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155 Note by Dunk on the Paris Peace Conference

Extracts [5 October 1946 [1]]


In thinking of the work of the 1946 Paris Peace Conference, it is necessary to keep clearly in mind the background against which it met. The Soviet at all times was opposed to any but the four main nations, viz., United Kingdom, France, U.S.A. and Soviet Union drawing up the terms of the Peace for defeated European enemy countries. When it was decided that other countries who had waged war with substantial resources against Italy, Germany and other European enemies should be brought into the consideration of Peace terms their function was limited to recommendation back to the Council of Foreign Ministers, who have prepared the drafts and who will decide final terms.

It is necessary, too, to maintain a careful distinction between the sections of the treaties which have been agreed to by the Council of Foreign Ministers, and other sections in which agreement was not reached. This is important because of the obligation imposed on the Big Four to support agreed clauses and the pressure which they were able to exert (in particular Russia) on other countries, to support them.

The work of the Conference fell naturally into a number of quite distinct phases. The first was the opening Plenary Session at which over the course of a week the Heads of Delegations from each country made their opening speeches to the Conference. The second phase was the establishment of a Main Committee comprising the Heads of Delegations from each member country to consider and recommend to the Plenary the general procedure and rules under which the Conference would work. The third phase was the hearing by the Plenary Conference of the views of ex-enemy countries and allied countries which were not included in the 21 nations given membership at the Conference. The fourth phase is the working of the various Commissions which were established by the Main Committee to consider the various sections of the treaties.

Phase one, two and three occupied the first three weeks of the Conference and it was not until well into the fourth week that the real work of review of the draft Treaties was commenced by the various Commissions.

The fifth and final phase of the work of the Conference will follow as the various Commissions conclude their work and their reports and recommendations are conveyed to the Plenary Conference for drafting of final recommendations to the Council of Foreign Ministers.

Opening Phase

[matter omitted]

Some of the Big Four (Russia was an exception) seemed conscious of the limitations imposed by the Council of Foreign Ministers on the Conference. To cover this, great emphasis was laid on the rights of every member to advance their views and to suggest improvements, but few were deluded. The Soviet had given early indication of her unpreparedness to accept amendment, her inability to accept other political and economic philosophies or to align herself with the economic requirements of a modern free trading world.

[matter omitted]

Second Phase Main Commission on Procedure The first step in the practical working of the Conference was to set up a Main Committee to develop general working plans and procedure. This brought into the open the Soviet point of view that they were not accepting any fundamental changes in the sections of the draft Treaties agreed by the Council of Foreign Ministers.

The main argument fell on the question of voting power and the main contestants were Molotov, who advanced the two-thirds majority rule, and Evatt, who fought strongly and tenaciously for the simple majority. On the decision hinged the effectiveness of the Conference in recommending changes in the Treaties.

It was a David and Goliath contest, the honours lay with David; in fact victory would have lain with him except for the other important thing which soon became apparent and that was that the other members of the Big Four were committed to support the finally drafted clauses of the Treaties.

The Russian move for a two-thirds majority was apparently dictated by a simple count of numbers. They themselves controlled six votes from the fact that satellite Soviet and Eastern European countries under Soviet orders could muster six votes, viz., U.S.S.R., Ukraine, Byelorussia, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. To this they could add U.S., United Kingdom and France, pledged to support the finally drafted clauses. Thus, to be completely certain of having their way, they needed a two-thirds majority rule. Actually, in simple majority it would have been fairly safe for them to count on China and one or two others, but it was not sewn up and the Russian mentality requires foregone answers.

Evatt, of course, followed his familiar line of the rights of smaller powers to equality, in discussion and in voting. He was forceful in argument and commanded the support of most of the free members. The British Member, in search of the inevitable compromise, then rolled up a suggestion that any proposal which commanded a simple majority would come up for discussion in the Plenary Conference along with those which commanded a two-thirds majority.

Like all middle course suggestions it was supported by those who wavered on the dilemma of decision and it shifted the ground of argument from the straight contest to a three-cornered one. It was immediately apparent that with the two alternatives before them the Committee would not agree to a simple majority.

The Russians fought to the last, but the British compromise was carried and recommended to the Plenary Conference. The other rules of procedure adopted were relatively unimportant; the Commissions which were set up were logical to the proper examination of the Treaties and the rest of the business the Committee went through without much argument or hitch.

The Russians, notwithstanding the decisions of the Committee, attempted to carry their argument on the voting procedure into the Plenary Conference, Molotov completely ignoring the decision of the Committee, which he said was wrong and should not be confirmed. As the voting in the Plenary followed precisely the voting in Committee it was a stand which did not prevail. It gave an indication, however, of rigid Soviet mental processes, which did not augur well for discussion in Commission.

