Towards A Stronger Dumbarton Oaks


By WILLIAM G. CARLETON, Professor of History and Political Science, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida

Delivered at the Northeastern Florida Sectional Conference of the Florida Federation of Womens Clubs,Jacksonville, Florida, February 8, 1945

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 302-304.

SEVERAL years ago three distinct types of international collective security organization were available to the United Nations. These were: an international federal union, an international confederation, and a league of nations.

The first of these, a federal union, would have been a strong organization indeed. In fact, it would have created a genuine world state. Sovereign nations, the United States included, would have yielded their sovereignty with respect to armed forces and armaments, foreign affairs, and war and peace. The new federal state would have operated directly on individuals within member nations. It would have taxed them to build an international police force. It would have come into direct contact with them as citizens and taken them into its armed services. It would have developed its own executive, administrative, and judicial machinery to carry out these powers. In short, had the United States become a member of such a world organization we as American citizens would have been subject to three sovereignties instead of two, as at the present time. We would have been subject to our state governments, to our federal government at Washington, and to the new world organization thus brought into being. We would, then, have been citizens not of a dual federal system, as at the present time, but of a triple federal system. This is the kind of an organization advocated by Clarence Streit and his Federal Union group.

Leaders in the United States, Britain, and Russia never gave serious consideration to an international federal union.

They waved this aside as impracticable and impossible in the present stage of world development. Therefore, such an organization will not at this time be submitted to the peoples of the world for their consideration. Such an organization will not now be given even a chance.

The second possibility, a world federation, would have been a weaker organization than a federal union but stronger than a mere league. The world confederation would have had no power to operate directly on the citizens of member nations. It would have had no power to tax them directly or to force them into its armed services. However, it would have had its own armed services, its own international police force, under the control and command of its own agencies. It would have owned its own armaments. How would such an organization have secured men for its armed services and money with which to buy armaments? It would have secured them by levying quotas of money and men on its member states. It would have obtained money and men by operating through its member states and not by operating directly upon the individual citizens of those member states.

Again, leaders in the United States, Britain, and Russia considered this scheme of world organization too advanced for our time. They brushed it aside and never gave the plain peoples of the world an opportunity to pass upon it.

The third possibility, a mere league of nations, is now before us in the shape of the Dumbarton Oaks plan. In some ways this is a stronger organization than the old League of Nations it is designed to replace. But it still remains a mere league of nations with its member states maintaining control over their own respective armies, navies, air forces, and armaments. It has no armed forces, no international police force, no armaments of its own. Whether such an organization is strong enough to keep the peace of the world is debatable. However, it is the only official proposal before us and the only plan around which we can center our hopes. Let us not reject a half loaf because we cannot get a whole loaf. Rather let us attempt to bolster this plan at two or three specific places now, and then let us strengthen it from time to time as opportunity shall arise in the course of its evolutionary development.

Fortunately, at the very points where the proposed league can be most significantly strengthened, there is still opportunity to do so. These points—involving the size and character of the vote necessary to declare a nation an aggressor and the nature and scope of the obligations- which fall upon member nations after a vote has been cast—are the very ones which are still left open for discussion and settlement. These are decisive to the success of the Dumbarton Oaks plan. Public attention should now be focused upon these pivotal points to insure the adoption of provisions which will make this league type of organization as effective as it is possible to make it.

There are those who in effect would reduce this new league of nations to a nullity. To brand any nation as an aggressor, they would require a unanimous vote of the council or at least a unanimous vote of the states having permanent seats on the council. This would be tantamount to allowing any member of the council or at least any one of the "big four" or "big five" to veto any league action against itself. This makes the league an absurdity. The Soviet Union is said to have taken this view. There are many members of the American Congress who take this view. They want to be sure that there shall never be any interference with the dominant position of the United States in the Western Hemisphere. They resent even the possibility that the United States might in the future be declared an aggressor in this hemisphere.

Moreover, there are those who would not trust the American representative on the council with the pre-endowed power to commit by his vote in the council the American nation to an economic boycott or the use of American armed forces against an aggressor nation. In other words, even after the American representative on the council had voted to designate a given nation as an aggressor, the United States could not declare an embargo against that aggressor nation or use its armed forces against it without the subsequent consent of the American Congress. But what if, after our representative had voted to brand a certain nation as an aggressor, our Congress refused to vote an economic boycott or to send American armed forces to curb the aggressor? This would make our representative ridiculous, render the United States odious in the eyes of the world, and make of collective security a huge joke.

And if we claim this right for ourselves we must concede it to others. What a mire of futility we bog down in when we follow this path! Imagine the council solemnly voting a nation an aggressor, and then all the member nations referring sanctions back to their respective governments. Some governments would vote sanctions at once. Others would vote them after long and dangerous delay. Others would not vote them at all. Meantime the war might spread and the aggressor nation overrun country after country. Indeed, and this is very important, the aggressor nation anticipated just this situation and banked upon it when it made its plan to attack. Had the aggressor nation known in advance that a vote of the council declaring that nation an aggressor would bring collective and effective sanctions against it at once, and that action did not wait upon subsequent ratification by the respective governments, there probably would have been no aggression in the first instance. For example, in 1914, if Germany had known for certain ahead of time that England would enter the war, there might have been no German aggression in 1914. Again, in 1939, if Germany had known for certain ahead of time that the United States would come to the aid of the victims of German aggression, there might have been no German aggression in 1939.

