A/MS files, lot 54 D 291 (V), “UNA/P master file”

Memorandum by the United Nations Planning Staff to the Planning Adviser, Bureau of United Nations Affairs (Sanders)

  • Subject:
  • “Principal Stresses and Strains Facing the US in the UN
In your memorandum of February 10, 1953 to the Office Directors,1 supplemented by meetings with Messrs.Hickerson and Sandifer and the Office Directors, the purposes of this project were described as follows:
To make an objective review and analysis of the major issues confronting the US in the UN in order that the new administration could have the benefit of this experience in charting future courses of action.
To take, in Mr. Hickerson’s words, a “new look” at what we have been doing in the UN after seven years of operation in order to have a clearer picture of directions and trends.
To establish guides for a selective approach to the problem of UN Charter review.
In Mr. Sandifer’s memorandum of April 30, 19532 it was stressed that the current stage of this project—the first stage—would consist of objective historical analyses of major stresses and strains, to be followed later by a second stage which would consist of conclusions, identification of new policy decisions required, and well-balanced presentation of alternative courses of action open to the US. He pointed out that the second stage would draw not only on the analysis of difficulties—the first stage papers—but on all other pertinent considerations and factors as well. The first stage studies with findings based upon them are in this sense background material and are being restricted to internal use within UNA only.
Of the fifteen studies originally scheduled eleven* were ultimately prepared, the others for one reason or another being found to be unsuitable for this presentation. All eleven papers were prepared in collaboration with the appropriate operating units of UNA and often other areas of the Department as well. Some of the papers were initially drafted by the operating officers, some by the UNA/P Planning Staff. In almost all cases extensive redrafting took place during a protracted period of discussion between UNA/P and other units. Most of the papers were fully cleared by all appropriate operating units. Others were approved in substance, and a few were dissented from by one or more units. Thus, although the studies are preponderantly a joint effort and full credit should be given to the many collaborating officers, UNA/P must take full responsibility for the final text.
It is inevitable that an attempt to state and analyze US experience in the UN should give rise to some apprehensions lest the presentation imply criticism of given policies and actions. No criticism (or advocacy) was intended. The sole purpose of the project was to secure a better grasp of what we have been doing, where we are heading, and what difficulties we must bear in mind.
Attached hereto is a brief paper of the most significant findings which UNA/P has derived from a number of the studies. The subject matter of a few of the studies did not bear on these central findings, but it should not be inferred that they are of any lesser importance, merely that they should be read as separate problems. The eleven basic papers are being made available under separate cover for background and reference.
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That this memorandum with its attachment be transmitted to Mr. Sandifer, and to Mr. Murphy, when he reports for duty, along with copies of the studies under separate cover.3
That copies be made available to the Office Directors and their staffs for background information, with a request for their recommendations as to the best way of carrying out the second stage.
That copies be sent to USUN for the background use of key officers.
That plans be formulated at an early date for the execution of the second stage.4

Recommendations Approved

William Sanders


Principal Stresses and Strains Facing the US in the UN Findings


This paper reports findings on a series of eleven studies (undertaken by UNA/P) of the persistent stresses and strains in the UN. In the resulting total picture two main features stand out as the central themes of most of the problems analyzed:

The General Assembly has become the predominant UN organ whose political dynamics govern the bulk of all UN business, so that policy problems in the UN field are increasingly affected by the various interests which nations single or en bloc have in this or that type of action by the General Assembly.
Politically, the General Assembly divides in two different ways, on the one hand between Soviet and anti-Soviet forces, and on the other hand between leading powers of the West and critics resentful of their colonial, economic and cultural positions. The two issues condition each other continuously in GA policies pursued by the US as well as other countries. Because of the predominance of the General Assembly, this interaction affects most UN activities with the exception of the more technical and purely organizational problems.

