1 Address by Evatt to the United Nations General Assembly

NEW YORK, 18 September 1947

The General Assembly is meeting at a period in world history which can be described as the half light between war and peace. It is already over two years since Japan laid down its arms, yet the peace treaties are still not concluded with either Germany or Japan. Thus, although there is no longer any world war, it cannot be said that peace has returned to the world. Over vast areas there is a condition of fear and unrest which is not only disturbing to the people of the world but is an active hindrance to the work of the United Nations. The primary function of the United Nations is to maintain world peace but, paradoxically, there is as yet no world peace to maintain.

Peace Settlements Urgently Needed

In Europe political conditions are still unstable and the work of economic reconstruction is held up by uncertainty as to the future of Austria and Germany, whose industrial resources must prove a vital element in the European economy as a whole. Nobody knows what production will in future be permitted to these countries, or what trade and political structure they will be permitted or encouraged to maintain. Peace treaties with Austria and Germany are, therefore, urgently necessary, and failure to reach these settlements is a matter of concern to the United Nations. The peace settlement with Japan, too, is urgently needed in order to provide a firm basis for political and economic reconstruction in the East Asian and Pacific region. The United Nations has a big role before it in helping to raise standards of human welfare throughout this region, a task in which Australia is particularly interested and to which the Economic and Social Council should turn its attention without further delay.

However, there is sound reason for believing that a peace settlement with Japan will be negotiated in the near future. The Australian Government considers that such agreement on the peace settlement of the Pacific need not await the settlement in Europe.

As a result of Allied declarations of policy a large measure of agreement already exists as to the principles of the Japanese peace settlement. Over the past two years the eleven Powers which took part in fighting and in winning the Pacific war have been working together in Washington as members of the Far Eastern Commission, establishing occupation policies based on the Allied declarations I have mentioned. The basic policy of the Commission provides a valuable outline for the peace settlement itself, and a valuable precedent against restricting the peace-making to a few major Powers and for including in its scope all belligerents which made a substantial contribution to victory.

But the present disturbed situation in the world is not due entirely to the failure to arrive at satisfactory peace settlements. To some extent the delay in the drafting of the treaties is a symptom rather than a cause of the disease. The Australian Government had watched with deep concern the tendency among certain nations to form dominating groups and rigid blocs or alignments. Such a tendency was entirely contrary to the spirit of the San Francisco Charter which stressed the need for tolerance and declared as one of its purposes respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion and, above all, sought to substitute justice and morality for physical power as the determinant in international relationships. It is to the spirit which animated the delegations at San Francisco that we should endeavour to return.

The Role of the General Assembly

In this situation the present General Assembly has a specially heavy responsibility in grappling with problems, including some which the Security Council has been unable to settle. The Assembly, because it represents all the members of the United Nations, is more responsive to the public opinion of the world than the Security Council, and it cannot be obstructed by the procedure of the individual veto. Australia and other middle and small Powers fought vigorously at San Francisco to enhance the powers and influence of the General Assembly. Fortunately the status finally established for the Assembly after a long struggle still affords grounds for hope. There is no reason why this great Assembly should succumb to the spirit of defeatism which has been created in many quarters as a result of the Security Council finding itself unable to reach decisions. The Australian Government, which regards the support of the United Nations as a cardinal principle in its foreign policy, does so largely because of its confidence in the immense possibilities of the General Assembly as an effective forum for international discussion, bringing nearer to all the people of the world their chief desire- freedom from fear and freedom from want-above all, for their children.

I now refer to several aspects of the problems which will confront us during the present Assembly.

The Use of the Veto

At San Francisco, in association with a number of middle and smaller nations, the Australian Delegation sought to confine the veto of each permanent member of the Security Council to the matters contained in Chapter VII of the Charter, i.e., those matters involving the use of diplomatic, economic, or military sanctions against an aggressor.

In particular, we sought to prohibit the use of the veto in connexion with the peaceful adjustment of international disputes by the Security Council or with such matters as its recommendations for the admission to the Organization of new members. Our proposals were not adopted, mainly because it was intimated that the Charter would not be signed at all if the veto power was limited, although it was also intimated, not without a certain degree of obscurity, that the permanent members would not use their veto power 'wilfully to obstruct the operation of the Council'.

The Veto in Practice

At the last session of the Assembly the Australian Delegation again brought the matter of the veto to the business sheet of the Assembly. We pointed out that the privilege of the veto had been abused, and proposed that the Assembly should recommend to the Council that the veto power should not be used in connexion with the peaceful adjustment of disputes under Chapter VI of the Charter. The Assembly finally adopted a somewhat indefinite resolution 'earnestly requesting' the permanent members of the Security Council to ensure that the Security Council was not impeded in reaching decisions promptly. Even so, the intention of the Assembly was clear enough and some progress was made in the development by the Security Council of the principle that abstention by a permanent member should not be deemed to have the effect of a veto.

