HickersonMurphyKey files, lot 58 D 33, “Jebb’s Syracuse speech—March 25, 1952”

The Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs (Hickerson) to the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom at the united Nations (Jebb)


Dear Glad: It was good of you to send me with your note of March 31 the text of your Syracuse University speech and invite my comments on it.1 I had read the press accounts of the speech but had not previously received the full text of it. First of all let me apologize for the delay in commenting on this speech which puts forth your views in brilliant and persuasive fashion.

I read your speech carefully and I asked several of my senior associates to read it and give me their comments on it. It would be trite for me to say that I agree with a large part of your statements. In several important respects I don’t know whether my disagreement is with substance or with emphasis and the following comments are to be read in that light.

What you seem to me to be saying is that since we can’t have the five-power cooperation we hoped for at San Francisco (and, incidentally, better five-power cooperation than was in sight at the time of the Conference), we ought to keep the United Nations, by and large, out of the center of the cold war struggle and to use it in the political field primarily as a forum and a conciliation instrument. I cannot believe that you mean by this that in these circumstances a fundamental purpose of the United Nations to maintain peace should be ignored or allowed to lapse. Surely you do not mean that we should stop efforts to develop a collective security role for the United Nations under current conditions. We have made a good start, and I emphasize it is only a start, in the Korean experience and the Uniting For Peace program. It may take a long time to make the progress which we would like to [Page 10] achieve but I feel strongly that we should continue these efforts and I hope you agree.

Perhaps you feel that if the United Nations concentrates too much on developing itself as an agency for collective security it will be at the expense of its functions of peaceful settlement. It seems to me that this thesis is of doubtful validity. It seems to me that the more the United Nations is developed in all of its aspects the more effective it will be in each one of them. In other words, I feel that the stronger the United Nations is as an agency for collective security the more effective it can and should be as an agency for conciliation.

One of your colleagues once said to me that, in his opinion, the United Kingdom regarded the United Nations as a forum in which we could deal with the opposition (that is, the Soviet Union) while the United States seemed to wish to develop it into an anti-Soviet alliance. I told him that this is not true in regard to our attitude. I see great advantages in the continued presence of the Soviet Union in the United Nations. If they ever change their policy and decide to begin to behave as a responsible member of the international community, they will be members in good standing of a going concern and they can begin to cooperate in the United Nations without loss of face or embarrassment. I should not like to see the free countries take action to force the USSR out of the United Nations on that account and, moreover, I should dislike very much to see the free nations take action which would, in effect, help relieve the Soviet Union from the important commitments which they undertook when they signed the Charter. If the Soviet Union decides itself to leave the organization, that is a matter over which none of us has any control, but I, myself, hope that they will not reach such a decision.

In working to build up under the Charter a system of collective security, let me emphasize that we are not endeavoring to forge an anti-Soviet alliance but a means for dealing with aggression. If the United Kingdom should aggress, it would be directed against the United Kingdom; if the United States aggressed it would be against us. If the Soviets feel that these efforts to carry out the Charter are directed against them I can only recall the Biblical statement that “The wicked flee when no man pursueth.”

As I went over your speech I felt at some points that you were saying, in effect, that using the United Nations against some future Soviet aggression would risk breaking up the organization; that, therefore, we should leave this job to NATO and so preserve the United Nations as a forum and an instrument of conciliation. I must say that this seems to me to be a doctrine which, if carried out, would condemn the United Nations to early oblivion. In my opinion, if the United Nations ever lakes the line that it must stand aside from the most important political conflicts of our time it is not going to be taken very seriously or [Page 11] supported by anyone. My own view is that while NATO is the cutting edge of the East-West struggle, the moral motive power behind the blade must come from the United Nations with its over-all appeal to the conscience of mankind.

To put this in somewhat more specific terms, let us suppose that the USSR committed an overt act of aggression in Germany. NATO would, of course, move immediately in accordance with its terms, especially Article 5. I am sure, however, that all of us would wish to see this action reinforced by United Nations action. I visualize that the General Assembly would meet in emergency session, make a finding of aggression, designate the NATO machinery as the Executive Military Authority, recommend that all Members of the United Nations give urgently military and other assistance in the struggle and recommend that the military forces made available be placed under the command of the NATO machinery. It seems to me that it is of the utmost importance that we be able to count on such action. It may well provide the margin, in terms of outside assistance to the NATO powers, between ultimate victory and defeat if this crisis ever has to be faced. Moreover, I believe that the only way to prevent fragmentation in the free world would be to preserve its unity in the United Nations. All this seems to me to underline the importance of continuing efforts wisely and prudently to build up the collective security function of the United Nations.

In your speech you do not mention the United Nations as a moral force, either in connection with NATO relationships or otherwise. Rather, you seem to evaluate the United Nations more in terms as an operating agency and conclude that the United Nations itself is not necessarily the best means of waging war. I agree and feel that if a major war comes it will be waged as set forth above. The United Nations should be involved in a war not because it is a well-oiled machine (which it isn’t yet), but rather because it represents the collective moral judgment of the world community. Indeed, it is the only body which is responsive to the collective judgment of the people of the world.

Of course I agree with you that wherever the United Nations can be used for conciliation it should be so used. Of course I agree with you that the United Nations is an important forum and a center for harmonizing the relations of nations. The highly developed United Nations machinery for these purposes is always available. But I feel strongly that fortifying the United Nations ability to resist aggression will strengthen rather than weaken its conciliation and forum functions. I feel even more strongly that we must continue to try to build up the United Nations strength to resist aggression if we are going to continue to have a United Nations in existence for conciliation, as a forum, or for other purposes.

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I am sending Ernie Gross a copy of this letter. He and I will be glad to discuss with you from time to time these matters.

With regards and every good wish, I am

Yours sincerely,

John D. Hickerson
  1. Neither found in Department of State files, but see footnote 3, p. 4.