BACKSTAGE AT SAN FRANCISCO
What really happened at San Francisco? . . .Was it a success or a failure?—Blair Fraser gives you the inside story
Maclean’s Ottawa Editor
SAN FRANCISCO—Two basic questions have faced the United Nations here. One was, “Can we draft an acceptable charter?” The other was, “Can we make it work?” Or, more bluntly, “Can we get along with the Russians?” Despite a colossal amount of dogwork and one or two real difficulties still ahead, it looks as if the answer to the first question is yes. Within its limits the conference will succeed— and if the limits are narrower than some optimists had hoped, they’re already wider than many a pessimist feared. The answer to the second question is not so easy, as we shall see later.
Observers’ memory of this San Francisco conference is likely to be one of a vast and cheerful confusion. We’ll remember the interminable queues of the first few days, the axe grinders, who descended on the city like buzzards, The Press conferences called by every hobby horseman from Ely Culbertson to Henry Kaiser. We’ll remember the gay hospitality, somehow incongruous with our notions of a historic occasion— Gargantuan meals of California cracked crabs, tall drinks on top of Nob Hill, with the whole city spread out below us, walks at night through the clamor of Market Street, probably the only thoroughfare in the world with four parallel sets of tram tracks. San Francisco is a merry town, a grand town, but it’s also a brand-new town. It’s hard to picture it embalmed in history textbooks.
Hard to imagine, too, that these black-coated men with the brief cases, and the tired eyes, hurrying from committee to committee with the urgency of the White Rabbit, are the statesmen our children will be reading about, the architects of a new world order. And, of course, not all of them are good at it. Some of the confusion hasn’t been cheerful at all.
Some committees spent whole days wrangling over procedure, discussing for hours whether or not they had power to discuss this or that. One incompetent chairman let his committee get so utterly out of hand that it broke down in hysterical laughter, nobody knowing what was before the house, if anything; then, in a burst of firmness, he put five amendments to the vote, without discussion, in the space of 10 minutes. (They were all defeated so no harm was done.) And the younger delegates, who hadn’t been to Geneva, learned too that no Latin-American chairman ever calls a Latin-American speaker to order, no matter how far off the point he may be, for fear of offending a neighboring state.
Often it seemed incredible that anything permanent could come out of this hubbub. People remembered Harold Nicolson’s account of Paris, in 1919, where the confusion was real and deep, where the drafting of the peace did, in part at least, break down from sheer disorganization.
But that really hasn’t happened this time. San Francisco, for all its superficial disorder, has proceeded according to plan in the essentials. Despite all the waste effort and idle talk, the duplication and the labor at cross purposes, the basic outline has been there. The areas of agreement have been mapped and plotted, the areas of disagreement systematically attacked, the objectives always clearly in view. And from the end of the third week—from the time, that is, when Eden and Molotov went home—a substantial measure of success was a certainty.
Plenty of people assumed, before the conference met, that the Russians wouldn’t budge from the positions of Dumbarton Oaks and Yalta, that drafting amendments was largely a waste of time. Mr. Molotov knocked that idea on the head the first time he met the Press.
“If there were no intention to amend Dumbarton Oaks,” he said, with manifest common sense, “there would have been no point in calling the conference.” And within 10 days he had shown how much he meant that—no less than 26 amendments had been drafted and published, to be sponsored jointly by the Big Five.
Most of them were concerned with the addition of purposes and principles. Senator Arthur Vandenberg, one of the loudest critics of Dumbarton Oaks and a member of the American delegation, had a lot to do with these—inserting commitments to the principles of justice and international law, to the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms, to the selfdetermination of peoples. But nobody opposed these. Another Vandenberg amendment was a little more
controversial, the plan for a more flexible machinery of amending the charter. It’s still pretty rigid, and still subject to a variety of checks and vetoes, but it’s a little better than Dumbarton Oaks.
Still more argument was needed to put across the most important of all the Vandenberg amendments,
the provLsion for “peaceful change.” Originally this clause had specified that the general assembly might recommend the revision of treaties, including treaties signed during or after this war. The Russians would have none of this.
As finally watered down, the Vandenberg amendment authorized the assembly to recommend adjustment of “any situation, regardless of origin,” which it thought might impair the general welfare or international relations. After this version went through, Senator Vandenberg said the phrase, “regardless of
origin,” meant it could
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Backstage at San Francisco
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apply to revision of treaties. Mr. Molotov, the same day, told the Press that the idea of treaty revision had been “rejected as untenable.” Take your choice.
