Minutes of Twenty-second Meeting of the United States Delegation to the General Assembly, Paris, November 29, 1951 1
[Here follow list of persons (45) present and discussion of a prior agenda item.]
2. Scale of Assessments
Mr. Hall called atention to the documents that had been placed before the Delegation. Among them were the following: the Report of the Committee on Contributions of the UN which had set forth the assessment recommendations for the coming calendar year. There was an excerpt from Public Law 188 enacted near the end of the last Session of Congress and which stated the conditions under which the US contributions to international organizations were to be made. Only in exceptional circumstances, in which case consultation with the Appropriations Committees of both House and Senate was required, could the US contribution to an international organization be in excess of 33⅓% of the total contributions. Also included among the document was a letter to Congressman Cannon, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, similar to a letter which had been sent to Senator McKellar of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Department’s position paper, SD/A/C.5/170, together with recommendations from the Delegation staff to amend it, Delga 260, and the Department’s comments thereon, Gadel 201, were also included. A memorandum prepared by Congressman Vorys regarding Gadel 201 was also appended. Finally, there was enclosed Section A of General Assembly resolution 238(III), in which the aim had been expressed of limiting the maximum assessment of any one contributor to the UN during normal times to one third of the total.
Mr. Hall briefly reviewed the history of the scale of assessments problem. He pointed out that the high level at which the US contribution had originally been set was based primarily on the principle of ability to pay. After strenuous efforts, the US in 1948 had secured adoption by the Assembly of resolution 238 (III) in which the principle was enunciated that in normal times the contribution of the highest contributor should be kept at a ceiling of 33⅓%.
The 1949 reduction in the US assessment for 1950 had been 0.10%, 0.89% for 1951, and 2.02% reduction was being proposed for 1952. At the same time the Committee on Contributions had increased the [Page 178]Soviet percentage by 2.87 points. The Committee had agreed that this large decrease in the US contribution over previous years was in line with the principle stated in the GA resolution of 1948, and that in two more years, the US contribution would be down to one third of the total contributions.
Mr. Hall next took up the position of the Delegation in relation to the legislation applicable to the situation. He pointed out that it had been impossible for the Department, and would now be for the Delegation as well, to consult with the Appropriations Committees of the House and Senate, since Congress had adjourned. He also referred to the opinion of the Department that the letters written to Congressman Cannon and Senator McKellar constituted a reasonable attempt to consult in view of the situation. He referred to the telegram to Mr. Hickerson (Delga 260), in which it had been stated that the US Delegation staff felt that a 33⅓% position would probably lose out in the GA voting, in that the Contributions Committee Report would probably be supported. In listing the factors unfavorable to achievement of a 33⅓% goal in 1952, Mr. Hall pointed out that other delegations felt that the US profited from having the Headquarters in US, and that the US had not yet acted in the matter of tax exemption for US Nationals in the Secretariat. Should the US go into the Assembly prepared to insist that its contribution assessment be reduced to one third, other delegations might tack onto such a resolution a condition that the US reciprocally provide some form of tax relief for US Nationals so as to eliminate the necessity for reimbursing to the US Treasury the taxes of US Nationals. On the side of achieving 33⅓%, the US could go into the Assembly and argue that on the basis of sovereign equality, its contributions to the Korean fighting, and the possibility of diminished support for the UN within the US, it would have to insist on the reduction.
But as he had pointed out earlier, the USSR and others would certainly take advantage of this position. In addition, the USSR might well attack the objectivity of the Contributions Committee, and seek to have the full Fifth Committee determine contributions. The US had previously backed the objectivity and “expertness” of this Committee and in terms of US interests this concept should be preserved. Mr. Hall pointed out that on the Contributions Committee the developed countries outweighed the underdeveloped ones. If the assessments matter were to be opened in the Fifth Committee the balance would be completely reversed.
