Minutes of British Commonwealth Meeting

BCM(45) 5th Meeting (extract) LONDON, 6 April 1945, 3.30 p.m.


Examination of Dumbarton Oaks Proposals

[matter omitted]

MR. FORDE said:-

I intend to deal, as Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, with certain broad principles of the Dumbarton Oaks proposals. At the conclusion of my remarks I should like my colleague, the Australian Minister for External Affairs, Dr. Evatt, to make a more detailed statement on some of the questions involved.

On many occasions the Australian Government has laid it down that, while hostilities continue, the basic principle of current Australian policy must be the winning of the war. This objective has rigorously governed our domestic as well as our external affairs. We are now, happily, approaching the point where victory in Europe is in sight. I need not remind this meeting that victory in Europe will not end the war. There is still a long and hard struggle ahead in the Pacific and the Far East. We have already had an assurance from the United Kingdom Government of their intention to press towards early conclusion of the war against Japan, and we are confident that with the lessening of war demands in Europe the effort in the Far East will correspondingly increase.

The Australian Government has insisted frequently that this is a global war, in the sense that the war cannot be regarded as over until victory has been achieved in all parts of the world. It follows as a consequence that arrangements made as a result of the cessation of hostilities in any theatre of war should pay due regard to the requirements in other theatres where the conflict is still raging. These observations apply not only to the disposition of forces and of material, but also to any political and other arrangements which may foreshadow the peace settlements. It will, of course, be necessary to conclude armistices with enemy countries at the time of surrender, and to set up associated machinery for control, but, in our view, no arrangements of a permanent character should be made with any single enemy until all our enemies have been defeated. There should also be full opportunity for all the belligerents to participate in armistice arrangements, armistice control and preliminary arrangements connected with the peace settlements.

A second general point in Australian policy is that we are vitally interested in all the arrangements to be made in regard to cessation of hostilities and the peace settlements. This interest is not confined to any single region of the world. Australia has plainly demonstrated, by going to war in September 1939, by her employment of forces in the Middle East and in the Mediterranean, and by the participation of a very large number of airmen in the European and other theatres, that she regards events in Europe as being very much her concern. That view has been expressed on numerous occasions in communications which have passed between us and the United Kingdom Government on various aspects of the war in Europe and the arrangements to be made regarding the cessation of hostilities in Europe. Our interest in Europe derives partly from our close links with the people of Britain and a realisation that, if the heart of the Commonwealth is endangered, then the future of the whole Commonwealth will be imperilled, and partly from the lesson of history, for twice within one generation we have seen a war which broke out in Europe grow to the magnitude of a world struggle.

While insisting on our interest in European affairs, I would refer to a further point of Australian policy, namely, that because of our situation we have an even more direct concern with what takes place in the Pacific, South-East Asia and the Indian Ocean. We believe that in the course of developing our own national life in that region we have developed an individual point of view and gained a specialised knowledge of the circumstances in which we are placed. On some points our outlook may not be identical with the point of view of other members of the British Commonwealth whose most immediate interests lie in other quarters of the globe.

In co-operation with the sister Dominion of New Zealand we have given very careful thought to some of the special problems of the region in which we live, and we believe that because of this we are able to make a useful and necessary contribution to the conduct of the external relations of the British Commonwealth as a whole as well as of our own countries. When we speak with emphasis regarding the situation in the Pacific and the problems which are arising there, we do so with a sense of responsibility to the security and welfare of our own peoples, to whom we are immediately responsible, but also in the belief that emphasis is necessary in order to ensure that, both in British Commonwealth affairs and in international relations generally, those problems are not overlooked.

We do not wish to treat the affairs of this region as rigidly separate. Some of the problems of our region have their counterpart in other regions. Whatever arrangements are made regionally should be made within the framework of the proposed World Organisation.