Despite the resolution of last year's Assembly, the veto practice has continued and the matter comes up again for review at the present Assembly. In the review, it will again be necessary to distinguish sharply between the veto on measures of enforcement under Chapter VII on the one hand and the veto on measures of peaceful adjustment under Chapter VI and on administrative matters on the other.

At and since San Francisco our view has been direct, consistent, and reasonable. We have denied the soundness or justice of applying the veto to the procedures of international conciliation with which Chapter VI deals. In our view, conciliation of disputants by the Security Council is a matter of duty and obligation rather than of power or right, certainly if a majority of the Council considers the case one for recommending conciliation procedures. In our view no single nation should have the arbitrary privilege of determining according to its own will, overruling the clearly expressed will of the majority, that an international situation causing friction must be left untouched or that an international dispute must remain entirely unsettled. In all such cases doing nothing tends to uncertainty, confusion, dislocation and added friction.

It is most satisfactory to the Australian Delegation that after two years of experience the United States Government has publicly announced to this Assembly its belief that the veto should not be applicable to the peaceful adjustment of situations as set out in Chapter VI. However, our Delegation is also of the opinion that all the relevant facts are sufficiently before the Assembly to justify appropriate recommendations by the Assembly, and accordingly the mere appointment of a committee to study the matter further would not be adequate in the circumstances.

Jurisdiction of the Assembly in Disputes

In one vital respect-that of conciliation-the question of reviewing the right of individual veto in the Security Council is inseparably connected with the powers of the Assembly.

At San Francisco, most fortunately, the jurisdiction of the General Assembly was broadened in several important respects. The power of discussion under Article 10 was extended to cover any question or matter within the wide scope of the Charter, the Assembly being also empowered to make recommendations to the Members or to the Security Council or to both. However, recommendations are not permissible with regard to any dispute or situation while the Security Council is bona fide handling that dispute or situation.

The truth is, therefore, that, in relation to the pacific settlement of disputes, the jurisdiction of the General Assembly, although not so precisely described as is that of the Security Council under Chapter VI of the Charter, is in essential respects commensurate with and equivalent to that of the Security Council.

Therefore, just as the Security Council has power to investigate a dispute or a situation which might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute, and to determine whether the continuance of the dispute or situation endangers the maintenance of international peace and security under Article 34, so the General Assembly is permitted to exercise a similar jurisdiction.

The matter is entirely changed in relation to the executive power conferred upon the Security Council in Chapter VII. Broadly speaking, that Chapter deals with cases of an existing threat to or breach of the peace or an act of aggression, and it proceeds to endow the Security Council with jurisdiction to enforce diplomatic, economic and military sanctions.

Summing it up, the position is that the jurisdiction of the Security Council and the General Assembly in relation to the pacific settlement of disputes and situations is a parallel jurisdiction and the only limitation to the Assembly's full exercise of jurisdiction is to prevent its making recommendations while the Security Council is actually handling any such dispute or situation.

United States Proposal for Assembly Committee

The United States representative yesterday pointed out with great force that there is a definite need for making the facilities of the General Assembly available continuously instead of only during the annual or special sessions. This suggestion has particular force in relation to the peace and security functions of the Assembly because under the Charter there is a parallelism of functions exercisable by the Security Council and General Assembly in relation to the peaceable adjustment of international disputes.

If so, it would appear to follow logically that in cases where the Security Council has failed to reach any decision recommending the solution by peaceful means of any international disputes or any situations causing friction, at any rate where that failure of the Security Council is due, not to the absence of the majority of seven, but to the exercise of the veto by one or more permanent members, machinery should be made available whereby the process of conciliation can be attempted by the General Assembly instead of by the Security Council.

However, if this parallel and subsequent jurisdiction of the General Assembly is to be exercised effectively, it will probably be found necessary to continue or reconvene the Assembly itself for the specific purpose of handling such matters of international conciliation. By such machinery the letter and the spirit of the Charter will then be obeyed because the situation will be handled and disposed of by the Assembly where the Security Council has failed to adjust the matter solely because of an individual veto.

Nothing is much worse than to leave situations or disputes causing international friction to remain as they are, and the interval which will ordinarily lapse between the Security Council's failure to reach a decision and the next ordinary meeting of the Assembly, is so long that all reasonable means to shorten the period should be devised.