The rules of procedure having been fixed and adopted, discussion proceeded to the third and fourth phases, which were respectively (a) To hear the views of ex-enemy countries on the treaty terms as well as certain Allied or associated powers which were not members of the Conference, and (b) To set up the Working Commission[s] to consider the various clauses of the Treaties.

Third Phase The hearing of the views of ex-enemy countries or associated powers not direct member[s] of the Conference proceeded formally.

As was to be expected, the countries concerned put forward views which were limited to the effect of the Treaties on themselves.

Italy made the strongest plea, the general tenor of which was to acknowledge their guilt in entering the war on the Nazi side but to play up the fact that they had overthrown the Fascist control and had then rendered the Allies great assistance. They then proceeded to point out that the loss of Trieste would be a bitter blow to them from both National and Economic standpoints and that the economic clauses of the treaty were onerous to a point which would prevent any sound rehabilitation of the Italian economy.

The other enemy States were inclined to limit any criticism of the treaties. Being completely enveloped by Russian armies and more or less completely under Soviet political domination, they were careful to avoid any criticism of the clauses which directly affected the Soviet. Rather than comment on any adverse effect of reparations and other economic provisions of the treaty, they praised Russian magnanimity in reducing their claims to the treaty level. It all had a slight ring of that self-condemnation by the accused which was witnessed at the Soviet Treason Trials in 1936.

Finland was an exception in that she did say that reparations were too harsh and beyond her capacity to provide. It became obvious in Commission discussion that this statement was not acceptable to Russia and the Finns will probably pay for their temerity in the long run.

The Allied and associated states who gave addresses included Egypt, Iran, Mexico and Irak. They made no great contribution.

Some of them, particularly Egypt and Mexico, seemed mainly concerned in creating a background from which they could claim reparations for damage suffered at the hands of Italy and for use as precedent when the German treaty is under discussion. Egypt obviously had her eyes on the very considerable Italian property located in her territory, which she will probably find some excuse to appropriate.

Work of the Commission[s]

Nine Commissions were established:

1. Italy Political and Territorial 2. Roumania "

3. Hungary "

4. Bulgaria "

5. Finland "

6. Economic Italy 7. Economic Balkans and Finland 8. Military 9. Legal and Drafting Representation on these Commissions created difficulty for the smaller Delegations. Australia was better served than some, but even so it was a strain on our small Delegation to provide spokesmen, secretarial assistance and so forth to all of them. A certain amount of doubling up became essential.

The Soviet made a further offensive on voting on the formation of the Commissions. Having lost on the straight-out two-thirds majority rule they then sought to exclude France from voting in some of the Commissions on the argument that she was not at war with the Balkan States. She was included in the Commissions as one of the drafting powers. Further argument occurred on this, but the issue was left undecided on the general thesis that there was no need to argue the point at length and obtain decision if in fact the question of majority did not arise on any particular question.

It was agreed that if it did arise it might be necessary to call the Main Committee together to give a decision. When I left Paris the question had not in fact arisen in any of the Commissions concerned.

It was necessary for Australia to take a leading part in the work of nearly all the Commissions for the reason that we had put up a large number of amendments, more in fact than any other Delegation. The Australian amendments concerned broadly five points of important principle:

(a) To provide for machinery to implement the expression of human rights in the treaties.

(b) To provide for Fact Finding Commissions where, in the opinion of the Conference, further information was needed. (c) To provide in all continuing machinery to implement various treaty clauses for an extension of representations to include three other powers elected by the Conference in addition to the Big Four.

(d) To provide a Reparations Commission to determine the level of reparations due and the ability of the paying country to provide them.

(e) To bring in provision for treaty revision which might prove to be necessary in the future.

There were other amendments included in our lists, but in the main they fell within one or the other of the above general principles.

Consideration of the amendments very quickly developed into a straight out struggle between Australia as proposers and the Soviet as the main objectors. Any hope which may have been held that there was any chance of breaking the block of six votes controlled by the Soviet was soon dispelled. In no single instance did one of the satellite countries speak even in the slightest way in opposition to the Soviet view. For example, Poland, which had firmly indicated its intention to make a claim for reparations against Roumania, quickly withdrew when the fact that there were two claimants was used as a reason for establishing a Reparations Commission to determine the merits of the claims, assess the amounts of reparations and decide the form it would take.

The Australian amendments were drafted objectively. We had no axe to grind and no motive except to bring into being a peace which would endure. Only a very few countries could claim to be equally detached from any position of beneficiary, New Zealand and Canada being examples, but no other member took initiative in proposing amendments of substance.

