Published Date

January 1, 1946

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

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

We have not the space to examine all the earlier proposals for a world security league. For the moment, however, we may recall some of the steps in United Nations cooperation that led up to the San Francisco Conference. These steps were taken as a direct result of the war in which a growing number of nations—some of them exiled governments and local undergrounds—were ranged against Axis aggression. Each step was taken with the final objective in mind of a postwar world security organization.

The Atlantic Charter. When President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill met on the high seas in August 1941, they drafted a declaration of “certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they base their hopes for a better future for the world.” This statement, which became known as the Atlantic Charter, included clauses on transfers of territory, collective security against aggression, economic and social cooperation, self-government of peoples, free communications, and equal trade opportunities.

The fact that the leaders of the United States and Great Britain subscribed to these principles jointly gave the Atlantic Charter an importance far beyond a simple personal declaration. It enlisted this country-while we were still neutral-in the cause of creating a workable world security system.

The United Nations Declaration. Less than a month after Pearl Harbor (January 1, 1942), the United Nations came officially into existence at Washington, when 26 nations fighting the Axis subscribed to the Atlantic Charter and signed a joint declaration of common aims. Almost as many more have since adhered to the declaration.

The Moscow Declaration. As the war progressed, it became evident that the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, with China in the Far East, would necessarily carry the major burden of the war against the Axis. These four countries-and later France-began to collaborate even more closely on war strategy and peace aims. Since the USSR had a treaty of mutual nonaggression with Japan, however, the Russians could not participate in conferences on the Far Eastern war.

At the close of the Moscow Conference of October 1943, the foreign ministers of the United States, Russia, and Great Britain and the Chinese ambassador in Moscow issued a momentous declaration. It provided, among other matters of a military character, a common recognition of “the necessity of establishing at the earliest practicable date a general international organization for the maintenance of international peace and security.” This was the first official step toward establishing the organization created by the San Francisco Charter. Its language was almost immediately echoed in the Connally Resolution passed in the United States Senate by overwhelming vote.

The Dumbarton Oaks Proposals. Within a year, the outlines of the world security organization had been drafted. Representatives of the United States, Great Britain, Russia, and China met at the Dumbarton Oaks estate in Washington, D. C., in the fall of 1944. On October 7, 1944 was issued a detailed blueprint which became the framework of the San Francisco Charter. The Dumbarton Oaks Proposals provided the peoples of the world with their first specific view of how aggression was to be treated in the future.

One major issue was not settled at Dumbarton Oaks. Should a state be allowed to vote in the settlement of a dispute to which it is a party and, more than that, on the question of its own guilt as an aggressor? This matter of voting is probably the most difficult of all the political problems in creating a workable world security organization.

The world has long since reached the stage of prohibiting a man accused of crime from voting on his own guilt. We have not reached that stage about sovereign states in the international community. The issue of whether a state involved in a dispute or charged with being an aggressor should vote in its own case proved insoluble at Dumbarton Oaks, and the problem of finding an acceptable compromise was left to a later meeting.

The Yalta Conference. In February of 1945 President Roosevelt met for the last time with Prime Minister Churchill and Premier Stalin, at Yalta in the Crimea. The “Big Three” issued a call for a United Nations conference at San Francisco on April 25.

An agreement on the voting procedure to be followed in settling disputes and in cases of alleged aggression was also arrived at but was not announced till March 5. We shall analyze it in detail later (see The Security Council Vote).

Next section: What Were the Problems Faced at San Francisco?