STEAM ROLLER AT SAN FRANCISCO
SAN FRANCISCO—Take any amateur team, however good; put it up against even a fairly ordinary professional team, and the amateurs lose. That’s what happened in the first round at San Francisco.
Like most professionals, Viacheslav Michaelovich Molotov looks quite unlike the Hollywood conception of his calling. You might take him for a trade-union secretary—neat dark suit and hard collar; mustache greying from the top down (curious effect) and grey hair with large bald spot; square solid figure; blunt speech and abrupt, decisive gestures.
He has few of diplomacy’s lighter skills. For one thing, he speaks nothing but Russian, so he has to work through a ritual of translation that’s just as cumbrous as you’d expect. We used to watch him at the plenary sessions of the conference, calmly writing away in a big loose-leaf notebook while his interpreter listened to the speeches. Every once in a while the interpreter would give a nudge and Molotov would put down his pencil and applaud. Then he’d go back to his writing.
Molotov’s aides don’t look like diplomats either. Most of them are big, wooden-faced men in blue serge
suits, taking notes on everything and saying nothing. None looks as if he’d feel at home with a teacup in his hand.
But as Molotov remarked to the Mexican delegate at the first meeting of the conference steering committee, this is no tea party. These Russians may be ignorant of French and innocent of striped trousers, but they earn a living as diplomats in a country where men still are shot sometimes for making mistakes. Molotov and Company seldom make mistakes.
At San Francisco they were stepping into a difficult situation and they knew it. Marshal Stalin had made out pretty well at Yalta. He’d got Poland’s eastern frontier fixed at the Curzon Line, a decision Prime Minister Churchill had some trouble in defending when he got home. And he’d got his two major Allies pledged to support the admission of two Soviet republics, the Ukraine and White Russia, as separate members of the new organization—a decision that was kept secret for some weeks, but which, when the New York Herald Tribune did smoke it out, caused President Roosevelt even more trouble in the United States.
Yalta wasn’t enough for Russia. She needed other things—a friendly and amenable government in Poland, whatever “reorganization” might take place; a fairly free hand in eastern Europe, Austria for instance; a lot -of economic aid in the reconstruction ( period, like the $6 billions loans he was even then
The roller was papiermache—It didn’t flatten Molotov, and U. S. observers think Uncle Sam shouldn’t have driven it
trying to negotiate in Washington. Moreover she wanted to get these things without sacrificing anything she really valued—such as the much cherished veto power in the new security council, which would guarantee her for all time against another humiliation like her expulsion from the League in 1939, but which was under a hail of criticism in the United States and Britain.
But in getting and preserving all this, Stalin and Molotov had, above all, to avoid one thing—permanent sacrifice of friendly relations with the Western democracies. Russia, after all, has the same stake in friendship with us as we have in friendship with her. If anything, her stake is greater than ours. Molotov knew, when he left Moscow, of the arrest of 16 Polish underground men who emerged to negotiate reorganizing the Warsaw regime. He knew it would put on Allied harmony its worst strain since 1941, for the Americans had already decided the Yalta concessions were plenty—too much, if anything. The new policy, stemming directly from President Harry Truman, was, “Stand up to the Russians.”
If the Commissar did know this, he took for his slogan, “Attack is the best defense.” From the mofnent the conference began, Molotov’s line was to needle the Americans, to challenge them on trivial points. In quick succession he tossed in objections on the chairmanship, the choice of a working language, the question of whether or not to invite the World Labor Congress (boycotted by the AFL) to the conference. On all these points he would elicit American opposition, then give way fast enough to make it appear that he was the aggrieved but conciliatory party.
But this was mere skirmishing, feinting and shifting for position as the game opened. Fast play began with the Argentine issue, over the first week end of the conference. And to understand what went on in that mock-epic struggle, we must look into some previous events and some personalities.
Unlike Mr. Molotov, Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., might very well pose for a film shot of the young diplomat. He is just 44, tall and well-proportioned and almost aggressively handsome. His pure white hair is an arresting contrast to the tanned, unwrinkled brow. His smile beams like a revolving searchlight, and his deep masculine voice fills a hall without effort.
But for a United States Secretary of State, Mr. Stettinius has had a remarkably brief career in diplomacy. His background was in the steel business, where he succeeded his father as United States Steel president and where his forte was public relations. He entered government service as an executive, served a term as Lend-Lease Administrator, and joined the State Department less than two years ago.
