IO Files: USGA/1a/AECom/29

United States Delegation Position Paper


The Voting Procedure of the Atomic Energy Commission

The Moscow Resolution18 is silent on the ways in which the proposed atomic energy commission shall reach its decisions or take any action. Its powers are of course only advisory but there must be some established method of arriving at the reports and recommendations which it is required to make.

The “Suggested Manner of Reaching Decisions in the Commission” (Document No. 13 in the book for the Moscow discussions)19 provided that on procedural matters decision should be reached by a majority, but that on substantive recommendations no formal vote should be taken; if unanimous approval could not be obtained for them, full reports of the various views should be forwarded to the General Assembly. It is not revealed in the Moscow Resolution whether this was acceptable to the U.S.S.R.

The question is now raised whether the placing of the commission under the Security Council instead of the General Assembly calls for any reconsideration of the suggested method of handling this problem, or whether it is acceptable as it stands.

Having the commission report directly to the Security Council rather than to the General Assembly means that the permanent members of the Council are assured of a veto over any final action taken on the reports and recommendations of the commission. Hence, so far as these powers are concerned, it would not seem to matter very much [Page 722] how the commission arrived at its decisions. In fact it would seem advisable to keep the manner of action as informal as possible in order to allow wide freedom to the commission in exploring all aspects of the problem of atomic warfare.

The only new question that arises is concerned with the provision for making public the reports and recommendations of the commission. Paragraph II (A) of the Resolution provides that the commission “shall submit its reports and recommendations to the Security Council, and such reports and recommendations shall be made public unless the Security Council in the interests of peace and security, otherwise directs.” This is a more generous provision than it appears at first sight since it means that the Security Council cannot prevent the reports and recommendations of the commission from being made public unless at least seven members including all five of the permanent members concur in such action. If any one of the five permanent members should not concur, then the Security Council cannot direct the commission to refrain from making its reports and recommendations public. In other words, so long as any single one of the five permanent members is willing to have the findings of the commission made public, the others cannot prevent it.

This is a very favorable provision from the standpoint of the work of the commission. It makes it possible for the commission to arrive at conclusions and make them public even though several great powers are in opposition. It removes the possibility that consideration of any one question can be blocked by a single great power. The Commission would be free to explore the pros and cons of all proposals and to make its findings public so long as it had the support of at least one permanent member of the Council. If the U.S.S.R. is prepared to accept this arrangement, the U.S. should also be willing to do so.

This means, of course, that the United States must be prepared to have the commission make public findings which are not in accord with the position of the United States on particular questions. For example, the commission might disagree with the position that the United States was entitled to an especially favorable position by reason of its present monopoly of the bomb. But the commission could do no more than make its findings public and it would not be likely to do so if the United States were antagonized thereby.

Some question might be raised as to whether the procedure for making public the reports and recommendations of the commission might lead to the unwanted disclosure of secret information entrusted to the commission. Under the arrangement suggested in Document no. 13, all different viewpoints on each question dealt with by the commission would be reported on, and if a single one of the five permanent members [Page 723] of the Security Council should be interested in having such reports made public, there would be no way of stopping it, even though it involved the disclosure of information bearing on the security of a member state. If this danger were a real one, it might deter nations from making information available to the commission and thus obstruct its work.

As a matter of fact, if a state is willing to disclose information to the commission, it would probably not object to having it made public to non-member states. Generally speaking, all the states which could make use of such information in any important way would be represented on the commission and would thus come into possession of it through their representatives. So far as the United States is concerned, any information which it would be willing to make available to the U.S.S.R. and other members of the commission would hardly be of a kind that it would want to keep from non-member states. Hence the danger of unwanted disclosure is really very slight.

On the whole, the procedure for making public the reports and recommendations of the commission as contained in the Moscow Resolution seems both liberal and forward-looking and should receive the whole-hearted support of the United States.

  1. The resolution under reference is that on atomic energy contained in the Communiqué of the Moscow Tripartite Conference of Foreign Ministers, December, 1945; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. ii, p. 822. For additional documentation on that conference, see ibid., pp. 560 ff. On January 6, 1946, Ernest Bevin, British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, transmitted the resolution to the Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission of the United Nations on behalf of the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, France, China, and Canada. The sponsoring nations requested that it be placed upon the agenda of the General Assembly. (United Nations, Official Records of the General Assembly, First Session, First Part, Plenary Meetings, p. 257. Hereafter cited as GA(I/1), Plenary.)
  2. Not printed.