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Revisionism and the Security Council Veto

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 May 2009

Charles G. Nelson
Charles G. Nelson is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at theUniversity of Missouri at Columbia.
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1 Campbell, Thomas, “Nationalism in America's UN Policy, 1944–1945,” International Organization 27 (Winter 1973): 25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

2 Ibid., p. 31.

3 Quoted in US Department of State, Postwar Foreign Policy Preparation, 1939–1945 (Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office, 1949), p. 599. The actual author of this volume was Harley A. Notter.

4 Actually, several voting options were put forward by the American group on 17 August, but the main differences between them concerned other matters: for example, whether the Council should be authorized to impose settlement terms (Hull decided it should not), and whether parties to a dispute should abstain in enforcement decisions. See Russell, Ruth B., A History of the United Nations Charter: The Role of the United States 1940–1945 (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1958), pp. 402–8Google Scholar;Hull, Cordell, The Memoirs of Cordell Hull, vol. 2 (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1948), pp. 1677–78Google Scholar; and Fred, L. Israel, ed., The War Diary of Breckinridge Long: Selections from the Years 1939–1944 (Lincoln, Ne.: University of Nebraska Press, 1966), p. 371.Google Scholar

5 Hull, pp. 1677–78. See also Stettinius's, diary entry for 24 August 1944, quoted in US Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, Diplomatic Papers, 1944, vol. 1: General (Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office, 1966), p. 731Google Scholar. Hereafter this volume will be referred to as FRUS 1944, #1.

6 For example, the Council's determination that a particular situation poses a threat to or has led to a breach of the peace, the assumption of jurisdiction over a dispute, the imposition of terms of settlement, the imposition of diplomatic or economic sanctions, etc.

7 Campbell, p. 26.

8 Russell, p. 407. On page 449, Russell notes that a 14 August proposal designed to effect a compromise between various factions of the American group on mandatory abstention was “rejected by a majority” on the same day. Thus, it seems reasonable to assume that the 17 August proposal mentioned in the text also represented a minority view, since several proposals were forwarded to Hull, since Russell refers to this particular proposal only as having “the strongest support” within the group (p. 407), and since there is no other good evidence that there was any consensus or even dominant view within the American group at this time.

9 Postwar Foreign Policy Preparation, 1939–1945, pp. 299–300.

10 Russell, p. 408.

11 Hull, p. 1678.

12 Russell, p. 408.

13 Quoted in FRUS 1944, #1, p. 731.

14 Quoted in ibid., p. 733.

15 Quoted in ibid., p. 741. See also ibid., p. 737.

16 David, Dilks, ed., The Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan, 1938–1945 (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1972), p. 658–59.Google Scholar“Our point of view” refers, of course, to Britain's across-the-board application of the mandatory abstention principle, up to and including the decision to use force. See Woodward, Sir Llewellyn, British Foreign Policy in the Second World War (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1962), p. 456.Google Scholar

17 A typical example of this vagueness is a message sent by Roosevelt to Stalin on 8 September 1944 trying to persuade him of the merits of the mandatory abstention principle. “Traditionally since the founding of the United States,” he argues, “parties to a dispute have never voted in their own case …” (quoted in FRUS 1944, #1, p. 788).

18 Hull, p. 1701.

19 Russell, p. 273.

20 Hull, pp. 1653, 1677.

21 Ibid., p. 1678. See the quotation to which footnote 11 refers.

22 From Stettinius's diary, as quoted in FRUS 1944, #1, p. 810 and p. 809.

23 Quoted in FRUS 1944, #1, p. 800.

24 Stettinius, Edward R. Jr., Roosevelt and the Russians: The Yalta Conference (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1949), p. 19.Google Scholar

25 Two other state department members of the American group at Dumbarton Oaks have also argued retrospectively, and inaccurately, that throughout these conversations the US adhered to the policy that mandatory abstention by parties to a dispute should be abandoned when sanctions were being considered. See: Harley A. Notter in Postwar Foreign Policy Preparation, 1939–1945, p. 376; and Grew, Joseph C., Turbulent Era: A Diplomatic Record of Forty Years, 1904–1945, vol. 2 (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Co., 1952), p. 1383.Google Scholar See also Long's diary entry of 18 August 1944, in Israel, p. 371.