The techniques of negotiation, and of international conference, are subtle and hard to define. Like many difficult things they look easy, and the better they’re done the easier they look. But most people who have these skills had to spend years acquiring them. Before the conference was two days old, several incidents, trivial in themselves, had made some older delegates wonder whether young Mr. Stettinius would be abley after only two years of experience, to move fast enough in moments of difficulty.
HE NEVER had a chance for much practice. The Argentine crisis, which, for all its overtones of humor, was probably one of the most serious of the whole show, blew up on him almost immediately, and it seemed to take the entire delegation by surprise.
American policy toward Argentina had lately suffered an abrupt reversal. Under Cordell Hull’s leadership the United States had refused all recognition to the Farrell-Peron regime in Buenos Aires, a regime established by a coup d'état which openly and flagrantly gave aid and comfort to the Axis, and which provided a headquarters for Nazi propaganda and espionage in the Western Hemisphere. Mr. Hull cut off all relations with the regime and persuaded the Latin-American states to do likewise. There was some pressure on other Allies too. Britain, for instance, was criticized by many for continuing to buy Argentine meat—there were hints that she cared more about trade interests and investments in Argentina than about discouraging Argentine Fascism. Nonsense, the British said. They’d stop buying Argentine beef if the Americans could give them meat in its place. The Americans, of course, had no more meat to spare, so the argument broke off at that point. But some rancor remained on both sides.
Then suddenly personnel and policy at Washington were changed. Tired and broken in health, Secretary Hull resigned. His senior aide, Sumner Welles, had been ousted a year before over policy differences. Mr. Stettinius, who had Continued on page 58
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replaced Mr. Welles as undersecretary, moved up another notch, and it was perhaps natural that for aid and counsel he turned often to another State Department newcomer, young Nelson Rockefeller. They have rather similar backgrounds—Rockefeller, too, is the son of a wealthy family, lately come to the business of diplomacy.* And Rockefeller’s specialty—his work, his hobby, his pet—is Latin America.
Nelson Rockefeller is a good-looking, earnest, young man, not yet out of his thirties, and you have only to listen to him for five minutes to believe that he is as sincere as he is zealous. It’s equally evident that he’s an intelligent man. But it’s perhaps fair to say that his intelligence is not of the competitive or combative sort—that he has the mind of a Ph.D. rather than the mind of a good quarterback. People who know him fairly well confirmed this first impression, and agree that he has a tendency to concentrate so closely on the beloved task in hand that he fails to see it in its proper relation to other things.
It was Nelson Rockefeller, mainly, who changed the policy toward Argentina. His theory is that the Argentine people are not inherently Fascist, whatever their government may be, but that they are inherently proud, sensitive, and suspicious of North American domination. Any attempt to push an Argentine Government around, he thinks, will defeat its own purpose and actually strengthen that government at home. He would let Argentine liberals liberalize their own state.
It was Rockefeller, too, who ran the Pan-American Conference at Mexico j City in March. He offered no objection to the pledge then given to Argentina: ! “Mend your ways, declare war on your friends Hitler and Hirohito and we’ll do what we can for you at San Francisco.”
And it was Rockefeller who, in committee at San Francisco, seemed to have the ear of the secretary. While AVerell Harriman, U. S. Ambassador to Moscow, would be sitting alone, a
few seats away, looking glum, Rockefeller would usually be at Stettinius’ side. And there seems to be little doubt that it was his view that carried, on Argentina.
Molotov Forced the Issue
But it was Molotov who, deliberately or not, forced the issue of Argentina. He did it by demanding immediately, as soon as the steering committee was formed and the chairmanship fight settled, that White Russia and the Ukraine be regarded eligible for separate membership in the organization.
This, you’ll remember, was accepted by Messrs. Churchill and Roosevelt at Yalta. The Latin Americans, Catholic and anti-Communist, didn’t like it much, but President Roosevelt had given his word—so the United States went “down the line” for the Russians and talked the Latin Americans into voting yes. Acceptance was therefore unanimous.
Instantly the Russians presented a second demand—let the Ukraine and White Russia be invited to send representatives to this conference. More hesitation, more persuasion. Finally the Latin Americans said, all right, they’d vote yes again. But this time, they said, they’d demand their price in cash—immediate decision for the Argentine question.
“Okay,” Washington said, “it’s a deal.”
White Russia and the Ukraine were invited, again unanimously. And on the Saturday night in Secretary Stettinius’ apartment the Western democracies, aided by Mexico, Brazil and Chile, set about explaining the deal to the Russians, so as to straighten out the Argentine affair and make that unanimous too.