1. The Emerging Predominance of the General Assembly

Certain stresses and strains in the UN have arisen from the growth of the GA into the predominant organ where more and more of the important UN business is centered. This development can be observed in all fields of UN activities:

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In the political and security field, the GA has gradually been given a predominant responsibility, although it operates on the basis of public opinion and recommendations rather than binding decisions. The GA has also been used as an instrument to shape, if not direct, important political change, particularly in the setting up of independent nations. Moreover, the GA has been looked upon as a suitable (though not the only) body for the overall organization of the non-Soviet world against the Soviet threat of aggression. In the colonial field, the GA, in annually reviewing the work of the Trusteeship Council, has gradually shifted from procedural questions to substantive resolutions recommending that administering states take certain specific measures in the interest of colonial peoples. In the human rights field, the GA has made its own and very significant additions to the work of the respective commissions set up for the purpose (the most important one being the addition of economic, social, and cultural “rights” to the civil rights in the draft Covenant, and the 1952 resolution on self-determination), and it has brought direct charges based on alleged commitments under the Charter against a particular country (South Africa) on account of domestic policies supposedly violating those Charter obligations. In the economic field, the GA, in reviewing the work of ECOSOC and its subsidiary institutions, has itself raised and pressed issues of great importance, e.g., the “nationalization” of resources resolution, internationally assured “fair” prices for certain commodities, and the project of an International Development Fund.

The increasing use of the GA by the US in the security field and by the anti-colonial states in their drive toward the liquidation of colonialism combine to create an area of strain. The general character of this area of strain springs from the dependence of the US on majority support for “free world” solidarity on Cold War issues, through GA votes in which all Member nations great and small participate on an equal footing.

Under the heading “Majorities and Minorities”, “Changes in Function and Scope of UN”, “The Cold War”, and “The Revolution Against the European West”, particular difficulties in this general area are pointed out in the following sections. Besides these, however, certain stresses and strains result from the mode of operation that is peculiar to the GA as a parliamentary assembly and a forum of world opinion:

Much important UN business is now decided by majorities of the 60 GA members and to some extent by voting blocs formed among them (rather than being conducted in the SC, ECOSOC, and the TC, where composition and voting rights reflect a carefully balanced design). [Page 86]This means that the US, in order to exercise leading influence, must in addition to winning over its great power allies, continuously rally majority support among a great number of states many of whom have few international responsibilities, which occasionally requires high pressure liaison methods, and sometimes forces us to maneuver precariously between the various voting blocs in the GA.
We are now using, as the Soviets have done from the start, the GA as an instrument of active propaganda. Frequent appeals to public opinion not only by speeches and resolutions but also by substantive policies have come to constitute one of our main objectives in order to maintain the level of support for us in the GA, and, through the GA, in the world at large. Tensions in this respect have arisen between conflicting desires to satisfy domestic audiences and to appeal to foreign attitudes, between the use of the UN for Cold War propaganda and the danger of frightening parts of friendly majorities by the resulting increase of tension, and between our desire to consider certain issues (e.g., colonial questions) purely on their merits and the interest of others to make full use of the pressure and propaganda potential of the GA with respect to these matters.

2. Majorities and Minorities in the General Assembly

The political forces in the GA take the form of groupings of nations into relatively stable majorities and minorities, which is a key phenomenon of UN politics.

Most of these groupings are relatively permanent: the Soviet bloc, e.g., has been a minority from the beginning, at least on East-West questions, and has little chance of becoming the nucleus of a future majority. Other groupings are based on long-term common interests for which the GA provides possibilities of promotion. Thus the Arab-Asian bloc with 13–15 votes has occasionally joined forces with some or all of the 20 Latin American nations on matters concerning colonial issues and economic development, when other overriding interests (e.g., the Cold War) did not intervene. These two blocs together are capable of constituting a GA majority on a program of UN action to liquidate colonialism, and promote economic development, human rights, and national self-determination. On the other hand, we should not forget the happy fact that on matters of real political importance the US is usually assured of 18–20 Latin American votes to start with.

The division of the GA on East-West issues (with the “free world” majority ranging between 40 and 53 votes) is vital to US interests. Other groupings divide the “free world” within itself, reflecting diverging views and interests on colonial, economic and social issues. All of these groupings, setting up on various issues relatively stable but non-identical majority-minority divisions, some of which are buttressed by organizing voting blocs, are the permanent political forces in the GA. They must be considered as given realities in any UN [Page 87]policy. The main problem in this respect is the effect that the division of the “free world” within itself has on the size of the combined “free world” vote which the US is interested in obtaining on Cold War issues (and vice-versa). On given occasions (e.g., the issue of Red Chinese aggression, and the Soviet charge of US “intervention” through the Kersten Amendment) we have seen “free world” solidarity reduced by the abstentions of those who often combine to pursue common interests on colonial and related issues.

The US has demonstrated an interest in being, on the whole, with the UN majority, on the assumption that the GA majority is an expression of world opinion and represents a political force which is at the same time conceived as a moral force. In the pursuit of this interest, we experience stresses and strains, trying to rally continuous majority support to the common cause against the Soviet threat while avoiding alienation of majority sympathies on issues on which our closest friends and occasionally we ourselves are in a permanent minority.