I stated earlier that the winning of the war was the immediate and current objective of the Australian Government. Beyond this we believe that a concerted effort can and should be made to use the opportunity which will be afforded by Allied victory to establish in all parts of the world a peace which will afford ‘to all the men in all the lands a prospect of living out their lives in freedom from fear and freedom from want’. In some quarters nowadays there is a tendency to suggest that the Atlantic Charter is unrealistic, but for our part we still regard it as a noble statement of objectives and we will continue to strive for the attainment of its objectives, particularly those set out in the third, fourth and fifth principles of the Charter. [1]

We in Australia are not alone in feeling that it would be wrong to over-emphasise the importance, for the security and the maintenance of peace throughout the world, of what I may call the ‘security’ aspects of the proposed World Organisation. Wars cannot be prevented merely by the process of suppressing them. They can be prevented only by building such an understanding and mutual helpfulness and tolerance among the peoples that war will no longer appeal as an instrument of national policy. To say that, however, is merely to express an ideal. To realise that ideal will require constant and unremitting effort by all men and all peoples of goodwill. It is for that reason that we desire to see a greater emphasis placed, in the machinery to be set up at San Francisco, on the more positive aspects of the great task of making and keeping the peace. That means that we wish to see a more vigorous grappling with the economic and social causes which in the past have underlain so many of the world’s confusions and conflicts. We desire not only to see an amplification of the field within which the effort to peace will be exerted, but also to ensure a wider and more binding assumption of obligations and responsibilities by the constituent members of the new World Organisation. This, we realise, involves some modifications in the proposals which are now before us, and at the appropriate time we shall bring forward our own suggestions for their improvement along these lines.

On a previous occasion, speaking at the conclusion of the Conference held at Wellington last November between the Australian and New Zealand Governments, I summed up our policy in two words- security and welfare. We are concerned both with the maintenance of peace against aggression and with the creation of conditions in which peace will be possible. We recognise that to achieve our objective we must have, on the one hand, a guarantee of security so that any threat to peace can be suppressed by the combined forces of peace-loving States, and, on the other hand, collaboration between all nations to ensure that poverty is reduced, employment maintained and standards of living raised in all countries. The amendments which we will suggest to the Dumbarton Oaks proposals will be designed to serve those objectives.

In our position of comparative isolation, we probably have as much to gain from international co-operation as any other country. We believe that only by international co-operation can many of the material ills which afflict the world be remedied, and that only by working together under the leadership of the Great Powers can we obtain the reasonable prospect of military security which is necessary to allow any country to proceed vigorously and hopefully towards the progressive improvement of the conditions of its people.

We extend these principles beyond our boundaries to the people of neighbouring lands, the majority of whose population live under conditions which, comparatively at least, can only be described as backward; and it is our earnest hope that the system of international co-operation finally established will be comprehensive enough to assure to these peoples, as well as to ourselves, the opportunity of attaining higher standards.

Having this outlook, it is necessary that we should place a very high value on the success of the San Francisco Conference and the early establishment of a General International Organisation which will provide improved means for international co-operation in both security and welfare.

With your consent, Mr. Chairman [2], I should now like my colleague, Dr. Evatt, to develop in detail our views on some of the matters which I have outlined in general terms.

DR. EVATT said:-

I desire to refer in general terms to some aspects of the Dumbarton Oaks proposals for World Organisation. We in Australia strongly endorse the decision to proceed at once with the establishment of permanent machinery, directed first towards the maintenance of world peace and, secondly, towards the promotion of economic and social welfare. We think there is a far better prospect of enduring peace settlements if they are made against this background, and subject to the operations of an established world system of security, than there would be if the settlements had to be made piecemeal after the overthrow of our enemies.

The kind of World Organisation that Australia desires to see established was sketched out, in principle, in twelve resolutions drawn up at the Australia - New Zealand Conference at Wellington in November 1944. [3] These resolutions are printed as Annex ‘C’ in the paper numbered B.C.M. (45) 4 [4], which has been issued by the Government of the United Kingdom.

As we have already stated at this Conference, we accept and endorse the Dumbarton Oaks plan in its broad outlines. We shall propose amendments, both in principle and in detail. In essentials, however, we think that the plan does embody a workable procedure by which international disputes which may lead to war can be adjusted promptly; by which a threat to use force will be countered not by the single State threatened, but by the authority of the whole organisation; and under which the Organisation will have control of sufficient military force either to prevent or to make a quick end to any armed conflict.

