Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Rio Pact (September 1947)

Agreement drawn up in September 1947 and formally known as the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance that created a mutual defense system for the Western Hemisphere. World War II motivated multilateral cooperation in the Americas. After the United States entered the war in December 1941, most American nations supported the United States by declaring war on the Axis nations or by severing relations with them. Encouraged by wartime solidarity, American leaders fashioned an inter-American system of collective security at a series of international conferences. In 1945 foreign secretaries signed the provisional Act of Chapultepec in Mexico City, stating that an attack against any nation in the hemisphere would be considered an act of aggression against all the signatories of the declaration.

The Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Continental Peace and Security that produced the Rio Pact met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during 15 August–2 September 1947. Signed by the United States and twenty other American countries including former Axis sympathizer Argentina, the pact made the Act of Chapultepec a permanent treaty. The inter-American system was based on the preexisting principle that an attack against one American nation was to be considered an attack against them all.

The prototype for the formation of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, the Rio Pact went into effect on 3 December 1948 after ratification by two-thirds of the signatory nations. It became the principal document regulating mutual security and conflict resolution within the inter-American system. Signatories decided by a two-thirds majority what kind of collective action would be taken, ranging from breaking diplomatic relations to imposing economic sanctions and using armed force, but no state was required to use such force. In addition to being an anti-communist Cold War agreement, the pact was also invoked to resolve many interhemispheric controversies. Signatories pledged to submit all hemispheric disputes for settlement according to the procedures of the inter-American system before bringing cases to the United Nations (UN).

The terms of the Rio Pact became the foundation for the 1948 Act of Bogotá, which established the Organization of American States (OAS), and implementing the Rio Pact became a primary responsibility of that body during the Cold War. U.S. President John F. Kennedy described the 1962 Soviet-Cuban maneuver to introduce nuclear missiles into Cuba as a violation of the Rio Pact. He invoked the authorization for the use of force under the pact (for the first time) against Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

When U.S. leaders believed that communism threatened their nation's hemispheric interests, they often circumvented the Rio Pact and acted unilaterally, either covertly, as in the 1954 Guatemala intervention by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or overtly, as in the U.S. military's 1983 invasion of Grenada. The pact was invoked numerous times during the Cold War but fell into disuse as Latin Americans became dissatisfied with U.S. domination of the inter-American system and as Cold War threats ceased.

David M. Carletta


Further Reading
Smith, Gaddis. The Last Years of the Monroe Doctrine, 1945–1993. New York: Hill and Wang, 1994.; Stoetzer, O. Carlos. The Organization of American States. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1993.
 

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