8. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (Wilcox) to the Secretary of State 1


  • Parity Principle in the United Nations

In response to your oral request to me day before yesterday, I submit the following brief analysis from the United Nations standpoint of the current Soviet drive for acceptance of a parity principle at a “Summit Meeting”.

Soviet Tactics to Date

The United Nations Charter provides parity in effect for the major powers in the Security Council through the veto and it provides parity for the administering and non-administering powers in the composition of the Trusteeship Council. Otherwise, the Charter does not recognize any parity principle, but does establish the principle of “equitable geographical distribution” for the selection of the non-permanent members of the Security Council. In practice, this principle has been extended to U.N. bodies generally.

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The closest approach within the United Nations system to a Soviet drive for parity arose in connection with the enlargement of the Disarmament Commission at the twelfth General Assembly, when the USSR insisted on a “balanced” group. The enlarged Commission, which the USSR immediately declared unacceptable, has 17 Western-oriented, 4 Communist, and 4 “neutral” members. An Albanian amendment would have increased the number of Communists to 6 and the number of “neutrals” to 9. The Communists would obviously have been grossly over-represented on the Commission under this proposal (as would the “neutrals” to a lesser extent) from the standpoint of the political alignment of the UN membership as a whole.

The Soviet objective with respect to representation on UN bodies generally appears to be 1) the retention of those seats traditionally accorded the Communists, 2) equitable representation for the Communist bloc where a new agency is being established or an old one enlarged, 3) assurance of as many friendly or at least uncommitted members as possible, and 4) establishment of a “neutral” body where anything approaching an arbitral, conciliatory, or supervisory function is involved.

For example, in the 1956 General Assembly debate on enlargement of the Security Council, the USSR demanded that the one seat to which it considers Eastern Europe entitled under the “gentlemen’s agreement”2 be assured. When the General Committee was enlarged by the twelfth General Assembly from 17 to 21, the Soviet Union received (and apparently asked for) only one additional seat beyond the two hitherto held by the Soviet bloc. It made no effort to have a parity principle applied to the Board of Governors of the IAEA.

Similarly, the USSR has made no effort to increase the number of seats traditionally held by the Communists on the Economic and Social Council and its functional commissions. While the Soviet bloc has recently increased its participation in the specialized agencies, this has been a matter of joining or resuming membership, not of seeking parity. Several social science seminars proposed in the UNESCO program were originally planned on a fifty-fifty basis by the UNESCO Secretariat. These were expanded to provide more balanced geographic representation only after U.S. action with the Secretariat. We have no evidence, however, that the USSR was behind this Secretariat move.

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Neither a parity principle nor the “balanced” group concept has so far been advanced by the USSR in the dependent area or administrative and budgetary fields.

The Soviet Union has not attempted to change the generally accepted geographical distribution of seats on U.N. bodies. It has, however, supported the enlargement of U.N. bodies where Charter amendment is not involved, and the election of uncommitted African and Asian candidates where there is no clearly established pattern of geographic distribution.

Implications for the United Nations

Acceptance of a parity principle, outside purely bilateral negotiations, such as in the “Summit Talks” could not help but increase the stature of the USSR in the eyes of the uncommitted nations and might thus have psychological repercussions in such U.N. bodies as the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East. Moreover, it would also tend to increase the stature of the satellites in the United Nations. The Soviets presumably seek parity at least in part because (a) it gives to the satellites an appearance of independence, thus increasing their prestige without actually diminishing the fact of Soviet control and (b) would seem to constitute a kind of tacit acquiescence in the status quo.

If the “Summit Talks” were successful, parity would create a precedent which we believe would be reflected to some extent in the United Nations, at least in forums primarily concerned with issues involving East-West power relations. If, however, negotiations at the “Summit” should make it clear that the USSR is not prepared, despite acceptance of a parity principle, in fact to negotiate seriously, then there would be little justification or pressure for any extensions of this principle to the U.N.

We would not anticipate that acceptance of a parity principle for “Summit Talks” would result in a broad extension of the parity principle to U.N. forums generally. However, were there to be such a result it would have the following serious disadvantages. It would:

extend the parity of power concept to areas not involving matters for great-power negotiations;
make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to assure the favorable composition of U.N. organs and agencies that is essential to the attainment of United States objectives on such matters as Chinese representation in the U.N.;
encourage the formation of blocs, with the possible end result of in effect reducing the voting entities to two East-West committed blocs, plus a group of so-called uncommitted states whose interests the Soviets are frequently able to identify as their own.
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Limitation of the application of a parity principle in the U.N. to those areas where the East-West power balance is an essential factor could be effectively justified on the grounds that a parity principle reflects essentially the power relationship of only two U.N. members and does not reflect the actual political aspirations of the U.N. membership as a whole.

  1. Source: Department of State, IO Files: Lot 60 D 216, Memorandum to the Secretary, 1958. Secret. Drafted by Hartley and sent through S/S.
  2. Reference is to an implicit agreement regarding the geographical distribution of seats for nonpermanent members of the U.N. Security Council reached at the Five-Power Informal Meetings held in London in January 1946. For minutes of the meetings, see Foreign Relation, 1946, vol. I, pp. 141–147 and 153–156. Although the United States supported following this practice in succeeding years, it maintained that the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” applied only to the 1946 Security Council elections, and that U.N. members were not bound by it thereafter.