THE ‘MIDDLE POWERS’ The approach of Australia to the Organisation supports in principle that outlined in the speeches and despatches of the Canadian Government. We think there is need to recognise the distinctive position of the nations which are coming to be called the ‘middle Powers’, but which, in effect, belong (like the five Great Powers) to what may be called the ‘Security Powers’. I am interested to find that this view has been expressed also by the Governments of France and of the Netherlands. We feel it is vitally important, if the Organisation is to be effectively established, to place the responsibility for leadership upon those who-as the French Government memorandum puts it-‘will undertake an obligation to participate, and will have the means of participating, to a substantial degree in the active defence of world order’. Australia herself belongs to this category of Powers.

THREE MAIN ISSUES The paper circulated by the United Kingdom Government contains communications which suggest a number of changes in the Dumbarton Oaks text. [5] These can readily be discussed later, in the order in which they appear. At this stage, however, I wish to deal with a few matters of principle that are not explicitly raised by the paper that has been circulated. I shall mention briefly- (i) the role assigned to the Security Council in the settlement of disputes, and the principles on which the Council should act in these matters;

(ii) the role assigned to the World Court in the organisation of peace;

(iii) the provision made for the amendment of the Charter.

One of the central questions about the Dumbarton Oaks plan is: how far the Organisation is pledged to the maintenance of the status quo, what mechanism exists for orderly and peaceful change, and on what principles any such change is to be based. Until an answer has been given to these questions it is impossible to go far in drawing up a Charter, or at any rate in formulating a statement of its Purposes and Principles.

These questions require a rather close consideration of the Dumbarton Oaks text at one or two points. I shall, however, go into no more detail than is required for seeing what the organisation is intended to do, and how it is to act.

PROVISION FOR PEACEFUL CHANGE On these vital matters the Dumbarton Oaks text is neither clear nor satisfactory. There is, indeed, (negatively) an absolute and universal prohibition of the use or threat of force in international relations (Chapter II (4)). In effect, though not explicitly, this includes the guarantee proposed in No. 4 of the Wellington resolutions, i.e. a guarantee against any attempt to impair by the use or threat of force the political independence and territorial integrity of another member. There is also (positively) an absolute and universal obligation to settle all disputes by peaceful means (Chapter II (3)). But there is no express positive guarantee of either the territorial integrity or the political independence of members, comparable with Article X of the League Covenant. The Organisation is clearly not pledged to the maintenance in all circumstances of the status quo.

On the other hand, the powers of the Security Council to recommend or prescribe peaceful changes in the existing rights of members are not clearly stated, nor are the principles that are to guide its action clearly laid down. The commentary circulated by the Government of the United Kingdom plainly regards the text as authorising the Security Council to take cognisance or jurisdiction of a dispute and to recommend terms of settlement at the earlier stages, and, later, if the dispute reaches the stage of an immediate threat to peace or an actual breach of the peace, to prescribe terms of settlement, under threat of its powers to impose sanctions if it deems them necessary to maintain or restore peace. (See Commentary, paragraphs 15-16, 35-37; text, Chapter VIII (A) (5), (B) (1) and (2)). This interpretation is, in my opinion, sound, but it is not altogether certain that it is the correct interpretation, having regard to certain departures at Dumbarton Oaks from the United States draft, under which the Security Council would certainly have had the powers in question.

There should be no room for doubt on this point, and the present text should be made explicit.

The powers assigned to the Security Council under the British interpretation, place upon it the final responsibility for recommending, or prescribing, measures of peaceful change. By what criteria is the Council to be guided? The text as it stands gives only a vague answer to this question.

The Council is, indeed, required, by Chapter VI (B) (2), to act in accordance with the Purposes and Principles of the Organisation, as set out in Chapters I and II. Apart, however, from a general reference to the ‘sovereign equality’ of members, the only indication is that peace and security must not be endangered. As the Netherlands Government has said: ‘Experience shows how easily this may come to be done by seeking solutions calculated to induce Powers threatening to use violence from carrying out their threat;

such solutions may well be at the expense of the threatened Power, however innocent’.

