Memorandum by the Assistant Chief of the Division of African Affairs (Palmer)


While the events of the Second Part of the Third Regular Session of the General Assembly are fresh in mind, I should like to contribute some thoughts regarding the position in which the U.S. found itself on the question of the disposal of the former Italian Colonies. To my mind, there are certain lessons to be learned from these events which may serve as sign posts for the future and prevent our again finding ourselves in a situation whereby proposals which we support are defeated.

In my opinion, the major factor which mitigated against the successful conclusion of this difficult and complex problem was failure of the U.S. to go into the General Assembly with a firm position on all phases of this matter and its consequent inability to exert the leadership which most members of the General Assembly expect of us. Our lack of a firm position resulted in the following series of events:

Our inability to undertake advance diplomatic preparation among all U.N. members and particularly, the Latin Americans and other states friendly to Italian interests.
As a consequence, we gave a clear field to the Italian Government which was successful in exacting firm promises of support for Italian claims in Tripolitania, Somaliland, and Eritrea.
Our failure to undertake advance diplomatic preparation among the Arab and other Asiatic States from the point of view of convincing them that from a strategic point of view a British trusteeship over Cyrenaica is essential for the security of the Mediterranean and hence, to their own security.
As a result of the foregoing, we found ourselves in a middle position between the pro-Italian bloc (consisting primarily of the Latin American States plus the French) on the one hand and the anti-Italian, pro-independence group (principally the Asiatics) on the other hand.

In these circumstances and in view of the delicate balance between the two groups, we attempted to take the initiative in playing the role of mediator in seeking to devise a formula which would reconcile the views of these two groups. This formula took the form of a five-power trusteeship over Libya with Egypt, France, Italy, U.K. and the U.S. as the administering authorities. This effort, however, was, from the beginning, doomed to failure because of the following factors:

It was unacceptable to the British from a security point of view.
It was devised before ascertaining whether the U.S. could participate. When U.S. participation was found to be doubtful, the scheme was far less attractive to other states.
The Asiatics made it clear that their acceptance of five-power trusteeship would be conditional on the five assuming direct administration over Libya as a whole, thereby preserving its unity.
The Latin Americans made it clear that their acceptance of a five-power trusteeship would be conditioned on Italy assuming a preponderant role in Tripolitania.

Consequently, there was never a basis of understanding between the Latin Americans and the Asiatics which would have made a compromise formula possible.

After the British insistence that we live up to our commitment on Cyrenaica and the consequent breakdown of the five-power effort, we found ourselves supporting a British resolution which, at the best, could have commanded not more than a dozen votes had it been put to a test.
The foregoing is the back drop against which the Bevin-Sforza formula was presented to the General Assembly. Aside from the question of merit, the manner of presentation was particularly unfortunate and aroused a great deal of resentment both among the Latin Americans and the Asiatics, who felt with considerable justification that they had been presented with a decision which they were expected to ratify. In defense of the British role in the Bevin-Sforza agreement, however, it might be said that if we had exerted a greater effort prior to the General Assembly and devised a formula that would have enabled us to assert positive leadership, the necessity in British eyes of such an arrangement might well have been obviated.
Although we were under no obligation to support the Bevin-Sforza formula, we had no alternative, since it presented the only means under the circumstances prevailing at that time of carrying out our commitment to the British. In doing so, however, we placed ourselves in the position of supporting, in the eyes of the Asiatics, a regime for Tripolitania which was not in accord with the wishes of the inhabitants. In taking this action, we incurred the strong resentment of the Asiatics who felt that for reasons of political expedience, we had taken a position which was not in conformity with our basic principles.
As a result of the Bevin-Sforza agreement, the Asiatic and the Soviet groups coalesced into one bloc which might be roughly termed the “anti-Italian bloc”, as opposed to France and all of the Latin American States, except Haiti, which composed the strongly “pro-Italian bloc”. The U.S. found itself in the position of more or less “tagging along” with the latter group.

