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Historical documents

325 Watt to Evatt

Dispatch MU4/48, MOSCOW, 10 June 1948


Since my return from the United Nations Conference on Freedom of Information at Geneva on 10th May I have been in close touch with other members of the diplomatic corps in Moscow, and in particular with British Commonwealth Missions and the American Embassy. I am now in a position to submit my views on recent developments in the foreign policy of the Soviet Union and the effects of this policy. I have expressed these views somewhat dogmatically for the sake of brevity.

[matter omitted][1]

13. In the abovementioned circumstances, it is extremely difficult for countries like Australia, which desire peace (and an early peace) based upon the principles of the United Nations Charter, to play a part in the solving of international problems appropriate to their interests and their capacity. Australia can bring some pressure to bear upon both London and Washington, mostly by way of warning. This pressure is not, however, likely to deflect the United States or the United Kingdom from current basic policy. Again, if neither the Soviet Union on the one hand nor the United States and the United Kingdom on the other hand wish to negotiate with each other at present, it is difficult to see what scope remains for another country to act as intermediary. Such an opportunity would seem more likely to be found at the point of time when one or more of the abovementioned three powers decides that it is in fact prepared to accept a compromise.

14. One would normally turn to the United Nations as the most proper forum for concerted Middle-cum-Small Power Action. The Charter was so framed as to encourage such powers to ventilate in the General Assembly their views on current problems and to propose resolutions, the effect of which is substantial even though they are not enforceable by the Assembly. But since the last ordinary meeting of the General Assembly the appearance of a new phenomenon has become more clearly discernible within the United Nations. Previously, blame for failure to give effect to the purposes and principles of the Charter could be assigned primarily to the Great Powers, especially to the Soviet Union, which by its use of the veto had so frequently frustrated the will of the majority of the Security Council. Now, however, it is clear that other and smaller powers have also flouted the Charter, particularly since the last session of the Assembly. While it can be argued that the boycotting of the 'Little Assembly' [2], the Balkans Commission and the Korean Commission by Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia, Ukraine and Byelorussia is not specially significant because their action was in fact determined by one great power, this cannot be said in other cases. All the Arab states have now flouted the United Nations over Palestine. India and Pakistan have refused to accept the decision of the Security Council in establishing a commission to investigate the Kashmir question. When one adds the effects of the policy of the Netherlands Government in Indonesia and the policy of the South African Government regarding Indians in the Union and the position of South West Africa; and when one also notes the growing signs of Latin-American restiveness at having sacrificed some of their regional powers to the United Nations, one is forced to ask how much support remains for the purposes and principles of the Charter. Great Powers are now in a position to argue that small powers as well as great flout the Charter whenever their vital interests are involved, and it is no sufficient answer to say that the great powers not only set the precedent but that, if they had acted otherwise, smaller powers might have lived up to their obligations.

15. It is submitted that the first task of the Australian Delegation to the next Assembly is to state the abovementioned facts and to point out the consequent dangers to the prestige and continued existence of the United Nations. It is essential that world public opinion should be made clearly aware of these developments even if the criticism falls on stony ground in its immediate effects upon the actions of the members of the United Nations themselves. If one considers carefully the political background of the United Nations at the present time, it would seem that the chief sign of life is the development of certain initiatives, for good or ill, in the direction of regional action. In this connection, attention is drawn to the resolution of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee of 27th May, 1948; to statements which have been made about Western Union; to Canadian views as outlined in the speech of Mr. St. Laurent[3] on 29th April, 1948; to the proceedings of the Bogota Conference and the tendency of Latin-American countries to withdraw from diplomatic relationships with the Soviet Union; finally, to what might be called the misguided regionalist tendencies of Arab countries in the Middle East and to developing relationships between Greece and Turkey. If effective power to enforce the purposes and principles of the United Nations can under present circumstances be found only under Articles 51-54 of the Charter, then it may be considered advisable for Australia to take a part in this field comparable to the part she played during the San Francisco Conference.

[1] In the omitted paragraphs Watt argued that the Soviet purpose of lowering international tension had been achieved and there would be no change in Soviet policy until after the US presidential elections. He also reflected on US and UK plans for strengthening peace.

[2] That is, the Interim Committee of the General Assembly.

[3] Louis S. St Laurent, Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs.

[AA : A1838, 851/12/1]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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