Therefore, without pinning ourselves down to the precise methods suggested in the United States proposal, the Australian Delegation feels that the course of international conciliation will be advanced, and not retarded, by establishing means for the prompt and continuous exercise, by the Assembly itself, of the jurisdiction for the peaceful adjustment of international disputes and situations wherever, as a result of the veto, the Security Council has failed to devise any remedy for any such international dispute or situation. Definite safeguards will, of course, be required because the multiplication of the machinery for handling disputes may, in certain circumstances, facilitate their creation and nothing could be worse than to have the Assembly itself brought together to deal with situations or disputes which are too trivial to merit its attention. But such safeguards can be devised.

I now turn from this question of moulding the Assembly's procedure to enable it to handle certain international disputes, to two other functions with which the Assembly will be required to deal in committee.

The Greek Question

The case of Greece, until the other day before the Security Council, affords an excellent illustration of the frustration, futility, and positive injustice caused by applying an individual veto in cases where the majority of the Council is attempting to exercise conciliatory jurisdiction in a dispute between nations. A Commission of Investigation was appointed to examine the questions at issue and at a later stage an interim subsidiary group was appointed to continue certain aspects of the work referred to by the Commission of Investigation. Subsequently, in proceedings before the Security Council, although no actual enforcement measures were proposed and although the functions of a proposed permanent commission were to be purely conciliative with the object of restoring normal diplomatic relations between the parties concerned, the veto was again applied contrary to the clear majority of the Council members.

In these circumstances, the Security Council having failed through the exercise of the veto to complete its job in an efficient manner, it is only proper that the Assembly should itself take up the problem. Permission was sought from the Security Council to permit this Assembly to make a recommendation on the dispute without liquidating the subsidiary group centred at Salonika. This request was refused, once again by the use of the power of the veto and as a result the Greek dispute had to be discarded altogether from the Security Council agenda.

As I understand the position, it will be open to the Assembly when dealing with the dispute to reinstate the present or to appoint another subsidiary group-the Assembly acting in exercise of its power to appoint a subsidiary organ.

It is unnecessary to deal specifically with the merits of the Greek dispute, as to which Australia's representatives have already expressed themselves with frankness and fully at the Security Council level. No doubt there will be differences of opinion as to the merits and demerits of the parties to the dispute and differences of emphasis as to the importance of certain findings of fact made by the Commission. But the point to emphasize here is that, after many months of labour, the proceedings in the Council have been practically nullified.

Accordingly, the Assembly will have to step in and exercise its jurisdiction according to its own sense of what is appropriate and just in this important matter of international security.

Admission of New Members

Perhaps the most striking example of the use of the veto power for a purpose entirely unrelated either to enforcement measures, or even to the vital interests of any permanent members, is in relation to the admission of new members to the United Nations.

The Charter provides that membership in the United Nations is open to all peace-loving states which accept the obligations contained in the Charter and which, in the judgement of the organization are able and willing to carry out these obligations. This does not mean that all applicants for membership should automatically be admitted. On the contrary, the case of each applicant state must be considered carefully to see whether the conditions laid down in the Charter are complied with. It is clear from the Charter that the body to decide on the eligibility of a candidate is the General Assembly, acting upon the recommendation of the Security Council.

But what has happened in practice? Last year five applicants were refused recommendation for admission by the Security Council, three of them as the result of the veto of one of the permanent members for U.S.S.R. In the Assembly a large number of delegations, including the Australian Delegation, strongly criticized the unjustified use of the veto in this connection.

Eire (Ireland) applied for membership last year and, though the Security Council favoured her admission with only the Soviet Union dissenting, that one dissent was sufficient to bar Eire from the Organization. The same procedure was repeated this year.

It is impossible to justify exclusion of Eire from the United Nations. It is true that she was neutral during the war, but Sweden and Afghanistan were neutrals, and all members joined in admitting them. As matters are now shaping, it is not impossible that nations which not long ago were our bitter enemies will be admitted to the United Nations before peaceful neutrals who were sympathetic to the Allied cause. Was Eire kept out because it was alleged that she was not a democracy? Such an allegation would be palpably false, because Eire has a democratic constitution and government, and the devotion of Irishmen to individual freedom is well known. Eire is clearly a 'peace-loving nation' and should be admitted to the United Nations. There can be little doubt that the vast majority of the organization would accept this view. In this case the right to exercise an individual veto has been used to obstruct the overwhelming will of that majority.

