IO Files: US/S/867

Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Charles P. Noyes of the United States Mission at the United Nations


Participants: Mr. J. E. S. Fawcett, United Kingdom Delegation
Mr. James N. Hyde United States Mission
Mr. Charles P. Noyes

Recommendation I

I asked Mr. Fawcett how he thought we should handle the General Assembly Resolution on the veto and what the position of his Government would be as to following the recommendations contained in it. Mr. Fawcett indicated that as to the first recommendation1 in the Resolution, he thought his Government was prepared, while acting as the President of the Council, to accept this recommendation and to rule accordingly. He was not so certain that his Government would accept the General Assembly’s recommendation on a vote under Rule 30.2 He thought at first that it was somewhat more difficult to avoid the charge that Great Britain was violating the Four-Power statement3 where it was a question of how the United Kingdom would vote. As we discussed the question, he seemed to grow less sure that this [Page 312] distinction was a valid one. He thought that perhaps it was possible to argue that a vote under Rule 30 was so clearly procedural that it did not fall under the second part of the Four-Power statement.4 He agreed that the rationale of the Interim Committee had been that the 34 listed items5 were procedural under the Charter and by definition therefore it was improper to apply part two of the Four-Power statement. He seemed to accept this reasoning. We discussed the possibility in a particular case of getting a decision of the International Court as to validity of any particular decision of the Council, including validity of a decision defending the double veto.

I mentioned that as he probably knew, the Department had always taken the position that it reserved its right in a particular case to decide in the light of all the circumstances and with particular reference to political considerations, whether it wished to follow the recommendation of the General Assembly and to use the power to defeat the double veto.6 His reply to this was casual and he accepted this point of view but did not seem to place any particular emphasis on this reservation. He gave the impression that his Government would probably adopt the same approach.

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Recommendation II

With regard to the substance of the second recommendation,7 Mr. Fawcett indicated that the British view on reconsideration at this time might be somewhat more liberal than it had been last Fall. He thought it would be worthwhile to review the particular items listed in the Interim Committee Report with a view to seeing whether there was not a larger area of agreement between the British, French, Chinese and the United States Delegations than had been the case then. It was agreed that what we were after was a Five-Power agreement to forbear on particular issues and that if the Russians would not commit themselves, we could make no advance. Fawcett was skeptical that we would reach any result under this recommendation but agreed that it was essential that the Five Powers consult and that they should report their consultations to the Security Council publicly. This would permit a section on this subject in the Security Council’s Annual Report. Fawcett felt that before the Five-Power consultations, it would be useful to have preliminary consultations among the Four to see whether they could present a fairly unified front on these questions.

Recommendation III8

It was agreed that there was no particular problem about this recommendation. Mr. Fawcett felt that it would be much better not [Page 314] to attempt to formalize any machinery for Five-Power consultation in particular cases, but agreed that a real effort should be made to live up to the General Assembly’s recommendation for consultation.

General Procedure

We discussed the question whether there should be a Security Council meeting before the Five-Power consultation. After some discussion, we came around to the view that there was little if any advantage to be gained from such a meeting and it was probably preferable not to do so. If there was any chance of Russia’s giving in anywhere along the line, such chance would probably be prejudiced by public debate in the Security Council. Fawcett agreed that in the private meetings it was probably preferable to discuss all three recommendations of the General Assembly even though recommendation number one is not directed to the Five Powers alone. Fawcett also agreed that it was important that results of the private consultations should be reported to the Security Council and opportunity given to the non-permanent members to consider the results of the consultations and to review the General Assembly’s Resolution. It was contemplated that in such debates, each of the Members of the Council would indicate their position on the question. Fawcett indicated agreement with the thought that it was not necessary for the Council to consider passing a resolution as a result of such debate.

