No. 29 NAI DFA 417/12

Letter from Francis T. Cremins to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Berne, 1 November 1945

With1 reference to previous minutes (my 30/6/45, 5/7/45 (263/5 &c.)) regarding the United Nations Organisation, I have to state that I have read the text of the Charter and it appears to me to be a more practical instrument for maintaining peace and simpler to apply for enforcement or preventive action than the Covenant of the League.2 In the new instrument, the real power is entrusted to a few States, and the necessary armaments would be ready for use against an aggressor or potential aggressor. This should make for speed, simplicity and efficiency, but the weak point is that the effectiveness of the organisation in the case of a major dispute would be altogether dependent on the aggressor not being one of the five Permanent Members of the Security Council itself, nor one of the satellite States of those members. In cases in which the aggressor was one of those Powers, or a satellite of one of them, the new organisation could be rendered inoperable under the right of veto accruing to the Permanent Members of the Council from the provisions of Article 27 (3). Further, the question arises, from the wording of Article 27 (3), whether a decision for action against an aggressor, or, in fact, in any other important matters, with some reservations, could be taken in the absence, from a meeting, of one of the five permanent members. Also, whether a mere voluntary abstention from voting of one of the permanent members would not suffice to block action by the organisation, since decisions on all matters other than those relating to procedure must be made 'by an affirmative vote of seven members including the concurring votes of the permanent members'. It is only in cases of decisions relating to pacific settlement of disputes that a party to the dispute, even if one of the permanent members, would not be allowed to vote. The real power, therefore, lies in the hands of the Security Council of Eleven, and Article 27 (3) ensures that the Charter could not operate against one of [the] five permanent members, nor against any State in the case of which it would be to the interest of one of [the] five that it should not operate. War between members of the organisation could, therefore, arise in which the organisation as such could play no effective part, and with all the confusion which such a situation would involve.

As regards the likelihood of serious disputes arising between the Great Powers, it can apparently be ruled out that the States vanquished in the recent war will be in a position for many years to cause another world war. They are down, and if the will to keep them down continues, this can easily be done. The only danger of serious conflict comes, therefore, from a development of the clash of interests which is unfortunately already visible between the Great Powers members of the Security Council. If those Powers would only continue to collaborate for peace as they did for war, it would be easy to maintain peace. If they fall out, another world war will almost inevitably follow, in which case the new organisation would fail to work as a unit. It would break up into its component parts and remain outside the conflict, like the old League which it replaces.

The requirement of the concurring votes of the Five Permanent members is of course an assurance that the new organisation could not be used against those members. The 'unanimity clause' served much the same purpose in the Covenant of the League, with this difference, however, that the unanimity clause safeguarded equally the sovereignty of all the members of the League, not of five of them only.

Control in the case of serious disputes is carefully assured to the Security Council and therefore to the five permanent members by the terms of Articles 11 and 12. It is the Security Council also which, under Article 39, would determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression. Control of amendments to the Charter is also secured under Art. 108.

It is difficult to see how any peace organisation could survive the debates concerning a dispute if, at the end, an adverse vote by one of the parties to the dispute could render action by the organisation, or even the determination of the aggressor, impossible. As in the case of the League, which did very valuable work in the economic, financial, social, health and other fields, the new organisation is equipped to do effective work in such domains, but, as the League was judged by its failures on the political plane, it is on that plane also that the United Nations will be judged - the ability to preserve the world from war.

Under the terms of Article 24 (1) the members, generally, confer on the Security Council primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and agree that in carrying out its duties under this responsibility the Security Council acts on their behalf. Under Article 25, the members agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Council in accordance with the Charter. And Article 49 provides that the members shall join in affording mutual assistance in carrying out the measures decided upon by the Security Council. (See also Article 2 (2) and 2 (5)).

As regards the important question of taking part in military action, under the Charter, in other words of going to war, (apart from other matters) the smaller States have, therefore, surrendered their sovereignty to the Security Council. Only the five permanent members of the Council have retained their sovereignty in these matters. It was often held in regard to the League of Nations that the great defect of that organisation was the fact that the members had not surrendered some part of their sovereignty when joining the League. It was argued that if collective security was ever to be effective, all the members of the League should bind themselves definitely beforehand to take action against an aggressor in certain circumstances, thus surrendering their sovereignty to this extent in the common interest. This was not done by the members of the League, and it is not done by the only members of the Security Organisation which really count in the application of the new system of collective security, or in the production of serious conflicts.