LINKING POWER WITH JUSTICE Over-insistence on the maintenance of legal rights will not, in fact, suffice either to settle disputes or to maintain peace. In the international sphere, as in industrial relations, the majority of serious disputes arise out of a claim by one party for a change in the existing legal position, whether territorial or otherwise.

Some balance must therefore be struck between mere adherence to the status quo, on the one hand, and mere arbitrary interference with existing rights on the other.

Such a balance may be sought by different methods. It may be sought, for instance:-

(a) by giving some clearer indication, in the Purposes and Principles, of the basis on which the Council should act;

(b) by providing that the Council must adopt a procedure specially calculated to bring about a just result-for instance that the Council, before making any recommendation or decision, shall refer the matter for report to, or the finding of facts by, an expert independent arbitral tribunal;

(c) by providing that, except perhaps in cases of emergency, the Council’s recommendations or decisions shall not be binding unless concurred in by some other body-e.g., the Assembly; or (d) by providing something in the way of an appeal from the Council to some other body (as the Netherlands Government proposes).

There is a powerful objection to proposals along any lines which require the concurrence of any other body in recommendations or decisions of the Council. The terms upon which disputes are settled are so connected with the maintenance of security that to divide responsibility may open the door to serious delays and dangers. in the past, willingness to take enforcement action has depended greatly on the merits of the dispute concerned. This condition is not likely to disappear. The moral is to avoid weakening the responsibility of those on whom the duty is cast to maintain peace and security. The Assembly, moreover, may well lend itself to ‘block voting’, and the existing provision for decisions by a two-thirds majority, without regard to the position of the ‘Big Five’ might lead to confused situations paralysing the action of the whole Organisation.

From the point of view of principle, a possible method of approach would be by way of a combination of both the first two methods I have listed-i.e., to lay down general principles as a basis for the Council’s action, and at the same time to require a reference to an arbitral tribunal before the Council makes its final recommendation or decision. This would ensure reasonable delay and an opportunity for full consideration, and would give some guarantee of a just solution. On the other hand, the risk of delay in urgent cases must be fully recognised.

PRINCIPLES OF COUNCIL’S ACTION The principles which are to guide the Council’s action could only be laid down in very general terms. For example, the Council might be required to act by reference to ‘equity and good conscience, and the substantial merits of the case’. A formula of this kind is undoubtedly broad. But it is not on that account valueless. It explicitly links Power with justice. It affords a basis on which, in the course of time, wise practice and precedent can be built.

We may usefully recall that the Governments of China, France, and the Netherlands have all laid emphasis on the importance of including in the Charter some such general formulas.

THE PERMANENT COURT I turn to a very important point-i.e., the role in the organisation of peace assigned in the Dumbarton Oaks text to an International Court of Justice. In this regard the provisions of the Charter should be amplified. An International Court of Justice has a vital part to play. Of the alternative courses mentioned in the text, I agree with His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom in expressing a general preference for preserving, though with necessary changes, the continuity of the existing Permanent Court of International Justice. That Court was the first successful attempt to establish a permanent tribunal to administer the law of nations. The Court has done valuable work.

We think that the World Court should be used to the maximum extent possible in the service of international peace. It should not merely be empowered to render decisions and advisory opinions on questions of international law, but provision should be made for possible resort to it for the purpose of ascertaining facts which are of importance for the settlement of disputes and generally for the work of the organisation.

In one particular we think that the Charter should go further than it was thought possible to go in the League Covenant or the Statute of the Permanent Court. In principle it should be a condition of membership in the Organisation that the member accepts the jurisdiction of the Court (unless some other tribunal is agreed upon by the parties concerned) in all justiciable matters. In principle, also, it should be a condition of membership in the Organisation that the members should accept or comply with any decisions rendered by the Court. The experience of federal communities shows the great value of resort to a judicial tribunal in disputes that affect the relations of political communities. We think the time has come to make this a more prominent feature of international affairs.

