Act of Chapultepec Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

As World War II drew to a close, nations in the Americas were eager to reaffirm their relationships with each other and with the United States. All Central and South American nations had supported the Allies throughout the war, except Uruguay and Argentina, which both remained neutral for much of the war before finally siding with the Allies. An inter-American conference met at the Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City between February 21 and March 8, 1945, with delegations attending from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The conference, formally named the Inter-American Conference on War and Peace, produced the Act of Chapultepec, a framework for security in the Americas. Nations who signed the act agreed that an act of aggression against any American state would be seen as an act against all and promised to consult with one another and, if necessary, to act to repel the aggression. They promised to use collective measures, including diplomatic pressure, the interruption of commerce and communication, even armed force if needed, to bring aggressive states into line. At the United Nations Conference on International Organization, held a month later in San Francisco, Latin American countries confirmed their Chapultepec agreements, and in 1948, the Organization of American States (OAS) was founded in order to settle disputes between American states and provide a structure for mutual defense and economic cooperation.

Summary Overview

As World War II drew to a close, nations in the Americas were eager to reaffirm their relationships with each other and with the United States. All Central and South American nations had supported the Allies throughout the war, except Uruguay and Argentina, which both remained neutral for much of the war before finally siding with the Allies. An inter-American conference met at the Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City between February 21 and March 8, 1945, with delegations attending from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The conference, formally named the Inter-American Conference on War and Peace, produced the Act of Chapultepec, a framework for security in the Americas. Nations who signed the act agreed that an act of aggression against any American state would be seen as an act against all and promised to consult with one another and, if necessary, to act to repel the aggression. They promised to use collective measures, including diplomatic pressure, the interruption of commerce and communication, even armed force if needed, to bring aggressive states into line. At the United Nations Conference on International Organization, held a month later in San Francisco, Latin American countries confirmed their Chapultepec agreements, and in 1948, the Organization of American States (OAS) was founded in order to settle disputes between American states and provide a structure for mutual defense and economic cooperation.

Defining Moment

The United States had been concerned with the defense of Americas against further European conquest or influence since the founding of the nation, and in 1823, the Monroe Doctrine stated clearly that European attempts to further colonize or interfere with American nations would be considered acts of aggression to which the United States would respond. Though defense was critical, economic and political cooperation was pursued as well. In the First International Conference of American States, held in Washington, DC, in 1890, American nations discussed how to encourage greater communication among themselves and also promoted economic cooperation and an arbitration system to settle disputes. From this meeting sprang the International Union of American Republics, followed by the Pan American Union, and eventually the Organization of American States. It is this First International Conference of American States that the Act of Chapultepec refers to when it states, “The American states have been incorporating in their international law, since 1890, by means of conventions, resolutions and declarations” certain shared principals.

With the coming of the world wars of the twentieth century, however, American countries grew increasingly concerned with their common defense. In the years before the outbreak of World War II, Adolf Hitler made overtures toward South and Central American states, asking for military cooperation and negotiating trade agreements. Of particular concern to the United States was the security of the Panama Canal, the ability of spies to enter the United States through Latin America, and the capacity of these spies to set up communications networks to relay information abroad. In 1936, the Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace agreed to mutual defense in case of a European war. During the war, all American states supported the Allies, with the exception of Uruguay and Argentina, and nine Central American states signed the 1942 Declaration by the United Nations (an international statement of intention to create a world body, the United Nations), joined by others in subsequent years.

By March 1945, Germany was on the verge of collapse, and Japan was in retreat in the Pacific. American states were eager to reaffirm their relationships with and obligations to each other and with the United States and to play a role in shaping the postwar world. The Inter-American Conference on War and Peace convened in Mexico City in late February and early March 1945, with high-ranking delegates from twenty-one countries. The conference was a turning point in Pan-American relationships, with the attendees agreeing to mutual defense and arbitration and reaffirming shared statements of belief in principals of international law that had been agreed on at other American conferences throughout the previous decades. These agreements came at a time when international relations were in flux and the structure of the new postwar world was being vigorously debated. The United Nations had been formed, but was yet to be established internationally. The 1944 Dumbarton Oaks Conference had seen delegations from China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States debating the form and structure of the organization that would be responsible for world security in the future. American states also wanted to play a role in this shaping of the postwar world.

