Dumbarton Oaks Proposal


By EDWIN C. WILSON, Director of the Office of Special Political Affairs, Department of State

Delivered at the International Trade Luncheon, New York, November 14, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 106-109.

I REGARD it a privilege to be able to consider with you some features of the proposals for a general international organization which resulted from the recent Conversations at Dumbarton Oaks. No group in this country could be more vitally interested in the success of this great effort than you, gentlemen, who are particularly concerned with the improvement of trade and commerce among the nations.

The primary objective of the Dumbarton Oaks Proposals is the maintenance of international peace and security. This is a two-fold objective. We will all readily agree that in any immediate situation when peace is threatened, effective international machinery must be found in order to prevent, and if necessary suppress, threats or acts of aggression. Taking a longer perspective, I think we will also agree that constantly improving economic and social conditions in the various countries will help to create the conditions of stability and well-being on which peace and prosperity so largely depend. Your activity, therefore, can be of the utmost importance in helping to attain the high purposes which have been agreed upon by the representatives of the four nations at Dumbarton Oaks.

I venture to add, what may not always be so readily apparent, that the obverse proposition is also true, namely, that it is only under conditions of order and security that trade and commerce, both within and among nations, can be carried forward with reciprocal advantage. Very few business leaders will today assert that the gains sometimes stimulated by war are more than illusory. I feel certain, therefore, that all of us have a common interest in the principal objectives that were sought at Dumbarton Oaks and I believe also that the means proposed for attaining these objectives will merit your general support.

The Dumbarton Oaks Proposals have now been before the public for some weeks and you gentlemen have had an opportunity of examining them in some detail. I need not, therefore, take your time in going through the Proposals in any comprehensive way. They are, in any case, relatively simple and readily understood. You are also aware that several open questions were left for further consideration by the four Governments with a view to reaching agreement upon them prior to the convening of a wider international conference for drawing up the basic instrument, or Charter, of the proposed organization. Some of these questions pertain to voting procedures, to the elaboration or revision of the court statute, to providing for the termination or assimilation of some of the functions and responsibilities which were vested in the League of Nations, and to other problems of a similar character.

And may I add at this point that if agreement was not reached on all these questions in the relatively short time that was available at Dumbarton Oaks it was not because of any fundamental or insuperable differences which developed among the delegations. All these questions, including the voting question, though difficult, are susceptible of solution, and the fine spirit of cooperation and accommodation which existed among the delegations at Dumbarton Oaks gives a promise of complete agreement. To establish a general international organization of the scope and magnitude of the one proposed is no small task. The wide area of agreement which was reached was striking, and President Roosevelt himself referred with satisfaction to the fact that "so much could have been accomplished on so difficult a subject in so short a time."

Now I would like to single out for your special consideration several of the principal features of these Proposals which I think will be of special interest to you. First, I should like to mention the generally representative character of the proposed Organization. Five of the larger states will, of course, assume special responsibilities for the maintenance of peace and security. This is only natural and even inevitable in the world where nations have such varying capacities. The position of these states in the Security Council, however, should not be regarded as one of domination but rather as one of leadership and responsibility for discharging certain duties which they alone, in view of their industrial and military potentials, are able to fulfill on behalf of the world community. But the Organization is to be open to all peace-loving states, large and small, and Secretary of State Hull has specially stressed this principle. A number of other states will be elected by the General Assembly to the Security Council, and although the voting procedure has not yet been finally determined, it is certain that any enforcement action by the Security Council would require the assent of some of the non-permanent members of the Security Council. Moreover, in the General Assembly all states would be represented, and although the functions of the General Assembly, as we shall see, are not of the same character in the field of security, they are extremely important and far-reaching functions, particularly in the economic and social fields which would have a very great bearing upon the peace and prosperity of the world. I believe you will agree, therefore, that the Proposals, far from being in the nature of a great power alliance, are very definitely based upon the democratic principle.

In the second place, I should like to draw your attention briefly to the arrangements which are proposed for the peaceful settlement of disputes and for the maintenance or restoration of peace and security. There was much experience, some of it sad experience, to draw upon. The delegations were fully aware of the disappointments and failures of the inter-war period but they also were fully conscious of the type of organization which has proved to be so successful in winning the present war. Taking these streams of thought and experience as a point of departure, the Proposals in a sense codify much that we have learned in these recent years. On the one hand, we now know that to be effective, a security organization must be able to act promptly and effectively. Hence, it is provided that a relatively small Security Council of eleven members, including the large states as permanent members, should be given special powers to act without being able to shift this responsibility to some other organ, like the General Assembly. The Security Council, of course, does not have such freedom of action that it could be arbitrary in the settlement of disputes or the enforcement of security. Its action must be in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Organization as defined in the basic instrument. It would encourage states to settle their own disputes by peaceful means of their own choice and would intervene only when a situation or dispute actually got to the point where it threatened general peace and security. From that point the Security Council would, however, be empowered to act promptly and decisively, and could call upon states to supply, on the basis of special agreements, the forces and facilities necessary to maintain the peace.

An international court of justice would be established as a principal organ of the Organization and resort to judicial processes for the settlement of disputes would be facilitated and encouraged.

