IO Files: US/A/C.3/338

Memorandum by the Deputy Director of the Office of United Nations Economic and Social Affairs (Green) to Mr. David H. Popper, Principal Executive Officer of the United States Delegation to the General Assembly


Subject: Post-Mortem on the Third Committee.

Box Score

The record of the United States Delegation during the seventy-six meetings of the Third Committee may be summarized as follows:

Won Lost Tied
Refugees UNICEF Human Rights Covenant
Prisoners of War Freedom of Information Convention Report of the Economic and Social Council
Radio Jamming and Freedom of Information During Emergencies Election of High Commissioner for Refugees Advisory Social Welfare Services
[Page 576]

Despite the numerical equality of victories and defeats, the record as a whole is heavily weighted on the side of defeats: the three defeats were on major items, they were registered after the United States position had been made unmistakably clear, and two of them were by overwhelming majorities; two of the victories—prisoners of war and radio jamming—involved duels between the United States and U.S.S.R., with obvious political overtones; and one of the ties—the Human Rights Covenant—involved defeat of the United States position on a matter of major significance, the decision to include economic and social rights in the Covenant.

A brief comment on each item is set forth below:


Refugees.—The United States position prevailed in most of the topics debated under this heading, although we were compelled because of lack of time to accept reference of the Draft Convention to a conference of plenipotentiaries, rather than its completion in the Assembly itself. The final votes in the Third Committee were disappointingly small—25–5–15—because of the large number of abstentions in the Near Eastern and Latin American Delegations, and abstentions by interested governments, such as the United Kingdom, on purely technical grounds. Later votes in the Assembly were more satisfactory; 36–5–10 and 41–5–10.

Prisoners of War.—On this item the three sponsoring Delegations—Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—put the Soviet Union completely on the defensive and scored a resounding victory, 43–5–8. Although I originally had qualms about placing this item on the agenda and assigning it to the Third Committee, I now believe that the undertaking was worthwhile. By accepting numerous amendments submitted by the Near Eastern and Latin American delegations, while retaining the essential portions of our position, we were able to win considerable good will in the Committee.

Radio Jamming and Freedom of Information in Emergencies.—Radio jamming provided another field in which we put the Soviets on the defensive and greatly embarrassed the Soviet bloc.


UNICEF .—This item provided the most decisive and embarrassing defeat for the Delegation, which found itself in a minority of eight in the Committee, and as the only abstainer in the plenary meeting. Our attempt to place UNICEF on a permanent basis, with emphasis on technical advice and assistance rather than on large-scale supply programs, received little support from any quarter. The other principal contributing countries—Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Scandinavians—were fearful of the financial commitments involved in long-term arrangements. The UNICEF staff, whose freedom of action was threatened by the United States proposal for integration of the staff in the United Nations Secretariat and for closer [Page 577] collaboration with the specialized agencies, lobbied diligently for retention of the status quo. The underdeveloped countries, especially in the Near East and Middle East, charged that the United States was more interested in European children, who had been the principal beneficiaries of UNICEF, than in the children of the rest of the world. They, and indeed most other countries, are totally unfamiliar with the American concept of social services and are unwilling to substitute such services, even though accompanied by supplies, for large-scale supply programs. We were criticized on all sides for taking a much more restrictive position than at ECOSOC last summer, where we had negotiated a compromise resolution, for being preoccupied with minute details of drafting, and for threatening the Committee by our warnings that Congress might not appropriate funds unless the resolution was satisfactory to us. Although I remain convinced that our position was basically sound, I am inclined to feel, in retrospect, that we took too perfectionist an attitude on the exact language of the resolution and submitted too many amendments to the ECOSOC text.

Freedom of Information Convention.—Despite elaborate consultations before and during the Assembly, we found ourselves in a small minority on this issue. For this I have no regret, because I regard our position as entirely sound and do not see what more we could have done to make it clear. The United States simply has a different concept of “freedom of information” from that of most other countries.

Election of High Commissioner for Refugees.—The election of Mr. Goedhart over Mr. Kingsley was a surprise and a disappointment, as we had counted on twenty-eight votes, which would have been sufficient to prevail. We had urged the Secretary-General to submit only one name to the plenary and would have accepted his decision. Our defeat on this item arose from several different factors: a large number of delegations resented our asking for this post, as well as for the Agent Generalship in Korea, in addition to all of the other top positions occupied by Americans; Mr. Rochefort, who many delegations knew was to be appointed by Mr. Kingsley as deputy, made a highly unsatisfactory impression; and France contributed only its own vote to the support of Mr. Kingsley; all of the Committee Three members knew Mr. Goedhart and most of them liked him, whereas very few of them met Mr. Kingsley during the brief period he was at Lake Success; and several of the Latin American Delegations, although pledged to Mr. Kingsley, probably voted for Mr. Goedhart when at the last moment they learned that we were supporting the Burmese candidate rather than the Bolivian candidate for High Commissioner of Eritrea. This development probably lost us four votes.