Historical Document

60 Stat. 1831; Treaties and Other International Acts Series 1543

RECIPROCAL ASSISTANCE AND AMERICAN SOLIDARITY

WHEREAS:

The peoples of the Americas, animated by a profound love of justice, remain sincerely devoted to the principles of international law;

It is their desire that such principles, notwithstanding the present difficult circumstances, prevail with even greater force in future international relations;

The inter-American conferences have repeatedly proclaimed certain fundamental principles, but these must be reaffirmed at a time when the juridical bases of the community of nations are being re-established;

The new situation in the world makes more imperative than ever the union and solidarity of the American peoples, for the defense of their rights and the maintenance of international peace;

The American states have been incorporating in their international law, since 1890, by means of conventions, resolutions and declarations, the following principles:

a) The proscription of territorial conquest and the non-recognition of all acquisitions made by force (First International Conference of American States, 1890);

b) The condemnation of intervention by one State in the internal or external affairs of another (Seventh International Conference of American States, 1933, and Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace 1936);

c ) The recognition that every war or threat of war affects directly or indirectly all civilized peoples, and endangers the great principles of liberty and justice which constitute the American ideal and the standard of American international policy Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace, 1936);

d) The system of mutual consultation in order to find means of peaceful cooperation in the event of war or threat of war between American countries (Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace, 1936);

e) The recognition that every act susceptible of disturbing the peace of America affects each and every one of the American nations and justifies the initiation of the procedure of consultation (Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace, 1936);

f ) The adoption of conciliation, unrestricted arbitration, or the application of international justice, in the solution of any difference or dispute between American nations, whatever its nature or origin (Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace, 1936);

g) The recognition that respect for the personality, sovereignty and independence of each American State constitutes the essence of international order sustained by continental solidarity, which historically has been expressed and sustained by declarations and treaties in force (Eighth International Conference of American States, 1938);

h) The affirmation that respect for and the faithful observance of treaties constitute the indispensable rule for the development of peaceful relations between States, and that treaties can only be revised by agreement of the contracting parties (Declaration of American Principles, Eighth International Conference of American States, 1938);

i) The proclamation that, in case the peace, security or territorial integrity of any American republic is threatened by acts of any nature that may impair them, they proclaim their common concern and their determination to make effective their solidarity, coordinating their respective sovereign wills by means of the procedure of consultation, using the measures which in each case the circumstances may make advisable (Declaration of Lima, Eighth International Conference of American States, 1938);

j ) The declaration 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 all the American States (Declaration XV of the Second Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Habana, 1940);

The furtherance of these principles, which the American States have constantly practiced in order to assure peace and solidarity among the nations of the Continent, constitutes an effective means of contributing to the general system of world security and of facilitating its establishment;

The security and solidarity of the Continent are affected to the same extent by an act of aggression against any of the American States by a non-American State, as by an act of aggression of an American State against one or more American States;

PART I

The Governments Represented at the Inter-American Conference on Problems of War and Peace

DECLARE:

1. That all sovereign States are juridically equal among themselves.

2. That every State has the right to the respect of its individuality and independence, on the part of the other members of the international community.

3. That every attack of a State against the integrity or the inviolability of the territory, or against the sovereignty or political independence of an American State, shall, conformably to Part III hereof, be considered as an act of aggression against the other States which sign this Act. In any case invasion by armed forces of one State into the territory of another trespassing boundaries established by treaty and demarcated in accordance therewith shall constitute an act of aggression.

4. That in case acts of aggression occur or there are reasons to believe that an aggression is being prepared by any other State against the integrity or inviolability of the territory, or against the sovereignty or political independence of an American State, the States signatory to this Act will consult among themselves in order to agree upon the measures it may be advisable to take.

5. That during the war, and until the treaty recommended in Part II hereof is concluded, the signatories of this Act recognize that such threats and acts of aggression, as indicated in paragraphs 3 and 4 above, constitute an interference with the war effort of the United Nations, calling for such procedures, within the scope of their constitutional powers of a general nature and for war, as may be found necessary, including: recall of chiefs of diplomatic missions; breaking of diplomatic relations; breaking of consular relations; breaking of postal, telegraphic, telephonic, radio-telephonic relations; interruption of economic, commercial and financial relations; use of armed force to prevent or repel aggression.

6. That the principles and procedure contained in this Declaration shall become effective immediately, inasmuch as any act of aggression or threat of aggression during the present state of war interferes with the war effort of the United Nations to obtain victory. Henceforth, and to the end that the principles and procedures herein stipulated shall conform with the constitutional processes of each Republic, the respective Governments shall take the necessary steps to perfect this instrument in order that it shall be in force at all times.

