501.BC/1–1948: Telegram

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


72. The following is a summary of what took place at the Conference of the Big Five today on the veto. Gromyko, Cadogan,1 De la Tournelle,2 Hsia3 and I were present.

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After a general statement relating to the objective of peace and abolition of war contained in the Charter and especially in the unanimity principle regarding voting in the Security Council, I stated that the US position was the same as stated by General Marshall and that we adhere now to the proposition that he made that the US is willing, if the other four powers are willing to do so, to waive the veto in proceedings under Chapter VI and in issues regarding the admission of new members, treating these matters as procedural and not substantive.

I then made the following suggestions in order to introduce the subjects.

We would review and bring up to date the Four Power Declaration of June 1945. I indicated that the basis for such a review is the discovery from experience that the assumptions on which that statement is based have turned out to be inaccurate in some respects, including the assumption that it will be unlikely that there will arise in future any matters of great importance on which an opinion will have to be made as to whether a procedural vote would apply.
We could extend and clarify the list of decisions which are procedural.
We could improve the procedures in the Security Council so as to insure that a party to a dispute must abstain, by agreeing that the preliminary decision as to whether a matter fell within the proviso of Article 27 (3) was a procedural matter.
We could determine whether the proposals of the US in the Committee of Experts relating to the use of the veto have our assent and backing.
I asked what their position would be regarding the submission of any proposals by a permanent member for the Interim Committee being submitted to the Five Powers for discussion (not necessarily agreement) before submitting them to the Interim Committee.

With respect to the waiver of veto in matters under Chapter VI and on the admission of new states, no one present agreed to the idea of waiver and all of them opposed amendment of the Charter. Quite some emphasis was laid upon opposition to an attempt to amend the Charter. With respect to the detailed suggestions I had made, the other representatives took the following positions:

Cadogan supported consideration of these suggestions and indicated an affirmative view on all of them excepting the last one, and as to that one he stated he would refer to his government with a recommendation on his part that this practice be adopted.

Gromyko discussed each of the suggestions and stated that the position of his government is no different [than] that he had expressed many times. In detail he said that he is opposed to any and all of these suggestions; that the Four Power declaration did all of the clarifying that is necessary; that it is perfectly plain and unambiguous.

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As to the assumption underlying Part II of the Four Power statement being ill founded, he claimed that, nevertheless, the obligation was stated to be the same whether the assumption were sound or false for he said it reads “Should, however, such matter arise, …”. To him that means that, notwithstanding the unexpected has occurred, the practice is clearly defined in the statement and requires concurrence of the five permanent members. With respect to the meetings of the Committee of Experts he said no meetings have been held to discuss the subject of our proposals. The Soviet Union will be present and participate in the discussion. This does not indicate that the USSR will agree to any of them, in that they are opposed to them.

During his reply I interrupted him to ask a specific question, normally, if under Chapter VI or Article 52 of the Charter a matter was up for consideration which involved a permanent member as a party and the permanent member would claim that he was not a party, whether the USSR would be willing to agree to the statement to which the deputies agreed at their 24th meeting in San Francisco. I read him this extract which stated “This question seems to be based on a most unlikely hypothesis, but if a permanent member of the Council were involved in a dispute and argued in the Council that he was not involved in a dispute, the Council would presumably make its decision on this point by a vote of seven, including the votes of the permanent members other than the permanent member who was alleged to be involved in the dispute”.

He made a definite refusal to consider that and said the answer was merged in the Four Power statement which is directly to the contrary.

Then I asked him whether he would care to meet and consult, try to agree with the other permanent members on any specific question of this character and he replied “I cannot answer. I would have to know what the substance of the question is. The Soviet Union takes the position that it is up to each member of the SC to decide the question whether, he is or is not a party to the dispute and to act accordingly”.

With respect to the query regarding discussion of any proposal by a permanent member to the Interim Committee, he did not object to that but he said “You know perfectly well that I will not participate in the Interim Committee directly or indirectly and what I have said here today would have been said in the same way and to the same effect if there were no Interim Committee, I ignore it in my statement”.

Dr. Hsia fully supported the suggestions which I had made and stated among other things that there is an actual disagreement among the Big Five which ought to be clarified regarding the application of the proviso to Article 27, and also regarding the application of Part 2 of the Four Power Agreement. Hsia favored getting together regarding [Page 220] any proposal that any one of the permanent members intends to make before it is filed in the Interim Committee. He claimed that discussions might improve such proposals before they are filed and facilitate their consideration in the Committee.

De la Tournelle favored our suggestions and added that not only would he like the idea of discussion by the Five Powers regarding proposals for the Interim Committee, but he thought that we might avoid some of the difficulty if we had such conferences regularly before any proposals are to be made in the SC by any one of the permanent members. His first statement we understood to mean consultation plus agreement. He explained that that was not what he meant. He meant that we could avoid the ill feeling and embarrassment that has arisen if we did not push matters to a vote in the SC when we have found out by conference that there would be a veto. Therefore he favored conferences on all issues of such character as might provoke a veto. He said that he did not intend to have the proponent withdraw his proposal or not present it just because of a failure of agreement, but that his point was that he favored consultation as a general rule.

Thus it appeared that we were all agreed upon all points excepting Gromyko and excepting the British reservations on my fifth suggestion.

I called upon them all regarding publicity of this meeting, as to what the answer should be to the press if they found out about it. We agreed that it should be simply a statement that we had met to discuss the veto and had discussed many aspects of the subject and had not come to a decision. If asked whether we intended to meet again, the reply should be that that is not excluded.

The Conference ended at 4:15.

  1. Alexander Cadogan, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom at the United Nations.
  2. Guy Le Roy de La Tournelle, Alternate Representative of France on the Security Council.
  3. C. L. Hsia, Alternate Representative of China on the Security Council.