Procedure for Admission of New Members

The Security Council, in fact, has virtually usurped the powers of the Assembly in arrogating to itself the right to decide whether or not a nation should be admitted to the United Nations. The Security Council should confine itself in this question to making recommendations on matters clearly within its functions, such as the ability of an applicant to discharge its security obligations under the Charter, and should leave the final decision about admission for the Assembly, where no veto exists.

On Australia's proposal a committee was established at the last session of the Assembly to devise rules of procedure as to admission of members which would be acceptable to both Assembly and Council. Largely because the Assembly did not express its mind clearly enough or firmly enough, that committee, despite the efforts of a few delegations, suggested to the Council only minor changes. The Australian Delegation will at this session propose the adoption of a more specific and comprehensive resolution, drafted in the light of the fact that five states, whom 12 of the 14 members and ex-members of the Security Council considered suitable for membership, have been arbitrarily excluded from the United Nations.

The Assembly will have full power to express its views on the position, safeguarding its own rights in relation to the admission of new members, and it will have authority to discuss the merits of individual applications for membership, if it so desires, with power to refer the applications back to the Security Council for future consideration during the course of the present Assembly.

We favor the latter course, namely, that while the Assembly is sitting, the Security Council should be requested to review recommendations on such individual applications as, in the opinion of the Assembly, are entitled to be admitted to membership of the United Nations.

Atomic Energy Commission

The Atomic Energy Commission has submitted two reports to the Security Council which, if its recommendations are put into effect, will be a landmark in international co-operation. These reports concern directly the Assembly which established the Atomic Energy Commission by its resolution of January 1946. It is a significant fact that the principles and most of the details of the plan of control worked out by the Commission have now been endorsed by 13 of the 15 members and ex-members of the Atomic Energy Commission. Detailed analyses have been made by the scientific and technical representatives on the Commission, which demonstrate without any doubt that production of atomic weapons can best be prevented by an international agency with wide powers to own dangerous atomic facilities and to control all other phases of atomic development through inspection and licensing. So far, however, the U.S.S.R. has not seen fit to accept the majority proposals of the Atomic Energy Commission.

However, although the recommendations of the Commission have not yet been accepted, there have been two advances made during the past year towards the agreement which must ultimately be reached.

It is now unanimously agreed that there must be inspection by international personnel of facilities related to atomic energy, from the mining of raw materials to the final development of power. It is also agreed that there should be no veto on the day- to-day operations of the international control organ. While mere periodic inspection is, in the view of the majority of the Commission, inadequate to provide effective safeguards against a violation or evasion of a convention for control of atomic energy, its acceptance does mark a distinct advance from the position last year. Similarly, the exculsion of the veto from day-to-day operations goes part of the way towards meeting the contention of the majority that there should be no legal right by way of veto or otherwise, by which the violator of a convention can be protected.

We desire to congratulate the United States Government on making radio-active isotopes available for international distribution.

This action, which was suggested by the Australian Government at the opening sessions of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1946, should assist in building up a measure of international confidence, evidencing the intent of the United States Government to assist bona fide scientific research and medical therapy, and thereby to make available from the new discoveries results which will be beneficial to all mankind.

Objectives of the United Nations

Important though proposals for specific disarmament may be, and bound as we are under the Charter to facilitate their study, they cause a tendency to turn the thoughts of the people away from the two main objectives of this Organization.

The first of these two objectives is the prevention of war and the substitution of the methods of conciliation and arbitration for those of force and violence. We should be concerned primarily with that objective, and in a secondary way with the fixing of the rules and conditions under which future wars may be lawfully conducted. The injury and damage that may now be inflicted as a result of modern scientific invention is so vast, and so rapidly extending, that war, however conditioned and restricted by rules and regulations, is bound to threaten permanent devastation of the human race. Enemy No. 1 is, therefore, war itself.

The second objective of the United Nations-empowered by those provisions of the Charter dealing with the economic and social side of our activities-is that the mere prevention of war is not enough, but that the economic security and betterment of all peoples and races is also to be pursued as an end in itself.

The Economic Work of the United Nations

There is today a fundamental economic disequilibrium throughout the whole world. It demands a humanitarian solution generous in concept and generous in execution. In truth we are members one of another, and economic misery and depression in one part of the world will inevitably spread everywhere.

What has been the United Nations contribution to the necessary solution? It cannot, I fear, be said that the Economic and Social Council has yet come to grips with the substance of the world's economic and social problems. It is an extraordinary fact that it has not yet made, or caused to be made, a general review of the current world economic situation. It has dealt at length, and successfully, with procedural and organizational matters, but a definite priority for urgent matters of substance has yet to be determined so that the Council can assume a corporate initiative in dealing with the main economic problems of the world. To take a striking example, so far as it has considered the economic crisis that now grips Europe the result has been to produce machinery (the Economic Commission for Europe) of which the main achievement has been to absorb other machinery.

