The Dumbarton Oaks Conference, or more formally the Washington Conversations on International Peace and Security Organization, was a global gathering where ideas for the creation of a “general international organization,” which would later become the United Nations, were developed and negotiated. The United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China served as the conference’s four policemen. It took place in Washington, D.C., at the Dumbarton Oaks estate, from August 21 to October 7, 1944.
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In order to implement paragraph 4 of the Moscow Declaration of 1943, which acknowledged the necessity for a postwar international organization to follow the League of Nations, the Dumbarton Oaks Conference served as the first significant step. Delegates from the Four Policemen, China, the Soviet Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom discussed plans to create an organization to uphold global peace and security during the summit.
Sir Alexander Cadogan, the British Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet Ambassador to the United States, Wellington Koo, the Chinese Ambassador to the United Kingdom, and Edward Stettinius Jr., the Under-Secretary of State of the United States, all served as delegation chairs. Stettinius presided over the meeting, while Cordell Hull, the secretary of state of the United States, gave the welcome speech.
Due to the Soviets’ reluctance to meet with the Chinese face-to-face, the discussions took place in two stages. Between August 21 and September 28, delegates from the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States met. In the second, talks took place between September 29 and October 7 between representatives of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the People’s Republic of China.
These meetings were made possible thanks in large part to Robert Woods Bliss, who, along with his wife Mildred Barnes Bliss, donated Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard University in 1940 to establish a scholarly research institution and museum in Byzantine studies. He had already promised to provide Secretary Hull access to the Dumbarton Oaks facilities in June 1942 on behalf of the director, John S. Thacher, and the Harvard University Trustees. The State Department determined that Dumbarton Oaks could “comfortably accommodate” the delegates in June 1944, and that “the environment [was] ideal,” Harvard University President James B. Conant extended the invitation in a letter dated June 30, 1944.
The complete American control of the conference, including US military intelligence of cable traffic to the delegates and FBI watch of their movements in the city, is described in Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations by Stephen Schlesinger. “The military man in charge of the San Francisco eavesdropping and codebreaking operation indicated his own sense of accomplishment: ‘Pressure of work has at last abated and the 24-hour day has shortened The Branch believes that its contribution may have a significant impact on the Conference’s success.
The conference’s mood and how Stettinius brought the British and Soviet negotiators to the Diamond Horseshoe nightclub and had cocktails with Nelson Rockefeller is described by Robert Hilderbrand. Hollywood films were being presented every day for free throughout the city. The group enjoyed a buffet dinner and were entertained by a black quartet singing spirituals at Stettinius’ house, Horseshoe, once the cavalcade reached there.
The conference’s discussions were centered on two issues: the first concern was the place the Soviet Union would occupy inside the new organization since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s initial plan was intended to include American worldwide hegemony. The second issue involved the Security Council’s permanent members’ veto power. “Stalin waved off opposition to the American version of the veto, dismissing it as an inconsequential matter. He was quite willing to sacrifice any independent stake in the UN’s development, clinging to the belief that veto powers would neutralize any threat from it.
Nelson Rockefeller’s role
Nelson Rockefeller urged the FBI to be the one to relay reports to Stettinius, despite the fact that he played no formal part in the meeting, according to Schlesinger. In fact, Rockefeller received all reports from the FBI. Schlesinger also recounts how Argentina was left out of the UN logo because of its alliance with Nazi Germany. Rockefeller insisted that Argentina should be permitted to join the UN despite having a pro-fascist government. Rockefeller had the support of the Latin American delegations, which infuriated Nicolo Tucci, the director of the US State Department’s Bureau of Latin American Research. Tucci resigned, saying, “My bureau was supposed to counter Nazi and Fascist propaganda in South America, but Rockefeller is inviting the worst fascists and Nazis to Washington.”
While Rockefeller was lobbying the meeting to approve the Chapultepec Pact, Washington was pushing for the establishment of a global organization. Rockefeller prevailed at the conference despite Stettinius and John Foster Dulles’ resistance. There was consensus to insert language allowing “individual or collective self-defense” at the regional level in Article 51 of the Charter. Schlesinger records that Dulles remarked, “I owe you an apology,” over a meal with Rockefeller a few years later. We might not have had NATO if you guys hadn’t done it.
Goals and outcomes
The proposed international organization’s declared goals were:
- To maintain international peace and security; and to that end to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace and the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means adjustment or settlement of international disputes which may lead to a breach of the peace;
- To develop friendly relations among nations and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;
- To achieve international cooperation in the solution of international economic, social, and other humanitarian problems; and
- To afford a center for harmonizing the actions of nations in the achievement of these common ends.
The delegates settled on a preliminary set of suggestions (Proposals for the Establishment of a General International Organization) on October 7, 1944, to achieve these objectives. During the meeting, the formation of the United Nations Security Council, the invitation of prospective members’ countries, and the veto power granted to permanent Security Council members were all topics of discussion. The Security Council voting process and Soviet demand to admit all sixteen former Soviet countries to the General Assembly were the only two concerns that the Dumbarton Oaks Conference failed to resolve, according to Charles E. Bohlen.
There were several factors involved. First, there was an unassailable majority of Western nations, including the Commonwealth nations of South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. As a result, the USSR would effectively be unable to influence the decision-making process. Second, because they had often cooperated with the Axis during World War II, Eastern European nations that were transitioning to a Moscow-friendly regime were prohibited from joining the UN right once. Finally, although appearing expensive, this Soviet demand was meant to demonstrate that any international organization ready to govern the new world without treating the USSR fairly was doomed to failure.
As a result, the Ukrainian and Belarusian SSRs were admitted as full members of the UN, and Roosevelt was compelled to accept the veto power at the Security Council at Yalta. Given that in the early years of the UN, the vast majority of the General Assembly members were Western countries or Western-friendly, under Truman, Western countries attempted to transfer to the General Assembly decision-making competencies on security matters in order to avoid the Soviet veto in the Security Council. The Soviet Union vehemently condemned these attempts to undermine the Yalta Agreement.
Before these problems were resolved, the Yalta conference and more talks with Moscow were necessary. A trusteeship arrangement was also put out at Yalta to replace the League of Nations mandate system. The Security Council’s veto powers were formed and the United Nations Charter’s final draft was approved at the United Nations Conference on International Organization, often known as the San Francisco Conference, which took place in April through June of 1945. The US, USSR, UK, France, and China were given the five permanent seats, with the Soviets abandoning their objections to French participation and the others rejecting the US request for Brazilian membership, during the Dumbarton Oaks Conference as well.