The action which the Security Council might decide upon, and which all the members of the organisation have agreed to carry out when called upon, is set out in Chapter VII. This is a vital Chapter, Article 43 providing that all members undertake to make available to the Security Council, at its call, and in accordance with special agreements, armed forces, assistance and facilities, including rights of passage. The numbers and types of forces, their degree of readiness and general location, and the nature of the facilities and assistance to be provided, are to be governed by special agreements concluded, on the initiative of the Security Council, between the Council and the members or groups of members; whilst, for urgent military measures, members would, under Article 45, have to hold immediately available national air-force contingents for combined international enforcement action. The Security Council will also determine whether the action[s] required to carry out its decisions are to be taken by all the members or by some of them only (Art. 48).

It is provided in Article 44 that before calling upon a member, not represented on it, to provide armed forces under Article 43, the Security Council would invite that member to participate in its decisions concerning the employment of contingents of that member's armed forces, but, for all practical purposes, the vast body of small States would have little influence in regard to important decisions of the Security Council.

All this procedure should make for efficiency, but the trouble is that it might be inoperable in the only dangers which at the moment can be envisaged.3 I do not suggest that any of the principal Powers desire further war, but expanding States, in particular, become anxious regarding the insecurity resulting from their expansion, and endeavour to provide for their 'security' without due regard to the fact that they may menace thereby that of other States. They pursue their aims blindly until a clash becomes inevitable. In 1936, when difficulties began to grow in Europe and Africa, the Taoiseach reminded the League Assembly of the warning sounded ten years before by a Norwegian representative, that the Assembly should deal in time with situations that might one day become acute. 'Two miles above Niagara', he said, 'it is possible to land, but wait until you are 100 feet from the Falls and you are lost'.4 The warning applies today in view of the growing divergencies between the Great Powers.

The rapid development of offensive weapons, and especially of the atomic bomb, has no doubt lessened the likelihood of immediate war, and has even brought about the possibility that war on a great scale might be completely abandoned as a means of settling disputes. If the statements of scientists are to be credited, the destructive power of the atomic bomb is so appalling that it would be suicide for any State now to risk aggression unless it was well provided with this means of attack. Even then, mutual destruction might result. While the secret of manufacture of these bombs remains in the hands of Powers which are not likely to be guilty of aggression, there is little danger of a new war, but, if the secrets become widely known, as in time they probably will, the question of a surprise attack by some State or other cannot be left out of account. If, in such circumstances, there should arise a dispute which ordinarily might be expected to end in conflict, the pre-war period would certainly be a time of great tension and uncertainty. Declarations of war will hardly in future be made by unscrupulous Powers. It will be a question of early surprise for the destruction of vital centres, or factories, or towns, or regions, and of whether the other State or States will await the surprise. A devastating attack might in fact be made without warning long before any real danger of war would be apparent. The whole approach to war will be different, as will also the strategy and tactics of war. In certain circumstances, sudden danger might even come from countries imbued with feelings of hatred or of revenge. Every State will have to take account of the new situation in connection with the training and equipment of its forces, and the situation of the civil populations in times of tension as of war will also have to receive new consideration. No doubt all Governments, as well as controlling any sources of the raw materials in their countries, will seek the best scientific advice available in their own countries as to the real possibilities of the new discoveries as far as they are known, and keep as closely in touch as possible with developments in other countries as far as these will be disclosed. Even neutral countries in the future will probably be in far greater danger than they were during the late war. Atomic or other modern bombs dropped 'in error' on cities or towns, &c., would do far greater damage than before.

In his Report No. 1 to the International Labour Conference, at present sitting in Paris, the Acting Director, Mr. Phelan,5 in dealing with the 'political perspective', states that

'a third world war would be even more catastrophic (than the second). Not only civilization, but the planet itself might be destroyed. The discovery of the principle of the atomic bomb will, no doubt, be carried further, till the "chain reaction" which produces the continuous fission of atoms can be produced at will in other than those rare elements which have so far been used'.

