Address Delivered by the Under Secretary of State (Welles) at Panama, September 25, 1939


In accordance with the principles of the Convention for the Maintenance, Preservation, and Reestablishment of Peace, the Declaration of Inter-American Solidarity of Buenos Aires, and the Declaration of Lima, the Ministers of Foreign Relations of the American republics or their representatives are meeting here in Panama for the purpose of consultation. Under the terms of the agreements I have cited, this coming together to consult is not an undertaking into which we have entered lightly. We have, on the contrary, agreed and clearly stipulated that the consultation provided for in these agreements shall be undertaken when there exists in the belief of our respective governments a menace to the peace of the continent.

I speak, of course, solely in the name of my own Government, but I venture to assert that the government of every American republic coincides in the opinion that the outbreak of the general war with which the world today is confronted constitutes in very truth a potential menace to the well-being, to the security, and to the peace of the New World. And it is for that reason that we are meeting here in this historic city of Panama. We are today creating a precedent. The Conference for the Maintenance of Peace of Buenos Aires was called, as we all recognize, for the specific purpose of reaching a common understanding while world peace existed as to how the nations of the New World might best safeguard their legitimate interests, and most readily preserve the peace of their own peoples, in the event that war broke out in other parts of the world.

The meeting here assembled is the first and the direct result of the engagements undertaken at the Conference of Buenos Aires.

It is a meeting of the American neighbors to consider, in a moment of grave emergency, the peaceful measures which they may feel it wise to adopt either individually or jointly, so as best to insure their national interests and the collective interests of the nations of the New World.

And it is singularly fitting that this great practical demonstration of inter-American solidarity should be realized in Panama. Every one of us who meets here today will recognize that this assembly constitutes the realization of an ideal-the realization of the vision that Bolivar possessed more than a century ago-an ideal which time and again it had seemed could never be attained. It lies within the power of those of us who have the privilege of representing our governments upon this occasion to insure not only the attainment of that ideal, but also by so doing, to insure the lasting establishment of a peaceful form of practical cooperation and interdependence between equal and sovereign states on a scale which the world has rarely witnessed and which, at this moment, is more than ever imperative.

The purpose for which we meet and the topics which will come up for consideration are clearly set forth in the agenda upon which we have agreed. As my Government envisages it, it is our common desire to take under consideration the complicated question of our rights and duties as neutrals, in view of the outbreak of general war in Europe, with a view to the preservation of the peace of our respective nations and with a view towards obtaining complete respect on the part of all belligerents for our respective sovereignties. It would seem to me desirable, so far as conditions and our untrammeled rights of individual action make it possible, for us in this connection to give some thought to the desirability of our reaching some uniform standards of approach with regard to the steps which we may individually take in determining and in asserting our rights and obligations as neutrals. It would seem to me to be self-evident that should it be possible to attain such an objective, our individual capacity to maintain our sovereign rights unimpaired, as well as our ability to preserve the peace of our continent, would be correspondingly enhanced.

We are further agreed that we will give the fullest consideration to all measures which we may individually or collectively undertake to preserve the American Continent free from conflict and to keep war away from our New World.

Finally, we are agreed that we will undertake to discuss and to consider those practical steps which can most advantageously be undertaken to cushion our national economies from the shock of the war which has broken out and to prevent so far as may be possible that disruption and dislocation of inter-American economic, financial, and commercial intercourse which wrought such havoc during the years of the Great War of 1914-18. We are also in accord that we will give thought to the continuation and expansion of long-range programs for commercial and economic cooperation among our several republics.

In the economic sphere the struggle that is going on confronts us with difficulties of both an immediate and an ultimate character. We are already experiencing dislocations in our usual commerce. Some of the markets for our products will be closed or diminished; others will be greatly changed. We must anticipate difficulties disposing of war-created surpluses in some directions, which will result in lowering prices or in bringing new burdens to our public finances. In other directions we must anticipate an abnormally increased demand which will result in price increases, unexpected gains, and the dangers of expansion on temporary and unstable foundations.

Each of our nations will no doubt determine upon a program aimed to lessen the effects upon its own welfare of these dislocations. But there are many ways in which the American republics can assist each other in the task. We may be able, without undertaking discriminations against the rest of the world, substantially to increase our commerce with one another. Countries which have similar surplus problems may be able to devise temporary arrangements with each other that will ameliorate their situation.

By our concerted effort we may be able to achieve something in the maintenance of our usual trade in staple peace-time commodities with other neutral countries.

We all of us remember only too well the havoc which was occasioned our inter-American economic system after the war broke out in 1914. Inter-American shipping communications were either abandoned or were seriously crippled; the legitimate export trade of many republics-even that to their American neighbors-upon which in great part their national economy depended, was disrupted or destroyed with resultant misery and distress to their respective peoples. It appears to my Government that the opportunity is now afforded for us severally to assure ourselves and each other that this will not occur again.

So far as my own Government is concerned I am authorized to state that so long as the present situation continues, the regular transportation facilities of the shipping lines between the United States and its American neighbors now in operation will not only not be curtailed but will be strengthened and increased whenever such increase may be found to be desirable and feasible.

Financial assistance and cooperation may be developed to tide over short emergency periods and to develop in individual countries new fields of production to replace those temporarily depressed.

I am authorized to state that the United States Government wishes to cooperate with all other American republics in such efforts of each to develop the resources of its country along sound economic and noncompetitive lines. When desired it will assist in making credit available to them through the services and facilities of its privately owned banking system as well as its Government-owned agencies when the latter have funds available for such purposes.
In financing current matters, it is expected that only short-term credits will be requested, but in the purchase of rail and mill equipment, heavy goods, et cetera, longer term credits appropriate to the circumstances will be required. Also, it is of course recognized that war conditions may shift certain international trade markets, and this will need to be taken into account.

