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185 Statement by Makin to the United Nations General Assembly

Extracts [NEW YORK, 30 October 1946, 11 a.m.]

THE ROLE OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY The General Assembly of the United Nations is meeting once again, this time in the hospitable city of New York, to exercise its responsible functions under the Charter. I think we need to remind ourselves from time to time how important are its responsibilities. In this Assembly all the members of the United Nations meet on a footing of strict equality, to discuss with the utmost frankness and freedom the problems of the day. The Assembly meets but rarely-in ordinary circumstances only once a year. When it meets, every Member Nation, irrespective of the size of its territory, the number of its population or the range of its resources, has both the right and the duty to contribute to the formulation of world opinion by expressing its own views responsibly and fearlessly on all matters within the scope of the Charter. This great world forum is the most democratic element in the structure of the United Nations. It is a matter of major concern to us all that the primary function of the Assembly as a forum for open discussion should be maintained and strengthened as the authority of the United Nations itself grows. If other organs of the United Nations have failed to function satisfactorily since the last session of the Assembly, it is in the Assembly that the opportunity is given to draw attention to such weaknesses and inadequacies and to make appropriate recommendations. Strenuous efforts were made at San Francisco by the Australian Foreign Minister, Dr. Evatt, to safeguard the Assembly's overall rights of discussion and recommendation, now guaranteed by Article 10 of the Charter, and the Australian Delegation attaches special importance to the recognition and maintenance of this right. In recent days it has been suggested that the General Committee should exercise the function of deciding which of the items duly placed on the provisional Agenda should be permitted to go to the Assembly for discussion. This view gained little support [1], and in the opinion of the Australian Delegation is quite without justification.

It is to be expected and to be desired, therefore, that differences of opinion on current international affairs should be expressed in the Assembly boldly, clearly and publicly, and that every member nation should feel completely free to express its views. Only in such an atmosphere can solutions of international problems be found that will be based, not merely on national interest, but on the interests of the world community as a whole.

It is essential that the members of the United Nations should keep clearly in mind at all times the purposes and principles of the Charter which they have solemnly undertaken to observe. These purposes and principles are binding in every field of international activity, and not merely in relation to the activities of the organs of the United Nations. At the recent Paris Conference, the Australian Delegation made clear from time to time its opinion that some of the peace settlements proposed by the Council of Foreign Ministers were not based upon the purposes and principles of the Charter; that these settlements were likely to give rise to discontent and discord and, for this reason, to be short-lived, thus endangering peace and security.

In our view, peace can be won and maintained only if settlements are reached by democratic methods and are based upon principle rather than mere expediency and national self-interest. It is in this spirit that we should examine the important items listed on the agenda of this General Assembly, keeping in mind throughout the obligations under the Charter accepted by all members of the United Nations.

Experience in the first part of this session of the General Assembly in London causes the Delegation of Australia to express concern lest the committee system established under Part XVI of the Provisional Rules of Procedure may have the effect of reducing the function of the Assembly to rubber-stamping the reports of its main Committees. This, in our opinion, would be fatal to the prestige and authority of the Assembly.

If items on the Agenda are immediately referred, without debate, to one or other of the main Committees, the consideration and substantial determination of Agenda items will take place in Committee. Plenary sessions will tend to become a series of mere formalities. We fully appreciate the importance of saving the time of the Assembly. But the prime necessity is to carry out the obligations of the Charter which give the Assembly, and it alone, the right to discuss in public all matters within the scope of the Charter.

To relegate to committees meeting concurrently the substantial discussion of important matters adds materially to the difficulties that small delegations must have in contributing effectively to the discussions of the Assembly, and reduces the likelihood that important matters can be dealt with by the senior representatives of Members.

The Provisional Rules of Procedure should ensure adequate opportunity for Assembly discussion in principle, before Agenda items are referred to committees. Indeed, special committees appointed occasionally as and when necessary are more in keeping with the powers and functions of the Assembly, as specified in the Charter, than committees of the whole, the functions of which may be used to limit the discussions in full Assembly in a way not authorised by the Charter.


