout the Latin American world. Antagonism and hostility were openly and even officially voiced, as at the Inter-American Conferences of 1923 and of 1928. Propaganda against the United States found a fertile field. The slogan, "Buy only from those who buy from us," directed against exports from the United States, was published far and wide.

In his first inaugural address, President Roosevelt announced that his Administration would maintain the policy of the "good neighbor;" and he immediately thereafter undertook to carry this policy to practical accomplishment. During the past four years, the policy of the "good neighbor" has been signalized by the following developments -- all of them facilitating the growth of the era of good feeling which today prevails:

President Roosevelt made it clear by official pronouncement at the outset of his Administration that this Government opposed the policy of intervention in other American republics, and this declaration was formally subscribed to by the United States Delegation at the Inter-American Conference of 1933. The Government of the United States withdrew its armed forces of occupation from the Republic of Haiti and (on the expiration of the Treaty of 1915 between the two countries) likewise withdrew from every other form of interference in Haitian affairs. The Government of the United States, at a moment of grave crisis in the internal affairs of Nicaragua, made it clear to the world that its relations with that Republic were identical with those which it maintained with every other sovereign nation, and consequently could permit of no interference by the United States, direct or indirect, in domestic Nicaraguan concerns. At a time when the Cuban people were experiencing the most tragic epoch of their history since they achieved their independence, this Government, through a practical policy of economic cooperation, equally beneficial to the trade interests of both countries, rescued Cuba from commercial and financial ruin, and from actual starvation; it also, at the same time, renounced through a new treaty the contractual right of intervention in Cuba which it had formerly possessed. The United States Government negotiated a new treaty with the Republic of Panama, which, while fully safeguarding our complete control over the Canal, yet provided for a more fair and equitable treatment for the commercial interests of the Panamanian people than had previously existed, and abolished that right of intervention in Panama which the United States had previously possessed. Finally, the United States, through its liberal trade policy during these past few years, and through the trade agreements negotiated with many of the American republics, had materially assisted these latter to increase both their exports to and their imports from the United States. So long as the belief had persisted on the part of the other American republics that the United States would continue to pursue the policy of "might makes right," and that while the United States would exert itself to sell more of its own exports to them it was not interested in developing mutually profitable trade, there could never exist that feeling of confidence and frankness and of sincere friendship for the United States which now obtains.

In this manner were laid the foundations for a continental relationship which otherwise would have been impossible. But while the way had been cleared, there still remained reasons for serious disquiet for lovers of peace throughout the Americas. The long-smouldering controversy between Bolivia and Paraguay, which flamed eventually into a protracted and devastating war, brought sharply home to every American statesman that the existing peace machinery of the Continent must be regarded as far from effective. Had it not been unable to prevent the Chaco tragedy? Moreover, other controversies of potential gravity between American nations still remained unsolved.

Simultaneously the world horizon was darkening. Clouds of new hatreds and new fanaticisms were fast arising overseas. Many nations seemed bent on policies of rearmament, economic nationalism, and militaristic expansion which menaced the whole structure of world peace. Confidence was everywhere undermined.

President Roosevelt consequently determined upon taking the initiative in suggesting the holding of an Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace upon the American Continent, and on January 30, 1936, he addressed a personal letter to the Presidents of the other American republics. Referring to the successful negotiation by the Governments of Bolivia and Paraguay of protocols providing for the peaceful solution of the controversy which had arisen between them, President Roosevelt in these communications to the other American Presidents wrote:

I cherish the sincere conviction that the moment has now arrived when the American Republics, through their designated representatives seated at a common council table, should seize this altogether favorable opportunity to consider their joint responsibility and their common need of rendering less likely in the future the outbreak or the continuation of hostilities between them, and by so doing, serve in an eminently practical manner the cause of permanent peace on this Western Continent. If the tragedy of the Chaco can be considered as having served any useful end, I believe such end will lie in our joint willingness to profit from the experience learned and to exert our common endeavors in guarding against the repetition of such American disasters.

It has seemed to me that the American Government might for these reasons view favorably the suggestion that an extraordinary inter-American conference be summoned to assemble at an early date, at Buenos Aires, should the Government of the Argentine Republic so desire, or, if not, at some other capital of this Continent, to determine how the maintenance of peace among the American Republics may best be safeguarded -- whether, perhaps, through the prompt ratification of all of the inter-American peace instruments already negotiated; whether through the amendment of existing peace instruments in such manner as experience has demonstrated to be most necessary; or perhaps through the creation by common accord of new instruments of peace additional to those already formulated.

These steps, furthermore, would advance the cause of world peace, inasmuch as the agreements which might be reached would supplement and reinforce the efforts of the League of Nations and of all other existing or future peace agencies in seeking to prevent war.

