Published Date

January 1, 1946

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 19: Building a Workable Peace (1946)

As has already been noted, the United States and Russia are the two most powerful nations today—and will be for a long time to come. If these two nations, together with the British Commonwealth of Nations, agree on a common policy of peace, no large-scale war can be started by any other power.

The brilliant young Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote of the relations of these two countries over a century ago in his Democracy in America. “Their starting-point,” he said, “is different and their courses are not the same; yet each of them seems marked out by the will of Heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe.”

What Tocqueville wrote in 1835 seems prophetic for 1945-and the years beyond. Our primary interest and our primary responsibility lie in the direction of helping to maintain a stable and a lasting peace. With Russia, as of course with all the other United Nations, we share that interest and responsibility.

The balance of forces lies, however, for the moment and for some time to come, with these two powers. To the extent that the United States and Russia agree to agree-and honor their engagements-the machinery created by the Charter will operate effectively and cooperatively. No argument is necessary to indicate our interest and our responsibility to see that this objective of our foreign policy is achieved.


What about our influence in world affairs?

The United States stands today as one of the most powerful nations in the world. This is true not merely of our material resources. It is true also of our prestige and influence on the hopes and ideals of the peoples of nearly every country in the world.

With that power, material and moral, we can-indeed, shall inevitably-exert a dominant influence on the course of international affairs in the future. We cannot escape the role which our national energy and our material resources have marked out for us. The power we possess we can use to any end, for any purpose, we decide upon.

The interest of the United States in helping to maintain a stable peace is obvious. Our domestic prosperity depends on peace-to allow for an expanding world trade from which we can profit. Our capacity to utilize our resources for advancing our domestic economic standards and social security depends on it. If we are to avoid, in the words of the Charter “the diversion for armaments of [our] human and economic resources,” then peace is indispensable.

Not only is peace indispensable, “it is indivisible,” as Maxim Litvinov, Soviet representative, once said in the League of Nations Assembly. We can no longer remain insulated from the effects of economic and social-or political-conflicts in other parts of the world. Unless we cooperate positively and continuously to maintain peace, we shall be, as we have been twice during the past quarter century, sucked into the vortex of world war.

Is the Charter perfect? Can it be improved?

Like our Constitution the Charter provides for its amendment. An amendment must be voted by two-thirds of the General Assembly and ratified by two-thirds of the members, including the permanent members of the Security Council. Ratification must be by the constitutional procedure as to treaty making of each country. A general conference for revision of the Charter may be called by a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly and any seven members of the Security Council, If a general conference has not been called before the tenth annual session of the General Assembly, the question must be placed on the agenda; a majority vote of the General Assembly and of seven members of the Security Council will convene it.

Some people argue that until the Charter is perfected, until it incorporates an ideal place for world government, we should not place our faith in it. This is an old argument; we have been confronted by it before in our history.

The framers of our Constitution embarked on an experiment which, in 1787, could hardly have seemed less hazardous than the experiment of the Charter in 1945. There were doubters then, those who thought that until the Constitution was a more perfect document we had better not attempt to set up a national government. No one then could foresee with any certainty whether the Constitution would work. When the Constitution was drafted and the convention about to adjourn, Benjamin Franklin, the oldest and one of the most experienced members, spoke briefly. What he said is as relevant for us today and to the Charter as when he spoke on behalf of the Constitution.

“I confess that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not, at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them; for having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information or fuller consideration to change opinions, even on important subjects, which I once thought right but found to be otherwise. . . . In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general government necessary for us. . . . I doubt whether any other convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. . . . Thus I consent, Sir, to the Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors I sacrifice to the public good.”