IO Files: US/A/AC.18/9

Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. John C. Ross, Deputy to the United States Representative at the United Nations (Austin)1

Participants: Sir Carl Berendsen—New Zealand Representative on the Interim Committee and Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Ambassador Austin
Mr. John [C.] Boss

Sir Carl Berendsen called at 2:30 this afternoon at his request.

He said that since he was leaving shortly for New Zealand he wanted to take back to his Government a firsthand expression of views of the United States Delegation with regard to the Interim Committee. With appropriate apologies for doing so, he spoke very bluntly and frankly throughout the conversation. He said that he was terribly disappointed in the meeting of the Interim Committee on Monday2 and he had already reported to his government that it was a complete “fiasco”. He said that the Members of the Committee were bewildered, not interested, and had nothing to say. In his opinion the United States had either lost all interest in the Interim Committee and was in effect [Page 213] abandoning it, or the United States was deliberately stalling3 in the hope, which he ventured to describe as “stupid”, that somehow or other the Soviet Union and satellites might be persuaded to participate. He said that his views were shared not by one or a half dozen, but by a great many of the other representatives at Monday’s meeting.

Sir Carl said that in his view the value of the Little Assembly was solely as a backstop for failures by the Security Council. He attached absolutely no importance to Article 11(1) or Article 13(1) a.4

On the question of the veto he was confident that the Interim Committee could accomplish nothing whatever. He thought debate of the veto in the Interim Committee would, however, serve the useful purpose of continuing to educate public opinion, not only in the United-States but throughout the world as to the implications of the veto. He thought that discussion of the veto to date had led to a very much better informed public opinion during the last twelve months and it would be desirable to continue the process of education. However, he did not see why such debate could not begin right away; he was dismayed by the proposed delay in consideration of the matter by the Interim Committee. In the course of his remarks Berendsen said that any mitigation of the effects of the veto simply would not be enough. It had to be eliminated entirely in order to have an effective collective security system. It was, however, Utopian to think that the veto could [Page 214] be eliminated. The Interim Committee might therefore be considered in a sense as a bridge between the present ineffective organization and an organization which might provide collective security for the rest of the world without Russia. He admitted, however, that any effort to accomplish this purpose would in effect result in two security systems involving a race for predominant power which could only end in catastrophe.

The general tenor and implication of all of Sir Carl’s remarks were that all of the Members of the Interim Committee looked to the United States for leadership and the United States had failed on Monday to provide it and he did not see any signs that it would be provided.

Ambassador Austin made it clear that he could not agree at all with the views Sir Carl had expressed. He thought that everything that should have been accomplished on Monday had been accomplished. There had not been any useless and pointless substantive discussion. The United States had proposed a specific resolution setting forth an orderly procedure whereby Members of the Committe could submit proposals concerning the veto and whereby these proposals could be considered thoughtfully. A committee on procedures had been established and set to work with instructions to report back by Friday. He emphasized that any Members could bring matters to the Interim Committee and that there was no barrier to discussion.

More specifically on the veto question the Ambassador told Sir Carl that before the Interim Committee could usefully undertake any consideration of this subject it was necessary to know whether the Soviet Union would concede anything at all with regard to the veto. He had spoken brieflly to Gromyko5 yesterday and tried to find out if Gromyko would be willing to participate in the consultations envisaged in the General Assembly resolution establishing the Interim Committee. It would be better to proceed patiently and slowly and find out just where the Soviet Union stands on this matter rather than rushing impetuously into it in the Interim Committee and thereby risk losing even whatever slight possibility there might be of getting Soviet acceptance of modifications in practice. The Ambassador was still hopeful and in any event meant to find out whether it would be possible to get any agreed interpretation with the Soviets of the meaning of the Four Power Statement; also whether it would be possible to get from them any agreement on the non-application of the veto by defining as procedural questions such matters as the establishment of commissions of investigation.

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It was my general impression that this conversation which lasted about an hour had at least made some dent in Berendsen’s pessimism and helped to straighten out his thinking on the Interim Committee.

John Ross
  1. Ambassador Warren R, Austin as U.S. Representative at the United Nations functioned in several capacities; on Jan. 3 he had been appointed by President Truman to be U.S. Representative in the Interim Committee of the General Assembly and Prof. Philip C. Jessup had been appointed Deputy U.S. Representative in the Interim Committee.
  2. The first meeting of the Interim Committee, established by resolution of the General Assembly on Nov. 21, 1947, was held on Jan. 5, 1948. For a summary record of the meeting, see United Nations document A/AC. 18/SR. 1, Jan. 5, 1948.
  3. The Interim Committee, charged by the General Assembly resolution of Nov. 21, 1947 to investigate the problem of voting in the Security Council, had been presented with a draft resolution by the United States at its first meeting which read in part:

    The Interim Committee, to give effect to the request of the General Assembly,

    Requests the Members of the United Nations, which desire to submit proposals on the problem of voting in the Security Council, to transmit them to the Secretary-General on or before 15 March 1948;

    Requests the Secretary-General to circulate any and all such proposals immediately upon receipt thereof to all Members of the United Nations;

    Requests the Chairman of the Interim Committee to bring up for consideration the problem of voting in the Security Council when the Secretary-General shall have ascertained that all Members desiring to do so have submitted proposals, but in any case not later than 15 March 1948.”

    (United Nations document A/AC. 18/11, Jan. 12, 1948)

  4. Article 11 (1) reads: “The General Assembly may consider the general principles of cooperation in the maintenance of international peace and security, including the principles governing disarmament and the regulation of armaments, and may make recommendations with regard to such principles to the Members or to the Security Council or to both.”

    Article 13 (1) a reads: “The General Assembly shall initiate studies and make recommendations for the purpose of:

    a. promoting international cooperation in the political field and encouraging the progressive development of international law and its codification. …”

    These were presumed to be fitting subjects for the consideration of the newly established Interim Committee, in the development of a work program for the committee.

  5. Andrey Andreyevich Gromyko, Permanent Representative of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics at the United Nations.