The President did not envisage a plan to align the American nations against the remainder of mankind. His purposes embodied no doctrine of narrow isolation. He did suggest friendly and practical coöperation between the American nations to make their own Hemisphere safe for peace, and by so doing to advance the cause of peace throughout the world. The initiative taken by President Roosevelt received the immediate and unanimous support of all of the other Presidents of the two Americas. By common agreement, the great capital of the Argentine Republic was selected as a meeting place for the Conference, and the invitations were extended by the President of Argentina.

The Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace held at Buenos Aires obviously did not assemble without extended preparatory work. There was a thorough unanimity of opinion on the part of the twenty-one participating Governments as to the objectives to be attained, as well as a very clear understanding on their part as to the methods through which attainment must be sought.

The agenda for the Conference was prepared in a spirit of complete democracy. A special committee was created composed of representatives of all of the American republics. To that committee each Government indicated the topic or topics which it wished to see included in the agenda. This program, based upon the principle of unanimity, in accordance with prior precedents for inter-American conferences, was then submitted to the Governing Board of the Pan American Union and was given formal approval by all of the Governments concerned. The date for the opening session was fixed for December 1, 1936.

During the intervening months, the majority of the American Governments undertook informally to consult the other participating governments as to certain specific projects for conventions or resolutions, based upon the subjects included in the agenda, which they desired to submit for the approval of the Conference. These discussions were invaluable in ascertaining the views and reactions of the respective governments, and assisted materially in preparing the way for expeditious, constructive and conciliatory debates when the Conference actually assembled.


Among the most significant achievements of the Conference should be listed the "Declaration of Principles of Inter-American Solidarity and Coöperation" adopted by the Conference upon the initiative of the five republics of Central America. The text of this Declaration is as follows:

The Governments of the American Republics, having considered:

That they have a common likeness in their democratic form of government, and their common ideals of peace and justice, manifested in the several Treaties and Conventions which they have signed for the purpose of constituting a purely American system tending towards the preservation of peace, the proscription of war, the harmonious development of their commerce and of their cultural aspirations demonstrated in all of their political, economic, social, scientific and artistic activities;

That the existence of continental interests obliges them to maintain solidarity of principles as the basis of the life of the relations of each to every other American nation;

That Pan Americanism, as a principle of American International Law, by which is understood a moral union of all of the American Republics in defense of their common interests based upon the most perfect equality and reciprocal respect for their rights of autonomy, independence and free development, requires the proclamation of principles of American International Law; and

That it is necessary to consecrate the principle of American solidarity in all non-continental conflicts, especially since those limited to the American Continent should find a peaceful solution by the means established by the Treaties and Conventions now in force or in the instruments hereafter to be executed.

The Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace


1. That the American Nations, true to their republican institutions, proclaim their absolute juridical liberty, their unrestricted respect for their several sovereignty and the existence of a common democracy throughout America;

2. That every act susceptible of disturbing the peace of America affects each and every one of them, and justifies the initiation of the procedure of consultation provided for in the Convention for the Maintenance, Preservation and Reestablishment of Peace, executed at this Conference; and

3. That the following principles are accepted by the international American community:

(a) Proscription of territorial conquest and that, in consequence, no acquisition made through violence shall be recognized;

(b) Intervention by one State in the internal or external affairs of another State is condemned;

(c) Forcible collection of pecuniary debts is illegal; and

(d) Any difference or dispute between the American nations, whatever its nature or origin, shall be settled by the methods of conciliation, or full arbitration, or through operation of international justice.

The principles embodied in this document mark not only a new day in inter-American relations, but perhaps a brighter day as well in the history of the world. When the twenty-one nations of the New World proclaim "the existence of a common democracy throughout America;" state "that every act susceptible of disturbing the peace of America affects the peace of each and every one of them" and justifies consultation between them; and (in the third article) proclaim their faith in the most enlightened practice possible in the dealings of one state with another -- that declaration of policy not only gives assurance that we of this Hemisphere can maintain peace among ourselves, but also holds out hope to war-weary peoples in other parts of the world that right and justice and fair dealing and liberty still exist and have not yet vanished.

In the same spirit the Conference adopted the "Convention for the Maintenance, Preservation, and Reestablishment of Peace." This Convention is very brief but it marks a great step forward in inter-American relationships. It establishes in contractual form the obligation on the part of the American republics to consult together for the purpose of finding and adopting methods of peaceful coöperation in certain contingencies. This consultation shall take place whenever the peace of the American republics is menaced, whether that menace arises through the threat of war between American states, or whether it be of any other nature whatsoever; and, secondly, "in the event of an international war outside America which might menace the peace of the American Republics," in order to "determine the proper time and manner in which the signatory states, if they so desire, may eventually coöperate in some pacific action tending to preserve the peace of the Continent."