Human Rights Covenant.—The final resolution followed the general pattern of the draft prepared by the United States and cosponsored with Brazil and Turkey; and it included a number of points, including the federal-state clause, which we considered essential. We were defeated, however, in our efforts to exclude economic and social rights from the Covenant, to have the Human Rights Commission [Page 578] study the colonial clause, and to prevent asking the Commission to study the problem of self-determination of peoples.

ECOSOC Report.—Most of this material was non-controversial in character and was merely noted by the Committee, often without debate. We voted with the majority in defeating a resolution to replace the expert Ad Hoc Committee on Slavery by a commission representing governments; but we were defeated in our efforts to uphold the ECOSOC decision that the Subcommission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities and the Subcommission on Freedom of Information and of the Press should not meet in 1951.

Advisory Social Welfare Services.—The Delegation voted with the majority on this item, which we strongly supported, but we were defeated in the Fifth Committee in our effort to hold the expenditures for 1951 to the level of those in 1950.

Reasons for Defeat

The blame for this unsatisfactory record most certainly does not fall on either Mrs. Roosevelt or Mrs. Sampson, who did everything possible to explain and argue the United States position, both in committee meetings and in informal conversations. Both representatives were personally popular; both entertained extensively, including many small luncheons; and both conversed frequently with other delegates. Nor did the fault lie, I believe, with United States advisers; for I can only pay tribute to the imagination and hard work which Mr. Pierrot, our area adviser, and the various ad hoc advisers devoted to their efforts to sell the United States position. The real causes for this series of major defeats lie elsewhere, as outlined below.

Special Characteristics of the Third Committee.—Many members of the Third Committee seemed to me to be motivated by deep emotional convictions rather than by the political considerations which are in evidence elsewhere in the assembly. They take very seriously the fact that the Third Committee deals with social, cultural, and humanitarian problems, and they take pride in discussing these problems on their own merits without regard to political considerations. Indeed the Third Committee acts as something of a “safety valve” for emotions that are stifled in the two political committees. In those two committees most of the small delegations feel obliged to follow the United States on almost every issue; in the Third Committee they take pleasure in voicing their independence and in functioning almost as though the “cold war” did not exist. Furthermore, they express resentment when anything resembling a “cold war” issue is introduced in the Committee—e.g., radio jamming and prisoners of war—and tend to take a neutral position and abstain in voting. Many delegates appeared to be without instructions or with only the most general instructions; and we have reason to believe that at least two delegates [Page 579] voted on occasion contrary to their instructions. They tend to freewheel as individual experts and to be swayed by the oratory of their colleagues.

Leadership of the Underdeveloped Countries.—Like the Fourth Committee, where I served in 1946 and 1947, the Third Committee is a forum for the underdeveloped countries and for those who oppose “colonialism”. Most of the leaders of the Third Committee were eloquent exponents of the underdeveloped countries—Mr. Bokhari of Pakistan, the Vice President; Mr. Noriega of Mexico, the Rapporteur Mr. Baroody of Saudi Arabia, Mr. Azkoul of Lebanon, Mrs. Afnan of Iraq, and Mrs. Menon of India. We had not anticipated the vigor and bitterness of their disagreement with United States policies on almost every item, because the Near and Middle Eastern views had apparently not been fully expressed in the Social Commission and the Economic and Social Council. Many different debates had obvious overtones; the colored peoples in opposition to the white, the newly independent countries against the administering powers, and the underdeveloped against the industrialized nations. Many of them had overtones of the Palestine conflict as well, for several of the Arab representatives, especially Mrs. Afnan, had deep personal feelings on that issue which colored their approach to almost every item on the agenda. It is noteworthy that the principal leadership came from the Near East and Middle East, whereas the Far East made relatively little contribution to the work of the Committee. The spokesmen for the developed countries fought valiantly to express their points of view, but, being hampered by responsible financial policies and by logical, well-reasoned positions, they were rarely as effective as those on the other side. These factors were most apparent in the debate on UNICEF, but they affected the debates on many different subjects. When the Human Rights Covenant was under discussion, for example, the Committee devoted two or three sessions to the colonial clause in a debate which was really on the general problem of non-self-governing territories and which repeated almost verbatim the arguments which I have heard many times in the Fourth Committee and Trusteeship Council.

Absence of Soviet Opposition.—The Soviet Delegation and its four satellites took a relatively minor part in the work of the Committee except in connection with the two items—radio jamming and prisoners of war—where they were under attack. For the most part they expressed their usual positions in a relatively perfunctory manner. As a result, the other delegations did not coalesce into an anti-Soviet group, but were left free to carry on their battles against the United States.

[Page 580]

Unpopularity of United States Positions.—On a number of issues the United States took positions which were well-considered and entirely logical but which simply did not appeal to the emotional outlook of the majority. In the debate on UNICEF, the United States position was based on sound administrative and financial considerations which the majority tended to disregard. With respect to the Human Eights Covenant and the Freedom of Information Convention, the United States positions were rational and well argued, but they were widely regarded as restrictive and conservative. At some points our Delegation seemed to the other delegations to stick too rigidly to precise details of drafting and to care more for the form than for the substance of the matter.

