IO Files: US(P)/A/M(Chr)/23

Minutes of the Twenty-third Meeting of the United States Delegation to the Third Regular Session of the General Assembly, Paris, Hotel d’Iéna, October 28, 1948, 9:15 a. m.


[Here follows list of persons (30) present, which included the full Delegation of nine Representatives and Alternate Representatives; for documentation regarding the composition and organization of the [Page 254] United States Delegation and its Advisory Staff and arrangements for the conduct of United States affairs at the Paris session of the General Assembly, see pages 1 ff.]

The Veto

Mr. Blaisdell explained that the veto question arose this year from the report of the Interim Committee on the problem of voting in the Security Council. He pointed out that Committee 1 had not yet established the priority of its consideration of this item, although it had been listed fifth on the items allocated to Committer 1 by the President of the General Assembly. He called to the attention of the Delegation the relevant position paper (SD/A/C.1/135).

Mr. Stein explained that this was the third time the General Assembly had considered the problem of the veto. It was a most controversial issue, both because of the frequent use by the USSR of the veto (29 times) and the opposition to the veto on principle of a number of small states. The Interim Committee last year had been requested by the General Assembly to study the veto question in detail. Its report was the result of the first comprehensive study of this matter. It had taken as the basis of its work 98 possible categories of decisions and had made recommendations as to the voting procedure required of the Security Council in each case. The staff recommendation was that the United States should support the adoption of the report and recommendations of the Interim Committee on the veto.

Mr. Stein then summarized the conclusions of the Interim Committee Report. First, the General, Assembly should, recommend to the members of the Security Council that they deem as procedural on the basis of Charter interpretation 36 possible Security Council decisions. This recommendation was to apply to the positions of the members, to the ruling of the president in interpreting the result of a vote on such a question, and also to the manner in which the members of the Security Council should vote if the ruling of the president were challenged. Mr. Stein explained that this recommendation was somewhat qualified in that if, for example, the USSR should attempt to block the decision as to whether a matter was procedural, by the so-called veto, the United States should consider whether under the particular circumstances of the individual case the matter was actually procedural and whether to depart from the Four Power Statement at San Francisco. In other words, in cases where this issue was raised, the United States would not automatically take the view that the decision was carried by an affirmative vote of 7 members of the Council.

The second conclusion of the Interim Committee was that the Assembly recommend to the permanent members of the Security Council, that they agree that 21 of the possible decisions of the Council be taken by the vote of any 7 members, regardless of whether the decisions are [Page 255] considered procedural or non-procedural. Mr. Stein pointed out that if the five permanent members could agree on these 21 matters, it would improve the effectiveness of the Security Council. The most important matters covered were the admission of states to United Nations membership and decisions under Chapter VI of the Charter, dealing with pacific settlement of disputes. Mr. Stein noted that this recommendation could be implemented only by agreement of all five permanent members.

There was one remaining point raised by the Interim Committee Report which the Delegation should consider. It stemmed from the recommendation based on an Argentine proposal that the Assembly consider whether the time has come to call a general conference, provided for in Article 109 of the Charter, in order to amend the provisions on voting procedure. Mr. Stein recommended that the United States take the position that the time has not yet arrived either for a general conference or for amendment to the Charter.

Mr. Stein explained that the basic objective of the United States was to obtain a certain liberalization of voting procedure, particularly through the elimination of the veto on applications for membership and peaceful settlement. He recalled that this was the position taken by the United States in the General Assembly in 1947, and also was the position of the so-called Vandenberg Resolution, passed by the Senate in June 1948.1

Mr. Stein noted that Britain and France had entered certain reservations to the resolutions of the Interim Committee. Their particular objection was to the elimination of the veto on matters involving peaceful settlement. He pointed out the interest of the United States in obtaining complete agreement on this matter so that there could be no particular reservations entered to the action of the General Assembly.

Preliminary discussions on the working level with the United Kingdom Delegation had been held to explore the question whether and to what extent it would be willing to drop these reservations. It seemed clear that so far as pacific settlement under Chapter V [VI?] was concerned, it would not abandon opposition to the elimination of the veto, particularly with respect to initiating an investigation and making recommendations as to the terms of settlement of a dispute. The position paper envisaged possible United States agreement to omitting some of the controversial matters from these recommendations. Certainly one could not be sanguine as to the prospect of rapid progress on this matter. If only the first recommendation of the Interim Committee were accepted, there was good ground to believe that progress [Page 256] would be made through the developments of practices and the establishment of precedents. Mr. Stein emphasized, however, that there was no hope of voluntary agreement by the USSR on these recommendations of the Interim Committee. Nevertheless, the adoption of the recommendations by an overwhelming majority would be another stage in the United States effort to obtain agreement and to exert pressure by public opinion on the USSR to modify its views on voting procedure. The voluntary approach seemed preferable to an attempt to amend the Charter, since an amendment would require Soviet ratification.

