Volume #21 - 98.|
UNITED NATIONS AND OTHER INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
ISSUES BEFORE THE TENTH SESSION OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Permanent Representative to United Nations|
to Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs
LETTER NO. 64|
January 18th, 1956|
TENTH SESSION OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY|
Attached is a delegation assessment of the tenth session of the General Assembly. This assessment is concerned mainly with the proceedings in the political committees of the General Assembly but it includes remarks concerning the work of the other committees. The comments concerning the other committees are based on assessments made by officers who were members of the Delegation to the General Assembly but who have since returned to the Department.
2. We had intended to include at the end of this paper an assessment of the prospects for the eleventh session, arising out of the tenth, but because of the length of the assessment in its present form, I decided we might more profitably examine next year's prospects in a separate memorandum.
DELEGATION ASSESSMENT OF THE TENTH SESSION OF
This assessment is intended to be general in scope with specific reference only to some of the more important questions which were discussed at the tenth session. The aim is to re-create, as far as possible, the atmosphere of the recent Assembly and thus to provide a suitable background for the detailed reports which the Delegation has prepared on the various agenda items. The present assessment is, moreover, designed to place in perspective the broader political issues, which although not formally on the Assembly's agenda, influenced to a large extent the debates not only in the political committees but in almost all the committees of the Assembly.
The Geneva Spirit
2. At the opening of the tenth session two extraneous factors helped to shape the attitudes of the majority of delegations. One was the widely heralded "spirit of Geneva" which had emanated from the meeting of Heads of Government in July; the other was the impending meeting of the Foreign Ministers, who were to meet about the half-way mark in the scheduled timetable for the tenth session. The first factor stimulated a strong hope that the tenth session would prove to be a turning-point in the struggle to achieve the aims and purposes of the United Nations Charter; the second provoked a tendency to hold in suspense the Assembly's discussion of the clearly controversial items on its agenda. The general desire of delegations seemed to be to preserve the "Geneva spirit" as long as possible and in order to do this members of the Assembly were prepared to postpone the potentially bitter debates until after the Foreign Ministers had had an opportunity to pursue in detail the directives issued in July by the Heads of Government.
3. Accordingly the statements in the general debate rang with abundant and cheery references to the improved international situation. These speeches were on the whole conciliatory in tone and in many cases too blatantly optimistic. There was a noticeable absence of propaganda as between the Western and Communist speeches and a widely voiced appeal was made to all protagonists to moderate the advocacy of their pet causes. Except for some discordant notes in later stages of the session, the avoidance of extreme propaganda by spokesmen for the two main camps prevailed, a significant and welcome change from previous sessions. The Soviet speakers, in particular, seemed at pains not to provoke the acrimony of cold-war debating at the United Nations. This did not prevent them from pointing out, whenever the opportunity arose, the superior qualities of Soviet communism and the shortcomings of other ways of life. In the Second Committee, for example, they deplored the alleged discriminatory trade practices of the Western democracies against the countries of Eastern Europe.
4. Of course these developments were more pronounced before than after the Foreign Ministers' meeting, which produced flatly negative results as regards the two most important subjects on the agenda of the tenth session - disarmament and the admission of new members. After that meeting, however, there was no clear-cut return to cold-war tactics by anyone concerned. Perhaps it became less appropriate to refer glowingly to the new era of rapprochement. The antics of Bulganin and Khrushchev in Asia added to the doubt and dismay about East-West relations but there seemed to be little inclination to draw the lines for a renewed cold-war struggle in the Assembly. Co-existence, by then clearly recognizable as competitive rather than co-operative co-existence, continued as the alternative to be preferred. Exchanges between the United States and Soviet representatives became more frequent and perhaps less restrained than earlier in the session but the debates continued to be moderate on the whole. Clearly distinguishable, however, in the proceedings after the Foreign Ministers' talks was the acute disappointment of many delegations about the rapid evaporation of the "Geneva spirit" in which the tenth session had been launched.
