Safeguarding Our Interests


By SUMNER WELLES, Former Under Secretary of State

Delivered before the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Luncheon of the Foreign Policy Association, New York City, October 16, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day , Vol. X, pp. 51-55.

I AM particularly glad that these first words which I am to speak as a private citizen, after more than ten and a half years, are to be spoken at this twenty-fifth anniversary meeting of the Foreign Policy Association.

No one can recognize any more fully than I the outstanding worth and significance of the work which has been accomplished during the past quarter of a century by the association. Together with similar or allied organizations in other parts of our country, the Foreign Policy Association has consistently and effectively enlightened and informed public opinion in the United States with regard to the basic issues in our foreign relations, and has made it easier for all of us to see clearly how directly the individual interests of every citizen are affected by the foreign policy which his government pursues. It has done much to foster constructive study of international affairs in thousands of homes.

I can think of no more valuable public service which any private body could perform. I trust that the Foreign Policy Association will celebrate many more similar anniversaries, with continued success, and with ever increasing response on the part of our fellow citizens.

There was never a period in the history of this country of ours when it was more essential that the people of the United States understand fully all of the implications in the problems in foreign relations with which their government is confronted. Unless they obtain that understanding, unless

they are enabled to see at least the pattern of what their government proposes, how can they intelligently determine for themselves what this country should strive in its own interest to see achieved after the war is won—how can they decide what responsibilities this country should assume, likewise in its own interest, in the years that He ahead after the victory of the United Nations?

Urges Bold Leadership

It seems to me that now more than ever it is the obligation of our government, both in the executive and legislative branches, not only to give the people light, but also boldly to assume leadership by urging the adoption of that policy which in its considered judgment will most fully respond to the need of our nation for security, social progress, and prosperity in the post-war years, in order that our citizens may study and pass upon it.

I for one cannot subscribe to the philosophy which some maintain that a policy cannot be initiated until after the people themselves have brought pressure to bear for its adoption. That philosophy would seem to be the very negation of the best constitutional tradition in our representative form of government.

None of us can ignore the fact that in the midst of this most widespread and cruel of all wars our government cannot safely divulge the details of confidential negotiations with its military allies, nor jeopardize the successful conclusion of our campaigns by publicly raising controversial issues with our associates among the United Nations which involve no immediate question of basic principle. But surely the time has come when in the interest of the people of the United States themselves they should within these necessary limits be told what our major objectives are, and what it is proposed this country must undertake to do in order to prevent a recurrence of this consuming conflagration through which we are now winning our way.

For we cannot overlook the fact that each step in the field of foreign policy which we take today will determine our nation's course in the months and in the years to come.

In none of the foreign wars in which we have been engaged since we won our independence have the determination of military strategy and the direction of our armed forces been so brilliantly successful as has been the case in the present struggle under our Commander in Chief and the great military, naval and aviation leaders to whom he has intrusted authority. Our record in the production of material for ourselves and for our allies has been truly miraculous. As a result of this magnificent accomplishment attained under the leadership of the president, although we are now entering the gravest stage of this contest, and although the struggle may yet be far longer and far more bitter than many of us believe, we can look forward with conviction and with confidence to the day of ultimate victory.

Can "We Dare To Improvise?"

Are we as yet prepared for that day? What would the policy of this nation be if the unconditional surrender of Germany or of Japan came to pass sooner than we have believed possible? In such event could we—as we have so often done in the past—afford to trust to instinct or intuition, or dare to improvise? Should not the people of this country be afforded the opportunity before that moment of determining the road they will follow when the day of victory comes?

In the reaching of this determination we possess one great asset. In more than a hundred years of our national history there has been no President so superbly fitted to undertake his constitutional responsibilities of conducting our foreignrelations as Franklin Roosevelt. Through his profound knowledge of American and of world history, through his long experience in and consummate understanding of inter, national affairs; through his grasp of where the true and the ultimate interests of the United States lie, and through his love for his fellow man, no American could be more fully qualified than he to shape this country's foreign policy in these days when our national destiny must be determined. The people of this country look to him once more for that inspired leadership of which he is so supremely capable, and of which he has given such convincing evidence on so many occasions in the past.

Many thousands of us are asking ourselves what our objectives should be. What—to use the Palmerstonian phrase—are the "eternal and perpetual interests" of the United States which must be secured in the new epoch which we are approaching? What may be the surest way of safeguarding those interests?

May I, solely as one American citizen, who is not entitled in any way to speak for our government, outline to you what I myself believe to be at least a partial answer to those questions?