The Soviet reaction was interesting. They went into immediate and bitter attack on the Australian proposals. Who was this Delegation representing a small nation 15,000 kilometres from Europe who sought to dictate how European Peace would be drawn. Obviously we were the stalking horse for Capitalist nations in general and Imperialist Britain in particular. Obviously, too, our primary objective was to attack Soviet interests. Our motives and everything else about us were called into question, only our morals being left out of it, but with a strong inference that we had none.

We were given the compliment of having Molotov and Vishinski take up the spearhead of Soviet attack on the Australian amendments in nearly all Commissions. They spoke vehemently of the suffering of Russia, the careful discussion of all treaty clauses in Council of Foreign Ministers, the guilt of our ex-enemies, and the justice of Allied (in particular Soviet) claims against them. Any attempt to interfere with the treaties would inevitably undermine lasting Peace. Who, in short, was this young upstart Nation teaching its grandmother to suck eggs.

The retort was obvious and promptly given. Australia, from inherent love of freedom, had spontaneously joined in two European wars in one generation. We wanted a peace which would prevent future repetition. We had a full and well earned right to an effective voice in European Treaty making.

Nothing came of it. The Soviet satellites were marshalled and spoke their piece in turn. The ex-enemies united in a chorus of praise for the Russians. No claimant country for reparations dared raise a voice against Soviet priority because of fear of Soviet opposition to their own claims.

In the end the Big Four met to discuss slow progress of the Conference. It is significant that following this meeting U.K., U.S., and France came out with prompt support for Russia on all finally drafted clauses as they came up for discussion. This was the last ditch so far as Australian amendments were concerned.

Each one was put forward with logical argument but voted out against the background given in the preceding paragraph.

Clauses not agreed by the Big Four were argued at length and the full battery of Russian attack turned on U.K., U.S. or anyone advancing views which the Soviet regarded as contrary to their interests. It took us out of the firing line, however.

Economic Clauses of the Treaties These are worth a separate chapter. The draft treaties imposed a number of economic obligations against the ex-enemy country concerned, the more important of which were- (a) To provide reparations (b) To restore looted property (c) To compensate United Nations nationals for loss of or damage to their property situated in the enemy countries.

(d) To surrender external property in hands of Allied countries (up to limit of claims by those countries).

The emphasis on reparations was to the Soviet and were to be pro- vided by- Finland - $300,000,000 Roumania - $300,000,000 Bulgaria - $200,000,000 Hungary - $200,000,000 Italy - $100,000,000 [-plus other claimants not final in the draft] [2]

Payment was to be made in produce and assets of the paying country and types of goods and schedules of deliveries was left for bilateral agreement between the Soviet and the paying country.

U.S.S.R. had the field to itself except in the case of Hungary (where Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia also claimed) and Italy where there were a large number of claimants (but with priority of 100 million dollars for the Soviet). They would accept no interference of any authority such as our proposed Reparations Commission to decide either on their claims or the capacity of the paying countries to provide.

Would the Australian Delegation, thundered Vishinski, say that Soviet Russia had not suffered, that her claim was not just, that it was not right that the guilty countries should pay in part for the damage they had inflicted. Had not their generosity in reducing claims to treaty levels been acknowledged by the enemy countries themselves. Did we want to delay the rehabilitation of war-torn Russia. Were we more solicitous of our enemies than our Allies, and so on and on.

There was nothing in all these statements which could not be readily answered. A creditor's debt in bankruptcy is just but we have advanced beyond the dark days when a debtor's body is enslaved for debt. Pursuit of abstract justice, to a point of economic slavery, would retard the attainment of higher living standards on which the future prosperity of the world depends. We did not dispute the justice of reparations claims nor the principle of reparations payments. We did, however, want an ordered procedure for determining both the level of claims and the ability of the paying nation to provide. We wanted, too, to leave the enemy countries with the means and the hope for working to stable economic conditions which was, in our opinion, the most potent factor in establishing stable European peace.

Actually there is not even equity in the reparations clauses as drafted. For example, the United Kingdom withdrew any claim to reparations and in doing so withdrew the claim for Malta. No one could argue in justice or equity that the people of Malta, who were constantly under aerial bombardment by the Italian Air Force, did not have an equivalent claim on Italy for reparations as did people of Kiev or Odessa. Britain had no desire to impose impossible burdens on Italy and so withdrew the full claim. it is doubtful, however, whether their action will in fact benefit Italy.