[matter omitted]

Specialised Agencies, Subsidiary Organs, or Expansion of Secretariat:

One of the outstanding tasks of the United Nations is to promote and facilitate international co-operation in the economic, social, cultural and related fields. Difficulty may arise at the outset, and in some cases has already arisen, as to the best method of organising the activities and functions concerned. One method, as the Secretary-General stated in his oral supplementary report to the present session, is to develop an appropriate section or division of the Secretariat. Another is to establish a new subsidiary organ of the United Nations in the form of a commission or other appropriate body responsible either to the General Assembly or to the Economic and Social Council; yet a third method is to establish, and bring into relationship with the Organisation, a new specialised agency, or to make appropriate provision for the carrying on of the activities concerned by some existing specialised agency. The co-ordination of the work of existing specialised agencies and the examination of the desirability of establishing new specialised agencies are very important tasks. It is essential that Members of the United Nations should do their utmost to ensure that there is no avoidable overlapping of functions as between international agencies, with consequent dispersal of effort, involving additional and unnecessary financial burdens. The cost of organised international action in the post-war world must be reduced to a minimum if the interest and effective support of the peoples of the world, who in the long run have to meet these costs, are to be maintained.

For this reason the Australian Delegation strongly endorses the comments about the creation of new specialised agencies made by the Secretary-General in his oral supplementary report. New agencies should not be created unless it is clear that the functions which they are to perform cannot be carried out with reasonable efficiency by existing organs of the United Nations, or existing specialised agencies. It is the opinion of the Australian Delegation that this Assembly should scrutinise with the utmost care proposals which come before it to establish new specialised agencies, and should reject such proposals, however attractive, if it appears that less elaborate and less expensive alternative means exist for dealing with the particular problems involved.

[matter omitted]

SECURITY COUNCIL AND ATOMIC ENERGY COMMISSION veto I turn now to consideration of the work of the Security Council, which in its short life of some nine months has been called upon to deal with a series of difficult political problems. The Security Council has not yet fulfilled the hopes of those who accepted the United Nations Charter, while its working has justified some of the fears which members had at San Francisco.

We direct particular attention to the application of one of the basic theories on which the working of the Security Council rests, namely the theory that the five permanent members will devote their power unitedly and beneficently to the maintenance of peace and security on behalf of and in the interests of all member nations. This theory finds expression in the doctrine of great power unanimity. Up-to-date the theory has not worked in practice.

At San Francisco the Australian Delegation fought strenuously to limit the veto rights of the permanent members of the Security Council to matters of enforcement action. Dr. Evatt argued that there was no justification of any kind for retention of the veto in relation to pacific settlement of disputes. There is no doubt that the great majority of countries represented at San Francisco endorsed this view and that Article 27 in its present form would not have been carried but for the fact that undertakings were given. It was hoped that in due course the permanent members of the Council would come to see the necessity for amendment of the voting provisions of the Charter. In addition, it was hoped that the indications given by the Great Powers that the veto right would not be misused in practice would be realised.

The following extract from the speech of the Australian Foreign Minister on this subject at the close of the San Francisco Conference is of considerable interest today. He said

'I can only hope, Mr. President, that during the next few years the Great Powers will demonstrate to the world by their actions in the Council that they will not in practice exercise to the full the veto rights which they possess under the Charter. Certain public indications along these lines have already been made, and we all accept these indications thankfully and in good faith. If it can be agreed that all peaceful means of settling disputes must be adopted and exhausted and that in practice the veto will not be used to block such procedures, I am convinced that we will make a great step forward. This would remove many of the doubts which middle and smaller countries have felt regarding acceptance of the present text..... The Great Powers can perform a great service to the world if they demonstrate in practice that the powers given to them under the Charter will be used with restraint and in the interests of the United Nations as a whole.'