I believe that it will be the consensus of opinion that the irreducible minimum of what should be obtained by the United States as the outcome of the victory in which it will share must be the practical certainty that in the world of the future, the United States will be secure—safe from the threat of successful attack by any power, or by any combination of powers; fully assured that its own free institutions will suffer no jeopardy from foreign sources; and enabled, by reason of peace, prosperity, and political and social stability in the rest of the world, to develop its own national resources and its trade in such a manner as to make possible that advance in social conditions and that rise in living standards which the vast majority of our people seek. For we have, I believe, at long last, learned the lesson that we cannot grow richer if the rest of the world becomes poorer; and that the surest guaranty of our prosperity is the prosperity of others.

From the standpoint of our political, economic and strategic vital interests it is likewise indispensable that if we are to achieve our own security every nation of the Western Hemisphere must also obtain the same ample measure of assurance as ourselves in the world of the future.

Those, it would seem, are the "eternal and perpetual interests" of the United States.

It seems to me clear that these interests can never be safeguarded unless the United States participate with the other nations of the earth in creating that kind of free world organized under law, and made safe by armed might when necessary against lawbreakers, which men and women have envisioned for centuries past and which they have so far fruitlessly sought to attain.

What are the alternatives? There can be but two, granted the state in which the world will find itself when the present hostilities are over. Either widespread, sporadic and interminable chaos and anarchy, or a precarious and temporary system of balance of power, with resultant armament expansion, and a policy of rank imperialism on the part of all the major powers, including the United States, which will pave the way, as surely as night follows day. for new and still more devastating wars.

What steps then can the United States now take to impel the establishment of that kind of world order which alone can guarantee the security we seek?

Under existing conditions, the very concept of such an order implies the agreement of the major military powers among the United Nations that in their own interest such an order must be created. Unless the British, Soviet, Chineseand United States governments arrive jointly at a clearcut and specific agreement in the near future upon certain basic principles, the hope of the creation of a stable world in the post-war years must necessarily be all but illusory. No stability, no opportunity for effective social and economic reconstruction can be forecast unless the great armed powers can now agree that they will wholeheartedly co-operate in the spirit and within the framework of the Atlantic Charter after the Axis nations have been forced to defeat.

Cardinal Points

Such an agreement between these four powers as that proposed must surely include such cardinal points as the following:

That they will jointly undertake the task of keeping the peace of the world in the post-war period, in accord with and in conjunction with such other members of the United Nations as are qualified to take part in such endeavor, notably certain of our neighbors of the New World and what we all hope will be the Fourth French Republic; and that they will presently define the nature and method of provision of the armed contribution which each under its own authority will make available for this common undertaking.

That they will now agree upon the machinery to be set up by common consent which will in the years after the close of the present war provide for progressive reduction of armaments as between themselves, and as among other nations.

That they will agree upon a common policy of realistic justice to be pursued by them toward Germany and the other conquered Axis powers so as to render these nations permanently incapable of renewing their assault upon civilization and the liberties of independent peoples.

That they will jointly agree not to take independent action which affects the sovereign rights of any other nation save with the concurrence of the other three powers.

That they will jointly pledge themselves to further and to perfect, as rapidly as post-war conditions may make possible, the establishment of a universal world organization in which, when it is ultimately established, the proposed agreement between them would be merged.

It would be ingenuous to underestimate the material and practical difficulties involved in finding the way toward an agreement upon these fundamental requirements. The very fact that the Soviet Union is not at war with the common enemy of Great Britain, China and the United States in the Far East presents formidable political and military problems.

Each one of the four powers is rightly concerned with regard to its individual security and is entitled to present its contentions and its demands to the friendly and understanding scrutiny of its associates. But the truth remains that over and above all individual requirements for security to be derived from territorial rectifications towers the security to he obtained by each one of them through common agreement upon the point above set forth.

Delay Will Add To Task

And we must clearly realize that the longer the effort to find such an agreement is postponed the more difficult the task will become.

We enjoy today a closer and more comprehending relationship with the peoples and governments comprising the British Commonwealth of Nations than we have ever previously possessed. Our traditional friendship with China has been enhanced.

What we must imperatively strive to secure is that same full measure of understanding with the Russian people and their government. I know of no point where the long-range interests of the Soviet Union are antagonistic to our own. I am firmly convinced that the understanding for which I hope will greatly inure to the advantage of both our peoples. Certain measures of far-reaching significance recently enacted by the Soviet government have done much to facilitate mutual comprehension. Reciprocal recriminations and the engendering of popular suspicions can only be beneficial to our common enemies. Both peoples can in their own interest best afford to emphasize the many points of accord between them and minimize such differences as may appear still to exist.

In that spirit I am confident that an agreement can be found.

