397. Special Report Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

SC 00787/66B


The 21st session of the UN General Assembly, convening on 20 September, could be the most difficult and rancorous in United Nations history.

The foremost of many problems facing the membership is finding a successor to Secretary General Thant. Thant, who says he will not offer himself for another term after his present one expires in November, has become increasingly concerned about the major powers’ failure to make greater use of the UN organization and especially of the office of the Secretary General. He has also deplored the atrophy of the UN’s peacekeeping function, as evidenced by its inability to bring about a settlement in Vietnam, its minor role in the Dominican crisis last year, and the present ills of its operations on Cyprus and the Middle East. In part because of such operations, the UN is still in the red financially. It will remain so as long as the USSR and France, the principal debtors to the UN, fail to make voluntary contributions to relieve the situation.

Serious though these issues may be, they are likely to be overshadowed in the coming session by still others of a substantive nature. The Afro-Asians, who can now dominate the assembly by virtue of their numerical superiority, are expected to tie up most of the coming session with a bitter campaign against what they consider vestiges of colonialism on a variety of African problems. The question of the future of the disarmament negotiations will also need to be faced, however, as will the recurring problem of Chinese representation.

An African Assembly

Among the African problems, that of South-West Africa will be given priority. African delegates remain determined to loose the Republic of South Africa’s hold on the territory, despite their recent failure to accomplish this through the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN’s principal judicial body. The court refused to rule on the merits of the case, insisting that the plaintiffs—Liberia and Ethiopia—had no legal right to require South Africa to meet its League of Nations mandate obligations in the territory.

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The UN Secretariat has suggested that the afternoon sessions be devoted to the South-West Africa question, with the rest of the general debate held during the morning meetings. The African group is pleased with this plan since it will dramatize the urgency of the problem and will give the foreign ministers who usually participate at the beginning of the general debate an opportunity to speak out. The discussion will cover the report of the Committee of 24 on the subject of South Africa and the secretary general’s report on the educational and training programs for South-West Africa, but it will concentrate on the situation arising from the recent ICJ judgment.

The Africans will attempt to pass a resolution stripping South Africa of its League mandate and placing South-West Africa under UN administration. Such action, however, is of questionable legality and might precipitate South Africa’s withdrawal from the UN. Another tactic would be a request to the ICJ for an advisory opinion on whether South Africa has breached its mandate. However, at the present time the anti-ICJ sentiment prevailing among the Africans makes it doubtful that they would go to the court again. During the ICJ election the Africans plan to “purge the court” by filling the five vacancies on the bench with judges more sympathetic to their views. In addition, they plan to introduce an amendment to the UN Charter enlarging the court to give Africa and Asia more representation, as was done for the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council last year.

Considerable sentiment exists for an attempt by the assembly to revoke South Africa’s League mandate, but a strong condemnatory resolution, which would have no juridical consequences, might be enough to satisfy the Africans. Ernest Gross, the legal counsel for Ethiopia and Liberia in the recent ICJ case, proposed that a UN commission for South-West Africa be set up to supervise the administration of the mandate and work toward ultimate independence for the territory. Such a maneuver would be a delaying tactic and would rule out any action by the assembly to end the mandate.

Other African issues will involve Rhodesia, the Portuguese territories, and South Africa’s apartheid (racial segregation) policies. The General Assembly will consider the report of the Special Committee on Colonialism which recommended mandatory economic sanctions against Rhodesia under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter and called on the UK to take all measures including the use of force to abolish Ian Smith’s rebel, white-minority regime. The Africans are like to attempt to pass an assembly resolution requesting that the Security Council take stronger mandatory action under Chapter 7 than the voluntary measures under Chapter 6 that the UN took last year.

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Financing and Peacekeeping

The noise and heat generated by the African debates are likely to dissipate what little impulse exists to deal with UN finances and peacekeeping. The members have little stomach for tackling these problems. There are deep divisions among them on political principles as well as interpretation of the UN Charter’s articles on peacekeeping functions. The feeble Committee of 33 set up to deal with the question is now on its last legs. After many months of discussion no new suggestions have been presented and the apathy of the Afro-Asians has brought the meetings to a quiet close. The committee’s report to the General Assembly will contain little of substantive value.

Only the Irish have shown any interest in searching for a solution. Even though their proposals were shelved by the last assembly and hardly considered by the Committee of 33, the Irish intend to present them to this assembly. Their plan for financing future peacekeeping operations allows any of the permanent members (US, USSR, UK, France, and China) to avoid sharing the cost of a peacekeeping operation by simply not voting in favor of it. The Canadians are thinking about presenting their formula on financing which apportions the cost of an operation among the members according to a special scale.

Over a year ago an appeal was made for voluntary contributions to relieve the growing UN debt. However, the major debtors—the Soviet Union and France—have as yet given no sign that they will make a contribution.

The UN’s financial conditions are contributing to the ills of the present peacekeeping operation in Cyprus. The secretary general has had to pass the “begging bowl” to keep the operation alive. Members with forces on the island continue to threaten to pull out unless they are reimbursed for their expenses. This has led some countries to suggest that the forces be reduced or replaced by an observer mission-a change which might endanger the shaky peace now maintained on the island.

The UN operation in the Middle East (UNEF) is suffering from the same ills. Here too there is considerable support for a major reduction in troop strength. The majority of members hold that unless there is some demonstrated progress toward easing Arab-Israeli tension they will be unwilling to continue contributions. The general view is that future financial support for UNEF should be through voluntary contributions.


