HickersonMurphyKey files, lot 58 D 33, “US–UK talks—September 1952”

United States Informal Minutes of Meeting Between United States and United Kingdom Groups (First Session), Washington, September 22, 1952



  • uk
  • Sir Christopher Steele
  • Sir Gladwyn Jebb
  • Mr. B. A. B. Burrows
  • Mr. J. K. Thompson
  • Miss Barbara Salt
  • Mr. R. W. D. Fowler
  • Mr. D. S. Laskey
  • us
  • Mr. John D. Hickerson
  • Ambassador Ernest Gross
  • Mr. Harding F. Bancroft
  • Mr. James C. Bonbright
  • Mr. David W. Wainhouse
  • Mr. David H. Popper
  • Mr. G. Hayden Raynor
  • Mr. Ward P. Allen
  • Mr. James N. Hyde
  • Mr. Eric Stein
  • Mr. Bernard G. Bechhoefer
  • Mr. Lawrence D. Weiler
  • Mr. Howard Meyers

The talks convened at 5:30 P.M. Mr. Hickerson welcomed the United Kingdom group. He explained that it was his understanding there were to be no agreed minutes, since these were informal talks on matters concerning which final decision had not yet been reached, and each side was to keep its own summary of the discussion. If a joint [Page 16] position should be agreed upon, or for any other reason of importance, agreed minutes might be arrived at if necessary.

Sir Gladwyn Jebb offered a general statement of the UK attitude on the role of the United Nations. He suggested that, probably, the UK and US agreed on objectives but not on tactics, and hoped that agreement could be reached on the latter. There could be no doubt that, in the event of aggression by Stalinist communism, the core of resistance would be the US supported by the UK and the Commonwealth. NATO, while important, was not this hard core. The Commonwealth was a solid anti-Stalinist bloc, determined to resist aggression as much as was US. There appeared to be more emphasis in the UK in avoiding war if possible, while safeguarding freedom and honor at the same time. Thus, the British belief that there should be avoidance of provocative statements toward the Soviets gave rise to the suspicion in the US that the UK was less willing to resist aggression in Asia, and wanted concentration on defense in Europe at the expense of other parts of the world, notably the Far East. This was an unfounded suspicion.

Sir Gladwyn referred to his speech at Syracuse University, which had been approved by HMG, by Trygve Lie, Mr. Pearson (Canada), and many Americans who supported his general thesis. He noted the criticism which had been expressed, notably by Hamilton Fish Armstrong of “Foreign Affairs”, that these views militated against the organization of collective security under the UN. If one inquired into the meaning of this term, one had to look at the history of the League of Nations, where the concept involved was that of an overwhelming coalition against an individual aggressor. Under the League, if the US had participated, this might have worked against Mussolini in his Ethiopian adventure and against Hitler when the Nazis moved into the Rhineland. Now, the world situation involved 800 millions under Stalin’s aegis against 800 millions grouped around the UN, with another 800 million odd fence-sitters. Thus, it was probable that the effort to resist aggressive Stalinism with force would be a bloody affair, unlike the collective action envisaged in the League of Nations days, when there was no such precarious balance of forces. We must bear in mind today that resistance to aggression today may not cause the aggressor to desist but rather would be likely to set off World War III. It would be more advisable, therefore, to refer to collective security rather as “collective resistance to aggression”, this being the more realistic phrase. In practice, how might this concept best be realized?