The, basic question at issue in the final phases of Committee One’s work and in the plenary was Italy’s suitability and acceptability as a trust power. Although the Asiatic States had strong feelings regarding early independence for Libya, I do not believe that they would have taken such a strong stand for immediate independence if it had not been for the fact that Italy had been suggested as one of the trust powers. From that point of view, independence was the most effective weapon of the Asiatics in trying to combat an Italian trusteeship [Page 560] over Tripolitania. The basic struggle in the Assembly was, therefore, between the pro-Italian forces and the anti-Italian forces. From the voting in plenary, I would group the various points of view somewhat as follows:

A. Pro-Italian. 33 Votes.


Those States whose primary motivation was to support Italy:

Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela. 20 Votes.


Those States whose primary motivation was to support the United Kingdom and incidentally supported Italy:

Australia, Canada, Denmark, Greece, New Zealand, Norway, United Kingdom, United States. 8 Votes.


Those States with mixed motivations, desiring to support both Italy and the United Kingdom:

Belgium, Iceland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Union of South Africa. 5 Votes.

B. Anti-Italian. 17 Votes.


Those States whose primary motivation was to prevent the return of Italy as trustee:

Burma, Egypt, Haiti, India, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen. 11 Votes.


Soviet Group:

Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Ukraine, USSR, Yugoslavia. 6 Votes.

C. Neutrals. 9 Votes.


Neutral but with strong anti-Italian leanings:

Afghanistan, China, Ethiopia*, Iran, Liberia*, Siam, Turkey. 7 Votes.


Neutral but with strong anti-British leanings:

Israel. 1 Vote.


True neutrals:

Sweden. 1 Vote.

I have already mentioned the manner of presentation of the Bevin-Sforza formula as a factor in shaping the foregoing groupings. Another most important influence was the immediate reaction of the inhabitants of Tripolitania towards the suggestion that Italy should be [Page 561] restored in the capacity of trustee. This served to strengthen the anti-Italian bloc and proved to be a trump card in the hands of the Soviets in their endeavor to assume the leadership of the anti-Italian forces. It also served as a source of great embarrassment to the U.S. which found itself in the position of supporting a proposal which was against the clear wishes of the inhabitants of the territories and, in my opinion, served to dissipate—temporarily at least—a large amount of the reserve of good will which we enjoy among the Asiatics as the result of our treatment of the Philippines.

From the foregoing groupings, it is apparent that the present balance of power lies in the hands of the neutrals. It was only as a result of the greatest persuasion that those in Group C.1. abstained (or in the case of Afghanistan was absent) on the voting. Most of the States in this grouping had natural sympathies with those Asiatic States in Group B.1. and abstained principally because of instructions from home not to oppose the U.S. or the U.K. I think it probable that in any future General Assembly they would find it even more difficult to maintain a neutral attitude on a question involving such important matters of principle for them and that many of them would naturally gravitate toward the anti-Italian grouping.

In the light of the foregoing, I feel that this experience has pointed out the following lessons:

The necessity of developing as early as possible a firm position which would enable us to exert leadership.
The necessity of undertaking as early as possible the necessary advance diplomatic preparation in order to counter the preparation of others and to insure that we will go into the next session of the General Assembly with the maximum possible support and understanding.
As a nation concerned with matters of principle and enjoying a reputation based largely upon that concern, we cannot afford to support a proposal which runs counter to the obvious wishes of the inhabitants of a territory.
Any future solution must look toward the early independence of Libya, i.e., not later than ten years, and the Power or Powers chosen to prepare Libya for independence must enjoy a reputation such as would convince the General Assembly of their willingness and capability to undertake that task and their acceptability to the local inhabitants.
Any future solution must provide effectively—and not merely by lip service—for Libyan unity. This was a major defect in Committee One’s draft resolution, which, while paying lip service to the concept of Libyan unity, divided it into three zones under different regimes.

Joseph Palmer 2nd
  1. Voted against Italian trusteeship for Italian Somaliland. [Footnote in the source text.]
  2. Voted against Italian trusteeship for Italian Somaliland. [Footnote in the source text.]
  3. Voted for Italian trusteeship for Italian Somaliland. [Footnote in the source text.]
  4. Voted for Italian trusteeship for Italian Somaliland. [Footnote in the source text.]