3. Changes in Function and Scope of UN

Under the pressure of majority forces in the GA, the character, extent and methods of many UN activities are changing. Trends point toward reduced commitment and concept of action in the field of collective security (as compared with original Charter notions), and a broader scope and concept of involvement and commitment, if not action, in the fields of human rights and economic operations as well as colonial administration.§

In the human rights field, there has been a trend (only recently checked by the US) to advance from declarations to treaty law and conceivably even establishment of international tribunals, and from general principles to specific censure of particular countries for alleged violation of general Charter principles. In the colonial field, GA discussion has moved from procedural questions to matters of substance, and again from general criteria to recommendations on specific cases. In the economic sphere, there is increasing desire to set up a UN economic development agency, to have the UN fix commodity prices, and to obtain UN endorsement of nationalization of industries. By contrast, in regard to collective security, the trend has been to move from SC decisions to GA recommendations, and from an international force in being to UN planning for optional facilities regarding coordinated training and equipment of military units.

These changes and fluctuations tend to raise in the minds of many governments the question of what the UN is (or was) meant to accomplish. As different blocs or groupings in the GA seek to use the UN in [Page 88]a way that best promotes their long-range interests and thus contribute to the change of UN functions and scope, disagreements between conflicting views about the organization come to light. Thus, in the UN, administering powers have become so disturbed over the trend of expanding functions that they may refuse to cooperate in given UN activities.

4. The Cold War In The United Nations

It was conceived at San Francisco that the nucleus of great powers, with special rights of tenure and vote, would enable the Security Council effectively to deal with the peaceful settlements of disputes and threats to international peace. Accordingly, it was said that the UN security system could not work if the great powers themselves clashed. When, however, great power cooperation in the UN broke down, the organization did not fold up but rather, under the leadership of the US, attempted to adjust itself to the new situation. In the GA, which received now the major emphasis, a permanent Soviet minority confronted a majority that on major questions of the East-West conflict would unite against the Soviet bloc. This in turn brought about a new set of problems as nations formed different ideas of how to conduct a “cold war” in the UN, and how, in the presence of the Cold War, to maintain the impartial character and conciliatory features of the UN. Furthermore, tensions arose from differences of opinions of whether the “cold war” was more important business than UN attention to economic and other interests of underdeveloped nations.

While the absence of great power cooperation has affected practically all of the functions and activities of the UN, the greatest impact has been in the field of international peace and security. First, the UN security system under the Security Council has become unworkable and efforts have been made to develop alternative UN capabilities of collective security that would rally widespread support to resistance even against great power aggression. Secondly, the UN, particularly the GA, has become a scene of a running propaganda battle between the Soviet bloc and anti-Soviet forces, a development that has introduced new and important political problems and even functions into the organization. Thirdly, the question of UN membership has been [Page 89]given a Cold War significance that altogether overshadows other considerations in this matter. The related problem of Chinese representation has so far been the chief example of tension arising from different ideas of how to conduct the Cold War in the UN, or, differently put, how to handle UN problems in the presence of the Cold War. Similar tensions have occasionally arisen in the matter of slates for elections to posts within the UN.

In general, different attitudes regarding these problems have developed along the lines of the following groupings:

  • First, the US, interested in the support of the UN as a cornerstone of its foreign policy, but at least equally inspired by its sense of leadership in opposing its own beliefs to those of Communism, is committed to an active and vigorous opposition to Soviet expansion, and to energetic leadership of all nations likewise determined to resist Soviet imperialism.
  • Second, leading European NATO members tend to believe that the present development of NATO is approaching a degree of security adequate for defensive purposes, and that NATO is the best instrument to effect a balance of power to which the UN could not make any significant addition. They incline to fear that vigorous conduct of the Cold War in the UN might endanger the chances of obtaining peaceful settlement with the Soviet Union.
  • Thirdly, many of the Arab-Asian states, who are above all interested in the liquidation of Western colonialism and the promotion of their own living standards and cultural recognition, tend to take a neutral attitude in the Cold War, which causes them to oppose what they regard as “punitive” or “condemnatory” functions of the UN.**