He believed that one of the principal State Department tenets was that this should be done by UN collective action, lest other UN members not belonging to regional groupings be left out of this collective action. This implied perhaps that the UK would leave out these states [Page 17] not members of regional groups, but that was not HMG’s intent—if there were direct aggression. If there were indirect aggression (internal), it was conceivable that the UK and US might not want to declare war on Russia and that both governments would have to ascertain the attitudes of many neutrals before deciding upon action. On the other hand, if the indirect aggression involved the Yugoslavs or Swedes, then it was likely this would commence World War III, these being situations which should be resisted by force of arms. However, trying to plan the defense of non-regional group countries through the UN would not help the organization of assistance to these countries. Sweden, for example, wanted to remain neutral and probably would object strongly to UN discussion of how to aid them in case of aggression, on the basis that this would provoke the USSR to Sweden’s immediate danger. If Sweden were attacked and prepared to resist, then obviously the Swedes would welcome UN support. In other words, too much pressure on neutrals such as Sweden to prepare in advance for aggression would make them believe these were preparations for World War III, instead of preparations to prevent this occurrence. Further, he could not agree with the US view that “roping in” marginal states in UN collective action would make the difference between victory or defeat in World War III.

Sir Gladwyn continued by emphasizing the UK belief that the US–UK objective should be to induce the neutrals gradually to enter into more Article 51 organizations as in their more direct and immediate interest. This did not imply that it was easy to extend such pacts to Asia and the Middle East, but this should be sought. If Article 51 pacts were to be linked, this should not be done through the UN. Thus, NATO should not be tied too closely to the UN because it might involve UN control over the NATO Organization, with consequent overly rigid relationship. Moreover, UN debate over the relationship between Article 51 organizations and the UN would raise such difficult issues that this would retard the further development of Article 51 pacts, particularly in the Middle East.

If war should break out, then of course the UK wanted to move under the aegis of the UN and to follow the pattern developed in the “Uniting for Peace” resolution. However, the more attempts were made in time of peace to foster these relationships between such organizations as NATO and the UN, the more the impression was fostered that the UN and NATO were indistinguishable. This had a bad effect on the neutrals.

Sir Gladwyn adverted to the role of the UN in conciliation. He believed that the US tended to de-emphasize the UN’s role in this regard. It was clear that, in point of time, conciliation must be applied prior [Page 18] to resistance to aggression in order to be effective. If it were possible ever to reach a modus vivendi with the USSR, this would be achieved through negotiations or through an indefinite deadlock. In either event, the UN could help achieve the result, as it did in the Berlin Blockade and the Italian Colonies Cases.

To sum up, the UK’s position might be stated in the following propositions:

We should not push ahead further in the Collective Measures Committee with measures which exacerbate relations with the Soviets, although we should not abandon the CMC and its work.
In public statements, the US and UK should not exaggerate what the UN can do in the field of collective resistance to aggression, as opposed to Article 51 organizations. This actually weakened the UN since its abilities in this regard were limited. It also gave the impression to some that we were more interested in organizing for World War III.
We should not diminish the potentialities of the UN in the field of conciliation between East and West.

The UK had been much struck by the State Department’s fear that failure to emphasize and develop the importance of obtaining the moral support of the UN in the field of collective resistance to aggression would cause many Americans to propose that the US go it alone, and that the US should withdraw from the UN and limit its commitments to defending the approaches to the U.S. The UK, however, thought that the best way to secure an advantageous moral verdict was to make it clear that the West was absolutely sincere in attempting to avoid World War III, and that the West was doing everything in its power to avert this war. Such an approach might also induce the people of the US to be less disillusioned with the UN.

Sir Gladwyn rhetorically queried whether, in regard to the Arab-Asian countries, it might be worthwhile to make concessions to those states, if the UK thesis on the role of the UN were correct. He declared that such a course might be logical, but it would be extremely dangerous insofar as aiding general collective resistance to aggression on the part of Stalinism, which he assured was the great evil to be met. He cited, in particular, the deleterious effect of the destruction of the French empire, which would immeasurably weaken the collective defense against Soviet aggression in Europe and elsewhere. The UK strongly believed that the proper course to be pursued was to advance on the economic side, particularly in support of Point Four programs and land reform, and to channel nationalist sentiment in the Arab-Asian area into Article 51 pacts.

