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218 Department of External Affairs to Australian Delegation, United Nations

Cablegram 184, CANBERRA, 13 April 1948, 5.45 a.m.


Following principles are set out for your guidance during consideration by the Interim Committee of the Sub-Committee's report on the veto proposals[1];

1. Australia's primary objective is to make the United Nations work. As one method of improving the machinery of the United Nations we have sought revision of the voting procedure in the Security Council. There is growing tendency to use the United Nations as an instrument of one group of powers against the other. No revision of the voting procedure should be suggested which promotes this tendency.

2. Proposals submitted to the Interim Committee fall roughly into three groups:

(a) those proposing amendment of the Charter;

(b) those requesting the permanent members to modify their voting practices;

(c) procedural amendment.

3. In view of the veto upon Charter amendments the first group of proposals is unlikely to produce any result apart from increasing the tension between the Soviet block and the supporters of the United States and Western Democracies. Proposals in the second group can produce no sweeping change in voting procedure. The previous resolution of the General Assembly which was a recommendation of this nature did result in a modification of the use of the veto. A request to permanent members is not likely to aggravate dissension. Canadian proposals for procedural amendment are not directly concerned with the veto but may smooth out difficulties which eventually lead to the veto.

4. The United States proposals[2] in their present form represent an indirect amendment of the Charter. Approval by an affirmative vote of 7 members of the categories suggested by the United States whether or not they are regarded as procedural would be contrary to the provision of Article 27 (3).[3]

5. In our view the United States proposals would not assist the work of the United Nations: they would on the contrary, accentuate the tendency referred to in paragraph 1.

6. Australia should confine its support to proposals which would assist in improving the work of the Security Council. Proposals such as those submitted by the United Kingdom and Canada deserve attention.[4]

7. The matter is not one of urgency: while the procedure of power politics continue to be employed even within the United Nations there is a strong argument for not removing the veto. Democratic voting procedures are only applicable when decisions are based on objective judgment and on justice.

[1] The Interim Committee established Sub-Committee 3 to consider proposals submitted by members concerning the problem of voting in the Security Council. Australia was a member of the sub-committee.

[2] The United States proposed that the committee study the categories of decisions that the Security Council was required to make. The committee could then determine which categories could be decided by an affirmative vote of seven members of the council, whether the categories were procedural or non-procedural.

[3] Article 27(3) provides that, in non-procedural matters, a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting.

[4] The United Kingdom proposed a six-point plan that called upon permanent members of the Security Council to consult together before voting; to refrain from exercising the veto unless the question were of vital importance to the United Nations as a whole; to refrain from exercising the veto simply because a measure did not go far enough to satisfy them; to advocate rules that would prevent disputes being referred to the council before other measures of settlement have been tried; to appoint a small committee of the council to attempt conciliation between the disputants before resorting to full council discussion and voting; and to agree on a definition of 'dispute'.

Canada suggested that all states, before submitting a dispute to the council, should make every effort to settle the matter through peaceful means first. The council should deal with disputes that pose a real danger to international peace and security only.

[AA : A 1838, 852/20/3, II]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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