Volume #21 - 92.|
UNITED NATIONS AND OTHER INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
ISSUES BEFORE THE TENTH SESSION OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Memorandum from Head, European Division,|
to Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs
August 23rd, 1955|
THE ALGERIAN QUESTION|
Thirteen Arab-Asian nations have asked that the Algerian question be inscribed on the agenda of the Tenth Session of the United Nations General Assembly. This question has not been discussed before. The French are almost certain to object and to attempt to rally sufficient support to avert a two-thirds majority in favour of its inscription.
2. We have made a preliminary assessment of this question and I am attaching a paper which reaches the following conclusions:
(a) From the point of view of our interpretation of Article 2 (7) of the United Nations Charter, a discussion of the Algerian question appears to be within the competence of the United Nations.
(b) A discussion at this time of the Algerian question might do more harm than good. It might inspire increased unrest and undermine French efforts to implement constructive policies in North Africa.
(c) Although a vote against inscription might arouse suspicions concerning our sincerity on questions of self-determination, and although the present French policy of assimilation in Algeria is not very realistic, a United Nations discussion might only serve to arouse French resentment while making the situation more difficult to solve.
3. It seems to me that from the point of view of our own interests and those of North Atlantic security the strategic considerations are of first importance. A peaceful situation in North Africa would not only help to secure East-West communications through the Mediterranean and Africa but would also assist France to meet its commitments to NATO and SACEUR.120 The Algerian problem is not capable of a quick solution and meanwhile French authority appears to be the only alternative to anarchy and violence. For these reasons I am inclined toward a vote against inscription of the Algerian question, accompanied by a frank explanation that although we recognize the gravity of the situation, a discussion at this time would only serve to increase unrest; in view of the constructive policies and the concessions which brought about a peaceful settlement in Tunisia, we are confident that measures will be introduced and implemented which will satisfy the aspirations of the peoples of Algeria and Morocco. An attitude of this kind would support the French position while putting that country on notice that political reforms must be promulgated in Algeria as well as in Morocco.
4. The situation in Algeria is still very fluid and it is too early to make a firm decision on this question. In addition, it will be necessary to synchronize our attitude with that we decide to adopt on other items of the Assembly agenda such as Cyprus and Morocco. Nevertheless, I would appreciate an indication of your views on this question as a preliminary to sounding out other governments.
5. In the light of alignments on the Tunisian and Moroccan questions at last year's General Assembly, the vote on inscription of the Algerian question is likely to be close and we will be under great pressure from both the French and the Arab-Asians. While my preliminary inclination is that outlined in paragraph 3 above, the situation is changing so rapidly that the instructions to our Delegation should be sufficiently flexible to allow for the possibility of an abstention in certain circumstances or even an affirmative vote if there should be a serious deterioration as a consequence of harsh French repressive measures in Algeria.121
INSCRIPTION OF THE ALGERIAN QUESTION ON THE AGENDA
Thirteen of the Arab-Asian nations have requested the Secretary-General of the United Nations to include "The Question of Algeria" in the agenda of the Tenth Session of the General Assembly. Although Tunisia and Morocco have been considered at previous Assemblies and a discussion on the latter territory has also been requested at the forthcoming session, this is the first time that the Algerian question has been raised. As a preliminary step it seems advisable to consider our attitude toward inscription of this item.
2. The French Government has consistently opposed discussion at the United Nations of Tunisia and Morocco and has boycotted the pertinent meetings on the grounds that the questions were of domestic jurisdiction. It seems probable that the French representatives will take an even more adamant stand on Algeria because whereas Tunisia and Morocco are protectorates of France, Algeria was conquered by the French in 1830 and is constitutionally a part of metropolitan France. The French will probably insist that Article 2 (7) of the United Nations Charter is applicable:
"Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; ..."
Initially, therefore it is necessary to decide whether in our view Article 2 (7) precludes a discussion on Algeria at the United Nations.
3. A United Nations Division's working paper (No. 54/21) in the "Charter Review Studies" examined this question.122 The paper summarized the Canadian position in these words:
"In summary it may be said that Canadian policy with regard to Article 2 (7) has been consistently to favour a liberal interpretation i.e. one that safeguards the right to discuss and make recommendations for the peaceful adjustment of any situation, regardless of origin, which is deemed likely to impair the general welfare or friendly relations among nations".
The paper went on to suggest that the question of whether any given situation was one "likely to impair the general welfare or friendly relations among nations" should decide the competence issue.
4. Consistent with our position on Article 2 (7) we could vote in favour of including the Algerian item on the agenda, if we consider that the situation in Algeria is likely to impair the general welfare or friendly relations. Some observers have suggested that the Algerian situation is potentially even more explosive than that in Morocco and a French Parliamentary investigating commission recently reported that although there were relatively few rebels in Algeria (about 2500) the vast majority of the non-European population condoned or supported terrorist activities. Furthermore, the only logical explanation for the deployment of some 150,000 French troops in Algeria seems to be as a precautionary measure to enable the French to take effective action in the event of a popular uprising. In the first place then, this seems to be a situation likely to impair the general welfare. Is it also likely to impair friendly relations among nations? Although one reason for the Arab-Asian request that Algeria be discussed in the General Assembly is undoubtedly a desire to substitute the Algerian for the Tunisian question which is no longer suitable as a basis for criticising French "colonial" policy,123 there is little doubt that the Algerian situation is affecting friendly relations and that it may be pushed to the point where it will affect them to a greater degree. From the point of view of our interpretation of Article 2 (7) of the Charter which has been stated on several occasions at previous General Assemblies, the Algerian question appears to be within the competence of the United Nations to discuss.