Sir Gladwyn concluded by referring to a letter he had written to Hamilton Fish Armstrong, setting forth his views on the UN’s useful [Page 19] purposes. In this category he included the following: peaceful settlement of some of the thorniest international issues; developing means to regulate and control armaments; assisting the development of greater self-rule in the non-self-governing territories; and aiding the US and USSR at some future date in their efforts to reach a settlement.1

Mr. Hickerson believed any disagreement that might exist probably was one of emphasis rather than substance. He hoped it was not necessary to assure the UK that the first objective of the US is to prevent war. One sure way to make war inevitable would be to make concessions that should not be made. (Sir Gladwyn agreed). Mr. Hickerson continued that building up the strength of the US and its friends was the best way to prevent war. He indicated his disagreement with the contention that US absence from the League of Nations had been a major cause of the League’s failure. Even though the US was outside the League, it had been willing to do its part to a greater degree than many League members, notably in the Ethiopian and Manchurian affairs. He accepted the phrase, “collective resistance to aggression” and thought that it would be well to use it in the future.

Mr. Hickerson expressed the fear that if wisdom were not exercised in handling major issues in the United Nations and in collective defense arrangements, sentiment might build up in the United States similar to that which prevented our joining the League. The United States recognized that no country’s defense could be prepared in the United Nations. We have merely tried to induce states to ready their forces slightly; and to notify the United Nations of the maintenance of forces which might be made available if the United Nations and the individual states so agreed. We have all seen that the Security Council has been rendered useless as an agency to organize the resistance to aggression. The Uniting for Peace resolution did not give the General Assembly new powers; it cannot give orders but it can make recommendations. He pointed out that, in fact, the forces in Korea are voluntarily furnished national forces. If within such a framework the free world could make advance preparations to facilitate the joint effort to resist any such aggression as might occur, valuable experience would be gained. Mr. Hickerson emphasized that the United States had not tried to pressure countries into a commitment to use their forces if it would endanger their security and that the United States did not believe a universal Article 51 pact is at all feasible. Nor do we agree that it is desirable to have any form of statement that aggression [Page 20] anywhere in the world will be met with armed might; each situation would have to be judged individually at the time of actual occurrence.

Mr. Hickerson said there are two major gaps at present in our efforts to organize resistance to communist aggression: (i) indirect aggression and (ii) aggression by proxy.

The United States, Mr. Hickerson stated, agreed that we should avoid debate in the United Nations on UNNATO relationships. In wartime and in case of aggression such relationships could be easily established. He illustrated by pointing out that if aggression took place, say, in Germany, action would be taken under NATO and that, while this was going on, a special session of the General Assembly would be called (the Security Council being used first if a veto were desirable), and we would try to make the war a war between the communists and the rest of the world. We anticipated that the General Assembly would recommend that member states render aid and would designate NATO as the executive military authority to conduct the war. Thus the United Nations would not interfere with the conduct of the war.

With respect to the UK views on the importance of conciliation, Mr. Hickerson indicated his agreement. He said, however, that as a result of Jebb’s recent speeches, he had been concerned that the UK believed all defense against aggression should be left to regional pacts. The United States believed it was essential that the United Nations take some action in this field.

Mr. Bancroft noted that the Uniting for Peace program was not the sort of program in which you could reach a terminal point. The United States wanted a successor to the Collective Measures Committee.

Mr. Gross remarked that, while the US–UK differences might be a matter of words, the problems of stress and direction were real. We should determine what it was that we were trying to do in organizing collective resistance to aggression. Those who must bear the major burden in the event of aggression face a strong insistence that there be developed an equitable method of sharing the burden. How and under what conditions could this equitable burden be developed? It might be a mistake to stress too exclusively resistance against Stalinist aggression. There is the problem of intra-free-world aggression. In addition there is the broader problem of defense against undermining the morale of the free-world, as by dictatorship of the right and by thwarting nationalist desires. We should lay greater stress on the development of common interests, and here the UK statement underestimated the importance of the United Nations economic and social programs.

The first meeting terminated at 6:45 p.m.

  1. Jebb’s views were set forth in an article in a subsequent issue of Foreign Affairs (April 1953).