AMENDMENT OF THE CHARTER I next express the opinion that the provisions made in Chapter XI for the amendment of the Charter are too restrictive. In our view, it is necessary for the success of the World Organisation that it should be devised with close regard to the particular situations with which it will in the early years of its existence have to deal. We hope an enduring World Organisation will be built, but at the same time we feel that such an Organisation will have to deal immediately with an urgent world situation. One suggestion for meeting this situation is to create a powerful body. Our view, however, is that the nations should proceed with the attempt to create a permanent World Organisation, and that the special circumstances to which I have referred should be met by making the periodical revision of the Constitution of the Organisation reasonably easy. In other words, our objective at San Francisco should be to bring into existence an Organisation which will be capable of handling the immediate situations, but which will contain within itself the possibility of further growth and development.

As I have previously indicated, we attach considerable significance to the revision of the Charter. The present proposals, which give any one of the permanent members of the Security Council an absolute veto on any change, appear likely to cause the Organisation to congeal into a narrow mould shaped by the nature of the world situation today, rather than to develop into an active institution capable of serving the needs of to- morrow. As an instance, it may prove, in ten or fifteen years’ time, absolutely necessary, in the interests of world security, to change the list of Great Powers who are permanent members; but any one of the present permanent members would be able, single-handed, to prevent such a change.

ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL The Australian Government attaches far more importance to the economic aspects of World Organisation than is reflected in Chapter IX of the proposals, entitled ‘Arrangements for International Economic and Social Co-operation’, and than is contemplated in the functions and powers of the ‘Economic and Social Council’.

We attach importance to the economic aspects of World Organisation, both because of the importance we attach to welfare as an end to itself, and also because we believe that a measure of security can be obtained through the promotion of welfare. As drafted, however, the Economic and Social Council is not given any power which will enable it effectively to promote welfare, or through the promotion of welfare to promote security.

It is our view that the Economic and Social Council should be strong, by reason of the powers given it, to guide and in some respects at any rate to co-ordinate the policies of the other social and economic agencies which the United Nations might set up. We believe it should be responsible to the Assembly on all matters but at the same time directed in its activities by a binding statement of principles and purposes set out in the Charter. Given such a position and status it could then be included as one of those ‘principal organs’ which are stated in Chapter IV of the draft as forming the General Organisation.

The principles and purposes of the Economic and Social Council should in our view be associated with the primary objective of domestic policy, that is the maintenance of high levels of employment and progressively increased standards of living. The Australian and New Zealand Governments’ insistence on full employment and higher standards of living as the objective of international economic co-operation is well known and has been, I think, accepted in principle by the United Kingdom. In our view, unless this is the objective of each nation and the basis of international economic co-operation, the separate objectives of the specialised organisations cannot possibly be attained.

It is because we believe that all United Nations agencies must concentrate on the maintenance of high levels of employment as the most effective means of achieving high standards of living, and should be prevented from acting in ways which might create unemployment, that we wish to see the Economic and Social Council developed into an effective international organisation, bound by the World Charter to pursue, and see that other agencies pursue, policies, in the words of the Atlantic Charter, ‘with the object of securing for all improved labour standards, economic advancement and social security’.

The approach of the Australian Delegation as shown in these statements corresponds to some extent with that of all the other Delegations. It would be fatal if the new Organisation were set up with a rigid constitution and if, as in the Dumbarton Oaks proposals, any one of the five Great Powers were able to veto amendments to the Charter. I also consider that greater powers should be allotted to the General Assembly in regard to the handling of disputes.

[matter omitted]


1 i.e. the rights of all peoples to choose their form of government; the access on equal terms for all states to trade and raw materials; collaboration between all nations to secure improved labour standards, economic advancement and social security.

2 Lord Cranborne.

3 See Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937 49, vol. VII, Document 337.

4 Memorandum (4), in AA : A7386, Top Secret, Copy no. 8, pp. 19- 20.

5 Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-49, vol. VII, Document 311.


[AA : A7386, TOP SECRET, COPY NO. 8]