5. Notwithstanding the disappointment on that score, there seemed to be some satisfaction among delegations at the end of the session that this year the General Assembly had been able to produce positive results of considerable importance and that the United Nations had been strengthened in the process. The withdrawal from the rim of thermonuclear hell which had begun by the time of the ninth session was clearly continuing at the tenth, notwithstanding the halting steps and backward glances. The tenth session could take some pride in the admission of sixteen new members, the unanimous approval of the resolutions on peaceful uses of atomic energy and on the effects of atomic radiation, and the relative calm in which the colonial questions were discussed and disposed of - at least for the time being. Therefore, it is perhaps a fair conclusion that the tenth session of the Assembly, particularly when compared with the Assemblies between 1948 and 1953, did show the most promise since the founding of the United Nations that the organization might survive to fulfill its high purposes.
6. Notwithstanding the happier side, the tenth session did reveal ominous signs of divisions which could wreck the United Nations. It was paradoxical, for example, that the session which succeeded in breaking the deadlock on new memberships witnessed the withdrawal from the Assembly of two important members. The implications of the French134 and South African walk-outs could be far-reaching, if they were held to be precedents for the proposition that any member who should find the Assembly's discussion distasteful to him could on short notice withdraw from the session. There seems little doubt that the French walk-out was unnecessary and that the situation which provoked it could have been avoided; that the South African walk-out was premature and poorly performed. Neither of these acts added to the stature of the United Nations; both, but particularly the French withdrawal, caused grave embarrassment to many other delegations; neither eased the burden of the colonial questions which weigh heavily on the Assembly's agenda.
7. The Governments of France and South Africa may have hoped by withdrawing their delegations to dissuade the anti-colonial powers from pressing what they consider to be legitimate causes. There seemed to be little likelihood that those tactics would ever succeed. The new nations in Asia and Africa are clearly determined to press for the political and economic independence of all kindred peoples. The resolve to eradicate political domination by the white race of peoples of the coloured races is at the heart of all the problems facing the United Nations and lumped under the general heading of "colonial issues". (This explains the coolness of the Afro-Asians to the Greek side of the Cyprus issue.)135 This aim was pressed energetically not only in the political committees but in the Third and Fourth Committees where the questions of self-determination and colonial exploitation arose in several forms. Legal and historical arguments hardly prevail against the strong emotion which that broad issue evokes. Nor does it help to remind the Afro-Asians about the backwardness in some of their own countries. Threats of walk-out and the actual withdrawal of delegations from the Assembly are equally ineffective. Some of the Afro-Asian delegations have recognized that a succession of withdrawals would weaken and perhaps wreck the United Nations but for the anti-colonialists the organization is not worth preserving, if it cannot deal with the urgent problems of colonialism.
8. For their part the colonial powers (and indeed others interested in the orderly development of the United Nations) cannot accept the contention that the General Assembly should have a free hand to re-organize the various colonial areas of the world or even to exert undue influence on the course of events there. The problem seems to be to persuade the anti-colonial powers that these complex problems cannot be settled arbitrarily, and certainly not by the decisions of chance majorities in the General Assembly, in complete disregard of the rights of the colonial powers and of their citizens. At the same time a division on these matters between the two main racial groups - white and coloured - must be avoided.
9. At the tenth session there were some indications that the Afro-Asians as a group were aware of that problem. This was illustrated in painstaking negotiations to bring about a return of the French Delegation, an accomplishment which required the co-operation, perseverance and tact of many delegations. The Afro-Asians were equally reasonable in their attitude toward the questions of Morocco and West New Guinea, the plebiscite in British Togoland, and the treatment of people of India origin in South Africa. They showed that they were prepared to make temporary concessions in the interests of wider harmony but without abandoning in any way the colonial causes which they had espoused. The Afro-Asians undoubtedly sensed that the General Assembly was in no mood this year for repetitious debates on the perennial items, that it would resist all but the most innocuous resolutions and that the colonial questions could be raised with renewed vigour at future sessions. Accordingly the calm and reasonableness with which the tenth session dealt with the colonial issues were more likely the marks of shrewd and responsible judgment than indifference or faint-heartedness on the part of the Afro-Asians.
