740.00119 (Potsdam)/5-2446

No. 228
Briefing Book Paper1

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Memorandum

Subject: Proposal for the Establishment of a Council of Foreign Ministers.

One of the most urgent problems in the field of foreign relations facing us today is the establishment of some procedure and machinery for the development of peace negotiations and territorial settlements without which the existing confusion, political uncertainty and economic stagnation will continue to the serious detriment of Europe and the world. The experience at Versailles following the last war does not encourage the belief that a full, formal peace conference is the best procedure. Such a conference would be slow and unwieldy, its sessions would be conducted in a heated atmosphere of rival claims and counter-claims and ratification of the resulting documents might be long delayed. On the other hand a formal peace conference limited to the three or four principal nations would encounter much opposition from [on?] the part of other members of the United Nations not invited to participate. It would also be subject to the oft-heard criticism that the big powers are running the world without consideration for the interests of smaller nations. The Department feels, therefore, that the best formula to meet the situation would be the establishment of a Council composed of the Foreign Ministers of Great Britain, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, China, France, and the United States. These are the countries which compose the permanent members of the Security Council of the world organization and by limiting its membership to these five the possible efforts which Russia or Great Britain might make to include in the membership countries closely identified with their respective foreign policies could be forestalled. It is our thought that this Council should meet as soon after the meeting of the three heads of government as preparations therefor can be completed. It would probably be advisable to hold the meeting elsewhere than in one of the capitals of the participating powers. Brussels or Vienna might be suitable. Each Foreign Minister should be accompanied by a high-ranking deputy who could carry on the work of the Council in the absence of his Chief. He should also be accompanied by a small group of experts and advisers, but it should be agreed that the major work of preparation would be undertaken by the respective foreign offices. The procedure of the Council should be [Page 286]adapted to the particular problem under consideration. Whenever the Council was considering a question of particular interest to a state not represented thereon, such a state should be invited to send representatives to participate in the discussion and study of that question. It is not intended, however, to fix hard and fast rules but rather to permit the Council to adapt its procedure to the particular problem under consideration.

There is attached a draft proposal which you may wish to present to Marshal Stalin and Prime Minister Churchill for consideration at the forthcoming meeting.

[Attachment]

Draft Proposal for the Establishment of a Council of Foreign Ministers

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With the termination of hostilities in Europe the United Nations are faced with the urgent problem of peace negotiations and territorial settlements without which the existing confusion, political uncertainty and economic stagnation will continue to the serious detriment of Europe and the world. The experience at Versailles following the last war does not encourage the belief that a full, formal peace conference is the procedure best suited to obtain the best results or to arrive at a solution conducive to those conditions of permanent peace which the United Nations organization is dedicated to uphold. Such a formal peace conference would necessarily be slow and unwieldy, its sessions would be conducted in an atmosphere of rival claims and counter-claims and ratification of the resulting documents might be long delayed. On the other hand, a formal peace conference limited to the three or four principal nations would almost certainly encounter much opposition on the part of other members of the United Nations not invited to participate. They would feel that problems of direct concern to them were being decided in their absence. The United States, therefore, offers the following proposal as the formula best suited to meet the problems ahead:

(1)
There shall be established a Council composed of the Foreign Ministers of Great Britain, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, China, France, and the United States.2
(2)
The Council shall hold its first meeting at ....... on ......3 Each of the Foreign Ministers shall be accompanied by [Page 287]a high-ranking deputy duly authorized and capable of carrying on the work of the Council in the absence of his Foreign Minister. He will likewise be accompanied by a small staff of technical advisers suited to the problems concerned and to the organization of a joint secretariat.
[(3)]
As its immediate important task, the Council would be authorized to draw up, with a view to their submission to the United Nations, treaties of peace with Italy, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Hungary and to propose settlements of territorial questions outstanding on the termination of the war in Europe. (At a later date, if the five governments agree, the Council might4 be utilized for the preparation of a peace treaty with Germany when it is mutually agreed that a German government adequate to the purpose is functioning.) The Council should not be limited, however, to consideration of the foregoing problems. It may by common accord give its attention to such other European problems of an emergency character as it may feel it can properly take up.
(4)
Whenever the Council is considering a question of direct interest to a state not represented thereon, such state should be invited to send representatives to participate in the discussion and study of that question. It is not intended, however, to fix hard and fast rules but rather to permit the Council to adapt its procedure to the particular problem under consideration. In some cases it might desire to hold its own preliminary discussions prior to the participation of other interested states. In other cases the Council might desire to convoke a formal conference of the states chiefly interested in seeking a solution of the particular problem. It is so authorized.

  1. Annex 1 to the attachment to document No. 177.
  2. In another copy of this paper in the Department of State files (file No. 740.00119 Council/6-3045), the word “China” has been deleted, and the following manuscript addition to this paragraph has been made by Yost: “If & when the Council deals with Asiatic affairs China shall become a full member.”
  3. Blanks in the original. Manuscript revisions in Matthews’ copy of the Briefing Book make this sentence read as follows: “The Council shall meet at ..... and its first meeting shall be held on.....”
  4. In Byrnes’ copy the word “shall” has been substituted in pencil for “might”. In Matthews’ copy the parentheses surrounding this sentence and the word “treaty” have been stricken, and the following substitute phrase has been written in the margin: “settlement for Germany to be accepted [by] the government of Germany when a government adequate for the purpose is established.”