Russia Got What She Wanted
There the matter rests for the present. It may come up again, for “peaceful change” is one thin(^ on which the U. S. Senate is expected to insist, and they’ll want to be sure what they’re getting.
But whatever doubt may hover around that point, on the next two there is none. Here it’s the Russians who got what they wanted.
Relation of regional tie-ups to the central organization was one of the sorest questions of the whole conference —one which, at the time of writing, hasn’t been finally settled even yet, though a compromise solution seems to be on the way. But the Russians won, right off the bat, exemption for their bilateral pacts of mutual aid in Europe, the treaties with France and Czechoslovakia and Britain. These treaties will remain independent of the United Nations, and outside the supervision
i of the security council, until such time j as the signatory powers deem it safe to j bring them in.
This decision played considerable j hob with attempts to rise above region| alism in other parts of the world. Latin Americans, their hearts set on exempting the Act of Chapultepec from outside control, could say, “You gave exemption to the Russians, now give it to us or we quit.”
It made things no easier for that faction among the Americans who stuck to the concept of “one world” and the fundamental ideal of Dumbarton Oaks, and who wanted no challenge to the United Nations’ authority. Leader and spokesman of this group was Commander Harold Stassen, former Republican Governor of Minnesota and a man who may well be the Republican candidate for president in 1948. Stassen, perhaps the only member of the American delegation whose stature has increased during the San Francisco conference, can be recognized at a glance for an able man, and he’s a fighter. His presence on the delegation is as good an assurance as any that the compromise on regional tie-ups, just being hammered out as these lines are written, will not be a serious blow to world organization.
But if the exemption for treaties was a triumph for Russia, it was nothing compared to the great negative victory --the preservation of the Great Powers’ veto, as agreed upon at Yalta. This veto is by long odds the most unpopular thing in the whole Dumbarton Oaks charter. Not even the Great Powers themselves, except Russia, are in favor ot it. In an open vote it would be defeated by about 45 to one. Yet it hasn’t even been challenged head on, by anybody.
Attempts have been made, are still being made at this writing, to modify it in detail. For instance, it made far worse the already difficult problem of regional arrangements.
Dr. Herbert Evatt, the Australian Minister for External Affairs, made this point very loudly and strongly before he’d been in San Francisco an hour.
As Dumbarton Oaks stood, said Dr. Evatt pugnaciously, any state’s regional arrangements for security could be vetoed by any one of the five great powers—for regional arrangements were under the security council, and each great power could veto a council decision. Why, he enquired, should a pact for the defense of the southwest Pacific be so exposed to wanton interference?
All through the conference, echoes kept answering, “Why?”
Even the famous exemption for peaceful settlements, agreed upon at Yalta, turned out to be incomplete. The Yalta formula would prevent any great power from vetoing peaceful settlement of any dispute to which it was a party. But a great power not a party to the dispute could still veto anything, peaceful or otherwise.
But even if the veto stands, we’re no worse off than we were after Yalta —and everyone was prepared, however reluctantly, to swallow Yalta. There’s nothing else in sight on which serious disagreement can be expected. Question number one is answered—we shall have, one might almost say we already have, a charter.
But the second question, “Can we make it work?” underlies the first. Can we, in truth and in earnest, get along with the Russians?
It’s all very well to answer, “We must.” The fact is that San Francisco, for all its record of verbal agreement, has not yet justified our saying, with any degree of confidence, “We can.” Despite the ringing phrases of the j charter we’re all signing, there’s a long
hard road to co-operation and understanding still ahead.
We have no normal contact with the Russians, and so far we have made very little progress toward achieving it. That fact has long been known to diplomats and reporters in Moscow. American Ambassador Averell Harriman, British Ambassador Sir Archibald Clark Kerr, our own Dana Wilgress, all admit privately that although they like and admire the Russians, they don’t know what’s in their minds.
From arrival to departure the Russian delegates had a minimum of contact with the rest of the conference. Normally, half the value of these international shows is the opportunity they give to let keymen know each other. The informal parties, the long evenings of easy talk are often worth more than the written agreements. There was little of this with the Russians. Their delegation holed up on the tenth floor of the St. Francis Hotel, and its contact with the rest of the world was limited to a pretty rigid formality. Even at the nightly meetings in Stettinius’ penthouse apartment, neither he nor Eden seems to have made much contact with Molotov’s mind.