10. On one issue there was no compromise and no conciliation. It had been earlier supposed that the item on Palestine refugees might be dealt with at the tenth session almost as an administrative and budgetary matter. The hope was that the political complexities of the Palestine question would not be touched upon. These illusions were shattered shortly before the tenth session began by the renewal of border violence along the Gaza strip and later by the announcement that Czechoslovakia had negotiated with Egypt for the supply of arms from the communist world.136 These developments provoked sharp reactions in the Middle East and elsewhere and by the time the Palestine refugee question came up for discussion in the Ad Hoc Political Committee Arab-Israeli tension was as grave as any time since 1948. Accordingly the debate was a prolonged and bitter exchange of invective and accusation which encompassed every aspect of the Palestine impasse.
11. The Committee was, however, not prepared to tackle the broader issue, particularly since it now seemed to involve a head-on collision between the Western democracies and the Soviet Union. The draft resolution, which concentrated on the administrative problems of continuing the work of the United Nations Works and Relief Agency was passed in the face of Arab objection and the item was thus disposed of, although the situation in the Middle East grew worse with new armed clashes between Israel and Syria and rumours that the Soviet Union's excursion into Middle East politics would be extended to include assistance to Syria and Saudi Arabia. These Soviet manoeuvres seemed clearly designed to counteract the Baghdad Pact which during the Assembly began to assume more concrete form. In this endeavour, the Soviet Delegation had a willing ally in Krishna Menon, who in the disarmament debate so strongly attacked the "bad-bad pact", among others, that he drew fire from the representatives of Iraq, Pakistan and Turkey.
12. Another source of division was the noticeable failure of the Western Powers to co-ordinate their policies on some important subjects. The impasse in the election of the third non-permanent member to the Security Council derived from a difference between the United States and United Kingdom which remained unresolved at the end of the Assembly and which made necessary the highly questionable solution by lottery of the deadlock between the Yugoslav and Philippine candidatures. The Western Great Powers managed only at the last moment to correlate their policies on disarmament. The inflexibility of the United States position on the peaceful uses of atomic energy nearly caused a split in the Western ranks. The most serious divergence, however, arose in the consideration of the admission of new members. The combined result of these divisions within the Western group was undoubtedly damaging to Western interests and a considerable advantage to the Soviet Union. As in the past, the Soviet Delegation, notwithstanding their smiles and restrained conduct in debate, showed no disposition to forego any opportunity which came their way to embarrass the Western democracies.
13. Nevertheless, the Western Powers held together in their attitude toward Chinese representation in the General Assembly. They succeeded in maintaining majority support for the contention that no change in that representation should take place during 1955. In the plenary session on September 20 the United States draft resolution deferring action was adopted by a vote of 42 in favour, 12 against with 6 abstentions. Notwithstanding this success, the United States Delegation were most concerned about the prospects for the eleventh session. Their attitude toward the admission of new members was governed to a large extent by their fears about Chinese representation. They were, of course, particularly concerned about the effects of the veto by Nationalist China of the application of Outer Mongolia. Even though the harmful (from the United States point of view) effects of that veto were offset by the eventual admission of sixteen new members, the United States Delegation continued to view with alarm the prospects for an early reconsideration of the Chinese representation issue. They, of course, had very much in mind the forthcoming election campaign in the United States.
Role of Various Delegations
14. Perhaps as at no other Assembly the most striking development in relations between delegations at the tenth session was the shifting of the traditional voting alliances. The Soviet Delegation tried to make friends with practically every other delegation except that of the United States. The Soviet representatives worked in conjunction with the United Kingdom Delegation for the election of the third non-permanent member to the Security Council. The Soviet bloc was more closely aligned with the twenty-seven co-sponsors of the draft resolution on new members than were the United States, France or Belgium. During the proceedings on the peaceful uses of atomic energy and on the effects of atomic radiation the Soviet bloc most frequently voted with India and some of the Arab States. On the colonial questions the Soviet representatives maintained their traditional support for the anti-colonial powers.
15. The United States Delegation, on the other hand, tended to be isolated from the majority of other delegations. It seemed to have lost its ability to mobilize supporters. It salvaged little from the proceedings on the admission of new members and found itself among a very small group of abstainers in the voting. The United States position on the peaceful uses of atomic energy and on the effects of atomic radiation came under heavy fire, not only from Krishna Menon but from other Asian, Latin American and Scandinavian representatives. To win acceptance the United States position on disarmament had to be modified considerably, although the resolution which was finally adopted gave priority in future consideration of the problem to President Eisenhower's proposal. The United States suffered a further setback in the proceedings on Charter review, since clearly a committee of the whole is much less likely to agree than the smaller committee originally envisaged on the holding of an early conference. In the Fifth Committee the United States succeeded, but only with difficulty, in having adopted its proposal providing for the review, in certain cases, of decisions of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal.