They got a shock. Russia didn’t understand the workings of international democracy. The Russians said they’d made no deal; they’d never heard of Argentina. If anybody wanted to make a deal, they’d offer one right now: Invite the Warsaw Government of Poland to this conference and they’d pass Argentina. Otherwise, no dice.
Commissar Molotov must have known the proposition wouldn’t go down. Even if the Americans had taken it the British would hav« refused. It was an attempt to shortcircuit the Yalta Agreement by winning de facto recognition for the Lublin Poles. Mr. Molotov had already raised the question in committee and he’d been voted down decisively. But on no other terms would he discuss Argentina.
Monday they fought it out in committee from nine in the morning until two. Same result. And then Molotov did what he’d said he would do, while the Americans thought he was bluffing —he carried his fight to the Press and the floor of the open plenary session.
In public and for the record he quoted Hull and Roosevelt, rolling the epithets on his tongue with evident relish: “Argentina . . . headquarters
of a Fascist movement in this hemisphere . . . Source of infection . . . Extraordinary paradox of the growth of Nazi-Fascist influence in this hemisphere while these forces of oppression are drawing ever closer to final defeat in Europe.”
It sounded good, all right, said Mr. Molotov, looking like a cat full of canaries: “I consider these statements authoritative and reliable. But the situation in Argentina may have changed since they were uttered. All I should like to ask is that the Soviet and other delegations be given a chance to acquaint themselves with the facts at least a few days more.”
As Paul Spaak of Belgium said, it seemed “a reasonable and legitimate request.” But the Latin Americans didn’t agree. In excited zeal they followed one another to the rostrum to assert that Latin Americans had done their part by voting for the agreement of Yalta. Now let Russia roll her end of the log, and vote for the Agreement of Mexico City.
Peru’s Ambassador Belaunde cited Argentina’s “great literary movement,” and the fact that in 1890 Argentina had condemned all territorial conquest. Mexico’s Ezequiel Padilla delivered the following immortal sentence: “While
it’s true that Argentina’s Government accidentally divorced itself from the
sentiments of the people, it would not be fair to punish the people for an accidental separation of the Government from these deep-rooted sentiments of her nation.”
Last speaker was Secrètary Stettinius: “American republics earnestly desire to have Argentina at this conference. The United States Government is in entire accord with that desire. I plead that you reach a decision in this matter and act now, that we may get on with our sacred task.”
The vote was 28-7 against the Russian plea for delay, and then 31-4 in favor of admitting Argentina.
But Who Won?
It all sounds rather funny, looking back on it now, but it was heartbreaking to watch at the time. For one thing that should never be allowed to happen
isolation of Russia from the worldseemed to have happened, and over what? Over a mere question of procedure, whether to act now or wait a few days.
We reporters were called downstairs from the Press boxes, with our hearts in our boots, and we were by no means cheered by the delegates and advisers in the lower corridors. To a man they had long faces. All agreed that it had been a terrible thing. Some thought Russia might walk out of the conference forthwith; others thought she’d stay but that Molotov would go home, and that his aide would follow a policy of obstruction.
But even then some of us remembered that Molotov had looked anything but glum at his press conference and during*his speech to the conference. He’d almost seemed to think he was facing victory instead of crushing defeat.
But nobody really understood that expression at the time. Late afternoon headlines screamed, “Molotov beaten in vote.” The Americans went off triumphant at having “stood up to £he Russians,” and the Latin Americans held a mutual admiration festival in their hotel lobby and bar.
Sobriety came with the dawn. People began to realize what the “victory” of yesterday really meant.
When you recalled just who had voted for what, you could see that the vote had been completely phony. Of •the whole 28 nations in that “crushing” majority only four, except for Brazil, had made any active contribution to the war whatever. Those were the United States itself, Britain, Canada and Australia. And everyone knew that the Commonwealth Nations had voted thus to please Washington and for no other reason. Australia’s Dr. Evatt bluntly said so—he and his colleague had cast their vote “with reluctance and anxiety,” he said, just as a favor to the Americans.
Mr. King was silent, but CCF Leader M. J. Coldwell said he thought the Canadian vote had been a “mistake.” Only the British kept their view completely to themselves, and even at that it was no secret.
Voting with Russia, or abstaining altogether, were France, and the whole Continent of Europe, China and India, New Zealand and South Africa. In other words, this vote had shown that the United States, backed by a collection of international “rotten boroughs,” could defeat (on paper) the entire Eurasian continent and the effective armed strength of the whole world.