At San Francisco we wrote an agreement to pursue full employment and higher standards of living into the Charter, and subsequently into the constitutions of the appropriate specialized agencies.

The Economic and Social Council has completed its second year, and the Assembly must now be concerned with whether the machinery is working to translate these paper pledges into life. Or is it to be all harness and no horse? At its last meeting the Council recognized that the Economic and Employment Commission had failed in its task, and rejected the insubstantial resolutions it had prepared. The Council seemed unable, by its own initiative, to make up for this failure of its subordinate body. We believe that the Economic Secretariat must have more clearly placed upon it the responsibility of providing the Council and the Commissions with a basis of established facts and economic analysis on which they may make their own recommendations on policy.

The Specialized Agencies

However, it is the Assembly which has the final responsibility of considering the whole complex of the economic machinery of the United Nations and the specialized agencies. Agreements between the United Nations and the agencies came into force at the Assembly a year ago, but reports from these agencies are not before us today. We understand the Council's desire to consider them as a whole. But that will not be possible at least until next year, and we are concerned that the Council has not been more active to discharge its responsibilities to try and keep the specialized agency programmes in balance. The Food and Agricultural Organization has repeatedly pointed out that increased agricultural efficiency requires a parallel industrial development to use the farm labour thereby released and to produce industrial products to exchange for increased agricultural produce. This is only one example of an important practical problem in economic development. Such inter-relations of specialized agency programmes cannot be solved within the competence of individual specialized agencies, and require active consideration by the Council and ultimately by the Assembly.

Regarding the effective working together of the various international secretariats, I believe that the Assembly must be concerned that the Co-ordination Committee consisting of the Secretary-General and the Director-Generals of the specialized agencies has not found it possible to meet more than once.

Whenever there is any tendency for rival organizations to develop, co-operation and leadership must come from the top.

Some Remedies for Economic and Social Council

We have pointed out these weaknesses only in order to assist the Assembly and the Council to consider remedies. It is our hope that the future work of the United Nations will be strengthened by:-

1. Less political or ideological division in the Economic and Social Council.

2. A higher level of representation on the Council, actually bringing together the persons responsible for economic policy in each nation. In this way the Council's recommendations will tend also to become the decisions of its Member Governments.

3. The reporting and analysis by the Secretariat of established facts relating to world economic conditions and trends.


I have frankly discussed the great difficulties with which we are confronted. But of course there is another side to the picture.

The United Nations is in its infancy. The League of Nations lasted for nearly a generation and in the end it failed-not because of organizational difficulties so much as by the fact that during the rise of the vast and powerful fascist forces, the Governments responsible for the leadership of the League failed to support it with the full weight of their authority. It was they who failed the organization.

Even in the last twelve months important successes in international co-operation have been achieved both within the United Nations and outside. There seems to be general agreement that the action of the Security Council was wise and timely in taking up the Indonesian situation with a view to substituting the method of conciliation for that of force. I feel confident that the special committee of conciliation of the Security Council shortly to be announced will make a substantial contribution to the well-being of the Netherlands and Indonesian peoples in South East Asia. The Trusteeship system with its idealistic yet practical objectives has been brought into actual operation. The International Trade Organization despite all complexities and difficulties is moving in the right direction. Outside but parallel to the United Nations, an advisory South Pacific Commission is being established and in its scope will be included all six nations with dependent territories in the Pacific south of the Equator. In the Western Hemisphere the Inter-American Agreement for Reciprocal Assistance indicates that, within the framework of the Charter, regional security arrangements of a defensive character are not only permitted but are being encouraged. In the Far East the settlement with Japan is nearer.

The Far Eastern Commission at Washington has been an outstanding example of co-operation between the eleven countries which fought the Pacific War. The Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East has been established and may turn out to be an effective instrument of Governmental co-operation in developing the economic resources of that great area. The first shipments of food for the International Children's Emergency Fund are on their way. A number of nations have made a generous response to post-UNRRA relief needs. The International Refugees Organization has begun to function and substantial progress is at last being made in reducing the numbers of displaced persons. The recent ratification of five European peace treaties clears much of the area of Europe from the uncertainty and dislocation which were threatening.

These are only a few instances, but they are sufficient to show that we can and should resolve to use this great instrument of the United Nations THIS GENERAL ASSEMBLY with courage and with goodwill towards all. By so doing we can help not only to bring peace to a troubled world, but to maintain peace upon a basis of justice and decency in accordance with the purposes and principles of our Charter.

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