C. P. Notes
  1. The first recommendation read: “1. Recommends to the Members of the Security Council that, without prejudice to any other decisions which the Security Council may deem procedural, the decisions set forth in the attached annex be deemed procedural and that the members of the Security Council conduct their business accordingly.…” For text of the annex, see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. i, p. 262.
  2. Under the first recommendation and on the basis of the proposed procedure in the annex, the Security Council might overrule a ruling of the President of the Council on a point of order on what would be deemed a procedural vote, that is with seven affirmative votes, and not requiring the concurring votes of the five permanent members.
  3. For text of the Four-Power Statement of June 7, 1945, on voting in the Security Council, see Department of State Bulletin, June 10, 1945, p. 1047.
  4. The second part of paragraph two of the Four-Power Statement said: “… it will be unlikely that there will arise in the future any matters of great importance on which a decision will have to be made as to whether a procedural vote would apply. Should, however, such a matter arise, the decision regarding the preliminary question as to whether or not such a matter is procedural must be taken by a vote of seven members of the Security Council, including the concurring votes of the permanent members.” By 1948–1949 Soviet use of this privileged vote regarding the preliminary question had aroused widespread disapproval and had come to be labeled a “double veto”. This occurred when a negative vote by the Soviet Union on the preliminary question of whether the question at issue were procedural made possible a negative Soviet vote on the question as a matter of substance (all substantive questions automatically requiring the concurring votes of the five permanent members).
  5. This refers to the items listed in the annex cited above. The Interim Committee of the General Assembly in a lengthy study in January–July 1948 produced the first drafts of the recommendations and annex embodied in the final General Assembly resolution of April 1949. See Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. i, pp. 205 ff.
  6. An incomplete and inconclusive exchange occurred between the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and the Department of State in March–May 1949, concerning this point. The Mission claimed that such a qualified position was inconsistent with the efforts of the United States at New York to establish procedures for circumventing the double veto. (Letters between Warren R. Austin, U.S. Representative at the United Nations, and Dean Rusk, Assistant Secretary of State, as follows: Austin to Rusk, March 18, 1949, 501.BC/3–1849; Rusk to Austin, April 18, 1949, 501.BC/3–1849; Austin to Rusk, April 26, 1949, 501.BC/4–2549; Rusk to Austin, May 12, 1949, 501.BC/4–2549.)
  7. The second recommendation read: “2. Recommends to the permanent members of the Security Council that they seek agreement among themselves upon what possible decisions by the Security Council they might forbear to exercise their veto, when seven affirmative votes have already been cast in the Council, giving favourable consideration to the list of such decisions contained in conclusion 2 of part IV of the report of the Interim Committee.…” For the Report of the Interim Committee to the General Assembly on the problem of voting in the Security Council, submitted to the General Assembly in United Nations document A/578, July 15, 1948, see United Nations, Official Records of the General Assembly, Third Session, Part I, Supplement No. 10, Reports of the Interim Committee of the General Assembly (5 January to 5 August 1948), pp. 1 ff. (hereafter cited as GA(III/1), Suppl. No. 10). For Part IV of the Report—“Conclusions”—see ibid., p. 8, or Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. i, p. 235. In conclusion 2 appeared 21 items which it was recommended should be adopted by the vote of any seven members, “whether the decisions are considered procedural or non-procedural”.
  8. Recommendation III read: “3. Recommends to the permanent members of the Security Council, in order to avoid impairment of the usefulness and prestige of the Council through excessive use of the veto:

    To consult together wherever feasible upon important decisions to be taken by the Security Council;
    To consult together wherever feasible before a vote is taken if their unanimity is essential to effective action by the Security Council;
    If there is not Unanimity, to exercise the veto only when they consider the question of vital importance, taking into account the interest of the United Nations as a whole, and to state upon what ground they consider this condition to be present.…”

    The fourth recommendation in General Assembly Resolution 267 (III) of April 14, 1949, read: “4. Recommends to the Members of the United Nations that in agreements conferring functions on the Security Council such conditions of voting within that body be provided as would to the greatest extent feasible exclude the application of the rule of unanimity of the permanent members.”