Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The countries of the Western Hemisphere met in an attempt to formulate strategies for avoiding warfare in the region. The conference set the tone for future relations among North, Central, and South American nations.

Summary of Event

Prospects for world peace diminished during 1936. Imperial Japan had taken over Manchuria in 1931 and threatened to invade China. Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini had sent his army into Ethiopia in order to build Italy’s African empire. German chancellor Adolf Hitler hoped to unite Austria, the country of his birth, with Germany, and he also wanted to incorporate western Czechoslovakia into the greater German Reich. Spain’s Fascist military leader Francisco Franco and his troops rebelled against the central government and began a civil war that lasted for three years (1936-1939) before Franco defeated the Spanish Republican forces and took power. [kw]Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace (Dec., 1936)[Inter American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace (Dec., 1936)] [kw]Conference for the Maintenance of Peace, Inter-American (Dec., 1936) [kw]Peace, Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of (Dec., 1936)[Peace, Inter American Conference for the Maintenance of (Dec., 1936)] Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace[Interamerican Conference] Peace conferences;Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace[Interamerican Conference] Good Neighbor Policy Diplomacy;peace conferences [g]Argentina;Dec., 1936: Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace[09310] [g]Latin America;Dec., 1936: Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace[09310] [g]United States;Dec., 1936: Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace[09310] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Dec., 1936: Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace[09310] [c]Government and politics;Dec., 1936: Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace[09310] Roosevelt, Franklin D. [p]Roosevelt, Franklin D.;Good Neighbor Policy Hull, Cordell Saavedra Lamas, Carlos

In addition to the outbreak of strife in continental Europe, turmoil in the continents of Africa and Asia had also become a serious concern for the countries in the Western Hemisphere. As a group, the Americas were suffering from the continuation of the serious economic depression that had begun in 1929, and an expansion of global unrest during the decade of the 1930’s only increased the severity of the depression. The need for the development of strong hemispheric economic program that would meet the needs of all of the countries in the Americas weighed heavily on those responsible for the planning of U.S. foreign policy.

Thousands of Italians and Germans had immigrated to Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil in the preceding fifty years. The Argentine army had many officers trained by the Germans and Italians, and German officers actually served with the Argentinians on regular tours of duty in that country. The U.S. State Department and War Department worried about whether the governments of Italy and Germany would attempt to utilize these close connections to influence foreign policy.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull were very concerned about the expansionist policies being used by Germany, Japan, and Italy. Could the Western Hemisphere be drawn into global conflict? To answer this question, in 1936 the American leaders called for a conference of the area’s independent nations to discuss a plan for preserving peace in the face of any threat from outside the hemisphere. Roosevelt traveled to South America at the conference’s opening, a trip that made him only the second American president to travel abroad to open a pan-American conference. He visited Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina, and he received a tremendous welcome in all three countries. Undoubtedly, the newly reelected president’s appearance at heavily attended public gatherings was a successful public relations strategy. Roosevelt took advantage of his popularity and stressed the need for the conference delegates to adopt a Good Neighbor Policy. He announced that the United States was committed to this principle and said that he hoped that the conference’s commitment to peaceful discussion of international disputes could serve as a model for the rest of the world.

The Latin American countries did not automatically respond to President Roosevelt’s statements. Historically, the United States had not been a good neighbor. In the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the U.S. government had sent troops into Mexico, Haiti, and Nicaragua, and the Americans had U.S. Marines stationed in Haiti as recently as 1934, although they were recalled in an attempt to demonstrate the commitment of the United States to the Good Neighbor Policy. Earlier in the century, however, President Theodore Roosevelt had fomented a civil war in Colombia’s Central American territory that led to the establishment of an independent Panama. He ordered support for the Panamanian rebels solely for the purpose of building the canal that would connect the two oceans and serve U.S. interests in the region. This shortcut greatly enhanced the shipment of trade goods from coast to coast.

Nevertheless, the Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace was held at Buenos Aires in December of 1936, and out of the conference came the framework for a Western Hemisphere agreement. The main provisions were as follows: All of the members agreed to respect the sovereignty of other members, all members would consult immediately if the peace of the American community of nations was disturbed, no acquisition of territory made through violence would be recognized, intervention by one state in the internal or external affairs of another was condemned, forcible collection of debt was made illegal, and any dispute between American nations had to be settled through conciliation, arbitration, or the operation of international justice. Much of the content of the declaration was designed to convince the Latin American nations that the United States truly intended to be a good neighbor, and the document set the tone for all future hemispheric meetings among the American states.

Significance

Although the Latin American countries agreed to adopt the concept of the Good Neighbor Policy, Argentine foreign minister Carlos Saavedra Lamas led these countries in insisting that the declarations clearly delineate the concept of equality for all of the conference’s members, and the conference set the stage for the maintenance of independence of action for all its participants.

Despite a proposal from the United States for a united front against the fascist dictatorships of Europe, Argentina pursued a policy of neutrality throughout World War II. That country’s independent action endorsed the concept that each participant in the Inter-American Conference had the right to formulate its own foreign and domestic positions. Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace[Interamerican Conference] Peace conferences;Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace[Interamerican Conference] Good Neighbor Policy Diplomacy;peace conferences

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bailey, Thomas Andrew. A Diplomatic History of the American People. 10th ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1980. Presents an overview of American diplomacy since the country’s founding.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gellman, Irwin F. Good Neighbor Diplomacy: United States Policies in Latin America, 1933-1945. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979. Provides a thorough history of the period.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Secret Affairs: Franklin Roosevelt, Cordell Hull, and Sumner Welles. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. An analysis of the three major actors in the development of the Good Neighbor Policy of the United States during the 1930’s and 1940’s.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hull, Cordell. The Memoirs of Cordell Hull. Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan, 1948. Autobiographical account of the U.S. State Department’s pan-American policies during Hull’s years as secretary of state.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Woods, Randall Bennett. The Roosevelt Foreign-Policy Establishment and the “Good Neighbor”: The United States and Argentina, 1941-1945. Lawrence: Regents Press of Kansas, 1979. Discussion provides insights into Argentine neutralism during World War II.

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