Department of State Disarmament Files

The Department of State to the British Embassy 1


Question of Suspension of the Commission for Conventional Armaments

It is understood that both Governments agree that a report should be made by CCA to the Security Council at an early date. The only difference of view appears to lie in the conclusion of the report and the action to be taken on it by the Security Council. The UK has suggested that the report announce the view of the majority that no further progress can be made and that the Security Council should direct the Commission to suspend its work. The United States, on the other hand, is of the opinion that the report should conclude that:

“In accordance with the Security Council’s instructions the Commission will continue its discussion of the remaining items of the Plan of Work. However, the Commission feels obliged to inform the Council that the Soviet Union has been unable to agree with the majority on principles considered by the majority to be basic to the regulation of armaments. Until such agreement is obtained, it is unlikely that the Commission will be able to formulate plans for the establishment of a system for the regulation of armaments which will be generally acceptable.”

It is the US view that upon submission of the report to the Security Council, the Commission should decide, as it did last year, not to meet until after the General Assembly. The practical result of temporary suspension will be the same under either plan.

Thus, the only difference appears to be one of the emphasis to be placed on what is agreed to be only a temporary suspension until after the General Assembly. The U.S. feels, however, that there are important reasons to avoid placing public emphasis upon this temporary suspension by formalizing it:

Article 26 of the Charter provides that “In order to promote the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security … the Security Council shall be responsible for formulating, … plans … for the establishment of a system for the regulation of armaments”. CCA was set up for this purpose. In the absence of having considered any practical proposals, CCA can not logically explain why it would be suspending its operations. This contrasts with the UN Atomic Energy Commission situation.
One of the principal objectives of the U.S. in the coming General Assembly is the adoption by the GA of the proposals of the UNAEC for the international control of atomic energy. It is believed that this objective would be furthered by having the least possible public recognition of the problem of conventional armaments.
It is feared that by repeating in CCA the tactic of suspension used in UNAEC that the force or pressure value of this step in UNAEC will be diluted.
In the event the work of the Commission were suspended, it would facilitate both the opportunity of making and the chances of success of a possible Soviet maneuver of proposing in the next General Assembly the formation of a single Commission to deal both with atomic energy and conventional armaments.
If the Soviet Union were to make sweeping proposals for the regulation and reduction of armaments in the next session of the GA, which is a definite possibility, such proposals could most effectively be countered by having them referred to the CCA, to be taken up under the appropriate item of the CCA Plan of Work. If the work of the CCA had been formally suspended, this counter move would be more difficult to accomplish.
It is announced U.S. policy, in conformity with Article 26 of the Charter, as stated by the Secretary2 that the CCA should for the immediate future fulfill a planning role rather than attempt to bring about an agreement for the regulation of armaments. Conditions for planning are not markedly less favorable now than when the CCA was established. This is in contrast to the situation confronting the UNAEC.
Certain influential members of the SC have already expressed their opposition to suspension (Canada and France) and since it is also possible that the Soviet Union might attempt to veto suspension, a move to suspend might prove abortive (if it is made a substantial question), and the net result of such a proposal would make the sponsor or sponsors the subject of damaging propaganda attacks without serving any useful purpose.
In any event, the mere advocacy of suspension by the western powers would deal the Soviet Union a propaganda card, which it is all too certain the Soviet Union would play promptly and probably effectively.
The U.S. Senate by a vote of 64 to 4 has approved a Resolution calling upon this Government to make “Maximum efforts … to obtain [Page 365] agreement among member nations upon universal regulation and reduction of armaments inadequate and individual guarantee against violations”. This Resolution is a reflection of a traditional association in the mind of the average American of regulation of armaments and organization for international peace and security. The U.S. people therefore would not understand a Government decision to support suspending the operations of the CCA.
The U.S. hopes, although it is by no means sanguine, that a full debate on conventional armaments can be avoided at this Fall’s General Assembly. It hopes the emphasis in the security field at the General Assembly will be placed on atomic energy. The formal suspension of the work of the CCA would spotlight the subject of conventional armaments and thereby enhance the occurrence of the very situation we hope to avoid or minimize.
If the subject of conventional armaments does come up in the General Assembly, as it well may in the atomic energy debate, the U.S. hopes the discussion can be kept secondary to the more important atomic energy discussion and that the GA will take no specific action on conventional armaments. If, however, action is unavoidable, the U.S., while it would not initiate, would be willing to vote for, a resolution regretting the lack of progress made in the CCA, and urging the CCA to proceed to a consideration of Item 3 of its Plan of Work.

  1. Presented to Denis Allen, Counselor of the British Embassy, by G. Hayden Bay nor, Special Assistant to the Director of the Office of European Affairs, and Howard C. Johnson, Associate Chief of the Division of International Security Affairs, at the Department of State, July 9, 1948.
  2. Reference is to the statement on regulation of armaments contained in Marshall’s address during the general debate phase of the second session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 17, 1947; for text, see Department of State Bulletin, September 28, 1947, p. 618.