11. Position Paper Prepared in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs for the Delegation to the Tenth Session of the General Assembly1



The Problem

Under Article 109(3) of the Charter, the proposal to call a Charter review conference is automatically on the agenda of the tenth session. At this session a simple majority, rather than the two-thirds majority required in other years, is sufficient, together with the vote of any seven members of the Security Council, for a decision to hold a conference. While outright opposition to the idea of a review conference is not anticipated except from the Soviet bloc, reservations about a decision at this time to hold a conference do exist, particularly among Commonwealth, West European, Scandinavian, and “neutralist” members. No strong demand for a conference has been voiced by any substantial number of states. The Secretary General has suggested that a decision might be left open for future consideration. This suggestion has had a rather favorable reception. Proposals have also been made to defer any decision until a later session. A few states have expressed support for a decision to hold a conference in the near future, so that the possibility of proposals for a conference in 1956 cannot be precluded. A much larger number of states, however, have indicated a preference for 1957 or 1958 or for leaving the date open at this time.

United States Position

The United States desires a decision in principle by the tenth General Assembly to hold a Charter review conference, leaving the date and place open, and establishing a preparatory commission to report to the eleventh session. Because 1956 is an election year, the United States does not want such a conference held before 1957, and since it is impossible to forecast accurately what conditions may then prevail, maximum flexibility with respect to timing is in the United States interest. A conference held under inauspicious international circumstances would almost certainly prove counter-productive, [Page 24] and the chances for a successful conference would undoubtedly be enhanced if certain areas of general agreement can be developed through consultations before a conference is actually convened.
Since, aside from the Soviet bloc, the British and French are the most strongly opposed to an Assembly decision at this time to hold a conference and since their views will undoubtedly carry great weight with other “doubtful” states, we are seeking agreement with them in particular, and with other friendly members as well, on a generally acceptable formula. From the United States standpoint, such a formula would consist of a GA decision to hold a conference and to establish a preparatory commission of government representatives to make recommendations to the eleventh session on the time and place of such a conference.
Once agreement on a formula is reached we shall seek to encourage a geographically representative group of small and middle-sized states to sponsor a resolution based upon this position.
We are endeavoring to develop general support for the adoption of this resolution directly in plenary.
We should continue to avoid being drawn into debate on the substantive aspects of Charter review, since in the absence of firm US positions on these questions, such debate would be premature and possibly harmful.
We should oppose any proposal to hold the conference in 1956, and unless our preferred formula is generally unacceptable, which seems unlikely, any proposal to defer the decision on holding a conference.


The United States believes a review conference offers possibilities of accomplishment both through procedural agreements not involving the amendment process and through general agreement on a limited number of amendments which world opinion might induce the USSR to ratify. The United States also believes that even if no changes result, review of the Charter would be useful in making clear its flexibility and potentialities, on the one hand, and, on the other, the limits beyond which sovereign states are still unwilling to go in undertaking multilateral commitments. The United States does not envisage that a review conference would undertake to rewrite the Charter or to change the basic character of the Organization.

Outside the United States, interest in a Charter review conference does not appear to approach that in this country. There is skepticism regarding the possibilities of accomplishment at a review conference under present circumstances. Not only is Soviet refusal to ratify anticipated in the case of such questions as the veto. Member [Page 25] states generally are not seen as willing to undertake additional commitments at this time to strengthen the United Nations in the political and security field, and it is recognized that amendments in the economic, social, and colonial fields desired by the anti-colonial and under-developed countries are not likely to secure the requisite ratification of all the permanent members of the Security Council, quite aside from the USSR. Weaknesses in the United Nations are generally attributed not so much to the Charter as to the policies of member states, and a review conference is not thought to offer any remedy for this situation. On the other hand, there is concern that a review conference might increase rather than lessen international tensions, both between the free world and the USSR, and within the free world.

At the same time, a general reluctance to oppose the idea of a review conference is observable outside the Soviet bloc, and a formula that assures, so far as possible, that the conference will not be held under adverse circumstances and only after extensive consultations on the substance of Charter review have laid the groundwork for a productive meeting should prove generally acceptable. In this event, it should be feasible to handle the item directly in plenary. This procedure has the advantage of keeping to a minimum any discussion of substance at this stage. We ourselves are not yet prepared to engage in such discussions, and it is likely to confirm rather than relieve apprehensions about the holding of a conference, with respect both to the Soviet re-action and to “colonial” and domestic jurisdiction issues. Substantive discussion, under these circumstances, might well prove prejudicial to a decision in principle by the tenth General Assembly to hold a conference.

  1. Source: Department of State, IO Files: Lot 71 D 440, 10th GA, P Books, Committees 1–6. Confidential. A notation on the source text reads: “This is an interim paper subject to revision on the basis of consultations now in progress. It will be supplemented by instructions concerning the composition and terms of reference of the proposed preparatory commission and by a draft resolution.”