16. Ostensibly the Afro-Asian group appeared more closely knit than at earlier sessions. The Bandung Conference undoubtedly had a unifying influence as regards Afro-Asian policies at the General Assembly. Nevertheless there was ample evidence, both in the debates and behind the scenes, that the Afro-Asians have their own differences about aims and the leadership of the group. Notwithstanding the public attention with Krishna Menon received as the leading spokesman for the Afro-Asians, it seems very clear that he is not so accepted by all members of the group. His attempts to steal the limelight were undoubtedly resented by the representatives of such countries as Burma, Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan.
17. The Latin American solidarity was much less in evidence at the tenth session. The Latin American caucus split eleven to nine on the election to the Latin American seat on the Economic and Social Council. The more responsible Latin delegations, those of Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico, showed a desire to approach the colonial issues with less emotion than in the past. These delegations proved themselves in some of the delicate negotiations behind the scenes on such matters as the return of the French Delegation, the admission of new members, the peaceful uses of atomic energy. The President of the Assembly [José Maza] also contributed to the success of the manoeuvring off-stage.
18. A development of some significance was the unwillingness of many delegations to accept blindly the leadership of the Great Powers. In informal discussions Krishna Menon repeated his earlier pronouncement that agreement between the Soviet Union and the Western democracies did not necessarily mean that the whole world was in agreement. Menon, however, learned in the proceedings on atoms for peace that because he and the Soviet Union happened to agree with the Western Powers, the rest of Asia did not necessarily concur. The Scandinavians too demonstrated their independence in that regard. The delegations of the middle and small powers showed, moreover, that they were not prepared to accept meekly the stalemates resulting from Great Power disagreement. The pressure for the admission of the largest possible number of new members developed as a minor power movement which began in the face of varying opposition from all the Great Powers, although the Soviet Union was quick to take advantage of the situation. To a lesser extent the debate on disarmament produced similar results; there were clear signs of impatience among the smaller powers that the Great Powers had made so little progress in the matter.
19. This "small power revolt", as some press correspondents have described it, may well have resulted from the indecisiveness and an indifference which characterized the conduct at the tenth session of all the delegations from the Great Powers. Probably, because of preoccupations elsewhere, they offered practically no leadership at the Assembly and seemed reluctant to come to grips with controversial problems. The Soviet Delegation was amiable but not particularly aggressive in pursuing its aims. The United States Delegation shuttled between arrogance and despair. The United Kingdom Delegation appeared vacillating on many subjects. The French were absent for most of the Assembly. The Chinese Nationalist showed as much dignity and forthrightness as any of the Great Power delegates but only on the one subject. It was no accident, therefore, that the leading roles at the recent Assembly were played by representatives of the lesser powers. Sir Leslie Munro, Krishna Menon, Mr. Martin, Sir Percy Spender, Entezam of Iran, Urrutia of Colombia and Engen of Norway were among the leading figures at the tenth session. As this list indicates the Commonwealth delegations played an active role at the tenth session.
Principal Work of the Session
20. Measured by any yardstick, the admission of the sixteen new members was for the United Nations by far the most important achievement of the tenth session. It gave the organization a lift it badly needed. Not only was a deadlock of long standing broken, not only was new blood injected at a time when the organization was weak from many years of cold war, but the General Assembly reasserted its claim to be a centre for harmonizing international action. In the immediately preceding years a number of international arrangements had been made outside the United Nations. The Indo-China settlement, the Bandung Conference, the "Geneva spirit" were signs of the drift away from the United Nations.