Best proof of this was the Polish bombshell. This was a complete surprise to the democracies, and to the British, at least, it was a body blow.
More than a month before, the London Poles had issued charges that their 15 emissaries to Moscow had disappeared. But the Communist Daily Worker came out a day or two later with what purported to be an interview with the Polish envoys, saying, in effect, “We’re here in Moscow, we’re negotiating, and we’re too busy to
bother sending messages home all the time.” It sounded plausible enough— some people at Westminster thought it likely that the sending of messages home wasn’t getting much encouragement, perhaps, but on the whole nobody thought anything of it.
Then, with the conference just a week old, the news came to San Francisco. Things had gone rather well up to then. There was the fuss over Argentina the first week end, but at least it had cleared the áir and restored a harmony which had been missing at the start. The Big Four and Big Five meetings of the second week had been merry as a marriage bell, and there were even reports that the Polish issue was about to be settled—Stalin was inviting the moderate Stanislaw Mikolajczyk to Moscow to join the Warsaw Government, and everything was going to be lovely.
They were sitting at dinner together, the story goes, when Molotov suddenly remarked, “Oh, about those Poles. I’ve had a reply—they’re in jail.”
That’s all he ever told anybody about them. I talked to one or two of the handful of men who were supposed to be intimate with Molotov here. All he would tell them, they say, was, “You will see, when the evidence is made public, that we are right.” American Communists were kept in the dark too—all they could tell anybody was, “Wait and see, we don’t know the facts yet.”
To the British, especially, it was terrible news—the Americans were interested, but the British were actually committed. They had worked for six years with the exiled Poles, and they knew with whom they were dealing.
Anthony Eden, at the Press conference he held just before he left, gave us a very frank and thorough statement of the British view. There were 16
Poles arrested, he explained, but only 15 about whom the British made enquiries—we learned later that the 16th man was this General Ogulnieki, on whom the Russians were training most of their propaganda fire. The British knew nothing about this man, hadn’t vouched for him in any way.
But they could vouch for the 15. Mr. Eden said this group included “practically all the leading figures of the Polish Underground.” Four cf them, he said, had held office as ministers—in Poland—of the Government which had its exiled headquarters in London. One of them was chairman of the Polish Underground Council. Mr. Eden didn’t say this, but we were told by others that several of the 15 had undergone torture by the Nazis, who were trying to make them reveal Underground activities.
“Most of these men, in our view,” said Mr. Eden, “are just the type who must be consulted if the Warsaw Government is to be reorganized according to our understanding of the Crimean agreement.”
Somebody asked if “the British considered the present Government of Greece to be representative of the people.” Mr. Eden came back very fast with a reply that revealed another cause of discord with the Russians.
“As soon as possible we intend that there shall be free elections in Greece, and we shall do all we can to see that they are fair. If anyone wants to come and see for himself, he will be more than welcome. We’d like the same facilities from others, in other places.”
Not only in Poland have we been ; unable to send in anybody—observers, | correspondents, diplomats — to see what’s going on. At this writing there’s an equally thick pall of mystery over Berlin, Vienna, even Czechoj Slovakia.
Words Are Not Enough
All these things showed, with deadly clarity, that agreement in words is not I enough. Indeed, it can be almost j meaningless. The Russians had just finished an agreement to “promote human rights and fundamental freedoms” when this Polish business blew up. Mr. Molotov held a Press conference to tell us that “the Soviet Government did not insist on specifying the right to work among these human rights, though sure,” he added, “this is an important right, especially now when we are facing a period of unemployment.”
We got the feeling that he was deliberately focusing a spotlight upon the mote in his brother’s eye, but he remained blissfully unconscious of the beam in his own eye. Right to the end, the British believe, Molotov remained totally unable to understand what all the fuss was about. Nobody in Russia ever heard about habeas corpus. To the Russians it appeared that the important thing was good relations among the Big Four. Why make such a to-do about 16 individuals?
So with all verbal agreements, you come back to what one reporter called “the problem of semantics.” What do these words mean? An agreement for a free Press is proposed? “Certainly, wehave a free Press, the only free Press,” reply the Russians. Democracy is desired? “Absolutely, we have the only true democracy.” But in the two cultures the words mean different things.
Action is the only valid test of these agreements, and action must resolve the Polish crisis. And if that one is solved as people here expect it will be, we shall be up against another case demanding action by this summer’s harvest-time.
This issue Is the feeding of Germany.