It is an open secret that the Russian claim for reparations against Italy was conceded by U.K. and U.S.A. in exchange for U.S.S.R. agreement on an International Trieste.

The Soviet attitude on reparations in the Balkan countries must be considered in relation to their economic activities there. In Roumania, Bulgaria, Hungary [3] special trading corporations have been formed under State monopoly with 50% Russian capital to handle the main products of those countries. The honesty of the provision of Soviet capital may be open to some doubt. For example, a substantial part of capital contribution to the Roumanian Oil Corporation is in the form of German oil plant located in Roumania and the Roumanian Government would hardly be in a position to question the value which the Soviet place on such plant. There is no doubt, however, of the intention to provide complete State monopoly to these corporations and the extent of Russian economic dominance through them will undoubtedly be substantial. Particularly so when considered in relation to provision of production as reparations to the Soviet over seven or eight year period.

The more important of the remaining economic clauses concern seizure by holding countries of external assets of the ex-enemy countries and compensation for property of United Nations nationals situated in ex-enemy territories. Italy probably suffers most from the seizure of external assets and the effect of this on rehabilitation of Italian foreign trade will be obvious. The compensation provision has an internal effect since it is arranged by the return of the property in question or compensation where it has been destroyed or damaged. Payments in the latter case will be made in local currency and exchange control laws will apply. The Soviet has objected to full compensation being paid on the general grounds that as reparations a-re met only in part, compensation should not be paid in full and they have suggested payment up to one-third. This point was still being debated in the Economic Commissions when I left Paris.

The background of the Balkan countries in relation to the Soviet provided little prospect at any time of giving Roumania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Finland any substantial degree of economic independence and the most that looked possible of achievement was to keep Italy as free as possible. Unfortunately, however, the Soviet reparations from Italy which had been agreed by the Council of Foreign Ministers and was confirmed by the Italian Economic Mission against the Australian proposal for a Reparations Commission, gives to the Soviet the right of bilateral negotiations for the supply of goods from current Italian production over a period of eight years and up to a limit of 100 million U.S. dollars in value. It goes further and permits the supply by the Soviet of raw materials necessary for the production of reparations goods and for bilateral agreement on the types of goods and schedules of delivery. No outside agency has any right to interfere and the Soviet is, therefore, placed in a very strong position to exert influence on the Italian economy. I would be surprised if the fifty-fifty corporation already a feature in the Balkan countries, is not extended to Italy also in connection with the provision of reparations. If this happens it is hardly to be expected that the activities of the corporations will end when reparations payments to the Soviet are complete.

Other claimants for reparations against Italy, including Yugoslavia, Greece, Albania, Ethiopia, France and Egypt, have registered heavy claims and the method of collection has not been decided in the draft treaty. The confusion which would result from having six or more countries individually negotiate bilateral agreement with Italy on reparations is apparent and there is, I think, good prospect that the Italian Economic Commission will agree to the setting up of some form of Commission to handle reparations for these claimant countries. Nothing that is done in this direction, however, will affect the provisions for reparations from Italy to the Soviet.

Personalities of the Conference The Conference did not produce much in the way of colorful personalities. Two exceptions to this general rule were Vishinski and Evatt. Bevin might have been a third but he was out of action through illness during the early stages and only a background figure latterly.

Molotov was rugged and a strong force who had always to be reckoned with but did not reach any great heights in oratory.

Easily the best master of language was Vishinski and even with the disadvantage of not being able to follow him directly, one at all times felt his complete mastery of language, his grip of subject and his strength in debate. The only Delegate who could match him, and as a result they became natural opponents, was Evatt, whose energy, consistency, logic in summing up, was outstanding.

[matter omitted]

Soviet Attitude The Soviet position in relation to any major change in the drafted treaties has already been touched upon. Their general attitude, however, was worth special study. My own impression was that they spoke with full conviction in the rightness of their attitude, notwithstanding that from a more liberal Western standpoint they appeared often enough to be intransigent. I should think that they found our point of view as difficult of understanding as we found theirs. Their intense suspicion of all liberal Western methods and philosophies was constantly apparent but there seemed to be no way in which this gap of understanding could be bridged. Pure logic could not prevail against any real or imaginary danger to what they considered to be their direct interests. Their stubborn tenacity was quite unmovable but it still had the ring of deep conviction.

I have thought for some time that the Soviet insistence on having a finger in every pie and allowing no trick to pass them was dictated not so much by any fixed policy as by absence of it. They want an assured position when a firm international policy emerges.

This comment does not, of course, apply to those adjoining countries where their policy is already well determined.