“Sovereign Equality” had been reduced to an absurdity. Pan-America had voted the rest of the world down for the lofty purpose—God save the mark—of admitting to the United Nations the only admittedly Fascist
state in the Western Hemisphere, one which Washington had taken the lead in so denouncing.
And this Fascist state was to be admitted, not next week, not tomorrow, but today, now. This was the issue on which Russia had been forced to stand seemingly alone.
We began to see why Mr. Molotov had looked so cheerful in his “defeat.” Actually, of course, he didn’t care much about Argentina—no vital interest of the Soviet Union was involved in whether the papier-maché Pan-American steam roller consisted of 19 votes or 20. But he had stood on perfectly solid moral ground with his argument against this Government that President Roosevelt himself had branded Fascist. His was the role of one who’d rather be right, and his demand for a public vote had put the United States and her Latin-American retinue openly and hopelessly in the wrong. This challenge to the democracies’ moral leadership was to come in handy a few days later when Moscow’s highly unorthodox treatment of the 16 Poles was revealed. But in addition it had an immediate usefulness.
In just four days the policy of “stand up to the Russians” had been blown higher than a kite. Arthur Krock, pundit of the New York Times, wrote a column the day he left Washington, stating flatly that President Truman had accepted the counsel of one army-navy faction to take “a firm stand” with Russia. Within a day or two of the Argentina vote Mr. Krock was uttering equally well-informed pleas for Big Three solidarity.
Unanimously the big guns of serious
American newspapers swung round on the State Department. Walter Lippman reported the “astonishment and dismay” of “every experienced observer with whom I talked” at the disastrous tactics of Monday afternoon. Sumner Welles, on the radio, took the policy apart with icy precision. The New York Post reported that Cordell Hull, in hospital but connected to San Francisco by direct phone line, had called up to give the Argentine affair a Tennessee tongue-lashing.
And in several ways, it’s true, the Argentine development had been thoroughly bad. For one thing, it had considerably strengthened whatever arguments Mr. Molotov might wish to present against any source tampering with Dumbarton Oaks. One of the most important American amendments—the “peaceful change” clause, which was said to be the very minimum price for Senate approval, would curtail the Great Powers’ veto rights by increasing considerably the power of the General Assembly where all Nations vote alike. The exhibition of Monday afternoon was certainly no help t© the Assembly.
For another thing, perhaps even more serious, it had dealt a real blow to the moral prestige of the conference in general and the western democracies in particular. The Argentine deal was frankly a horse trade. It was hardly an auspicious beginning of the task Mr. Stettinius had called “sacred,” and in which three dozen speakers had sonorously proclaimed, “We dare not fail.”
But there were benefits, too, that may have offset these loases. It’s too
soon to judge as these lines are written, but, initially at least, the incidents of the first four days have brought a new spirit of calm and conciliation into the councils of the Big Three. The Americans, no longer preoccupied with “standing up to the Russians,” drafted a set of amendments which now included only one controversial point. The British, on hand with a professional team headed by Eden and the brilliant Viscount Cranborne, began to play a somewhat more prominent role after having kept pretty carefully and successfully on the sidelines during the storms of the first week.
And the Russians, to everyone’s pleased surprise, began to behave quite differently. Apparently Molotov, having shown with what skill he could fight if anybody wanted to fight, was now showing enough statesmanlike tact to say, “All right, now let’s get on with the job.”
On the very evening of April 30, within three hours of the Argentine vote, the Big Three met for a private conference, which was officially described as “the most harmonious meet-
ing we’ve had yet.” And in steering committee next morning people who had half expected to hear Molotov announce he was taking off for home heard instead a rather witty little speech delivered in high good nature. Voting procedure was under discussion. Mr. Molotov, with a grin, said, “I found out yesterday that this is a very important matter.”
Up to this moment, except for the Polish bombshell, all the meetings have appeared to be equally harmonious. No solution for the Polish issue has become apparent up to now, but the fact that work is proceeding at all is taken as an indication that both sides feel a solution is possible. This does not in itself guarantee the success of the conference—there are still real issues between the Great Powers and issues between large and smaller powers that don’t proceed from any mere differences of personality. They will not be easy to resolve. But hope for their solution has not waned, it has waxed.
Perhaps in the end the bloodletting of the first few days won’t have been a bad thing for the peace of the world.