Turning to the position paper, Mr. Stein referred to the first recommendation. This was that the United States should support adoption of the conclusions and recommendations of the Interim Committee, but should be willing to acquiesce in modifications of certain items in the several categories of decisions in the event of strong opposition by states such as France and the United Kingdom, who had reserved their position on a number of items in the report. Mr. Stein said it would be necessary for the Delegation to decide how far the United States should go in acquiescing in such modifications. He pointed out that the second recommendation, dealing with the question of convocation of a general conference and taking the line that the time has not yet arrived for such a conference, followed the Vandenberg Resolution in principle. The third recommendation related to consultation among the permanent members, as recommended by the General Assembly last year.

Mr. Dulles said this problem was in a sense academic in that it was quite certain that the USSR would not accept any modification of the present voting procedure. In other words, the Assembly’s consideration would probably have no positive results. However, from the psychological standpoint he believed the matter was far from academic since a strong sentiment existed in other countries and in the Congress that something should be done to modify the veto. For this reason, if nothing were done, the United States would be subject to serious criticism. He pointed out that both the Interim Committee’s Report and the so-called Vandenberg Resolution contemplated giving up the veto entirely on all matters under Chapter VI. It now seemed that the British and French would not go along on this particular, as regarded investigation and substantive recommendations. He said he had some sympathy for their viewpoint because ah investigation, for example, could be a serious affair if it involved sending a commission to a state which did not wish to receive it. If there was to be a veto at all, there was a good deal of justification for it in this case. He pointed out that these states were concerned lest such commissions be sent into colonial territories, for instance, to take testimony; also the personnel of such a commission might include Soviet representatives.

[Page 257]

Mr. Dulles told the Delegation that he had cabled Senator Vandenberg last night for his views as to whether he would consider it practical to meet the British and French views to this extent in order to get four power agreement. It seemed to Mr. Dulles important to keep a united four power front. He had also said in his cable that if the United States were to apply pressure at the top it might get the British and French to recede from this position. There were, however, so many more urgent matters on which such pressure might be required that he was reluctant to use it in this case. He suggested that the Delegation’s decision should be guided by Senator Vandenberg’s reaction to this cable. If the Senator did not think it wise to make these concessions, the Delegation could review the situation.

Mr. Jessup said that in the first place he agreed that it would be desirable to get an alignment with the British and French. In any such agreement with the British and French, however, the United States should remain in a position where it could reserve its freedom of action in debate to say that it was willing to go further in the discussion of liberalizing the voting procedure but in the interest of agreement had accepted a median position. He raised a question as to the interpretation of recommendation on the Interim Committee conclusion with respect to the 36 procedural decisions. Under this recommendation, the United States was to consider if there was any objection in a particular case, whether the matter was covered in the Four Power declaration of San Francisco and would examine on its merits the question whether a motion was adopted despite a Soviet veto. He felt that the United States was going to be in a bad position if this issue arose. The United States would obviously be in a key position to determine how a vote should be interpreted. If it receded from the position established by the Assembly resolution in favor of the Four Power Declaration there might be serious consequences. He thought this was a dangerous position, and not a courageous attack upon the real problem. He wondered whether it was the intention of the United States to make clear in the Assembly the limitation which it placed upon the language of the Interim Committee recommendation. Otherwise, he feared we would be charged with backing away from the action of the General Assembly which we had supported. He pointed out that the whole activities of the Interim Committee, and this report, in particular, were very largely the production of the United States.

Mr. Cohen said he wanted to support Mr. Jessup’s position most strongly. As he saw it, the issue was how far the United States should take the Four Power Declaration, which was not a part of the Charter, and extend it beyond the actual necessities of a situation. Once there was action by the General Assembly, it seemed to him to be very serious for the United States to say it disregarded the action of the Assembly in favor of a mere Declaration by the four powers. (Mr. Dulles had [Page 258] previously pointed out that the General Assembly recommendation was not legally binding.) Mr. Cohen thought it was very important not to discount the value of the recommendations of the Interim Committee in connection with the development of liberal constitutional practice. Such trends as this might have more effect than actual legal changes. He regarded the IC reports as only a start towards finding the potentialities within the Charter to eliminate the supposedly unfortunate effects of the veto. As regarded the difference of opinion with the British and French, he hoped their points might be met by watering down somewhat the effect of the acceptance of the General Assembly of the IC report, rather than by cutting down its actual recommendations. He suggested that at this stage it might be best to let the IC report stand on its own feet rather than get its unqualified acceptance, which might start debates on details with the result that hasty decisions later to be regretted would be reached. He thought there might be some possibility of changing the nature of the endorsement of the report rather than to tinker with the report itself.

Ambassador Austin thought that a General Assembly resolution would be of some help to the five permanent members. The individuals on the representative level in the Council showed general timidity on this matter. All his discussions had shown that the permanent members had many doubts. He thought that if the Assembly could give them a little courage, it would be a good thing, particularly since the majority favored this liberal position.