26 FRUS 1944, #1, pp. 731, 737–38, 744, 775–76, 785–86.

27 Stettinius's diary entry of 6 September 1944, as quoted in FRUS 1944, #1, p. 775.

28 Samuel, I. Rosenman, ed., The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1944–45 volume: Victory and the Threshold of Peace (New York: Harper & Bros., 1950), p. 577.Google Scholar

29 Quoted in FRUS 1944, #1, pp. 798 and 799.

30 Quoted in ibid., p. 797.

31 Israel, pp. 379–80.

32 Quoted in FRUS 1944, #1, p. 805.

33 For a text of this proposal, see ibid., pp. 805–6. For competing British and American claims on paternity of the 13 September compromise, see: Woodward, p. 458;Gladwyn, Lord, The Memoirs of Lord Gladwyn (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1972), p. 150Google Scholar; Dilks, pp. 664, 666, 669; Russell, pp. 405–7, 449; Postwar Foreign Policy Preparation, 1939–1945, p. 324; and Israel, p. 387.

34 See the beginning of this comment. Actually, if the 13 September proposal had been made during August, it would not have removed the mandatory abstention feature from the Council's terms-of-settlement recommendations. However, by 1 September, the tripartite formulation group at Dumbarton Oaks had agreed that the Security Council should only acquire authority to recommend terms (as opposed to procedures) after it had determined that a threat to or breach of the peace existed (FRUS 1944, #1, pp. 760–61). Later acceptance of the 13 September compromise then came to imply that parties to a dispute would have to abstain from voting in Council decisions to recommend “procedures and methods” of settlement but not in decisions to recommend terms.

35 Russell, p. 452.

36 Stettinius's diary, as quoted in FRUS 1944, #1, p. 804.

37 Stettinius's diary, as quoted in ibid., p. 824.

38 Hull, p. 1704.

39 Memorandum from Stettinius to Hull on 18 September 1944, quoted in FRUS 1944, #1, p. 822.

40 Hull, p. 1703. Also see Russell, p. 451; and Hull, pp. 1702–3. See sources mentioned in footnote 45 for evidence that this was not the general military position.

41 Four such consequences were mentioned: (1) “adjournment without agreement …, as later agreement was no more likely, … would be the end of the movement for international organization” (Russell, p. 451); (2) it was unlikely that “the Senate would ever accept any restriction on voting by the United States in any case to which it was a party” (Russell, p. 451); (3) in the Far East “a break on this matter with Russia will mean that entry of Russia into the war against Japan [will] be delayed”—a “very grave” matter (quoted in Campbell, p. 30); and (4) without great-power unity, “the Soviet Union was certain to be the dominant power in Europe after Germany's collapse, and the West would have to assume a heavy burden of arms production to counterbalance this power” (Campbell, p. 30). Several days earlier Long had warned the delegation that mandatory abstention might well trigger the bitterest sort of partisan debate in this country (Israel, p. 381).

42 Roosevelt, as early as 6 September 1944, suggested that he was perfectly willing to adjourn Dumbarton Oaks without agreement on the mandatory abstention issue. See Stettinius's diary, as quoted in FRUS 1944, #1, p. 776. See also a telegram from Roosevelt (at Quebec with Churchill) to Stettinius on 15 September, quoted in ibid., pp. 814–15.

43 They were mainly afraid that the unqualified veto demanded by the Soviet Union “might … imperil the success of the Organization” by causing “the Dominions, the Latin American republics, and other states” to refuse to join (an 18 September memorandum by these ten, quoted in Russell, p. 451). Pasvolsky, however, also “stressed the fidelity to democratic principle represented in the veto compromise” (Campbell, p. 31). It should be remembered that Pasvolsky was perhaps the major drafter of the 13 September tripartite proposal. Hull also favored adjournment without agreement; see FRUS 1944, #1, p. 816 and footnote 99 on p. 816.

44 Actually Gromyko first suggested this during the morning of 29 August, and did so again in the afternoon of 17 September. Ten days later, Moscow approved (see FRUS 1944, #1, pp. 748, 820, 838).

45 Russell, , p. 452; and US Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, Diplomatic Papers, 1945, vol. 1: General: The United Nations (Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office, 1967), p. 920.Google ScholarThis volume will hereafter be referred as as FRUS 1945, #1. For the 14 August proposal, see Russell, pp. 404–5.

46 Memorandum from Stettinius to Roosevelt and Hull, 21 September 1944, quoted in FRUS 1944, #1, p. 836.

47 See the two military representatives’ statements to Roosevelt as paraphrased by Stettinius in his diary, quoted in FRUS 1944, #1, p. 833. It should be noted, however, that as they entered, the two officers were informed that Roosevelt's decision had already been made.