21. The failure of the Foreign Ministers to agree in November broke the trend. They had tried, perhaps half-heartedly, and failed to reach agreement on the admission of new members, even as a by-product of their Geneva talks. Unwilling to accept this particular failure, because of the high hopes which had been raised, the majority of the General Assembly pursued the move to admit new members. The pressure of opinion became so strong that in the end it proved irresistible. Whereas it may not be true to say that the Soviet authorities bowed to Assembly pressure, there can be little doubt that they were strongly influenced by it not to let the opportunity pass and, by a sudden change of position, to allow the admission of the group of sixteen. The Soviet Union gained solid credit for its part in the Security Council proceedings, so much so that the Western Great Powers were left in the shade. Had it not been that the initiative in the Assembly had been maintained by smaller Western powers, the admission of sixteen might have represented a setback for the West. Whatever the results were in terms of East-West positions, there was no doubt about the substantial gain to the United Nations through this striking demonstration that at least some international problems could be resolved when the members of the United Nations sought the solution with sufficient determination.
22. The resolutions on the peaceful uses of atomic energy and on the effects of atomic radiation provided similar evidence that the United Nations might yet learn to work together. The Western Great Powers were required, in promoting their ideas, to make modifications to meet objections largely from the Afro-Asians and Scandinavians. The Soviet Union, however, had very little success in selling its point of view. It was not necessarily a bad thing for the United Nations, nor for the world, that the Great Powers should have been obliged to trim their sails to the expressions of genuine doubt from others no less interested but not to date as closely concerned with the atomic matters. Contributions to these debates from representatives of the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, Colombia, India, Pakistan and Burma illustrated that point.
23. It would be a mistake to gloss over the difficulties of implementing the resolutions on the atomic items. The complexities of running the proposed atomic energy agency have only begun to appear. The negotiations on the statute are likely to be protracted, particularly if the United States policy continues to lack resilience and adaptability. The agency may be a long time coming into being, and the committee to study the effect of radiation on man and his environment may not accomplish much in the near future. But both these bodies would appear to be essential in a world of atomic development. Therefore necessity, if not determination to succeed, may compel the powers concerned to reach agreement. In any event the tenth session brought the negotiation of an international atomic energy agency very much more within the area of United Nations responsibility and created the committee on radiation. The majority of members, as well as the Secretary-General, are unlikely to relax their interest in these matters and will continue to press for practicable solutions to the atomic problems.
24. The debate on disarmament was disappointingly inconclusive after the hopes raised at the ninth session. What little progress the Sub-Committee made early in 1955 had been thrown in reverse by the time the Assembly began to debate this subject. The voluminous records of the proceedings in the Sub-Committee revealed little more than a dreary and discouraging reiteration of national positions and, on the part of the Western Powers, an absence of agreed aims. The Soviet item on international co-operation, which was injected into the disarmament debate, provoked sideline quarrels between minor contenders and thereby disrupted the main debate.
25. After the failure of the Conference of Foreign Ministers no great enthusiasm continued for President Eisenhower's proposal on aerial inspection. The General Assembly did accept the Western Powers' draft resolution, which gave priority to the study of the Eisenhower proposal, but the passing of the resolution, even by a large majority, produced little sense of achievement or satisfaction. There was no foundation of agreed Western policy on which to build a significant disarmament resolution or serious negotiation with the Soviet Union. The most that can be said for the Western resolution is that it served to dispose of the item and to provide at least a little more time for reaching an agreed Western policy. Nevertheless, there was clear evidence that a number of important members are growing restless about the continuing stalemate on disarmament. This may eventually require the Sub-Committee to show positive signs of progress or declare itself unable to do so. The second of these alternatives would likely produce a strong reaction in the General Assembly.
26. A long debate on Korea, held late in the Assembly, indicated no progress towards the goal of peaceful unification of Korea and was the occasion for perhaps the harshest and most combative exchanges between Soviet and Western delegations. The Indian and Yugoslav representatives tried without much success to introduce some element of reasonableness and impartiality. The statement of the Canadian Delegation indicated a strong misgiving at the rigidity of the United Nations attitude toward Korea. This statement was calculated to serve notice that even member states which had unhesitatingly supported South Korea against aggression were not necessarily content to support all subsequent South Korea actions, or to see the United Nations always and solely in a partisan role in Korean affairs.