Nor am I concerned, in so far as the best interests of the United States are involved, by the fact that such an agreement constitutes a temporary alliance. For it would be an alliance destined, by insuring the maintenance of peace in the world in the immediate post-war period, to expedite the creation of a stable world order, founded upon justice and freedom, which would safeguard the permanent interests of the American people; not an alliance to insure our participation in world hegemony, nor an alliance to maintain a balance of power.

Should it be possible to secure an agreement of this character it would constitute the very solid foundation upon which there should immediately be constructed the first rudimentary structure in what later would be the expanded and perfected edifice of the ultimate international organization.

Other Steps Needed

Were a four-power agreement of the kind proposed to be all that this country envisaged, even if the powers participating in such an agreement operated* by general delegation from the other members of the United Nations, such an accord would necessarily tend to stimulate the assumption by the four powers of the rights and prerogatives of world dictators. It would constitute the very negation of international democracy. It would be suspect in the minds of all of the lesser powers as an instrument in derogation of their own sovereignty.

We, and the other major powers likewise, require the indispensable support and confidence of all of the peoples of the United Nations, and of many of the remaining neutral states as well, if we can hope to expedite the reconstruction of this torn and shattered world and to hasten the day when there may exist a stable international order.

For these reasons I believe the second step which should be taken by the United States as soon as the proposed four-power agreement is reached, is to urge the formation of an executive council composed of representatives of the United Nations, which should remain in permanent session, with power to resolve such political or other questions as may be referred to it by the United Nations, and which do not impinge upon the military conduct of the war, involve the right of the powers which are doing the actual fighting to determine freely the military strategy to be pursued, nor impair the provisions of the suggested four-power agreement.

To be effective, this suggested United Nations executive body should be small in number. I would suggest that it be composed, in addition to delegates of the four major military powers, of representatives elected by the states of each region, and existing associations of states, in a proportion and by a method to be determined by the United Nations.

This executive council, which would eventually become the executive branch of any perfected international organization, should be granted supervisory jurisdiction over all desirable international agencies—such as the International Labor Office or the Food and Agriculture Committee—which may already have been created, and should be also charged with the duty of organizing such further standing agencies as the United Nations may from time to time deem necessary or desirable, and of formulating recommendations for submission to each one of the United Nations covering such fundamental requirements as a world court and other necessary permanent international bodies.

I am a convinced believer in the efficacy and in the need for the permanent continuance of the existing inter-American regional system which has been brought into being by the free will of the twenty-one sovereign American republics.

Regional Organization

In their consideration of the kind of future world organization which will be best calculated to meet the high objectives which the great majority of us are seeking, governments and peoples might well study the desirability of instituting regional systems, conforming in their general pattern to the system evolved by the new world, but all of them co-ordinated under an executive body of the nature which has been above proposed, representative of every region. In such an organization each region would be primarily responsible for regional peace, and only in the event that a regional conflagration threatened the general peace, would wider action become necessary.

Many months ago I expressed the belief that upon the cessation of hostilities we must contemplate the need for a transition period during which many readjustments of many kinds would have to be undertaken before any attempt could properly be made to set up any permanent world organization. That is more than ever my belief. One can draw an infinite number of invaluable conclusions from the experience which was had in 1919 when the unsuccessful attempt was made to obtain rigid compliance by all nations with the detailed and perfected Covenant of the League of Nations. Would it not be a wiser and more practical approach in the new effort which I hope and which I believe will be undertaken to secure a workable international organization, to start with the necessary basic agreements and mechanisms, and then, during the transition period, agree upon the perfecting elaboration of those agreements and mechanisms as changing conditions and experience may show it to be expedient or necessary? Surely, at the commencement of this transition period all peoples must agree that manifold questions should advantageously be postponed for later adjustment and accommodation, when the passions of war have cooled, and a greater wisdom in their determination can be achieved through a longer perspective.

I can see no advantage to be gained at this moment by any general and theoretical discussion of the advantages or disadvantages obtaining to the United States by the limitations upon its sovereignty which it might undergo were it to participate in an international organization. Such a discussion, it seems to me, can only benefit those who are opposed to our taking part in any form of international co-operation and who desire, by confusing the real issues, to engender public doubt and prejudice. Until we have determined exactly what form of world organization we believe should in our own interest be instituted, how can we tell what, if any, imitations such an organization might impose upon our sovereignty? As has so often and truly been said, any treaty to which this country is a party necessarily limits our sovereignty. I can conceive of no manner by which this nation can participate in an international organization save through its adherence to an international agreement, or series of agreements, which would necessarily be subject to the approval of the legislative branch of our government as provided by our Constitution. Would it not be wiser before entering into any impassioned debate upon the abstract question of sovereignty to wait and see what each proposed argument involved, and then weigh the advantages to be derived by us from such instruments against any attendant limitations upon our national freedom of action?

