Published Date

January 1, 1946

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

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

The United Nations Conference on International Organization (UNCIO) met at San Francisco in the face of many difficulties and some doubt as to its success. There was a certain amount of distrust evident in the attitudes and actions of many of the delegations. That the distrust was removed and the Charter finally approved by unanimous vote is a tribute to the efforts of all parties and the willingness of all to compromise some of their extreme demands.

Quite naturally, the 50 nations which wrote the Charter did not all see eye to eye on the provisions they wanted to include in it. There were very serious problems and differences of opinion to be overcome. Solutions were found largely through the give and take of debate and negotiation. Whether the solutions were sound depends on the willingness of the member states to keep pushing for their success. Before we look at the machinery set up by the San Francisco conferees, it may be well to examine some of the major problems they had to face.



The conference faced membership questions of two kinds. In the first place it had to decide on applications from several nations who wanted to be represented at San Francisco. Then it had to determine the rules for admission to the United Nations Organization of those nations which might ask for membership at some later time.

In the first group were Argentina, Ukraine, White Russia, Poland, and Denmark. Argentina had hurriedly declared war on Germany and Japan in order to get in on the conference, but was suspected of still harboring fascist sympathies. Its admission was strongly opposed by Russia and supported by the Latin American countries and the United States. On a showdown vote Argentina was admitted.

Separate membership for the Soviet republics of Ukraine and White Russia in addition to that of the Soviet Union had been asked by Stalin at Yalta and agreed to by Roosevelt and Churchill. The conference approved and seated representatives of those two states. Inasmuch as the tangled problem of a Polish government mutually satisfactory to the Big Three had not yet been settled, Poland was not admitted to the conference. The way was left open for its later adherence.

When the conference opened, Denmark was occupied by the Nazis and had no exile government. It was liberated during the session, applied for admission, and was unanimously accepted. A potential Spanish application was discouraged in advance with equal unanimity because of the Franco government’s close ties with the Axis.

The question of later, membership in the United Nations organization involved the neutral nations of the world which were not invited to San Francisco because they were not contributing to the defeat of Germany and Japan. It also involved the ex-enemy nation, Italy, and the various satellite nations of the Axis. And finally it concerned the two major enemies themselves, Germany and Japan. How the conference answered this question we shall see later.

The big nations and the small ones

The next problem arose out of the difficulty of reconciling the theory of international law-that all nations are equal-with the facts of international life-that some are much more powerful and influential than others. The great powers, realizing that they would be responsible for supplying most of the military forces for keeping the peace, wanted to have the most to say about when, where, and how—and if—they should be called upon to act.

The small nations, on the other hand, insisting that they were sovereign equals of the great powers—which in most cases were the aggressors anyway—thought they should have just as much to say.

Closely related to this issue of whether the big powers should have a larger voice in the affairs of the international organization was their demand for the right to veto the use of international force against themselves. This demand rested on the fact of their power and again was opposed by the small powers.

The need for speed

Blitzkrieg-lightning war-was an adequate word for the kind of sudden and overwhelming attack, launched without warning, that Germany, Italy, and Japan practiced in World War II. A new word, something faster than lightning, will have to be coined if there should be another war. Military developments make it likely that the initial assault will come from greater distances at greater speed with greater devastation.

If aggression is to be averted, therefore, the forces used to prevent it must be available for almost instantaneous use. An international organization that can effectively keep the peace against would-be peacebreaking nations must be armed and authorized to use force if, as, and whenever necessary. Such a blank check of power in the hands of an international body, however, runs up against the desire of all nations that supply a share of the international force to be consulted before it is put to use. Here was another problem for San Francisco to solve.


Another problem grew out of the existence of three regional systems of mutual aid, one in Europe, one in the Arab world, and one in the Americas. The first is the wartime alliance of Great Britain, Russia, France, Czechoslovakia, and other nations through a network of bilateral treaties to last for 20 years. The second is the newly forged Arab League, and the third is the Pan American system, reinforced at the Mexico City conference just a few months earlier.

The question here was how to fit these regional security systems into the world security program. Should the regional organization step aside when the world organization came on the scene or should the latter hold off until the local authorities called for help?

Dependent areas

The question of what to do with non-self-governing areas of the world was partly a war problem. What should be done about the former Italian colonies, the former Japanese mandated islands, and the illegally acquired parts of the Japanese Empire? But it also was concerned with colonial and dependent peoples who had for long been under the supervision of one or another of the victor nations.

By the widest possible definition, the problem could be made to include not only the peoples of the Libyan Desert and the Pacific islands, but those of Puerto Rico and Burma as well. Or, at the other extreme, the definition could limit the problem only to liberated enemy territory and mean nothing for the people involved but an exchange of masters.

Economic and social issues

Wars do not start of themselves; most people recognize that economic restrictions and social pressures are potent factors in pushing nations to make war. A nation may or may not be a “have-not” in natural resources. But if it thinks itself lacking in the necessities of national safety, and especially if it thinks other nations are denying it these necessities, it will go to extremes to get them.

Readjustment, compromise, and cooperation among nations in economic and social matters is thus an imperative requirement of lasting peace. But nations ordinarily feel that their tariffs, wage and hour laws, monetary systems, immigration laws, and the like are not matters of international concern. Here was one of the problems to be faced at San Francisco: how to reconcile the universal desire of avoiding war with the almost equally strong desire not to let any international body “interfere in domestic affairs.”


The final problem in any such organization is whether its constitution is to be rigid and relatively unchangeable or whether it is to be open to comparatively easy amendment. In the one case it runs the risk of becoming obsolete as conditions in the world change; in the other it chances becoming as inconstant as a weather vane before the shifting winds of international politics.

Next section: What Machinery Was Set Up at San Francisco?