5. On the other side of the problem we could vote against inscription of an Algerian item if we deem a discussion of the question likely to do more harm than good. This facet of our position was explained by the Canadian Representative during the Seventh Session of the United Nations in these words:
"Although I make a distinction between discussion and intervention, I do not, of course, exclude the right of member states to oppose discussion of a question within the competence of the United Nations whenever it considers that a discussion at that particular time would be harmful rather than helpful ... But when a question is really one of timing, the case against discussion should not, it seems to us, be made on the grounds of the Assembly's incompetence".
Moreover, during the debate on inscription of the Cyprus item at last year's General Assembly our Representative maintained that a discussion of the item would not contribute to an improvement of the situation and might well have the opposite effect.124 What effect would a United Nations discussion have on the situation in Algeria? On the one hand, there is reason to believe that United Nations discussions on Tunisia and Morocco have helped to force the French hand in those territories and that a discussion on Algeria would bring a smouldering situation into the open, thereby relieving some of the tension and the frustration of Algerian nationalists. On the other hand, it could be argued that a discussion would inspire an increase in rebel activities and general unrest in Algeria, and that it would be prejudicial to the development of constructive French policies not only in Algeria but also in Morocco. (It is too late to turn back in Tunisia). The recent debates in the French Parliament on North African policies showed that the Deputies realized the need for a new approach to the development of France's dependent territories. Reforms designed to bring the administration into closer contact with the Algerian population and to give the latter a greater say in its government are being planned and implemented. The French Government is also attempting to work out a solution of the Moroccan situation along lines similar to the successful settlement in Tunisia. French reaction to criticism at the United Nations might undermine the tenuous position of French liberals who have given the impetus to these measures. On the whole, it seems evident that a discussion at this time would do more harm than good.
6. There are a few other factors that should be considered in determining our attitude toward inscription of an Algerian item:
(a) The principle of self-determination is involved. The memorandum presented with the Arab-Asian request for inscription stresses that this is the basis of the argument for discussion of the Algerian question. The memorandum states:
"The right of self-determination occupies a position of decisive importance in the structure of the United Nations. In the first Article of the Charter it is specifically enumerated among the purposes and principles of the organization ... The emergence into independence of the peoples of many nations previously dependent is among the most encouraging features of the first decade of United Nations history. On the other hand the denial of the right of self-determination to other dependent peoples or undue delay in its implementation is a potential source of international friction and of concern to the international community".
In this particular case it might be difficult for us to explain away opposition to inscription of an Algerian item by saying that although we support the principle,125 self-determination can be accomplished in many ways, and in questions of methods or timing the administering nation is often in the best position to adjudicate. The Arab-Asian emotional arguments would tend to make such a position appear as an equivocation thinly concealing sympathy for "colonial" policies. The French Parliamentary commission which investigated conditions in Algeria frankly revealed the serious shortcomings of the French administration and the political, economic and social discrimination against the indigenous inhabitants. In this light if we adopt a weak position on this question of principle, we might endanger our carefully cultivated reputation for objectivity in discussions on trust and dependent territories and we would run the risk of being classed as a "colonial" sympathizer or an unconvinced advocate of self-government.
(b) It is difficult to see how the French can continue indefinitely to insist that Algeria is an integral part of metropolitan France and that eventually the population will be assimilated. In the short run this position can only be maintained by force and there is evidence that, to a considerable degree, the necessary armed forces must be found at the expense of France's commitments to NATO. There is no doubt about the strategic importance of a peaceful situation in North Africa in order to ensure East-West lines of communication. Nevertheless, so far as NATO is concerned the threat of aggression is not from North Africa and adequate forces must be deployed in Europe to deter and if necessary combat aggression. In the long run the present French North African plans which grant autonomy to Tunisia and hold out the same prospect to Morocco while denying it to Algeria, do not seem sound. From this point of view it might not be desirable to support an untenable French position which will tie down a large part of the French armed forces for an indefinite period. A discussion of the problem during the forthcoming General Assembly might convince the French that Algeria must eventually be given self-government and that the present military and political situation in that territory is unrealistic.
(c) Finally, the French would strongly resent a Canadian vote in favour of discussing the Algerian question. In a recent despatch? our Embassy in Paris pointed out:
"The French are very sensitive about North Africa. They are perfectly aware that all is not well and much remains to be done. Lest they forget, they are reminded every day of their shortcomings by their own compatriots in the press and through other media of information."
It is one thing for us to draw a careful distinction between a United Nations "discussion" and United Nations "intervention" in Algeria, but it is quite another to keep a discussion and eventual recommendation from becoming intervention. Overt and implied criticism of French policies would be inevitable during a debate on Algeria and this might be particularly unfortunate at a time when the French Government is courageously endeavouring to overcome strong political opposition to progressive policies in Morocco. This consideration probably outweighs any advantages that might be gained in relations with the Arab-Asian nations if we were to support the request for inclusion of this item on the agenda. It probably also over-shadows the negative thought that whatever the progressive intentions and plans of the French Assembly, the latter has never been noted for its consistency and it is questionable how long the present Government and its North African policies may survive.
7. In summary, according to our interpretation of Article 2 (7) of the Charter, a discussion of the Algerian question is within the competence of the United Nations. However, a discussion at this time might do more harm than good. A vote in favour of inscription would annoy and embarrass France and might contribute to additional unrest in Algeria and Morocco. A vote against inscription would run the risk of suspicions concerning our objectiveness and sincerity. An abstention would involve substantial elements of the objections on both sides of the question.