Commenting on the remarks made by Mr. Jessup and Mr. Cohen, Mr. Dulles pointed out that they developed from the recommendation that we would not necessarily regard a decision on procedural matters as binding on us in the future. This would be contrary to the Four Power Statement. While it was quite true that this statement was not regarded as a legally binding declaration, the United States feeling free to depart from it, there was considerable legal foundation in the interpretation in the Declaration, since it was made when the Charter was being drafted. He saw no reason why we should let a General Assembly resolution bind us since the Assembly had no power to make binding interpretations of the Charter. He saw no reason why, as a permanent member, the United States should give up its own responsibility in this regard. The Assembly resolution would have no more legal status than the Four Power Declaration we should not expect to comply literally, but should be free to look the situation over.

Mr. Cohen doubted whether there was much difference of opinion between Mr. Dulles and himself. Directing his attention first to the [Page 259] weight to be given to action by the General Assembly as against the Four Power Statement, he agreed that the United States would not be absolutely bound in either case. He had intended only to say that greater weight should be given to the action of the Assembly. In the second place, quite apart from the Four Power Declaration, as a matter of principle, he thought the United States should give the greatest weight to the General Assembly resolution, although it would obviously not be absolutely legally binding upon the United States.

Mr. Jessup said that, in effect, if the resolution were adopted, the question is put up to the United States to accept these interpretations as the guide it will follow in its conduct in the Security Council. Voting for the resolution we would say we regarded the resolution in this light. Then a case might come along, and we would think that this position might antagonize the USSR so we review the case on its merits in the light of the Four Power Declaration. He thought it was necessary to be very careful as to the kind of statement we made. Either we should water down, in our statements before the vote, the nature of the recommendation, or we would subsequently be in a position of going back on the resolution we had voted for.

The Secretary asked Mr. Cohen to elaborate his remarks with respect to the first recommendation 1 as to what he meant by “watering down” action on the report of the Interim Committee. Mr. Cohen said he was thinking of the problem which would arise if, in line with the Four Power Declaration and contrary to the Vandenberg Resolution, the United States should not insist on the elimination of the veto in matters of pacific settlement. He would prefer to see the Assembly simply take note of the report of the Interim Committee, commend it for its work, and ask the various organs of the United Nations to give consideration to its work. He was simply throwing out this idea as a possible alternative avenue of approach.

Ambassador Austin inquired whether the United States would be presented with a resolution covering the entire report, or whether it would be able to consider the various recommendations in separate resolutions. Mr. Dulles replied that the Interim Committee had made a global recommendation. The remaining problem was the means of giving effect to the IC report; should the resolution follow the IC report or, to achieve four power unanimity, should some modifications be made? He pointed out that the first recommendation dealt with the question whether the Assembly Resolution should modify or wholly reflect the recommendations of the Interim Committee with respect to matters under Chapter VI. The paper recommended that an attempt [Page 260] be made to achieve four-power agreement even if it should involve modification of the Interim Committee Report. There were the 36 decisions on which we would follow the recommendations of the Interim Committee completely. On the additional 21, where matters of substance were involved, we might leave out two in the interest of four power agreement.

Mr. Stein stated that the British would prefer a general resolution along the line suggested by Mr. Cohen. Such a resolution would simply note the report of the Interim Committee with approval. That approach, of course, did not follow the recommendation of the Interim Committee. As he saw it there were three alternatives. There could either be a general resolution, taking note of the Interim Committee’s Report, or the resolution could approve the totality of the recommendations of the Interim Committee, or the resolution could approve some of the recommendations of the Interim Committee.

Mr. Rusk said he felt that if the Dulles argument were followed, of taking something less than the full position of the United States, he hoped it could be put in such a way that it would not appear that the United States had receded from its position. Mr. Dulles agreed that this would be indispensable since it had repeatedly been stated the United States was willing to forego the use of the veto on everything under Chapter VI. The terms of the Vandenberg Resolution had made this position even stronger. Mr. Rusk noted that the Senate had even wanted to include Articles 39 and 40 in the group to which the veto should not apply.

Mr. Wilcox pointed out that the Senate resolution was couched in very general terms. It suggested the elimination of the veto with respect to peaceful settlement of disputes. The Senate Committee had not stated the various categories of decisions. It obviously could not do so within the limits of a one-page resolution. The Senate Resolution, however, did stress the fact that the agreement reached should be voluntary, presumably among the great powers first. For that reason, Mr. Wilcox thought that whatever position the Delegation finds desirable to achieve these ends over a period of years would be a reasonable approach in accordance with the intent of the Senate Resolution.

It was agreed that no decisions should be made until an answer was received from Senator Vandenberg.1

  1. For text, see footnote 7, p. 25.
  2. In Department’s telegram, Gadel 353 of October 29, 1 p. m., the following message was conveyed from Senator Vandenberg to Mr. Dulles: “Entirely satisfied to leave this decision to your judgment. But keep the official record clear that the United States is prepared to support the full formula in the Senate [Vandenberg] Resolution”. (501.AA/10–2648)