Scientific writers and lecturers seem to differ as to the possibility, except in theory, of being able to destroy the planet in anything like the near future, but apart from the question whether the total destruction of the planet is possible - that would certainly settle the dispute6 - or a partial destruction which would have unpredictable consequences, there is no doubt as to the power of destruction which is now available to man. Dams or vast natural barriers to water might conceivably be destroyed with disastrous results to wide regions, or perhaps 'tidal waves' could be provoked with disaster at least to ships, coastal regions and towns. The possibilities for widespread destruction are numberless. In the new circumstances it would seem wise that, in order not to increase the suspicion and distrust that is apparent in the world, smaller countries, which might engage in atomic research, for either industrial purposes or defence, should only do so in close and friendly collaboration with their neighbours, or in close collaboration with an international organisation.

The Acting Director of the ILO expresses the hope that
'now that wars may involve incalculable danger and even ultimate disaster for all, the general urge of self-preservation should provide that basic motive force for effective continuous and concerted action to avoid them, which has so far been lacking'.

When war began again to threaten about 1936, people often held that, in 1914, Statesmen did not realize the risks and consequences of a world war, but that after 1918 they knew how disastrous the consequences of such a struggle could be, and that knowledge might keep them from entering another. It proved to be a vain hope. There was no all-round will before 1939 to settle the major differences by peaceful means, and, notwithstanding the increased dangers, this may happen again. In the future, if the new methods of destruction become generally available, the greatest danger might arise from the gamble of getting a blow in first. Clearly, as a new approach to the question of war is essential in the new age now beginning, so also a new approach to peace will be necessary. The Taoiseach's suggestion in Geneva, for a Peace Conference before, instead of after war, becomes more than ever a sane proposal.7

I greatly doubt whether the use of atomic bombs can be outlawed or whether there is any analogy with the question of the use of gas. Both sides, in the late war, were well prepared for gas warfare, and Hitler would certainly have used gas, protocol or no protocol, if a sudden attack could be decisive. In the case of atomic bombs, a sudden attack might be decisive. That is the great difference and the great difficulty which will have to be faced in a world where signed pacts are not sacred, and where weapons can be constructed in secrecy.

Especially in the new circumstances, it would be the ideal thing if all States were members of the organisation for collective security. It seems particularly desirable that Christian countries should be represented and be active in such an organisation, and that Christian principles should be kept in the foreground as the basis of international policy, and of international dealings. Before surrendering their policies of neutrality, however, those States which were neutral in the war of 1939-45 must examine closely the advantages which they would derive from membership of the new organisation, and the contribution which they could make to such a scheme for collective security, and compare those advantages with the obligations which membership would involve. They will also have to consider as closely as possible the important question whether there is a fair prospect of peace in the future between the Great Powers and whether a fair basis for peace between those Powers is at present being created. At the end of 1914-18 people generally talked of 'peace for 20 years', but nobody seems so 'optimistic' at the present time. As above suggested, however, it does not necessarily follow that the prospects will not improve, for it hardly seems reasonable to assume that a State which is not equipped with the most modern weapons will risk war with States to whom such weapons are available. Even if, in the future, the two sides became more fairly matched, the possibility would remain, notwithstanding previous experience, that in view of the danger of mutual destruction, a Great Power would not lightly provoke war with another Great Power or Powers, as Germany did six years ago. Any race in armaments - atomic or otherwise - would however always be a danger. The Charter provides, in Article 26, for the regulation of armaments, but any such plans should, no doubt, involve the right of close inspection in the territory of each member, and at the moment, at any rate, it seems extremely unlikely that such inspection would be permitted by certain States.

The promotion of confidence between the Big Three will be an anxious and difficult task.

It is, therefore, yet too early to judge whether the international situation at present being created is likely to lead to conflict, but as things are developing in vital regions - the Baltic, Balkans, Near East, Mediterranean, etc. - to mention only a few, there seem to be all the elements which ordinarily would make for trouble. The elements leading up to the outbreak, in 1939, were in fact hardly more apparent. Spying, too, in the future, will probably be more intense than ever in certain countries, which in itself will be an added danger.

Article 107 of the Transitional Security Arrangements may prove to be a source of trouble unless there remains close collaboration between the Allies.

Article 104, which provides that the organisation shall enjoy in the territory of each of its members 'such legal capacity as may be necessary for the exercise of its functions and the fulfilment of its purposes', is interesting in view of the obligations which the members accept under the Charter. I presume that acceptance by Ireland of the Charter would involve special legislation.