Unfortunately these hopes have not been realised and it has been necessary for the Australian Delegation to protest on several occasions against the use of the veto.

It is a matter for encouragement that the views consistently advocated by the Australian Delegation at San Francisco and since have been supported recently not only in public utterances by representatives of countries who contested the veto power at the San Francisco Conference, but also by some of the permanent members of the Security Council who at San Francisco expressed contrary views.

The records of the Security Council show that the veto was first employed on 16th February, the day after the General Assembly had adjourned. Again and again, both in London and more recently in New York, the veto was used by one of the permanent members to thwart the will of the clear majority of the Council and in most cases it was applied in matters, not vital to the security of the Great Powers themselves, not involving any great responsibility or risk on their part, but in matters relating to the exercise by the Council of the procedures it is obliged to exercise under the Charter. After having seen the veto rule at work, and after having heard the unreasonable claims which have been advanced by the Soviet Union to block every proposed recommendation which the Council was asked to make, Australia felt impelled to request the inclusion of the present item No. 32 on the agenda for this session. [2] The proceedings of the Council since July have supplied further evidence that the Australian misgivings were not unfounded. The threat to exercise the veto now dominates the proceedings of the Security Council and influences the actions of members the moment a proposal is received to place an item on the agenda. For example, the handling of the question of the admission of new members was from the commencement clouded by the expectation that in certain circumstances certain applications might be vetoed by one or other of the permanent members and at times there even appeared indications that the veto might be used as a counter for bargaining for the admission of certain candidates to whom objections had been expressed. The Australian Delegation considers that the application of Article 27 in the proceedings of the Security Council in 1946 should be thoroughly examined and appropriate steps taken by this Assembly with a view to the prevention of such practices as are not in accordance with the principles and spirit of the Charter of the United Nations.

[matter omitted]

New members The Australian Delegation desires also to call the special attention of the General Assembly to the question of applications for admission of new members to the United Nations. When the question came before the Security Council, the Australian representative abstained from any recommendation regarding the admission of new members. [3] This course was followed because it seemed to us that the procedure adopted was the wrong procedure and that, under the Charter, the initiative in the exercise of the joint responsibility by the General Assembly and Security Council was confined to the General Assembly. The Australian representative in the Security Council suggested, therefore, that, before deciding on the procedure for the admission of new members, a Committee of the Security Council should confer with the standing Committee on Procedures of the General Assembly, but this suggestion for working out a procedure acceptable to both organs was rejected by the majority.

We are still of the view, however, that the meaning of the Charter is that the initiative in regard to the admission of new members lies with the General Assembly and that the appropriate procedure would be for applications to be transmitted first to the General Assembly, which would decide whether or not the applications were admissible. These applications which were admissible would be referred to the Security Council for report, in accordance with Article 4, on the ability of the applicant to carry out its obligations in respect of those functions of the organization which are the primary responsibility of the Security Council. If a favourable recommendation were received from the Security Council, the General Assembly would decide whether or not to admit the applicant state. Such a procedure would be strictly constitutional and would also reduce the political complexities with which applications may sometimes be surrounded.

There are, however, two objections to be made at this stage regarding the manner in which the Security Council handled the applications placed before it. First, it is the view of the Australian Delegation that when applications for membership come up for consideration, decision should be based on an impartial appraisal of the merits of each case, having regard to the attainment of the purposes of the Organization; second, we cannot admit that any application can be rejected for any reason except the reasons contained in the Charter. The fact that certain applications were vetoed simply because a permanent member objected appears to us to be based upon an interpretation of Article 4 which is completely unjustified. Although Australia abstained from voting in favour of the admission of any candidate, this is not to be understood as constituting an objection by Australia to the merits of any application or that we would not be prepared to support an application at the appropriate time.

[matter omitted]

1 See Document 179.

2 See Document 172.

3 See Document 94.

[AA:A4387/2, A/46/16c]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History