It is therefore vital that a party to the dispute not be allowed to vote in its own case, that it never be allowed to use its vote in the council to veto action against itself. It is also vital that representatives on the council be pre-invested with the power to commit their respective nations to economic and military sanctions, and then when they cast a vote branding a nation an aggressor that vote will bind their respective nations and will automatically carry with it the kind of sanctions the council deems necessary to curb or suppress the aggressor. Abstention from voting by a party to the dispute and the pre-investing of representatives on the council with the power to commit their nations to economic and military sanctions—these constitute the irreducible minimum if a league organization, inherently weak anyway, is to function at all.

Admittedly important constitutional questions arise for us in the United States. Can Congress delegate its power to declare an embargo? Can Congress delegate its power to declare war? And why not? Congress has delegated to the Interstate Commerce Commission its power to fix railroad rates. It has delegated to the President its power, within limits, to increase and decrease tariff rates. Why, then, can it not delegate to the American representative on the council, nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, the power, in certain contingencies, to declare an embargo and to declare war? After all, this American representative will not be an independent agent. He will not operate in a vacuum. He will be in constant consultation with officials of the American government and will voteonly after counselling with the President, the State department, and Congressional leaders.

We should, I suppose, be satisfied if we get a league as strong as this. Indeed, by all the rules of practical politics, we shall be extremely fortunate ii we get a league this strong. Nevertheless, in my opinion, even these provisions are not enough. Personally, I favor pressing on to an even stronger league.

In order to declare a nation an aggressor a unanimous vote in the council should not be required, not even a unanimous vote with the party to the dispute abstaining. A mere majority vote or a two-thirds majority vote or a three-fourths majority vote, no distinction being made between permanent and non-permanent members, is all that should be necessary. Such a vote would make the league more effective and would make potential aggressors more hesitant. In other words, should the representative of the United States on the council vote against declaring a certain nation an aggressor but should a simple majority or a two-thirds majority or a three-fourths majority of the council vote such a nation an aggressor, then the United States should be morally and legally bound to carry out economic or military sanctions against that nation, in spite of the vote of its own representative to the contrary. In other words, Congress should delegate to a simple majority or to a two-thirds majority or to a three-fourths majority of the council its power to declare an embargo or to declare war, even though the American representative on the council votes in the negative.

Admittedly this delegates to foreign representatives the power to commit the United States to economic and military sanctions. Admittedly this raises constitutional questions of the gravest kind. But such a procedure would not differ much from arbitration treaties which give to foreign nations the power to make decisions affecting this country, for instance, the power to say to us that we must appropriate money and pay damages to some other foreign nation with which we have a controversy. We have had such treaties in the past.

Back in 1919, Woodrow Wilson warned us against the rule of unanimity. In the course of his Western tour seeking the support of the country for the old League of Nations, he frankly admitted his doubts about this rule. He looked upon this rule merely as a necessary but dangerous concession to national egoism. At Spokane, on September 12, 1919, Wilson said: "In the council is vested all the active powers of the league. Everything that is done by the league is formulated and passed by the council, and a unanimous vote is required. Indeed, that is the only thing that seems to be weak about the league; I am afraid that a unanimous vote will sometimes be very difficult to get. The danger is not action, but inaction. The danger is not that they will do something that we do not like, but that upon some critical occasion they will not do anything. If there is any weakness in it, it is the safeguard that has been thrown around the sovereign power of the members of the council."

Remember that even if we win on all these points—abstention from voting by the party or parties to the dispute, the pre-investment of the representatives on the council with the power to commit their respective governments to sanctions, and the abolition of the rule of unanimity—the Dumbarton Oaks organization remains a mere league. The obligation to carry out sanctions is merely moral and legal. The league itself has no power to coerce the member states and force them to carry out sanctions.

My fellow citizens, this is no time for legal quibbling. This is a time for bold action, for political innovation, for constructive statesmanship. The plight in which humanity today finds itself cries out for another imaginative and constructive achievement comparable to our own Constitutional Convention of 1787.

The awful history of the past thirty years should by now have taught us one great lesson. If it has not, then we are incapable of learning anything because that lesson has been written for all to see, large and red in blood. That lesson is this: We may continue to luxuriate in our national sovereignty, but the terrible price we shall pay for that luxury will be international anarchy, future wars more devastating and destructive than anything we have seen, personal suffering and anguish unbelievable, and the annihilation of the moral and spiritual values of our civilization, Or we may surrender some of that national sovereignty and save mankind from the deluge which threatens to engulf us.