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This Week in History

August 19-25, 1944
Dumbarton Oaks Conference Erects Framework for United Nations

August 2012

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

On August 23, 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt received the delegates to the Dumbarton Oaks Conference at the White House and, in extemporaneous remarks, he told them that their deliberations would "not be a final task, but at least it gives us something to build on, so that we can accomplish the one thing that humanity has been looking forward to for a great many hundreds of years," i.e., peace and security for all the nations of the world. The meetings were held at a Harvard-owned estate, called Dumbarton Oaks, in Washington, D.C.

These planning sessions for the future United Nations Organization were conducted in two phases. From August 21 to September 28, the participants were the United States, the United Kingdom and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In the second phase, from September 29 to October 7, Russia's place was taken by the Republic of China. The conference had to be divided because Russia and China had different positions in the war against Japan: China was a belligerent and Russia was neutral. The proposals resulting from the two phases were submitted to all four governments as a document entitled "Proposals for the Establishment of a General International Organization."

Franklin Roosevelt had worked long and hard to move negotiations to this point. In 1943, the President had tasked Secretary of State Cordell Hull with the responsibility of forming a group within the State Department which would plan for a postwar international organization dealing with problems of peace and security.

Dumbarton Oaks, 3101 R Street NW, Washington, D.C.

In January of 1944, Roosevelt studied a State Department paper which summarized the results of the group's work, and then, in February, the President authorized Hull to move ahead with planning for the organization's structure. These plans, with a few changes, would become the Roosevelt Administration's proposals to the Dumbarton Oaks Conference. The other three major Allied Powers also developed ideas for the organization and sent them to each other for comments before the actual conference began.

Roosevelt wanted Congress to be in on the planning process, and he wanted it to be non-partisan. He also did everything he could to see that the planners did not get bogged down in minor details which could derail the process. Secretary Hull established a foreign policy liaison to the Senate, where he met often with a special Senate committee on postwar plans which became known as the Committee of Eight. The membership included the generally isolationist Arthur Vandenberg, as well as Robert LaFollette and the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tom Connally. Secretary Hull showed the State Department's draft plans to the Congressmen in confidence, and they were pleased that it reserved a veto for the U.S. and the other major powers, and that it did not propose an international police force.

Roosevelt had been worried about the isolationist bloc within the Congress, but in September of 1943 the Republicans issued the Mackinac Declaration, drafted by Senators Vandenberg and Taft. Although that document insisted that the United States must not give up its sovereignty to any new world organization, it also stated that it was possible to be loyal to the United States and still believe in postwar international cooperation to end military aggression. Senator Vandenberg himself, after reading the proposal for the UNO, said: "This is anything but a wild-eyed internationalist dream of a world state. On the contrary, it is a framework to which I can and do heartily subscribe."

Also in October of 1943, Roosevelt sent Secretary Hull to Moscow to meet with British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden and Foreign Secretary Molotov of the Soviet Union. The Moscow Conference resulted in the three governments pledging to cooperate in the period following the end of hostilities. In addition, China also signed a declaration in which the four nations recognized the "necessity of establishing at the earliest practicable date a general international organization based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all peace-loving states, and open to membership by all such states, large and small, for the maintenance of international peace and security."

In November of 1943, President Roosevelt signed an agreement establishing the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. At this point, "United Nations" referred to the Allied Powers, which were fighting the Axis Powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan. In his remarks at the signing, Roosevelt said: "As in most of the difficult and complex things of life, nations will learn to work together only by actually working together." Roosevelt was hopeful that the large-scale cooperative efforts during the war, such as Lend Lease, the combined Chiefs of Staff, and technical and scientific cooperation would provide experience for handling the inevitable postwar strains between the allies.

By the spring of 1944, Roosevelt began to take concrete proposals to the American people. In mid-March, he gave an interview to a writer and later approved two articles, one with his account of the Tehran Conference and the other containing his thoughts on the postwar world order. They appeared in the isolationist Saturday Evening Post in May. Then, on May 26, Roosevelt announced that a conference to deal with postwar international economic problems would be held at Bretton Woods, N.H. during the summer.

On Memorial Day, Secretary Hull announced that the United States was inviting Great Britain, Soviet Russia, and China to discuss postwar security problems and that they would meet at the end of the summer. On June 15, the White House made public the essentials of the State Department's draft charter for the United Nations Organization, including details such as a Council, Assembly, and a World Court.

The Presidential Statement issued that day said: "We are not thinking of a superstate with its own police forces and other paraphernalia of coercive power. We are seeking effective agreement and arrangements through which the Nations would maintain, according to their capacities, adequate forces to meet the needs of preventing war and of making impossible deliberate preparations for war, and to have such forces available for joint action when necessary."

On Aug. 29, while the delegates were deliberating, Roosevelt held a press conference where the topic of the United Nations was brought up by the reporters. One commented that a document just released by the three chief delegates to the Dumbarton Oaks Conference, which contained a general outline for a world security organization, very much resembled Roosevelt's draft released on June 15. Roosevelt answered that although he had been talking about such an organization "on and off the stump since 1919," no one person could be given credit for the idea.

"It's like back in 1933," said the President, "when I sent a message to Congress about the Civilian Conservation Corps camps, and they authorized them. And we started the CCC camps. Well, it was something I had been thinking about a great deal, and I had, as a result—after they got going, after everybody liked them—I didn't claim authorship of them, but I did send a message to Congress—I had, I suppose, seven or eight letters from people who said, 'I wrote you in nineteen hundred and twenty-nine that we ought to have some kind of camps,' or 'I wrote you in 1930 and outlined the whole plan. Will you please give me credit for the idea.'

"Well, I suppose there were 500 people that have brought the idea of CCC camps to my mind. I merely happened to be in a position where I could properly recommend it to Congress.

"Now, on this plan that they are talking about at Dumbarton Oaks, nobody is the author of it. It's a general idea, and they are putting it down on paper in such form that all the Nations of the world can talk it over before they all express their views in a meeting. Nothing is hard and fast. This is the very first step."

The result of the Dumbarton Oaks Conference was an outline of the principles, purposes, membership and general organization of a new international body, which was to be called the United Nations. The UN was to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, and to take steps to solve economic, social, and other humanitarian problems. Most of the organizational pattern for the organization was eventually incorporated into the UN Charter, including the provisions for a general assembly, security council, international court of justice, secretariat, and an economic and social council.

No agreement was reached on the problem of voting procedure in the Security Council, and this was not solved until the Yalta Conference (Feb. 4-11, 1945). The final proposals made at Dumbarton Oaks were made the basis for discussion at an international conference of all the United Nations at San Francisco, which began on April 25, 1945, not quite two weeks after President Roosevelt's death on April 12.



The original article was published in the EIR Online’s Electronic Intelligence Weekly, as part of an ongoing series on history, with a special emphasis on American history. We are reprinting and updating these articles now to assist our readers in understanding of the American System of Economy.