"This treaty, signed in Rio in 1947, is still called by many 'The Rio Treaty'. It is often referred to by other names, including 'Treaty of the Americas'."
When we were down in Central America last November, I learned something interesting about Costa Rica. They are a country without an Army. And to boot, a fairly small police force. I friend of mine was down there on vacation last week and that same question of national defense came up with his driver. My friend asked what Costa Rica would do if attacked by neighboring Nicaragua (who does have an army). His answer - "The United States would protect us."
I decided to do some research on this topic. Many probably already know about this. I did not - I guess my "wonkiness" only goes so far. In any event, we are bound to many nations under many different treaties. Our protection agreement with Costa Rica is part of a larger treaty signed in 1947 in Rio. Many nations from North America, Central America and South America signed this treaty. And the language in the treaty is quite clear.
The official name used today for this treaty is not "The Rio Treaty" or the "Treaty of the Americas". Is called the "Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance". That is a mouthful. Therefore, many just call it the Rio Treaty. And in that treaty we signed up for "hemispheric defense" of the region. In other words, an attack against one is considered an attack against all.
This well intention treaty almost fell completely apart during the Falklands War of 1982. This presented a "sticky wicket" for the United States. The Falkland Islands were in dispute between the United Kingdom and Argentina. In April of 1982, Argentina invaded the islands to take them back, make them at part of Argentina. When the British responded with force, the Argentine government involved the treaty. That meant the United States was bound to protect Argentina.
The United States determined that Argentina was the aggressor and therefore this conflict was outside the parameters of the treaty. The United States backed its longtime ally Great Britain. Once the war was over, many hard feelings remained with certain treaty countries. They wondered what good this treaty was.
The United States invoked the treaty after the 9/11 attacks. Four treaty countries sent troops or air support during the Iraq War. And some might still argue today that the Iraqi War had nothing to do with 9/11, and was therefor a misuse of the treaty.
A couple of interesting footnotes to this treaty. Not many know when the treaty was signed in 1947, Cuba was a signatory. To say the least, in 1961 that all came crashing down. Today, should our relations continue to improve with Cuba, maybe someday they will be back.
Also, neither Canada nor Mexico are a part of this treaty. We are the only ones in North America. Mexico was at one time, but bitter feelings remained after the Falklands War as well as worries about being pulled into a 9/11 war. In 2002, Mexico gave its two year notice of abrogation and left in 2004.
There are more treaties that are just as interesting. This one was the hot burner for me as we just left the region and I had an interest to know more. It is fascinating to know just who we are bound to protect in this world and who we are not. More to come in the future.