As regards the problem of Partition, this would no doubt be regarded by the vast body of the members, in present circumstances, as being excluded from consideration by the organisation under Article 2 (7).

Article 99 is also interesting as it entrusts to the Secretary General the delicate task of bringing to the attention of the Security Council 'any matter which, in his opinion, may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security'. This is a useful provision, which could be the means of preventing a dangerous situation from being allowed to drift. The operation of the article would, needless to say, require great objectivity on the part of the official concerned.

The provisions in the Charter for technical services seem to be efficient and practical, and, given political stability, these services should be able to do most useful work. It would, in my view, be an advance on anything which has yet been done in the domain of international public health if each member of the United Nations agreed to contribute funds and experts for collective research regarding diseases which are common to all countries and which take most toll of human life or involve most suffering, much on the lines followed during the war of mobilising the most distinguished scientists and supplying the necessary funds for the solution of war problems. The utilization of scientists and of enormous funds for the solution of wartime problems paid in the end. The utilization of the best experts on research in the domain of health would also pay. Very much smaller funds would be required, but it would be the common-sense method of attacking these vital problems.

To conclude, I think that the new organisation would be a distinct advance on the League of Nations for the maintenance of peace, if a fairly equitable basis for peace were assured, and if the five Great Powers, members of the Security Council, continued their collaboration. In the absence of a stable basis for peace no organisation could be expected to ensure peace over the years. That is, I think, one of the lessons to be learned from the period 1918-1939. Other lessons to be learned are (1) that it is dangerous for any country to place too much power in the hands of one person; (2) that Statesmen and soldiers and the like are no more exempt from the moral law in the exercise of their official capacities than in their capacities as ordinary individuals; (Mussolini, in a speech in December, 1941, when encouraging the Italian people to hate their enemies, said that 'in war time, moral principles ... appear superfluous and sometimes even injurious'); (3) that agreements freely entered into between States should be in honour binding; (4) that a race in armaments - atomic or otherwise - must end in conflict; (5) that States should ensure that they are in a reasonable way of defending themselves, economically and otherwise; (6) that prevention of war by action in time, or by friendly settlement of problems, is better than a drifting situation followed by a long drawn out conflict; (7) that the situation of civil populations in the new methods of warfare should receive new consideration, with a possible development of the 'Lieux de Genéve', 'open towns', &c. (8) that wars are not won by killing old persons, women and children.

Questions which will, no doubt, come up for consideration in due course in the new organisation - probably in connection with the progressive development of international law and its codification (Article 13) - are those relating to the right of asylum and to war criminals. In my view, the just punishment of war criminals is a splendid advance, subject of course to the proviso that a proper definition of war crimes is found, and that other necessary safeguards against abuses are provided. In the very difficult situation in which Switzerland found herself during the war, the solution found by the Swiss Authorities for the problem of right of asylum seems on the whole to have worked very satisfactorily.

I enclose a list showing, inter alia, so far as I have details, the Members of the United Nations which are also members of the League and of the ILO. It may be useful to set them out in this way in view of the questions which arise regarding the suggested transfer of certain functions, assets, &c. of the League of Nations to the United Nations Organisation.

32 States are Members of United Nations, League, and ILO; 8 States are Members of the United Nations and of the ILO; 11 States are Members of the United Nations, but are not Members of the League nor of the ILO; 12 States are Members of the League and of the ILO but not of the United Nations; and 2 States are Members of the ILO, but not of the League nor of the United Nations.

A question on which I am not clear is the following: what would be the position of a Member which failed to negotiate to a conclusion, or to ratify, the special agreement or agreements referred to in Article 43 of the Charter?

1 Marginal note by Frederick H. Boland with regard to the entire letter: 'Legal Advisor, the logic is decidedly wobbly'.

2 Marginal note by Frederick H. Boland: 'Why?'

3 Words underlined by Boland and with marginal note '??'.

4 Speech by Éamon de Valera at the League of Nations Assembly, Geneva, 2 July 1936. See DIFP IV, No. 347.

5 Edward J. Phelan (1888-1967), Director General of the International Labour Office (1941-8).

6 Underlined by Boland with '??!!' in the margin.

7 Speech by Éamon de Valera at the League of Nations Assembly, Geneva, 2 July 1936. See DIFP IV, No. 347.

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