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217 Australian Delegation, United Nations, to Department of External Affairs

Cablegram UN700 NEW YORK, 15 November 1946, 3 a.m.


Assembly 157.

In conformity with instructions in your UNY334 we opened Veto debate in Committee 1 this morning. After recalling Dr. Evatt's stand at San Francisco and having stressed his view that conciliation and settlement should not be regarded as a power of the Security Council but as a duty, we stated that Article 27 [1] not only conferred upon permanent members an exceptional privilege it also laid on them an exceptional obligation. Australia was not seeking amendment of Charter, but placed before Committee the question whether great powers were carrying out the obligations which they assumed when they insisted on the adoption of that Article, and which they reaffirmed when they refused to admit any amendment of Article 27. Had the confidence which we were asked to repose in the great powers been justified? Our immediate concern was to make the Charter work and particularly to ensure that the Security Council becomes an effective instrument for peace and security. The immediate problem to which we were asking Assembly to address itself was the problem of ensuring that the Security Council did work.

2. We then reviewed all applications and threatened applications of veto during past year to supporting following three propositions- (a) That spirit of the Charter has not been observed, the veto has been applied in ways in which the San Francisco conference never intended it should be applied, and it has been used in a way contrary to the assurances given by the great powers at San Francisco.

(b) The excessive claims made for the use of the veto have stultified the work of the Security Council and have undermined confidence in it and lessened the Council's ability to deal effectively with the matters brought before it.

(c) By employing the veto as an instrument of national policy, a permanent member, by so acting, has forgotten its representative capacity and its obligation under the Charter to act on behalf of all other members.

3. We illustrated the first of these propositions by reference to occasions on which veto had been used for minor matters not involving the ,chain of events' to which sponsoring powers' statement had referred. [2] We claimed that these, plus veto on admission of members showed that a permanent member has used its veto power wilfully to obstruct actions by the Security Council.

In support of second proposition we said that, from the first moment a motion was brought to the attention of the Security Council, the possibility of veto like a shadow over our work. In support of third proposition we re-stated the clear terms of Article 24 [3], and asked whether when Soviet representative exercised veto in cases described, he acted solely to advance the national policy of his own country or was mindful of fact that the Soviet was on the Council to act on behalf of all other nations.

4. We suggested that so long as the great powers were unwilling to permit any amendment of the charter, the only hope for making the Council work was in taking steps such as the following- (a) Moderation on the part of permanent members in the exercise of their right of veto.

(b) An increased measure of consultation and a spirit of give and take among permanent members themselves in an endeavour to achieve that measure of great power unanimity which is necessary for the smooth working of the Security Council and which they themselves are pledged to devote to the purpose and principles of the United Nations.

(c) A development by the Security Council of recognised procedures which will enable it to discharge its duties under Chapter VI in a uniform way without the necessity of taking repeated votes at each stage in the process of conciliation or settlement and thus placing a recurrent strain on the principle of unanimity. Council should be able to go about its work in an orderly way without the necessity for frequent votes. Consideration of concrete measures to improve the working of the Security Council would be in step with the Australian resolution, the prime purpose of which was to help make the Council work as it was intended to work.

5. Council's major difficulties during past year had arisen in cases of peaceful settlement. It should be possible, given a reasonable measure of goodwill and a common zeal for peace, to proceed through the whole of the stages envisaged by Chapter VI of the Charter by means of certain standard and unexceptionable procedures, in the application of which the interests of no permanent member would be involved to such a degree as would justify the use of the veto. Peaceful settlement was a duty of the Council and could surely be performed in good faith as a duty. It should be possible in most cases for the Council to do all that was required in Chapter VI, without any contention or without raising fundamental issues. If it was not possible to do so, then the only reasons were either that cases were being brought to the Council in bad faith and for political reasons or, having been brought in good faith, they were being seized upon to serve as pawns in manoeuvres foreign to the purpose for which the Council was created.

6. Concluding we said real issue was conduct of the great powers themselves. Had they discharged their trust? If not, how were they going to discharge it? During past nine months Council had failed to work in the way in which it was expected to work and had failed to obtain confidence of peoples of the world by dealing effectively with cases brought before it. This was matter of grave concern to General Assembly and a duty of Assembly, using its powers under Article 10, to inquire most closely why the Security Council should be in such a state. In our view one of the main causes, though not the sole cause nor the fundamental cause, was the way in which Article 27 has been applied. The challenge must be to the great powers themselves to come together, to achieve in fact that unanimity which they had pledged themselves to devote to the good of mankind. Australian resolution [4] firstly asked General Assembly to express opinion on the practices of the past year and secondly appealed to great powers to try to remedy positions.

7. Cuba then presented his resolution [5] (see our Assembly 152) and argued for abolition of veto on following grounds- (a) Veto was invalid because included in Charter by moral coercion.

(b) It was contrary to other sections of Charter including principle of sovereign equality.

(c) United Nations could not work with veto which tended to create blocs and satellites and set up world dictatorship of great powers transforming organisation into an alliance of powers.

8. Philippine delegation submitted proposal for amendment by reducing required number of affirmative votes of permanent members to three. Veto contrary to equality of nations. Some compromise essential to survival of Charter. Also supported Cuban proposal.

9. New Zealand strongly supported Australian proposal. Emphasised necessity of agreement on interpretation of effect of absence and abstention and reduction of use of veto in matters relating to peaceful settlement. Would vote for Cuban and Philippine proposals also, but without hope of success owing to eternal veto on amendment of Charter.

10. Belgium considered it inopportune to request amendment of Charter. Abuse of veto if continued would mean our guarantee of security was an illusion. Veto must be used only in accordance with Charter and rarely. Remedies lie in conformity with Article 33 [6], avoidance of negative votes in cases of peaceful settlement by formulation of reservations and better spirit among great powers.

11. Poland gave doctrinaire review of law and history of principles of unanimity and equality of States. Opposed alteration until better solution available to replace present form of voting.

12. Argentina supported Cuban proposal as veto contrary to preamble of Charter and to equality of States. Stated that some members of Council had violated Charter and forgotten declaration at San Francisco. Suggested that three proposals should be put and would if necessary vote for all. Also moved that Cuban proposal as most extreme be voted first.

13. El Salvador indicated support for Cuban and Australian proposal or any proposal to attenuate veto. He also spoke resentfully of Cuban reference to moral coercion.

14. Debate was adjourned to tomorrow.

1 Article 27 stated that:

1. Each member of the Security Council shall have one vote.

2. Decisions of the Security Council on procedural matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of seven members.

3. Decisions of the Security Council on all other matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of seven members including the concurring votes of the permanent members; provided that, in decisions under Chapter VI, and under paragraph 3 of Article 52, a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting.

2 See Volume IX, Document 331, note 2.

3 That is, that Members of the United Nations 'confer on the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and agree that in carrying out its duties under this responsibility the Security Council acts on their behalf.

4 See Document 172, paragraph 7.

5 The Cuban proposal called on the General Assembly to convene a general conference for the purpose of reviewing the Charter and to appoint a special committee composed of those members who suggest alterations in the Charter to carry out the necessary preparatory studies concerning the alterations.

6 Article 33 provided that parties to any dispute should first seek a solution through 'negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice', and that the Security Council, when necessary, should call upon the parties to settle their dispute by such means.

[AA:A1067, A46/11/3/1]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History