Possible Effects of the Treaty It would be a courageous man who would attempt at this point, before the Treaties are really made, to forecast their eventual effect. Certainly, however, few of the mistakes of Versailles have been corrected and many have been repeated. It is difficult to see a satisfactory rehabilitation of European economies arising as a result of the Treaties. It could happen in spite of them but seemingly this happy result would depend on how quickly Russia loses her distrust of a capitalistic world, relaxes on the strategic bunkers with which she is surrounding herself and becomes more adaptable to a free exchange of trade and the ideals which go with it. It will greatly assist balancing of European economy if Italy can be kept reasonably free, and a great deal depends on how the Soviet uses the economic advantages given to her in the Italian Peace Treaty.

I do not think that Russia is blind to economic thought and economic development throughout the world. For the present, however, she is not prepared to look beyond the necessity for improving conditions in Russia with a very great improvement in the availability of consumer goods to the Russian people. When this disadvantage is overcome, and not before, will she be prepared to consider economic betterment in adjoining countries under Soviet influence.

Probably the greatest change will come over world trading when the Soviet has mastered its own internal problems and becomes interested in turning her potentially great productive power into supply of world, rather than Soviet, needs. If this change comes suddenly it could have a bad effect and the conditions from which wars incubate could develop.

There is always a tendency for any commentator to emphasize the thing he knows best and perhaps I have concentrated too much on the economic sides of these treaties. I believe them to be more important than the political sections. 'Bread before Borders', pleaded Evatt, but the fact still stands that the economic freedom of Italy was bargained away against a political compromise on Trieste.

The advice of military strategists has an important influence on British Foreign Policy. One cannot but wonder whether their advice is always based on up to date concepts and not on outmoded text books. In any case measurement of strategy and politics against economic advantages is a matter of statesmanship, a rare commodity in any generation, and particularly lacking at the Paris Conference.

The important fact that the present Treaties for the German satellites lay a pattern for the German peace must always be kept prominently in mind. Both Germany and Italy, the former more particularly, are highly developed industrially. Their populations can only be supported by industry. Germany has lost proportionately a higher percentage of her working population than has Italy and in spite of the Nazi philosophy the population curve was tending to decline. This is not the case with Italy, who, without the same intensive industrialization had still a rising curve of population which will probably persist for a quarter of a century at least. These populations must be provided for and if they are not then in that fact alone lies the genesis of a future war.

There seems to be little hope of any magical change in the Russian point of view and I would think that the hope of the more liberal democratic countries (the capitalistic countries from the Russian point of view) must lie in much improved living standards in their own countries and the countries under their influence. If this fails, the way is open for extension of communistic philosophy with very far reaching results.

In short, we believe in our method of life and fought strenuously for it. The war itself is only the first round in the struggle for its preservation and we must be prepared to continue the fight and the sacrifices.

Australian Contribution to the Peace Making The Australian Delegation enjoyed the distinction (a very doubtful one from the point of view of some of our friends and definitely so from our opponents) of placing more amendments on the Agenda than any other member country represented. These amendments were drafted quite objectively. [4] The inherent dangers in the Treaties as drafted were clear and the underlying logic of the Australian amendments was generally admitted, although for a variety of reasons, mainly the commitment entered into by the major powers in the Council of Foreign Ministers, they could not be supported. The logic remains, however, and the fact that notwithstanding the early indications that support would be lacking, the amendments were pressed with vigor, is to the credit of a country young in diplomacy but staunch in a love of freedom and a testimony to the brilliant thinking of the leader of the Delegation.

If, as I believe will be the case, history shows the general principles which underlay the Australian amendments to have been right, it will be sad, but at least we will have the somewhat mournful satisfaction of being able to say 'I told you so'.

Unfortunately, this may not exclude future generations from suffering the tragedy of war.

The key to the situation lies in the attitude of the United States. if that country accepts continuing responsibilities which go with the full international status of a great power and turns part of its great wealth and production to the rebuilding of Europe, there is hope despite the Treaties. If, on the other hand, the United States withdraws behind the barrier of its out-moded isolationist policy European recovery will be so retarded that human hopelessness may give a reaction of the most far reaching character.

[matter omitted]


1 The document is undated but the internal evidence of it suggests that it was written close to 5 October and before the resumption of the plenary session.

2 Words in square brackets were added in what appears to be Dunk's handwriting.

3 The words 'and Finland' here were deleted by hand.

4 Amended by hand. The passage originally read: 'These amendments were drafted quite objectively under the brilliant leadership of Dr. H. V. Evatt, Australian Minister for External Affairs. He could see quite clearly the inherent dangers in the Treaties as drafted. The underlying logic was generally admitted, . . .'

Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History