In the Convention under reference, the mechanism for consultation would be the respective foreign offices, since these are the natural and normal agencies for consultation between governments. The world has learned by experience during these past twenty years that there is nothing more difficult than to secure practical results from negotiations between nations in a time of grave crisis or of threatened conflict, unless the mechanism for and the scope of such consultation have been previously determined. Nor is it a simple matter for a party to a dispute to accept the good offices of other nations, unless this has been provided for in advance, because of the fact that public opinion at home has become aroused as a result of the controversy, and too often considers that the mere tender of friendly offices by nations not involved demonstrates partiality for the other party to the dispute. If experience has taught us anything, it is that the way to avert war is not to wait until the storm is breaking, but to seek the pacific solution when the cloud of controversy no bigger than the palm of a man's hand first appears on the horizon.

The world has also learned that the staunchest safeguard against war today possessed by mankind is the force of public opinion freely expressed. What this Convention provides is something new on this Hemisphere. It provides that whenever there is any threat to the maintenance of peace in the Americas, however remote that threat may be, any American state shall possess the right to bring about consultation between all of the American Governments in order to avert the danger. And it is equally clear that whenever such consultation is requested and is undertaken, the force of public opinion of our respective democracies will rally strongly in support of a peaceful solution. If this convention had been operative in the earlier stages of the Chaco dispute between Bolivia and Paraguay, if the good offices of all the American Governments not parties to the controversy had been brought into play, and if the peoples and the press of the American republics had insisted that a solution could and must be obtained without war, the two Governments directly involved would certainly have been greatly assisted in their endeavor to find an equitable and satisfactory solution. It is well known that the Chaco War continued until the mediatory efforts of a group of American republics comprising Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Uruguay and the United States assisted the two antagonists in finding a method of restoring peaceful conditions. Endeavors were made by many of the American republics throughout the period of the controversy to lend their good offices; but there was no continental understanding of the purposes of consultation, there was no rallying of the forces of continental public opinion, and there was no agreement such as we now possess for obligatory consultation between all whenever peace is jeopardized.

In complete harmony with the Convention just referred to is the "Convention to Coördinate, Extend, and Assure the Fulfillment of the Existing Treaties between the American States." This second Convention adopted at Buenos Aires refers specifically to the five peace instruments to which the American republics in overwhelming majority are already parties -- the Gondra Treaty to Avoid and Prevent Conflicts, of 1923; the Pact of Paris, known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact, of 1928; the General Convention of Inter-American Conciliation, of 1929; the General Treaty of American Arbitration, also of 1929; and the Treaty of Non-Aggression and Conciliation, known as the Anti-War Pact, signed in 1933. It reaffirms the obligations contracted in those earlier treaties by the American nations, to settle by pacific means controversies that may arise between them.

Each party to this new Convention likewise agrees that when an emergency arises affecting the common interest in the maintenance of peace it will, through consultation and coöperation, assist the other American republics in fulfilling existing obligations for pacific settlement, recognizing at the same time the general right of each to individual liberty of action. It is further stipulated that should a controversy arise between two or more of the parties, and should consultation on the part of all of the American republics take place, the parties in dispute shall have no recourse to hostilities nor take any military action whatever during a period of six months. Furthermore, American states which may be involved in some controversy and which are unable to settle the dispute by diplomatic negotiation, agree not only to have recourse to the peace instruments above cited, but also to report the method for pacific settlement which they adopt, and the progress made thereby in the adjustment of their dispute, to the other signatory states. In the event that any American republics should fail to carry out their obligation to settle solely by pacific means the controversies which may arise between them, the signatories agree to "adopt in their character as neutrals a common and solidary attitude;" to consult immediately with one another and to "consider the imposition of prohibitions or restrictions on the sale or shipment of arms, munitions and implements of war, loans or other financial help, to the states in conflict, in accordance with their municipal legislation, and without detriment to their obligations derived from other treaties," in order to discourage or prevent the spread or prolongation of hostilities.

But the Conference likewise specifically reaffirmed the principle of non-intervention in the internal or external affairs of other states. Through an admirable treaty on the prevention of controversies suggested by the Government of Chile, it provided for the establishment of permanent bilateral mixed commissions between each American republic and each of the other American republics, these commissions to be composed of representatives of the two Governments in question, for the purpose of studying and eliminating the causes of possible future difficulties. Through an equally effective treaty proposed by the Government of Brazil, recourse may be had to the good offices or mediation of an eminent citizen of any American republic, to be chosen from a permanent list, in the event of a controversy arising which might require such friendly service. Through a convention on the Pan American Highway, sponsored by the Government of Mexico, practical steps are proposed to expedite and facilitate the construction of that artery of communication between the American republics.