My Government likewise recognizes that excessive or unwarranted fluctuations in inter-American exchanges brought about by conditions resulting from the war situation would seriously prejudice beneficial trade between the American republics. It is my hope that our deliberations may result in agreement. To the extent that we sustain bases of commercial policy that are universal in character and leave trade open to all countries on substantially the same terms, and to the extent that our commerce is not dictated by special agreements of an exclusive character, to that extent can we insure that our political independence cannot be subjugated to alien political systems operating through commercial channels.

There is also incumbent upon us the task of keeping vigorous our belief that work and production should be primarily for peaceful welfare. If by our joint effort and strength we keep this continent free from the threat of aggression, we will greatly lessen the need of subordinating our individual productive energies by making preparatory arrangements which may assist in safeguarding against this danger.

These, as I understand them, are the specific and practical measures which we are called upon to consider. They are all of them problems of vital importance to the American republics-problems of the highest and most legitimate self-interest; but we all of us recognize I am sure that however much we may desire to insulate ourselves from the effects of this present conflict, such insulation can be only relative. It cannot in any event do more than mitigate insofar as we are able the disasters which will affect all peoples, belligerent or neutral, as a result of this world calamity.

Beyond these immediate problems produced by the war crisis there are problems which are deeper and more fundamental. We have prospered by regarding our commerce and production as designed to-serve, through the exercise of individual initiative, the ends of . public welfare and not the ends of political strategy. We shall be faced by the fact that various powerful countries in other parts of the world have now completely converted their own system of trade and production to another basis-making it an instrument of political or ideological ambition. By common determination and cooperation we can do much to avoid having our own purposes dominated by those of others or subordinated to military demands. But, since in these days it is essential to be strong (for we have seen all too often the fate of the weak), we can make every effort to see that our program of defense is of a character that reaffirms our faith in the powers of individual initiative and of free men. We can draw our strength from our liberties and from the contribution of men and women become strong and disciplined under conditions of freedom.

I believe that the time has come when the 21 American republics must state, and state clearly and in no uncertain terms, to all of the belligerents, both as a right of self-protection and as a right inherent in their position as peaceful and independent powers, constituting an entire continent remote from the causes of the hostilities which have broken out, that they cannot agree that their security, nationals, or their legitimate commercial rights be jeopardized by belligerent activities in close proximity to the shores of the New World. This assertion of principle, I believe, must be regarded as constituting a declaration of the inalienable right of the American republics to protect themselves, so far as conditions in this modern world make it possible, from the dangers and the repercussions of a war which has broken out thousands of miles from their shores and in which they are not involved.

But in the larger sense, every one of our nations, every one of our fellow citizens, is affected or will be affected by the growing tragedy of this new war.
War spells ruin, waste, torture, and death-not perhaps to the leaders who have wrought it, but to the countless numbers of humble men and women throughout the world who would have none of it. For there is nothing surer in the world today than that the vast mass of the common people everywhere have wanted above all else to prevent the war which has now broken out.

Far removed from the initial scene of hostilities as the Americas are, their interests have been jeopardized by the commencement of war. In modern civilization, every country has a natural right that war shall not be loosed upon humanity. This right was subscribed to by every nation of the civilized world in the so-called Pact of Paris, and it is this right, so solemnly subscribed to, that is today being flagrantly violated.

There is no moral justification for any nation to loose humanity when the resort to peaceful procedure controversies or of inequities is available.

The only possible road for achieving peace is through cooperation; this implies the juridic equality of every nation and the acceptance of a moral order and of effective international law. It assumes that controversies will be settled by peaceful processes and that all peoples will under these pacific processes cooperate on equal terms with generosity and with justice. It assumes that economic arrangements can be made which are entirely susceptible of satisfying the reasonable needs of any nation for beneficial trade, which will provide access on equal terms to world markets, access on equal terms to raw materials and which will satisfy the legitimate demand of all component factors which make for a peaceful life.

There is existing now and at this moment an overwhelming will the part of the peoples everywhere for peace based on renunciation force, on justice, and on equality, could it find expression.

It may well be that the facilitation of that means of expression will be determined by the part we play in this Western Hemisphere. We, the American republics, share in common a great heritage-the principles of democratic constitutional government, devotion to justice, respect for the pledged word, love of peace. We have created an American system, an American way of life, which is our chief contribution to world civilization. This way of life we must make every effort to protect, to safeguard, to pass on intact to future generations of our own peoples, and to maintain as an unflinching standard in a world in which each day that passes sees more standards, once believed inviolate, shattered and destroyed.

As the shadows created by the outbreak of this monstrous war darken and spread rapidly across the length and breadth of the world in which we live, the 21 free nations of the New World can still preserve for posterity those ideals and those beliefs which may well constitute the last great hope of the civilization which we have inherited.

Our influence for peace and for the reestablishment of a world order based on morality and on law must be unshaken and secure. To accomplish this we must, and we can, resolutely defend our continent from all menace of aggression, direct or indirect. To do so, we must make every effort to keep alive our liberal commercial policy in our relations with those other nations of the world who are willing to join with us. To do so, we must strengthen and fortify the solidarity of understanding and the identity of individual purpose which bind us closely together. To do so we must rely ever more resolutely upon the principles of freedom and of democracy and upon the ideals of our Christian faith, through which our nations have had their being and only through which can their future rest secure.


Source: U.S., Department of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1943, pp. 488-94


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