237 Australian Delegation, United Nations, to Evatt

Cablegram UN109 NEW YORK, 8 May 1946, 6.29 p.m.


Security 64.

1. Gromyko was absent and no further information additional to the Iranian Ambassador's letter of 6th May [1] had been received when the Security Council met this afternoon. The United States immediately presented a resolution stating that as insufficient information had been received, the Council should request the Iranian Government to report before 20th May on actual conditions regarding withdrawal of troops and that in the light of information received Council should then decide what measures to adopt. In the meantime, the item would remain on the Agenda.

2. Australian representative [2], while expressing support for the resolution, pointed out that the Council's decision of 4th April [3] had also required information from the Soviet Government but its request had been ignored. In conformity with instructions, the Australian representative also spoke firmly regarding the absence of the Soviet representative from the Meeting. [4] He stated that absence from one Meeting might have been regarded simply as a protest but when this action was repeated, the Security Council should inquire carefully whether or not there was a risk that a dangerous precedent was being established. The action of the Soviet Union affected not only the position of one member but the whole question of the way in which the Security Council should function. Did this absence mean that the Soviet representative had voluntarily surrendered for the time being his rights as a member of the Council? There was nothing in the Charter which accorded special powers and responsibilities to any member of the Council apart from his actual participation in the work of the Council and if he ceased to participate in the Council's work, it might be argued that he abandoned his special powers as a Council member.

Moreover, any member of the Council, whether enjoying his position by virtue of election by the other members or by virtue of the consent of other members given by their signature of the Charter, acted in a representative capacity on behalf of all members of the United Nations and it was not for any single Government to decide when and in what particular cases it would act or refuse to act as a representative. In this regard the case of a permanent member was no different from that of a non-permanent member. As regards the work of the Council itself, the absence of the Soviet representative required most serious considerations regarding the extent of the capacity of the Council to take action. At a previous Meeting there had been hints that the view was held in some quarters that the absence of a permanent member might make it impossible for the Council to take a vote. The Australian representative did not admit that any veto could be exercised in this manner nor could the Australian Delegation accept any procedural interpretation of the Charter to the effect that a single member by refusing to participate in discussion on a particular question could stultify the Council. Such a procedure would extend the veto into regions beyond those which the present voting procedures covered and would make the whole business of the Council subject to the will of any one of its permanent members.

Having regard to these two propositions, both of which the Australian representative contested, namely that a member could itself decide when it would exercise its representative function and that a member could veto Council action by absenting itself, it was suggested that the Council was really in the presence of an attempt at a de facto amendment of the Charter. This was a most serious matter and the position should be cleared up as early as possible. The Australian representative recognised that it would be impossible to reach a definite conclusion at the present Meeting on all the matters which he had raised and he suggested that as a start the Council had a right to expect from the absent member some clear indication of what the absent member claimed to be the effect of his absence so that the Council might itself pronounce clearly on the subject, either refuting or accepting the Soviet claims, or alternatively if it found that impossible, refer them for examination to some other organ of the United Nations.

3. Cadogan supported the United States resolution. Regarding the statement made by the Australian representative, he said that he thought the Australian representative had exaggerated the difficult situation in which the Council had been placed by the absence of the Soviet representative. Although it was true that each representative on the Council was representing the United Nations as a whole and although absence from the Council amounted to an evasion of responsibility, this was a matter which any absent Delegate would have to solve in his own conscience. He considered that the absence of any member did not affect the ability of the Council to work, absence being equivalent merely to abstention. He concluded by saying that there was no necessity to immediately consider the problem raised by the Soviet representative's absence but that a solution would have to be found in the future.

4. Van Kleffens agreed that the points raised by the Australian representative were of a most serious nature but some of the questions need not be decided at the moment. The Council, however, must decide by its action whether it could adopt a resolution in the absence of a member. On a previous occasion it had passed a resolution on a procedural matter when a member was absent and he believed that it was fully competent for it to do so and that the United States resolution, if passed, would be completely constitutional. He reserved the opinion of his Delegation on whether the Council could take a decision on a matter of substance in the absence of a permanent member.

5. There was no further discussion and the resolution was adopted.

We did not think it necessary at this stage to press for any detailed consideration by the Council of the points which we had made but believe that the protest has served a good purpose- (a) In announcing clearly the serious view which we take of Soviet action in its effect on the Council procedures, and (b) In laying the groundwork for the inevitable debate which must take place in the near future on the general question of voting in the Security Council.

1 The letter stated that the Iranian Govt bad been able to determine that Soviet troops had been withdrawn from a number of Iranian provinces, but that continued 'interference' by the Soviet Union in Azerbaijan had made it impossible to determine whether evacuation had been proceeding there or would be completed by 7 May.

2 Hasluck.

3 i.e. to defer proceedings until 6 May, when both Iran and the Soviet Union should report on completion of the withdrawal of Soviet troops. See Document 168, notes 1 and 3.

4 See Document 150, note 2.

[AA:A1838 T189, 854/10/2, i]