IO Files: SD/E/46

State Department Briefing Paper

Background Paper

Whether United States Representatives on the Commissions on the Economic and Social Council Should Be Under Formal Instruction

the problem

The Council at its second session4 decided that commissions shall be made up of “one representative from each of … (12 to 18) … Members of the United Nations”.5 The Council turned down the suggestions of several of the nuclear Commissions that members of the commissions should serve in their individual capacities rather than as government representatives and therefore should not be instructed.6 There is no statement to the effect that members of the commissions shall be instructed. The United States consistently has taken the position that better work can be done if members of the commissions are individual experts without instructions.7 The question is, therefore: [Page 196] Should the United States Government, in the light of the Council’s decision, formally instruct representatives on the various commissions in spite of its earlier position.

“It is felt that the prestige of certain types of commissions will be enhanced if it is clear that they are to conduct their investigations impartially and without undue concern for the political views of particular Member states. Emphasis on the individual capacities of commission members should help to keep commissions to manageable size by reducing the necessity for widespread distribution among Member states. It should in many cases be easier to obtain the services of highly qualified experts and persons of outstanding prestige if they are appointed primarily on the basis of their personal qualifications” (IO Files, USGA/Ia/SH Com/15, January 19, 1946).


It is recommended that United States Members of the Commissions be provided with general instructions covering major issues. They should be given an opportunity to collaborate in the preparation of their instructions. In the Commission meetings the U.S. Members will of necessity speak for the Government of the United States, but they should be free to speak in the light of circumstances and their individual reactions, being guided, of course, generally by their instructions. They would, of course, rarely if ever announce that they were speaking as individuals. They should have the right, for tactical as well as other reasons, to seek special instructions.


The United States has based its attitude in the past mainly upon the arguments: 1) That the best men can be obtained for the job and they will do their best work only if they are free from all political interference and pressure and can think for themselves; 2) That the Commissions are necessarily small bodies which must nevertheless consider the interests of the entire world. Governmental representatives instructed to follow the interests of their own country cannot be expected to represent other countries; 3) The presence of the press at all meetings will limit instructed representatives to careful statements as a result of the fear of committing their governments.

On the other hand, it is clear that recommendations must so far as possible, be consistent with policies of governments if they are to be implemented. Members of the Commissions must be familiar with these policies and act on lines generally consistent with them if useful work is to be done.

Moreover, since many of the members will be specifically instructed and will speak with the full prestige of their governments, the United States Members will be at a great tactical disadvantage if they can argue only on the basis of their personal opinions.

Finally, it appears that the maximum of flexibility would be desirable. It is suggested that the recommendation outlined above gives this flexibility and, at the same time, answers the arguments on both sides so far as possible. It will, of course, be necessary for United States Members of the Commission to make it clear when they are speaking as individuals in order to prevent any misunderstanding from arising from the fact that they will be called “representatives”.

  1. May 25–June 21, 1946, at New York; the first or organizing session had been held at London from January 23 to February 18.
  2. At the London session the Economic and Social Council had established five commissions on a temporary basis pending final determination of the scope and composition of said commissions. These were described at the time as “nuclear” commissions and comprised the Commission on Human Rights (with a sub-commission on the status of women); the Economic and Employment Commission; the Temporary Social Commission; the Statistical Commission; and the Temporary Transport Commission; also established was the permanent Commission on Narcotic Drugs. At the second session in New York commencing May 25 the scope of the above-named temporary commissions was defined and their composition settled upon, thus establishing them on a permanent basis.
  3. In respect of the question of the composition of the commissions of the Economic and Social Council United States policy at the Preparatory Commission, the first part of the first session of the General Assembly at London, and the two sessions of the Council in January–February and May–June had been generally to favor a commission membership that would be appointed on the basis of technical ability and professional competence, that is a nonofficial membership, though not without any reference to the governments of the countries from which the individual experts would be elected (see IO Files, documents USGA/Ia/SH Com/15, dated January 15, 1946, section I.A.5, and US/E/4, dated May 5, 1946).
  4. In a working paper prepared for the use of the United States Delegation to the General Assembly at London this view was stated as follows: