412. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Three political-legal items in the U.N. General Assembly (Friendly Relations, Non-Intervention, Use of Force and Self-determination)


  • The Under Secretary
  • Ambassador Patrick Dean
  • Assistant Secretary Sisco
  • L/UNA-Herbert Reis
  • IO/UNP-Gerald Helman
  • L/UNA-Lawrence Hargrove
Ambassador Dean stated that he wished to ask the Under Secretary to review the proceedings of last fall’s General Assembly on three related items: principles of international law concerning friendly relations and cooperation among states; non-intervention; and the Czechoslovak item on use of force and self-determination. While the views of the U.K. and the U.S. in this field were identical, we had differed [Page 892] on tactics and our votes had on some occasions diverged. We could expect a steady flow of such items in future Assemblies, with the basic objective of causing embarrassment to the West. The British view was that, where it is arguable that a resolution is a statement of law, we should not accept that it can be adopted in a hurry without due deliberation in subsidiary bodies. This was important because, while both the U.S. and the U.K. reject the view that Assembly resolutions make law, the fact is that they are regarded as sources of law by some Members. In the light of this fact, when resolutions are adopted without significant opposition there is a strong tendency later to claim for them the status of a sacrosanct legal text. The choice facing the U.S. and the U.K. seemed to be either to adhere to the strict view that General Assembly resolutions are political, accepting a resulting deadlock in subsidiary organs, or to take the more flexible view of “opposing the process” in the plenary and dealing with the issues on their merits in the subsidiary organs. The U.S. seems to have favored the former view, the U.K. the latter. Ambassador Dean stated that he wished to leave the Under Secretary an aide-mémoire setting out U.K. views on this matter.

The Under Secretary noted that items of this sort were inherently mischievous—they would be mischievous whether designed to be or not. They could create very troublesome problems and warranted close attention and co-ordination by the U.S. and U.K. The Under Secretary raised the question as to whether the International Law Commission might be considered as a forum for further consideration of such topics as Friendly Relations, particularly in view of the length of time which the I.L.C. consumes in completing any item on its agenda. Mr. Sisco stated that we had tried this approach some time earlier but had been unsuccessful. In response to the Under Secretary’s inquiry as to the chances of killing the Friendly Relations item out-right, Mr. Sisco estimated the maximum support for such a move as 1/3 of the Assembly membership.

Comment: Ambassador Dean left an aide-mémoire and written speaking points (attached).2 Later, on March 16, Mr. Ian Sinclair, Legal Adviser to the United Kingdom Permanent Mission to the U.N., met at his request with Carl F. Salans, Deputy Legal Adviser, and Messrs. Reis, Helman and Hargrove, for the purpose of following up Ambassador Dean’s conversation with particular reference to the Friendly Relations item. The main burden of Mr. Sinclair’s remarks, and of an additional aide-mémoire (attached)3 which he left with Mr. Salans, was that (1) the U.K. wants to present a comprehensive draft declaration on the seven [Page 893] Friendly Relations principles, on its own or with Western co-sponsors, at the next meeting of the Special Committee on Friendly Relations; and (2) the U.K. has decided that it would be tactically wise and substantively tolerable to incorporate into this draft the first four paragraphs of the General Assembly’s controversial declaration on non-intervention, notwithstanding prior Western objections to it. Mr. Salans indicated that we were generally quite skeptical of the idea of accepting the declaration as a legal text without modification, but were studying the U.K.’s position very carefully.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 9 UN. Confidential. Drafted by Hargrove on March 23.
  2. Neither printed.
  3. Not attached. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 21 UN)