The Russians have captured much less than half of the population. All food-exporting lands are under Russian control. The Western Allies, particularly the British, have charge of the densely populated industrial regions, where local food production is far below subsistence needs.
There’s little hope that any outside country will deny itself food to feed Germans, however sparingly. Unless the Russians will consent to put all German food production into a common pool, and take rations therefrom for all Germans, not just those in the East, we shall be up against another nasty problem.
Aside from everything else there are some who fear that the Russians may deliberately seek to create a contrast between Communism and Democracy —by having the people better fed on the Communist side of the European line.
Nothing has happened at San Francisco to cast any particular doubt on this glum expectation. It’s a platitude that the real foundation of world peace must be the will to co-operate, the desire to understand and to be friendly. This desire exists, could be seen to exist, among all the western nations. They might differ, they might bicker, they might become annoyed with each other, but they all really wanted to be friends.
The Russians didn’t—at least, they didn’t seem to. They came here as bargainers, and hard bargainers at that. Most of what they wanted they got. But they left no bets uncovered; they drew the last drop of advantage, propaganda or otherwise, out of every j situation, from Argentina down to ] the issue of trusteeship. This started j as an Anglo-American argument, but j Russia intervened at the last moment with a rather sanctimonious set of j amendments proclaiming the principle j of national independence for colonial j peoples.
San Francisco demonstrated to everyI body what some had already known—
! that the Russians are very, very ( difficult people with whom to deal. This is just a fact to which we might as well make up our minds. The profitable I thing is to try to see why they’re diffi! cult.
To begin with, there’s the problem of language. You have to see and hear it to realize what a barrier this is to free communication. Hardly a dozen men at this conference, outside of the Soviet delegation, could speak Russian, and among the Russians few could speak anything else. Every word had to go through a thick sieve of translation.
And the words lost a lot in the process. Molotov’s young translator, Pavlov, was very fast and fluent, but people who understand Russian say he had no feeling at all for the English language, and all Molotov’s humor was lost on him. For just one example, when the Argentine business was being argued, Molotov said something which Pavlov rendered as, “What is the need for such hurry?” According to one Russian-speaking American, what the ! Commissar really said was, “We aren’t
going to a fire, are we?” There was a lot more good nature in the remark as it was made than as it was translated.
Another thing; these Russian envoys are scared. They must have things go their way, at least on issues that are part of their instructions. They dare not let anything go by. On one of the chilliest days of the chilly second week one committee was sitting with all its windows open. Most of the delegates there were shivering. The Ukrainian was sitting there silent, with the sweat running down his face in big drops.
Again, in the committee where M. J. Coldwell first raised the suggestion that International Labor Office representatives be asked in to give advice, the Soviet delegate went into almost a panic. Russia doesn’t like t he ILO—he seemed to feel he had to block that motion or he’d be ruined.
Even Molotov himself showed this strain. When the business about the joint chairmanship was being argued, he was white as a sheet—tense, almost quivering, in spite of his air of stolidity. As soon as the matter was settled and he became a joint chairman of plenary sessions, the man changed completely, relaxed, cheered up, became almost friendly.
They don’t play the game our way. They don’t understand our way of doing things. They may have learned a good deal at San Francisco—the British think they did. Certainly the rest of the world has learned something about dealing with them across this gulf that separates us. Again, the British are leading the way. , Eden and his brilliant aide, Viscount Cranborne, have done a superb job here; and their team has backed them up. They really know how to do things at international conferences, and they work with a patience, a skill and an unbreakable good temper that wins the admiration of all.
Because, of course, they realize that there’s nothing else to do but go on patiently, imperturbably, trying to co-operate. It’s nonsense to think of breaking off—breaking off to what? This is the whole hope of the world; it can’t be thrown over because somebody’s patience runs out.
It happened to be a Britisher who brought up, in conversation about all this one evening, the name of Maxim Litvinov. With him there was no language difficulty—he was a grand orator in English, used to thrill audiences at Geneva. This man had heard him there, in the great speeches with which he fought the appeasement of Japan and of Italy.
“Maxim Litvinov staked his whole career,” he said, “on his belief that it was possible to work on a friendly basis with the capitalist democracies of the West. He was proved wrong, and ruined, when four men signed a treaty at Munich and neither the Soviet Union nor Czechoslovakia was there. After that it was Molotov—the hammer— who took over.”
It’s a point worth remembering. From the long view of 15 years’ record, in this business of building international co-operation—it’s our move.