The numerous disarmament items on the agenda for the 21st General Assembly will be time-consuming and difficult to handle. At [Page 867] last year’s assembly these same items—nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, nuclear-free zones, and others—were discussed and then handed over to the Eighteen Nation Disarmament Committee (ENDC) for further study. However, the ENDC’s failure to make progress on any of these issues has led many Afro-Asian countries to question the value of continuing it.

East-West differences over a nonproliferation treaty and the diminishing support from the ENDC’s nonaligned members for the Western formula have stalled the negotiations. The deadlock has caused the eight nonaligned members to consider presenting their own version of a treaty at the next ENDC session. Their draft would call for a ban on the transfer of nuclear weapons to states not already having them, a cutoff on the production of fissionable material for weapons, a reduction of stockpiles by nuclear states, and the universal application of international safeguards to all nuclear activities. The eight have drafted a memorandum reaffirming their conviction that a nonproliferation treaty should be concluded and should include these restrictions or be accompanied with or followed by other measures which accomplish the same goals.

Of even more interest to the nonaligned countries is the proposal to extend the limited test ban treaty of 1963 to cover all testing. The nonaligned group sees this issue as the one on which the ENDC might make progress. The nonaligned will argue that improvements in technological capabilities to monitor underground explosions has reduced the need for on-site inspections, hitherto one of the stumbling blocks to such a treaty.

Other possible disarmament topics are a Latin American nuclear-free zone and abolition of foreign military bases, another favorite of the Afro-Asians as well as the Soviet bloc.

While there seems to be little progress toward settlement of the various disarmament issues, there is one bright spot in the related subjects of outer space: the treaty draft now approaching completion in the legal subcommittee of the Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. The Soviet Union may, however, seek to extract certain propaganda advantages.

Admittance of Peking

Another go-around on the question of seating Communist China is expected to occur at about mid-session. The vote was a tie last year and a close vote is expected this year.

Secretary General Thant’s reasons for not accepting a second term include a reference to the Chinese representation issue. He reiterated his dissatisfaction that the world organization has not yet achieved universality [Page 868] of membership. It is generally known that Thant has supported the admission of China but his listing it as one of the reasons for his resignation will probably cause some members to reconsider their position on the issue.

However, the recent developments inside China which have further tarnished its international image, together with its leaders’ statements disclaiming any desire to come into the UN, will possibly affect Peking’s chances of winning more votes.

Last year the ruling that admission of Communist China was an “important question” requiring a two-thirds majority for passage was upheld. This year the importance of this procedural ruling is even greater owing to the likelihood of some changes in the voting pattern. Iran and Senegal intend to vote for admission. Canada is wavering and may abstain. However, Chad and the Maldive Islands, which abstained last year, are expected to support Taiwan. The outcome will depend on the Afro-Asians, who control the most votes in the General Assembly, and their attitudes on the Chinese issue may be affected by the outcome of the debate on South-West Africa and Rhodesia.

Other Issues

Although Vietnam will not be on the agenda, it is certain the foreign ministers will discuss it in their opening speeches. There is also a rumor that the Afro-Asian nations will introduce a resolution at the end of the general debate either on their own or at the request of the secretary general. This resolution would merely call for the cessation of hostilities and the beginning of negotiations. However, the Soviets have recently been making it clear to their friends at the UN that they want no resolution of any sort on Vietnam.

Another kind of admission problem-UN membership for small states (“the bits and pieces problem”)—may receive further airing at the 21st General Assembly. The admission of the Maldive Islands last year caused concern that numerous small entities might aspire to UN membership upon becoming independent. Such territories, too small to carry out charter obligations, could find their way into the assembly to the detriment of states with major responsibilities. It has been suggested that there should either be a minimum standard on the size of the states becoming members, or some form of associate status. It has also been proposed that the Security Council committee on membership be revived in order to prevent acceptance of small states simply because no one wants to oppose them.

The Korean question will again be on the agenda but will probably not come up until the end of the session, in which case it would be brushed aside. Saudi Arabia will probably introduce a proposal to [Page 869] invite North Korea to attend the assembly discussions. There is a strong feeling among the nonaligned members that this should be done and that direct talks between the parties should be held.

Thant’s Departure and Its Effect on the UN

Overshadowing all of the numerous problems the UN faces is Secretary General Thant’s decision not to offer himself as a candidate for another five-year term. There is a possibility that after a formal appeal by the Security Council, Thant will decide to accept a shortened term for perhaps two or three years. Many of his colleagues feel that Thant genuinely wants to leave his post, but they also hope he will not leave if the leadership crisis has not been resolved by 3 November, the day his term expires.

If Thant adheres to his decision to leave, the UN will face the difficult problem of finding a qualified successor acceptable to all major powers. At present there are no strong candidates, and the search is likely to be long and rigorous. Possible candidates that have been mentioned are Prebisch of Argentina, Garcia Robles or Cuevas Cancino of Mexico, Adebo of Nigeria, Slim of Tunisia, D’Arboussier of Senegal, Rolz-Bennett of Guatemala, Enckell of Finland, and Pazhwak of Afghanistan. The Afro-Asians have agreed among themselves that Thant should be pressed to stay on for an extension of his term if no suitable replacement can be found.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Agency File, United Nations, Vol. 4. Secret; No Foreign Dissem. Prepared in the Office of Current Intelligence.