On the question of whether the US was legally or morally obligated to make its contribution, in accordance with the amount fixed by the GA, Mr. Hall said that both the Department and Ambassador Austin had felt that there was a treaty obligation by which the US would be legally bound. A moral obligation was also present. What Mr. Hall [Page 179]was asking the Delegation to consider was the recommendations for a change in position to the extent indicated in Delga 260.
Mr. Cohen commented that he was not connected with either the Legislative or Executive branches of government in between the sessions of the GA and therefore approached this matter as a private US citizen. He wondered how serious it would be for the US to upset the Report of the Committee on Contributions. He felt that there was a great need for the United Nations to succeed, and that the “exceptional circumstances” referred to in the legislation applicable to the present situation needed something other than a fine legal interpretation. He said that if Congress had intended to make an exception in any particular case, it could not have intended the executive branch to be bereft of the authority to take such an exception on its own when it was impossible to consult with the Appropriations Committees of the House and Senate. Fair compliance with the Act, in view of its passage late in the session and the reasonable efforts made to consult with the Committees, had been achieved. He suggested that rather than voting against the Report of the Committee on Contributions, the US could at least abstain and remain consistent with its legal obligations. He felt that voting for it might be contravening the terms of the Appropriation Act, but abstaining would not constitute such a contravention.
Senator Cooper said that he followed in part the line of reasoning put forward by Mr. Cohen. He thought that there were exceptional circumstances involved, and that the US contribution was very small in comparison with the value received, and in view of the amounts the US was spending on other things. However, he could not vote for the Report of the Committee on Contributions since it was absolutely essential to have consultation with the Congressional Committees if exceptional circumstances presented themselves. That was the crucial point and those consultations had not been held. In his interpretation of the situation the US should vote against the Report, although he hoped a way could be found for the US to pay its full assessment.
Miss Strauss said that she felt this matter was of such great importance that it would be unwise to seek a Delegation decision that day.
Mr. Vorys said that there were three questions involved. First in importance was the meaning of the law itself. Secondly, he thought, the meaning of “consultation” should be defined. And thirdly, he felt that it should be decided whether the US would be committed to a course of action because it voted for a particular report. He did not think there had been consultation within the meaning of the law. He was not personally convinced that the US would be committed to a course of action simply because an international body passed a [Page 180]resolution. Nothing could supplant the Congress’ authority over money bills. He had taken up the question of Congressional intent with the Senators and Representatives who had been at Strassbourg. They had all agreed that the Congress would not appropriate more than ⅓ of the total of UN contributions for the next year. Mr. Mansfield referred to the opinions of Senators McMahon and Benton on this matter, and said he understood them to have felt that while it was not proper for the Congress so to limit the US contribution, they agreed that the temper of Congress was such that it would probably not appropriate more than 33⅓%. Mr. Mansfield agreed with Mr. Vorys that the US should vote against the report.
Mr. Hall re-explained his views in regard to the Contributions Committee. His only point had been intended to be that the ratio of underdeveloped countries to developed ones was much safer from the US point of view in the smaller Contributions Committee than in the full Assembly. Other states would vote against the Report of this Committee since their own assessments were being increased. They were behaving on the basis of their own immediate short-range interest, and ignoring what would be to their better interests in the long run. Mr. Sandifer added that of course the Contributions Committee had no ability to bind the Assembly, but could only make recommendations. The Assembly had full power to decide whether or not to accept these recommendations.
Mr. McKeever addressed himself to the political-propaganda aspects of this matter. He felt that the UN was the best ideological weapon in the US arsenal. It would be a great mistake for the US, by voting against the Assessment Scale, to help the Russians, who were at this very moment building up a substitute for the UN in their World Peace Council.
No decision was taken at the meeting on the US position on this matter, and it was understood that the matter would be brought up again.
- The Secretary of State was no longer with the Delegation, having left Paris on November 21. Mrs. Roosevelt was in the chair at this meeting and the following one on November 30.↩