Moral Principle Stressed

I most earnestly hope that when the time comes for these I decisions to be made the voice of the American people will be raised in the demand that in any new world organization that may be created two great moral principles be for all time established by it.

The first of these is what should be the inalienable right of all peoples to enjoy the freedoms of religion, of speech, and of information. No greater bulwark for peace in the future can be built than through universal recognition of these freedoms as human rights. Every nation which becomes a member of the international organization to be set up should be obliged as a condition of its adherence to show that its citizens are guaranteed these rights by its national constitution.

And the second great principle likewise involves the question of human freedom. More than a hundred years ago the moral force of public opinion in Great Britain compelled the British government to abolish slavery within the territories of the empire, and a great British Prime Minister led a valiant and successful fight for the abolition of the international slave trade. Eighty years ago the American people proved the eternal truth that this nation could not survive half slave and half free. Can the peaceful, the stable and the free world for which we hope be created if it is envisioned from the outset as half slave and half free?—if hundreds of millions of human beings are told that they are destined to remain indefinitely under alien subjection ? New and powerful nationalistic forces are breaking into life throughout the earth, and in particular in the vast regions of Africa, of the Near East and of the Far East. Must not these forces, unless they are to be permitted to start new and devastating inundations, be canalized through the channels of liberty into the great stream of constructive and co-operative human endeavor?

We all of us recognize that it will take many generations for some backward peoples to be prepared for autonomy and self-government. But I am persuaded that any international organization should establish the basic principle that no nation has the inherent and unlimited right to govern subject peoples; that all nations which possess jurisdiction over other peoples must recognize in effective fashion that such control is to be exercised primarily for the purpose of preparing these alien races to undertake the responsibilities of self-government as soon as they are capable thereof, and that until they are fitted for autonomy the administering power, as a trustee, must hold itself responsible for its administration to world public opinion as represented in the international organization.

Reject Race Superiority

The right of all peoples to their liberty must be confirmed as the moral force of public opinion long since established the right of man to his individual freedom. I do not believe in the doctrine of a superior race. The enjoyment by peoples of the right of self-determination is not limited by divine warrant* nor for that matter by the Atlantic Charter, to the white race. Peoples capable of autonomous government should be possessed of that right whether they be yellow or brown, black or white.

We have heard it said in recent months that we shouldpresently refrain from declaring what our desires and aspirations are in the field of post-war settlements and that we should rather wait before formulating our own policies in that regard until we have been told what other powers seek.

And I sometimes ask myself, "What is this country of ours? Are we a puny or a senile nation? Are we so impotent and have we played so inferior a part in the present struggle that we must still our own voice until we are told what other powers seek?" I believe in national modesty. I do not believe in a national inferiority complex.

We are a young and vigorous people. In armed might and in material resources we are second to no power of the globe. We are the greatest democracy in the world today. We covet no inch of territory and we possess no imperialistic ambitions. We have entered this war to preserve our own liberties and to join with our allies in utterly destroying the most villainous tyrannies which modern man has seen and which, had they triumphed, would have made life intolerable for us all.

By the blood which our fellow Americans are shedding for our country, by the treasure which we have expended for our own war effort and for that of our valiant allies, by our own moral and material force in the world of today, I submit that we possess not only the right but the duty to declare to the United Nations and to the world at large what we believe should be the foundations upon which the world of the future should be constructed and what we are prepared to contribute to that end, so that this country of ours shall not again be plunged into war. Thus—and only thus—can we hope to obtain compensation for those bitter sacrifices which we will have made when the last gun has been fired.

Carlyle once said: "It is singular how long the rotten will hold together, provided you do not handle it roughly . . . so loath are men to quit their old ways; and, conquering indolence and inertia, venture on new."

We have lived and we are living in a rotten world. We now are paying the penalty for the lack of courage and of intelligence of which we and all other nations have been guilty. Only by handling the old structure roughly—only by conquering our inertia—only by daring to venture on new ways—can we hope to see a better day.

The United States must vigorously assert its willingness to assume leadership. We have every moral and material advantage on our side. We have as our leader the man who because of his brave vision and his wisdom is rightly regarded throughout the world as the paladin of the forces of liberal democracy. If we avail ourselves—in time—of the opportunity which fate has granted us, an American can truly say in the years to come:

"Not only have we by our efforts saved ourselves but we have, with God's help, guided the feet of suffering mankind into the paths of peace."