5. The Revolution Against the European West

Within the free world, colonialism has become the center of a cluster of issues the common denominator of which is objection to the political, economic and cultural predominance of leading Western powers in their relations with all kinds of non-European peoples, whether black, brown, or yellow, Moslem or Hindu, primitive or civilized, dependent or self-governing. As in the case of the Cold War, on many of these issues we find a permanent though slightly shifting minority (sometimes consisting of administering states, sometimes of the economically [Page 90]leading Western nations, and sometimes again of the politically most advanced countries) pressed by a potential majority that is often brought together by strong emotions of resentment and desires to bring about “revolutionary” change in the relative position of weak and “backward” countries.‡‡ The colonial field itself is the center of this tension, but the same feelings also come to the surface in certain human rights questions, economic issues, and even legal matters (e.g., the attempt to introduce the concept of “economic aggression”). The racial element in this complex has produced a number of political disputes which have been given top billing among UN affairs.

In all of these matters, “free world” nations are divided against each other regarding the application of principles on which the West and the Soviets are ideological competitors, since both claim to be champions of equality, national self-determination, freedom from oppression, prosperity for all, human rights, and tolerance of other races and cultures. As these ideals are employed by a majority of ex-colonial and economically backward peoples in an emotional and frequently reckless campaign in GA committees, the US finds itself maneuvering on precarious middle ground between European colonial powers and their critics. Thus we experience, directly or as middle men, the stresses and strains of a “revolution” against European pre-eminence, but we also encounter difficulties in our relations with our main European allies whose concerns for their colonial position we can understand but do not always accept as guides for our own conduct. The Soviet bloc has turned these issues to its advantage, swelling the ranks of the anti-colonial states, widening the gap between developed and underdeveloped countries in the “free world”, and using the symbol of human rights in attempts to discredit Western societies. Through such policies the Soviet bloc has utilized the UN to promote and increase rather than to reduce international tensions.

  1. Not found in Department of State files.
  2. Not found in Department of State files. A UNA/P memorandum of Apr. 24, 1953, to Sandifer, on which the Apr. 30 memorandum may have been based, is in decimal file 310.
  3. General Assembly and Security Council; Colonial Question; Propaganda; Collective Security; Bloc Politics; Human Rights; Economic Development; Scope of UN Action; Admission of New Members; International Secretariats; Inter-relationships of International Organizations. [Footnote in the source text.]
  4. The 11 studies were organized into a black binder which was entitled “Principal Stresses and Strains Facing the US in the UN”.
  5. No documentation has been found on a second stage operation.
  6. This emerges in the following papers: GA and SC, Colonial Issue, Propaganda, Economic Development, Scope of UN Action, Human Rights, Bloc Politics, and Collective Security. [Footnote in the source text.]
  7. The problem appears in the following papers: GA and SC, Bloc Politics, Collective Security, Propaganda, Colonial Issue, Scope of UN Action, Human Rights, and Economic Development. [Footnote in the source text.]
  8. This problem is reflected in the following papers: Scope of UN Action, GA and SO, Colonial Issue, Propaganda, Economic Development, Human Rights, Interrelationships of International Organizations, Bloc Politics, and Collective Security. [Footnote in the source text.]
  9. Other facts, not mentioned in the original papers, but relevant to the findings, should be mentioned here: The UK has keenly desired to discuss with us the role of the UN, and has set forth its ideas not only in last year’s talks about this subject, but also in a series of articles and speeches by Sir Gladwyn Jebb. On the other hand, the Soviet Union has constantly insisted on a “return to the original concept of the UN”. Further reactions to changing UN functions have come from within the US, where strong groups have expressed fears that the UN might eventually subvert the Constitution, while others voice impatience that it does not yet have the capacity to secure world peace. And within the US Government, opinions are divided on whether the UN should be used primarily for propaganda or for substantive achievement. [Footnote in the source text.]
  10. The Cold War is reflected primarily in the following papers: GA and SC, Propaganda, Membership, and Collective Security. [Footnote in the source text.]
  11. In the light of the recent “change of course” of Soviet policy, the following observation is pertinent: The Cold War has confronted the world with the problem of bi-polarism and has given rise to the concept of a “third force”. The UN reflects this problem in a characteristic way, since many nations choose to look upon the organization itself as the prime example of a “third force”. With the new interests the Soviets have taken, during their present “peace” campaign, in cultivating and capturing “third force” elements, the entire problem is one of great and vital importance for the security of the US. [Footnote in the source text.]
  12. The problem is reflected in the following papers: Colonial Issue, Human Rights, Economic Development, Scope of UN Action, and Bloc Politics. [Footnote in the source text.]