ODA Files, Lot 62 D 228, “Colonial Policy Talks UK and France–1951”

Memorandum by Mr. William Sanders, Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs (Hickerson), to Mr. Hickerson1


Subject: Report on the Talks on Colonial Policy Held in London and Paris, October 10 to October 16, 1951

Copies of the attached minutes (Tab A)2 of the talks prepared by members of the United States group have been distributed to interested Officers in the Department. Matters on which immediate follow-up action was required were discussed and appropriate decisions taken at a meeting held in my office on October 23, 1951. These matters are listed in the attached memorandum of the same date. (Tab B).2

The American group operated as a well-coordinated team. Mr. Gerig and Mr. Allen did yeoman service and in London Miss Margaret Joy Tibbetts, Embassy Attaché, as Secretary of the group and as liaison officer, did an outstanding job. As was to be expected, the American group relied heavily on Mr. Gerig’s background and experience and his close personal relations with most of the United Kingdom and French participants in the talks.

The United Kingdom and French Foreign Offices apparently consider that the talks were helpful. The American Embassy in London reports that there is continuing evidence that the United Kingdom participants were highly pleased and consider that the discussions are of real value. The American Embassy in Paris reports that the French were very pleased with the exchange of views.

As to the future, the United Kingdom definitely expects the talks to become an annual feature. The French will no doubt accept annual meetings but will not, I think, press for them. I think the talks should be continued but that no formal agreement to have annual meetings is necessary or desirable. Their usefulness is clear from our experience the last two years. The talks not only anticipate future difficulties in such a way as make our negotiations in the United Nations easier, but they are of general political and psychological value. They reassure the UK and the French regarding our desire to be helpful, our willingness to hear their side, and our readiness to apply in colonial matters the London agreements of 1950 regarding consultations.

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The talks indicated that the UK and France continue to see the advantages of a less legalistic and more flexible approach to these problems. This fact has tended to create the impression that the issues between them and us relate primarily to questions of timing and tactics. While reflecting a healthy optimism which should be encouraged, this impression is misleading. For example, the talks in London revealed a strong and continuing concern that the practice of yielding to pressures calling for the submission of information on constitutional and political matters or to do other things not required by the Charter may, through a cumulative effect, establish a principle which would end in giving the UN additional powers. Among the “hard core” issues are:

In the trusteeship area, the United Kingdom will not accept prior consultation and the alleged right of the General Assembly to tell the administering powers how they should discharge their responsibilities.
In the non-trusteeship area, the United Kingdom will not accept resolutions that do not apply to all members or recommendations regarding particular territories; it insists that the United Nations should not discuss constitutional questions or political questions except as incidentally related to social, economic, or other similar matters; it also will not admit that there is an obligation requiring prior consultation.

The American group made it clear that the US did not want to tell the UK and France how they should administer their territories. It indicated that perhaps the basic difference between our respective approaches turns on the judgment we pass on the liabilities of a negative attitude in the United Nations on questions that involve strong political and psychological reaction. The estimate made by the US leads it on balance to the conclusion that more is to be gained by submitting information, even though not legally required, and by discussing such information, than by taking a negative or antagonistic attitude. The UK and the French, on the other hand, concentrate on the other side of the coin, on the difficulties and hinderances created in the administration of territories by such submissions and discussion.

In summary, I think it is important for us not to be deluded by the the appearance of happy agreement. Under the smooth surface there are many rocks that are bound to cause serious difficulties as we deal with specific issues in the United Nations. It is one thing to discuss these problems in general terms in the relatively relaxed and friendly atmosphere of the talks in London and Washington; it is quite another to discuss the same issues in specific terms while being prodded and needled, frequently in what seems to us to be an irresponsible way, by the non-administering powers in the relatively psychopathic atmosphere of Committee 4. The flare-up last year over the Michael [Page 654] Scott3 affair shortly after the Washington talks, and the one this year over discussion of political conditions in non-self-governing territories, give accent to this point.

These two instances involved one or more of the “hard core” issues mentioned above. The United Kingdom in these and other similar cases has taken the attitude that our failure to give them complete support represented a departure from the understandings reached during the colonial talks. This reaction on the part of the United Kingdom raises a basic question as to what these understandings were and who has been converted to whose gospel. After the Washington talks last year the United Kingdom sent circulars to its missions saying the talks had been successful in convincing the United States of the validity of the United Kingdom position. We, on our part, thought we had persuaded the United Kingdom of the advantages of a more flexible approach. Instances of the kind referred to have shown how far apart we remain and how the contradictions in the two approaches emerge to join issue over specific problems. For our part we see that, at least on the issues where the new approach is really needed, the United Kingdom continues to maintain the inflexibility which characterized its attitudes during the period prior to the colonial talks.

Some of our troubles are created by UK and French representatives in the actual negotiations in the United Nations who have not participated in the colonial talks and are not conditioned to the more flexible attitudes which the talks promote. No doubt the UK is saying the same thing about us, in view of their recent comments about our representative in Committee 4 in Paris. Study of these and other aspects of our experience with the discussions will offer helpful hints on where and how we move from here with the talks.

For one thing I believe they should increasingly focus on specific issues expected to arise in the UN. I think also that we should soft-pedal exhortations about the virtues of more democracy and self-government and independence for dependent peoples and generalized concepts as to how Soviet tactics may be met. The same applies to generalizations about the historical factors which explain our attitude toward these problems. The United Kingdom and the French profess to fail to understand why we do not take into account that the clock has long since passed the hour of “colonial imperialism” and that the “enlightened” colonial policy of today is a far cry from the policy that led to the American revolution.

This does not mean that our approach to the talks should be governed by excessive consideration for United Kingdom and French [Page 655] susceptibilities. The point is that diminishing returns have set in on some of our standard arguments. We should begin to take for granted, at least for purposes of discussion with them, that the United Kingdom and France accept certain basic propositions of the new approach which supposedly has evolved out of the talks. Perhaps one way to do this is to develop a series of such basic propositions which could serve as points of departure in the discussion of specific issues. They could include points that both sides could assume have become axiomatic in the new approach, e.g., the desirability of greater flexibility and the merits of explaining what is being done to improve the welfare and increase the self-government of dependent peoples. The idea would be to set a platform under the progress already achieved. The application of these standards to specific issues would promptly reveal where the shoe pinches without requiring a recapitulation of basic philosophy.

This may not be the way to do it but I do believe that if we do not do something of the kind we will continue to alternate each year between the sometimes misleading optimism of the talks, and the pessimism produced by the frustrations in the United Nations.

  1. Attached to the memorandum was an undated “chit” handwritten by Mr. Hickerson: “Mr. Sanders [,] I read all of your excellent memo [presumably Hickerson meant by this, both sets of U.S.-UK and U.S.-French minutes, and related miscellaneous matter which is not printed here] and I agree with your conclusions. After Gerig returns I want us to go into this whole question fully. There are some very basic differences between us & the Br[itish] & Fr[ench] that we must face realistically. J[ohn] D. H[ickerson].”
  2. Not printed.
  3. Not printed.
  4. This refers to the Rev. Mr. Michael Scott, Anglican clergyman from the Union of South Africa who regularly sought to appear before the Fourth Committee at sessions of the General Assembly, on behalf of the Herero and Nama peoples of South West Africa. For documentation on these matters, see pp. 673 ff.