Lack of Support from the United Kingdom, France, etc.—In contrast to the Fourth Committee where I have been accustomed to working a small bloc of eight administering powers against the field, one has to cope in the Third Committee with a different alignment of delegations on each item. Frequent splits between the United States, the British Commonwealth, and the Western European powers made United States leadership a difficult matter. For example, the British and Australians deserted us on UNICEF; the British, on human rights and refugees; the French, on freedom of information; and the French and Benelux powers, on prisoners of war.

Absence of Adequate Liaison with other Delegations.—One contributing factor, although not a major one, was lack of adequate liaison with some of the other delegations. Mr. Pierrot did excellent work in consulting continuously with the Latin American delegations, and the ad hoc advisers and I made a special effort to work with the British, French, Australian, Canadian, and a few other key delegations; but contact with many other delegations was neglected. With the advantage of hindsight, I realize that I should have worked out for each item a separate schedule of liaison assignments so that all of the non-Soviet delegations could have been adequately covered.

Recommendations for the Sixth Session

The recommendations set forth below are not intended as criticisms of the operations this year, but as suggestions for consideration in the preparations next year.

Special attention should be given next year, in the preparation of position papers, to the political aspects of the papers. Wherever it is apparent, as in the case of UNICEF this year, that the United States will arouse deep resentment in a particular area, that position should be thoroughly reviewed in the regional bureau concerned in order that it may be presented to better advantage. The Third Committee should be regarded next year as a place where the United States [Page 581] can further its political objectives by listening sympathetically to the underdeveloped countries and by meeting their requests wherever feasible. A special effort in the Third Committee to listen, to consult, to negotiate, and—when appropriate—to compromise in the Third Committee will pay political dividends.
Much more needs to be done in the field of diplomatic preparation for the next session of the Assembly. Consultation with some of the key governments should begin long before our position papers are finalized, and should be designed to provide for a genuine exchange of views and not just for transmission of the completed United States position. Our Missions abroad should be asked to consult not only with the foreign office, but also, if appropriate, with the government department primarily concerned in the subject matter and with the person who will represent his government in the Third Committee. The Mission in New York should also be asked to do much more in connection with pre-Assembly consultations. The Third Committee agenda items should be handled in separate instructions to the field and in separate conversations with other governments so that they are not overshadowed by the more spectacular political items. Most important, we should try to arrange with a few key delegations—e.g., Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, Mexico, Iraq, India, Pakistan—to undertake intensive talks at the opening of the General Assembly, preferably two or three days before the beginning of the session. We need particularly to try to reduce to an absolute minimum our differences with the United Kingdom, the old Dominions, and the Western European countries, in order to limit the formation of opposing blocs of underdeveloped countries and prevent their playing the other highly developed countries off against the United States.
An area adviser is needed in the Third Committee for the Middle Eastern group as well as for the Latin American delegations. It was a mistake to have assigned Mr. Pierrot to the Sixth Committee as well as the Third Committee, as these two committees have no problems in common. I recommend that next year two area advisers (Latin America and Near and Far East) be assigned exclusively to the Third Committee. These area advisers should spend several weeks in the Department and at the Mission before the session so that they can become thoroughly familiar with the substantive issues. The Executive Officer for the Third Committee should assume responsibility for liaison with a considerable number of delegations and should make certain with respect to each agenda item that all delegations are adequately covered.
A special effort should be made next year to see that our Delegation does not insist too rigidly on the precise drafting of resolutions. The Department’s instructions should be as flexible as possible, with emphasis on broad objectives rather than on details. Our Delegation should work more closely with others in the preliminary drafting of texts, and should not always attempt to peddle a completed draft resolution.
The budgetary aspects of the Third Committee items need careful review, and the Department next year should give special attention to those items involving any or additional United States contributions. Such items should be appraised in terms of our general financial commitments to the United Nations and to foreign economic programs. Unless absolutely necessary, the Delegation should not be instructed to fight to the last ditch on items involving relatively small expenditures. The underdeveloped countries are obviously determined to get just as much money out of the United States as they possibly can; and it would be well for the United States, in recognizing this fact, to make provision in the funds available for overseas assistance and development for such relatively minor items as UNICEF and Advisory Social Welfare Services.
Consideration should be given to referring draft conventions to the Legal Committee, which is not characterized by the emotionalism outlined above. Every effort should be made in the preparatory work of subsidiary organs and in the Third Committee itself to explore avenues, as in the field of freedom of information, for achieving generally agreed objectives without creating the major dissensions, characteristically followed by disappointment and inaction, that result from a concentration on treaty-writing rather than on action programs.
One additional matter, which I suspect affects the work of the Delegation in other committees as well, is the need for concluding Delegation meetings in time for United States Delegates and Advisers to arrive at their committees well before the morning meetings begin. Day after day this year the Delegation meeting ran until 10:15 a. m. or even later, with the result that our group in the Third Committee was unable to carry on any preliminary talks with other delegations. The transportation situation will be different, of course, when the Assembly meets next year in Europe and later in Manhattan, but the matter will merit attention each year.

[Here follows an editing note.]