PART II

The Inter-American Conference on Problems of War and Peace

RECOMMENDS:

That for the purpose of meeting threats or acts of aggression against any American Republic following the establishment of peace, the Governments of the American Republics consider the conclusion, in accordance with their constitutional processes, of a treaty establishing procedures whereby such threats or acts may be met by the use, by all or some of the signatories of said treaty, of any one or more of the following measures: recall of chiefs of diplomatic missions; breaking of diplomatic relations; breaking of consular relations; breaking of postal, telegraphic, telephonic, radio-telephonic relations; interruption of economic, commercial and financial relations; use of armed force to prevent or repel aggression.

PART III

The above Declaration and Recommendation constitute a regional arrangement for dealing with such matters relating to the maintenance of international peace and security as are appropriate for regional action in this Hemisphere. The said arrangement, and the pertinent activities and procedures, shall be consistent with the purposes and principles of the general international organization, when established.

This agreement shall be known as the “Act of Chapultepec.”

[The final act of the Inter-American Conference on Problems of War and Peace was signed on March 8, 1945, by delegates representing Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela.]

Glossary

conciliation: to overcome the distrust or hostility of; placate; win over

demarcated: to determine or mark off the boundaries or limits of; to separate distinctly

juridical: of or relating to the administration of justice; legal

proscription: the act or state of proscribing; outlawry, interdiction or prohibition

Document Analysis

The Act of Chapultepec is divided roughly into sections representing the past, present, and future. The first section begins by reaffirming the long-standing relationship held among American states. The “peoples of the Americas” had been meeting since 1890 and are committed to common principals of international law. Although all the nations of the Americas were in agreement about basic principles, the signers are also in agreement that there is an opportunity for significant shifts in international relations in the postwar world, and these principals, therefore, “must be reaffirmed at a time when the juridical bases of the community of nations are being re-established.” Ten principals, established at other meetings and summits, are reaffirmed by the signers of the act. As additional confirmation of the unity of purpose of these nations, the dates and names of these previous meetings are given along with the agreement. The American states have agreed not to recognize territory taken by force and to condemn the intervention of states in each other's affairs. The countries have agreed that they are against war, and that disputes between any of them will impact all of them. Because of this, they have also agreed that a system of arbitration is the most appropriate way to settle disputes, and “continental solidarity” should be upheld and treaties respected. If outside nations invade or threaten any American state, it will be viewed as “an act of aggression against all the American States.” These common principals will ensure that the American states are part of the “general system of world security and of facilitating its establishment”—a reference to the pending establishment of the United Nations.

After the previous agreements have been confirmed, the act turns to how these principals should be applied immediately, while global war is still being waged, and what penalties would be appropriate to respond to aggression. It is agreed that any violation of national sovereignty in the Americas constitutes “interference with the war effort of the United Nations” (“United Nations” being another term for the Allies before the establishment of the formal world body). The nations signing the treaty agree to deal with aggression with escalating consequences as necessary, laid out in detail: “recall of chiefs of diplomatic missions; breaking of diplomatic relations; breaking of consular relations; breaking of postal, telegraphic, telephonic, radio-telephonic relations; interruption of economic, commercial and financial relations; use of armed force to prevent or repel aggression.”

The final section deals with the future. Once the war is over, the nations of the Americas will need to consider a treaty that will lay out consequences for aggression in a permanent form. This treaty will need to be “consistent with the purposes and principles of the general international organization, when established”—another reference to the United Nations.

Essential Themes

The primary theme of this agreement is the need for the states of the Americas to band together for mutual support and to repel any attack anywhere in the Americas. An attack on any member state would be considered an attack on all. At the same time, conflicts among American states needed to be settled by arbitration rather than war. Pan-American conferences had addressed these issues before, but it was necessary, in light of the international upheaval caused by World War II, to revisit previous agreements. The form of this agreement—a reaffirmation of the common principals established over the previous decades, as well as a declaration of how the nations of the Americas would use these principals to discourage aggression and provide for mutual defense, and finally a desire to conclude a treaty in keeping with the aims of the nascent United Nations—demonstrates the uncertainty of international relations in March 1945, when the war was ending, but not over, and the postwar world was imagined, with its outlines laid out by the presumed victors. The Act of Chapultepec was a step in this process, a regional agreement that upheld the principles of the United Nations.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Canyes, Manuel S. “The Inter-American System and the Conference of Chapultepec.” American Journal of International Law 39.3 (1945): 504–17. Print.
  • Green, David. The Containment of Latin America: A History of the Myths and Realities of the Good Neighbor Policy. Chicago: Quadrangle, 1971. Print.
  • Luard, Evan. A History of the United Nations: The Years of Western Domination, 1945–1955. New York: Macmillan, 1982. Print.
  • Schlesinger, Stephen C. Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations. Cambridge: Perseus, 2004. Print.
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