27. In the field of economic affairs the results of the tenth session were on the whole satisfactory. It was generally agreed that encouraging progress was being made in the field of technical assistance. Increased pledges to the Expanded Programme were given at a pledging conference. The forthcoming establishment of the International Finance Corporation was welcomed in the Second Committee, although some delegations expressed the view that the International Bank had acted precipitately in opening for signature the draft statute before referring it to the General Assembly for consideration. The main difficulty in the Second Committee's proceedings related to the question of establishing a Special United Nations Fund for Economic Development. The under-developed countries have increased with each passing year their demand for its establishment. With some difficulty the extremists among the under-developed group were restrained this year from forcing an early decision on that matter. A compromise resolution, adopted unanimously, requests the Secretary-General to invite comments from member states and from the Specialized Agencies about the establishment, role, structure and operations of a special fund. An ad hoc committee was appointed to analyze the replies of governments and hope was expressed that the idea of SUNFED would win increased support.
28. At the tenth session the Third Committee produced few useful results. In the discussion of the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees the Soviet Delegation, without abandoning in any way its basic position in favour of the early repatriation of refugees, modified its earlier attacks on the sincerity of purpose of the High Commissioner and accepted resettlement and integration as possible alternatives for a small number of refugees. A Soviet draft resolution was submitted which, among other things, instructed the High Commissioner to assist the early return of refugees and displaced persons to their country of origin. The Soviet contentions were, however, so clearly contrary to the spirit of United Nations assistance to European refugees that they failed to commend themselves to the Committee, even though the Arab delegations showed considerable sympathy for the Soviet position. The Committee adopted a nine-power draft resolution which underlined the High Commissioner's responsibility to seek solutions for the problems of refugees through voluntary repatriation, resettlement and integration and requested him to continue his efforts to effect solutions by these three means. However, because of the lack of response among many Arab, Asian and Latin American delegations, the prospects for obtaining the target figures for the refugee fund in 1955 and 1956 are not promising.
29. In the field of human rights the Third Committee devoted a large part of its time to debating the question of self-determination, mostly in the context of Article 1 of the draft Covenant on Human Rights.137 The efforts of the Western powers have been directed to preventing precipitate and questionable action on this subject in the various United Nations bodies dealing with it. The Afro-Asian delegations have been most assiduous in pressing, with the support of the Soviet bloc and many of the Latin Americans, for the establishment of the "right" of self-determination and for its inclusion in the draft Covenant on Human Rights. These efforts were intensified during the tenth session and, as an outcome of a difficult and inconclusive debate, a text was adopted for Article 1 of the draft Covenants which was far from satisfactory to many delegations. The adoption of this article would seem to rule out automatically the consideration of a United States proposal to study the "concept of self-determination". At the same time the delegations dissatisfied with the text of the article are unlikely to give their unreserved support to the recommendations of the Commission on Human Rights concerning the establishment of commissions for the purpose of ensuring the realization of the right of self-determination. The prospects for the future are therefore clouded with doubt.
30. One of the main achievements of the Fourth Committee was the adoption of a resolution whereby the Assembly recommended that the United Kingdom organize and conduct without delay, under the supervision of the United Nations, a plebiscite in British Togoland. The plebiscite, the first of its kind to be held in a United Nations trust territory, is to ascertain the wishes of the inhabitants on their political future, that is, whether the territory should be linked with an independent Gold Coast, or should continue under trusteeship pending an ultimate determination. The Fourth Committee also endorsed the views of a visiting mission to French Togoland that implementation of the political reforms contemplated by France would be helpful in enabling the inhabitants of that territory to decide their future status at an early date. In these developments, the anti-colonial powers showed the same spirit of accommodation which had been discussed earlier in this assessment. On the question of South-West Africa, however, they pressed their attack against the Union Government which had continued to resist United Nations efforts to bring the territory under the trusteeship system.
31. Perhaps the most important matter discussed by the Sixth Committee was the Draft Convention on Arbitral Procedure. It was apparent that, whereas most member states agreed that arbitration was a necessary means of solving disputes between states, few, and in particular the Soviet Union, were prepared to underwrite the provisions of the Draft Convention which would ensure that an obligation to arbitrate once entered into could not be frustrated. The discussion of this subject, as was generally the case this year in that Committee, was free from political controversy. The leading roles were played by the representatives of the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom.