1944-1945: Dumbarton Oaks and Yalta

The Dumbarton Oaks Conference constituted the first important step taken to carry out paragraph 4 of the Moscow Declaration of 1943, which recognized the need for a postwar international organization to succeed the League of Nations.

Representatives of the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States meeting in the opening session of the Conference on Security Organization for Peace in the Post-War World.

The principles of the world organization-to-be were thus laid down. But it is a long step from defining the principles and purpose of such a body to setting up the structure. A blueprint had to be prepared, and it had to be accepted by many nations.

7 October 1944  ||  Dumbarton Oaks

For this purpose, representatives of China, Great Britain, the USSR and the United States met for a business-like conference at Dumbarton Oaks, a private mansion in Washington, D. C. The discussions were completed on October 7, 1944, and a proposal for the structure of the world organization was submitted by the four powers to all the United Nations governments and to the peoples of all countries for their study and discussion.

A Proposal for the World Organization

||  Structure

According to the Dumbarton Oaks proposals, four principal bodies were to constitute the organization to be known as the United Nations. There was to be a General Assembly composed of all the members. Then came a Security Council of eleven members. Five of these were to be permanent and the other six were to be chosen from the remaining members by the General Assembly to hold office for two years. The third body was an International Court of Justice, and the fourth a Secretariat. An Economic and Social Council, working under the authority of the General Assembly, was also provided for.

||  Roles and Responsibilities

The essence of the plan was that responsibility for preventing future war should be conferred upon the Security Council. The General Assembly could study, discuss and make recommendations in order to promote international cooperation and adjust situations likely to impair welfare. It could consider problems of cooperation in maintaining peace and security, and disarmament, in their general principles. But it could not make recommendations on any matter being considered by the Security Council, and all questions on which action was necessary had to be referred to the Security Council.

||  Method of Voting

The actual method of voting in the Security Council -- an all-important question -- was left open at Dumbarton Oaks for future discussion.

||  Armed Forces in the Service of Peace

Another important feature of the Dumbarton Oaks plan was that member states were to place armed forces at the disposal of the Security Council in its task of preventing war and suppressing acts of aggression. The absence of such force, it was generally agreed, had been a fatal weakness in the older League of Nations machinery for preserving peace.

The Dumbarton Oaks proposals were fully discussed throughout the Allied countries. The British Government issued a detailed commentary, and in the United States, the Department of State distributed 1,900,000 copies of the text and arranged for speakers, radio programs and motion picture films to explain the proposals. Comments and constructive criticisms came from several governments, e.g., Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czechoslovakia, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, the Union of South Africa, the USSR, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Yalta Charter

UN Photo/Historical Photo
Leaders of the major allied powers of World War II meeting at Yalta in the Russian Crimea to decide on military plans for the final defeat of Germany.

Extensive press and radio discussion enabled people in Allied countries to judge the merits of the new plan for peace.

Much attention was given to the differences between this new plan and the Covenant of the League of Nations, it being generally admitted that putting armed forces at the disposal of the Security Council was a notable improvement.

11 February 1945  ||  Yalta - the question of voting

One important gap in the Dumbarton Oaks proposals had yet to be filled: the voting procedure in the Security Council. This was done at Yalta in the Crimea where Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, together with their foreign ministers and chiefs of staff, met in conference. On February 11, 1945, the conference announced that this question had been resolved, and it summoned the San Francisco Conference.

“We are resolved,” the three leaders declared, “upon the earliest possible establishment with our Allies of a general international organization to maintain peace and security… “We have agreed that a Conference of United Nations should be called to meet at San Francisco in the United States on the 25th April, 1945, to prepare the charter of such an organization, along the lines proposed in the formal conversations of Dumbarton Oaks.”

5 March 1945  ||  San Francisco - an invitation

The invitations were sent out on March 5, 1945, and those invited were told at the same time about the agreement reached at Yalta on the voting procedure in the Security Council.

12 April 1945  ||  Change at the Helm

Soon after, in early April, came the sudden death of President Roosevelt, to whose statesmanship the plans for the San Francisco Conference owed so much. There was fear for a time that the conference might have to be postponed, but President Truman decided to carry out all the arrangements already made, and the conference opened on the appointed date.


Interview with Joseph Johnson || Chief of the International Affairs Division of the United States State Department in 1943.

While serving in this position, Mr. Johnson played a role in the creation of the United Nations, attending both the Dumbarton Oaks Conference (1944) and the San Francisco Conference (1945).

In this interview Mr. Johnson recalls his experience at the UN. He elaborates on his participation at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference, the San Francisco Conference and touches upon his role as a special envoy for the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine in 1961.

- UN Oral History

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