501.BC/1–1648: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the United States Representative at the United Nations (Austin)


20. The following may be useful for your use in connection with first meeting Permanent Members of SC, Monday, Jan 19. Dept expects definitive US position on veto in SC and in IC will be formulated in light Of Five Power consultation and Committee of Experts1 considerations; accordingly, maximum freedom for future action in development of veto policy should be preserved.

The basic US position on veto in SC was expressed by Secretary Marshall in his statement to the GA on Sept 17, 1947,2 in which he stated that abuse of unanimity rule had prevented SC from fulfilling its true functions, particularly under Chap VI and in admission of new members; that US had come to conclusion that only practicable method for improving situation was a liberalization of voting procedure in Council; that US would be willing to accept, by whatever means may be appropriate, elimination of unanimity requirement under Chap VI and for such matters as applications for membership; that problem of how to achieve objective of liberalization was of significance and complexity for UN and deserved careful study, that consequently, the matter should be referred to a special committee for study and report to the next session of the GA and concurrently measures should be pressed in SC to bring about improvements within [Page 216] existing provisions of Charter through amendments to rules of procedure or other feasible means.

The US is committed to seek a liberalization of voting procedures of Council and, if necessary to that end, is willing to accept by any appropriate means elimination of veto in Chap VI and in membership questions. The US, however, is not committed to press for any specific method designed to achieve the improvement, such as amendment of the Charter or modification of San Francisco Statement.

In effort to achieve above aims the US believes that first step is consultation among permanent members of SC. In this consultation permanent members might agree:

That proposals introduced by the US in SC for additional rules of procedures or practices of SC and any proposals introduced by other SC members should be referred to Committee of Experts for further study and in hope of agreement.
The permanent members might, as adherents of San Francisco Statement, review that document in effort to reach unanimous agreement as to its meaning in light of operations of SO during 21/2 years since its formulation.
In particular, agreement might be reached as to attitude of five Governments in respect of following provisions of Statement to which in the past different interpretations have been adopted.
“… the Council will have to make decisions which involve its taking direct measures in connection with the settlement of disputes, adjustment of situations likely to lead to disputes, determination of threats to the peace, removal of threats to the peace, and suppression of breaches of the peace. It will also have to make decisions which do not involve the taking of such measures. The Yalta Formula provides that the second of these two groups of decisions will be governed by a procedural vote—that is, the vote of any seven members”.
“It is not to be assumed, however, that the permanent members, any more than the non-permanent members, would use their veto power wilfully to obstruct the operation of the Council”.
Part 2 of the Statement which provides that Charter itself contains indication of application of voting procedures to various functions of Council and that therefore it is unlikely that there will arise in future any matters of great importance on which a decision will have to be made as to whether a procedural vote would apply.

In the event that there can be achieved a meeting of the minds of five permanent members on these aspects of the San Francisco Statement, it would ‘be reasonable to assume that the voting procedures of the SC would be substantially improved in the future which might alter the character of the recommendation which other Members of the UN might feel should be adopted by the GA. The views of all Members of the UN must of course be given due weight.

The US proposal in the IC is that the members of that Committee be invited to submit proposals on voting procedures on or before [Page 217] March 15, 1948, and that thereafter these proposals be studied by the IC so that it can report to the GA, as it must do under the GA resolution, by July 15. The US bas not itself determined what proposals, if any, it should submit to the IC in response to this invitation. It is its belief that until there has been an opportunity to see the results of the Big Five consultation and of the consideration of the rules proposed by the US and any other members of the SC in the Committee of Experts, it would be premature for the US to make such proposals.

The US recognizes that there can be no amendment to the Charter of the UN without the concurrence of all the permanent members of the SC. Nor do we believe that an amendment to the Charter is the only means available to achieve most of the US’s objectives directed toward the liberalization of the voting procedures of the Council. They can be gained by agreement among the permanent members.

The Council of Foreign Ministers in Nov 1946 held two meetings on this subject in which various proposals were put forward.3 Although no agreement was reached, there was a common denominator in the position of each member; namely, that the operations of the SC should be strengthened, that the permanent Members had the greatest responsibility to this end and that there should be consultation among them before taking decisions in the SC on matters of importance. The veto consideration in the Council of Foreign Ministers’ meetings was a small part of a crowded agenda, not exhaustively discussed. There would seem to be no reason why this consultation of the permanent Members should not continue that consideration in an effort to make further progress in accordance with the recommendation of Five Power consultation adopted by the GA.

  1. In its resolution of November 21, 1947, the General Assembly had requested the permanent members of the Security Council to consult among themselves on the problem of voting in the Security Council “in order to secure agreement among them on measures to ensure the prompt and effective exercise by the Security Council of its functions.” The Committee of Experts of the Security Council was established by the Security Council at London in January, 1946 in order to formulate permanent rules of procedure for the conduct of business by the Security Council. Considerable work had been accomplished by the Committee of Experts in. 1946, but, despite much discussion, the committee had not succeeded in providing an acceptable draft for a permanent rule regarding voting procedure; for documentation regarding these matters, see Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. i, pp. 251 ff. Regarding a proposal made by the U.S. in the Committee of Experts in 1946, see ibid .
  2. For information on the Secretary of State’s address to the General Assembly on this date, see ibid., 1947, vol. i, editorial note, p. 14.
  3. These meetings, held by the five permanent members of the Security Council at the same time that the Council of Foreign Ministers was sitting, were on November 18 and 23, 1946; for documentation on them, see Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. i, pp. 341355.