The Conference likewise unanimously adopted two resolutions pledging the support of the American republics to the principles of a liberal trade policy. They recommended the suppression of all discriminatory practices in their commercial policy, including those arising in connection with import license systems, exchange control, and bilateral clearing and compensation agreements, and urged the other countries of the world to join with them in removing those artificial barriers to trade which today exist and which have done and are doing so much to threaten the maintenance of peace. They likewise recommended that a policy of reducing excessive or unreasonable prohibitions and restrictions upon international commerce be immediately undertaken and carried forward through the conclusion or revision of bilateral economic or commercial agreements and treaties.

Finally, through a convention for the promotion of inter-American cultural relations, proposed by the Delegation of the United States, each of the American Governments will award fellowships in some one of their universities or colleges to two graduate students or teachers from each other American country, and will receive an exchange professor from each of the other republics to lecture and to teach in appropriate institutions of learning. Such cultural interchange will contribute enormously to a better appreciation abroad of the methods of government and of the habits of thought and modes of life in each of the respective countries, and will assist greatly in preventing the misconceptions and needless misunderstandings which unfortunately have so often prejudiced inter-American relations in the past.

Such were the chief tangible achievements of the Conference. But it would be impossible to ignore an equally important aspect of its work. The Conference opened in harmony and adjourned in harmony. Friction, recrimination, and suspicion on the part of certain delegations regarding ulterior motives and objectives of others were completely lacking. Each delegation possessed outstanding statesmen from the republic which it represented, and each delegation contributed its full share to the final accomplishment. There has been no previous inter-American conference where a spirit of such complete democracy prevailed or where the agreements concluded were arrived at more openly.


The Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace constitutes only one milestone on the long road to be traveled before the American republics achieve that "solidarity" which they proclaimed at Buenos Aires as being in their common interest. Many steps remain to be taken. The chief immediate requisites may be summarized as follows:

At the council table of the Americas there exists today real equality as between the participating governments. So long as this condition, so recently achieved, prevails and is consecrated, there will be no danger of the creation of blocs or special alignments which would gravely impair the growth of a living Pan American spirit or the maintenance of peace itself on this Hemisphere. The insistence of any one government that because of its physical or economic resources it should possess any form of hegemony over some other American republic would constitute a threat to the security of all.

The improvement of communications between the American republics is an imperative need. The great advance made in airplane connections during recent years have been in the highest degree beneficial to the political and commercial relationships of the American peoples. Communication by high road is in many cases nonexistent. The construction of the proposed Inter-American Highway would be a great step forward. When the average citizen of the United States can travel by automobile to Argentina through Mexico, the Republics of Central America, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile, and when the citizens of those nations can travel north by the same route, there will be established a most useful current of constant intercommunication. Similarly, high road communication must be developed between the republics of the Atlantic coast of South America.

There is likewise urgent need for the improvement of shipping facilities between many parts of the Hemisphere, and, in particular, between the republics of the eastern coast of South America and the United States. Maritime communications from Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil to Europe are far more extensive, rapid and commodious, than those which exist between those three great nations and the United States. It is futile to speak of any great improvement in inter-American trade relations until this situation is corrected.

While at Buenos Aires the several governments declared their intention of adopting a non-discriminatory and liberal trade policy as between themselves, there still remain artificial barriers and impediments to the flow of commerce between them which must be leveled before inter-American commerce can flow along normal channels. And although the United States has taken the lead in the negotiation of bilateral trade agreements, based upon the unconditional most-favored-nation principle, only a beginning has been made. No greater advance towards inter-American interdependence can be made than in the rapid prosecution of this program.

Mankind's need for a practical demonstration of the value of reason, coöperation, and conciliation in the relations between governments was never greater than today. The Conference of Buenos Aires responded to this need. The nations of the Western World there demonstrated their capacity to devise a sane balance between nationalism and international coöperation. As peoples in whom there has ever been instinct faith in the representative form of government, the American democracies have in fact -- as President Roosevelt phrased it in his address at the opening session of the Conference -- "offered hope to our brethren overseas." The example offered should encourage other nations elsewhere -- even though their problems may be more ancient, more difficult of solution -- to join with the American republics in renouncing aims that can only be achieved by war, in fashioning methods whereby all may have equitable means of access to the world's natural resources, and in composing by peaceful arrangements the injustices which may exist between them and which, if not rectified, may endanger the peace of the world.

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  • SUMNER WELLES, Assistant Secretary of State; one of the American Delegates to the recent Buenos Aires Conference; author, "Naboth's Vineyard"
  • More By Sumner Welles