Profiting from the experience of this war, where the combined Chiefs of Staff have been able to plan the conduct of the war so successfully, it is provided—and this is a new feature—that a Military Staff Committee composed of the Chiefs of Staff of the permanent members of the Security Council should be charged with the duty of giving advice and assistance to the Security Council in carrying out its functions.

The Military Staff Committee would advise the Security Council on all questions relating to the Council's military requirements for the maintenance of peace and security, to the employment and command of forces placed at its disposal, to the regulation of armaments, and to possible disarmament. It would also be responsible under the Security Council for the strategic direction of any armed forces placed at its disposal. From this description of its duties it will be clear that great care has been taken to provide an effective instrument for the enforcement of security. In addition to this, it is provided that in cases of emergency, national air force contingents should be held immediately available for combined international enforcement action.

It should also be noted that peaceful settlement of disputes would be encouraged as far as possible through regional agencies or arrangements, and that such regional agencies might be utilized to assist the Security Council in carrying out enforcement action when it was authorized by the Security Council.

In these several ways the Dumbarton Oaks Proposals go considerably farther than any previous plans while yet remaining within the limits of practical experience and political acceptability.

In the third place, I should like to emphasize another feature of the Proposals which, I think, may touch more closely upon your own interest and experience. The Dumbarton Oaks Proposals have elaborated a mechanism for facilitating and promoting the solution of international economic and social problems which is based upon the philosophy I referred to earlier, that wider economic opportunities and improved conditions of well-being will themselves, in a large degree, take away the occasion for resort to war. There may be international bandits who, obsessed by ideas of world domination, threaten the peace for reasons which are not connected with economic well-being. Such motives readily come to mind when we examine the avowed purposes of some of our present enemies. At the same time, nations which have access to raw materials and whose prosperity is based on trade and commerce are far less likely to launch upon destructive adventures.

This function of encouraging greater and more productive cooperation is entrusted especially to the General Assembly and under its authority to an Economic and Social Council of eighteen states members, which would be assisted by technical expert commissions of an advisory character on a variety of subjects. The General Assembly would be expected to survey the whole field of economic policy and make recommendations which the Economic and Social Council would be expected to carry out. The latter body could, on its own initiative, make such recommendations to the Governments or to the various specialized agencies working in these fields.

Among the specialized agencies now established or projected are such organizations as the International Labor Organization, whose purpose is to encourage the adoption by as many Governments as possible of improved labor standards, with the result that the people of no country will be working at a disadvantage; the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, whose stated purpose is "to raise levels of nutrition and standards of living, to secure improvements in the efficiency of the production and distribution of all food and agricultural products . . . and to contribute toward an expanding world economy"; the International Monetary Fund, whose stated purposes are "to facilitate the expansion and balanced growth of international trade and to contribute thereby to the promotion and maintenance of high levels of employment . . . to promote exchange stability . . . and to avoid competitive exchange depreciation"; an International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, a stated purpose of which is "to promote the long-range balanced growth of international trade and the maintenance of equilibrium in balances of payments by encouraging international investment for the development of the productive resources of members, thereby assisting in raising productivity, the standard of living and conditions of labor . . .". Other specialized agencies and organizations are yet to be developed in related fields, such as transportation, aviation, communications, cultural relations, etc.

These specialized agencies would, of course, carry out their responsibilities as defined in their statutes or conventions but it is deemed desirable that the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly, at the highest political levels, should be able to consider and make recommendations on economic and social policies and activities which transcend the scope of any one specialized agency or even of any one Government.

It is obvious that when such a wide variety of related activities are being carried on by these specialized agencies there will be need for some overall body to consider and recommend ways and means for coordinating the policies of such related agencies to prevent overlapping and working at cross purposes. This is envisaged as the function of the General Assembly and under its authority of the Economic and Social Council. This Council would have the duty of receiving and considering reports from the economic, social and other organizations or agencies brought into relationship with the general organization, and to coordinate their activities through consultation with, and recommendations to, such organizations or agencies. It should be understood that all these functions are on the plane of recommendatory action and are not executive in character.

All this field of activity is intended to facilitate private enterprise and development, and in those countries where economic enterprise is established on a different basis, to facilitate their economic relations with the rest of the world in the most mutually advantageous manner.

One of the stated purposes of the proposed general organization is "to afford a center for harmonizing the actions of nations in the achievement of these common ends." It is a truism that the nations of the world today have become more than ever inter-dependent. Their industrial and economic life has become so complex and the economic and financial mechanism of nations has become so delicate that disturbances anywhere tend to have profound repercussions in other parts of the world. For this reason international collaboration has become a necessity and if the Dumbarton Oaks Proposals have not elaborated the machinery in greatest detail they have provided ways and means by which these problems can be dealt with in an orderly fashion and in the light of future experience. The Proposals are a definite beginning, and I believe you will agree, a hopeful beginning, which opens up a vista of great possibilities for the future.

In closing, gentlemen, may I express the hope that there will be the widest possible study and discussion on these Proposals, and that you will give us the benefit of your knowledge and experience on these questions. The Government desires to move forward with the confidence which comes from the efforts of men who sincerely desire a world of stability and harmony within which the productive forces of the world can lead us to those higher levels of prosperity and well-being which are the rightful heritage of mankind.