Memorandum by the Director of the Office of Special Political Affairs (Hiss)65

Exemption of U.S. Citizens From National Service Obligations Under the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations

the problem

Section 18(c) of the proposed Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations provides:

“Officials of the United Nations shall … (c) be immune from national service obligations.”

When the Convention was approved and opened for ratification by the General Assembly on February 13, 1946, the United States Delegation reserved its position on this point in so far as it applies to United States nationals on the ground that the question is properly for Congressional determination.66 (31st Plenary Meeting, General Assembly Journal No. 31, February 14, 1946, p. 574). In the eleventh meeting of Committee 6 on February 7, 1946, the Ukrainian delegate made the same reservation and called attention to similar reservations by the U.S.S.R. and Byelorussia in the subcommittee which drafted the Convention.

It is anticipated that the Convention will shortly be submitted to the [Page 116] Congress for approval prior to ratification. In the letter of transmittal,67 the Department of State takes no position as to whether the reservation should be made definitive, but calls attention to the preliminary reservation referred to above, and states that the Department will express its views on the subject if requested to do so.

The United Kingdom, which was the strongest advocate of exemption from military service, is the only state officially known to have ratified the Convention. This action is understood to have been without reservation.


If called upon to state its position, the Department should oppose the exemption of U.S. nationals from military service, and should favor a reservation as to Section 18 (c)
At the same time, it would be appropriate if the Department representative were to point out that the opposite point of view which is apparently shared by the great majority of the United Nations, is thus left without a spokesman unless he himself should state the argument, or unless the Committee should request the attendance for this purpose of a representative of the United Nations. If asked to present the argument, he might appropriately place in the record the statement made in support of the proposition at the Plenary Meeting when the matter was discussed. (Statement attached hereto as annex.68)


The principal argument in support of the exemption from national service obligations is that the existence of such obligations with respect to employees of the Organization is incompatible with the idea of a truly international civil service. (See annexed statement.)

SPA is inclined to feel on the other hand that the question of principle does not really arise in this way. The United Nations does not have the type of international status on which this point of view would have to be predicated. Taking this into account, we do not feel that the needs of the United Nations in this respect are such as to outweigh the responsibilities of citizens to perform military service, which is, in an important respect, the highest and most far-reaching obligation in citizenship.

Since small numbers of men would be involved in any case, we do not feel that the decision should be influenced by considerations of hardship either to the United Nations or to the national defense requirements of this Government.

  1. Addressed to Senator Austin and the Legal Adviser (Fahy).
  2. See footnote 28, p. 74.
  3. This might more appropriately read: “In the draft letter of transmittal. …”; see footnote 47, p. 98.
  4. Not printed here. For extract from the remarks of Sir Hartley Shawcross (United Kingdom) to the General Assembly on February 13, see GA(I/1), Plenary, pp. 453–454.