48 Actually Pasvolsky, around 18 September, “stressed the fidelity to democratic principle represented in the veto compromise” (Campbell, p. 31). And the American group's 20 September memorandum to the president argued the justice of applying mandatory abstention to “every judicial or quasi-judicial procedure” but not when these have failed and “political and military considerations” have begun to dominate (quoted in Russell, p. 452). Still, political (need-for-approval) arguments seem more important at the Department of State until November.

49 Memorandum from Alger Hiss to Harley Notter, 27 October 1944, quoted in US Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, Diplomatic Papers: The Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945 (Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office, 1955), p. 46. This volume will hereafter be referred to as FRUS, Malta-Yalta. Hiss later made the same point at Malta, on 1 February 1945 (ibid., p. 504), and again, several years later, at the hearings that were to make his name famous, or infamous (US Congress, House of Representatives, Committee on Un-American Activities, Communist Espionage in the United States Government, Hearings before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, 80th Cong., 2d sess., 5 August 1948, p. 657).

50 Quoted in FRUS, Malta-Yalta, p. 47.

51 Quoted in ibid., p. 51.

52 From Pasvolsky's memorandum of conversation, quoted in ibid., p. 56.

53 Quoted in FRUS 1945, #1, p. 879.

54 Gabriel Kolko, The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943–1945 (New York: Random House, 1968; Vintage Books, 1970), p. 279.

55 From Pasvolsky's memorandum of conversation, quoted in FRUS, Malta-Yalta, p. 66.

56 Policymakers’ (civilian and military) fear that somehow the UN might interfere with American influence in the Western hemisphere (and in the Pacific) was also one of the recurring themes in discussions within the American group at the San Francisco conference of the UN in the spring of 1945. It was not, however, loopholes in the veto that worried the US there but the veto itself—the possibility that another great power (for example, the Soviet Union) might be able to veto Council authorization of regional self-defense measures.

57 Postwar Foreign Policy Preparation, p. 384. Stettinius's diary (in FRUS 1945, #1, p. 14) quotes Acheson as saying that the president went “further than expected towards agreement with the Russian view … of requiring unanimity” (omission in original).

58 FRUS, Malta-Yalta, p. 87. Once again, the state department used mainly political arguments—the need for approval by Congress, American public opinion, and the approval of governments of smaller countries. Here, however, such arguments were used to defend what was left of mandatory abstention rather than, as before, to justify the rule of absolute great-power unanimity in most important Council decisions.

59 Quoted in ibid., p. 86. The first argument, essentially that great powers’ special military responsibilities entitle them to special voting privileges, was well known to American policymakers in August-September 1944; see the 14 August draft in Russell, p. 405, and the 20 September delegation memorandum in ibid., p. 452. It was presumably such an argument that enabled Pasvolsky, in the days after 13 September, to stress “the fidelity to democratic principle represented in the veto compromise” (Campbell, p. 31).

60 Quoted in FRUS, Malta-Yalta, p. 88.

61 Woodward, p. 462. FDR apparently had made this same point to the senators six days earlier (FRUS 1945, #1, p. 14).

62 For the sake of accuracy, I should point out that the 13 September compromise had undergone some changes by the time it was approved at Yalta. The 13 September veto was strengthened somewhat in the Department of State by 15 November,1944. Earlier, “all other decisions” for which a voting procedure was not specified would be made by a simple seven out of eleven majority. By 15 November, however, the American proposal provided that the unqualified veto applied to the residual category, to issues that are not procedural, are not listed in the section on pacific settlement, and for which the Charter does not otherwise provide a specific voting procedure. Also by 15 November two kinds of votes were added to those in which parties to a dispute would have to abstain: (1) determination that regional “arrangements or agencies and their activities are [or are not] consistent with the purposes and principles of the Organization”; and (2) referral of “local disputes” to such “regional arrangements or … agencies.” Such an extension of mandatory abstention, especially in the case of the first of these decisions, may have been a significant weakening of the veto. However, sometime between 5 December 1944 and 8 January 1945, in response to Soviet objections, this first type of decision was removed from this category and made subject to veto, even by a great power party to a dispute. See pertinent documents as quoted in FRUS, Malta-Yalta, pp. 58, 60–62, 67.

63 See, for example, Inis Claude, L. Jr., Swords into Plowshares: The Problems and Progress of International Organization, 4th ed. (New York: Random House, 1971) p. 147. The phrase itself comes from Philip C. Jessup, New York Times, 23 October 1949, Section VI, p. 51.Google Scholar

64 Kolko, p. 277. Hull and Stimson were exceptions (ibid., pp. 275, 278).