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September 19, 1958

Address by Mr. Frank Aiken to the United Nations General Assembly Official, 23th Session, 751st Plenary Meeting

This document was made possible with support from Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY)

United Nations


Thirteenth Session

Official Records



Friday, 19 September, 1958,
at 4.45 p.m.





Agenda item 9:

General debate (continued):

Speech by Mr. Florit (Argentina)…33

Speech by Mr. Herrera Bliez (Dominican Republican)…37

Speech by Mr. Aiken (Ireland)…39

Speech by Mr. Hekmat (Iran)…42


72. Mr. AIKEN (Ireland): Mr. President, may I, first of all, congratulate you on your election and wish your presidency every success.

73. The annual general debate of this Assembly is the nearest approach we have to humanity's appraisal of its own situation and of the outlook for human civilization in the context of a given year. The item on the agenda, though not formally inscribed, is always essentially the same. It is: What can this Assembly do or advise which will best serve at the present time. The purposes of peace? What can we do to divert the skills and resources of humanity away from the preparation of war and towards economic and social improvement? How can the course of history be turned away from death and towards life?

74. So far as our delegation can learn, there is little doubt that the great Powers have already, or are on the point of having, the military resources to destroy themselves and to destroy us all. There is little doubt, either, that if general war is brought upon the world for any motive, however good or bad, it will neither democratize nor communize it; it will annihilate it. Our problem therefore is how to hold our destructive powers in check, how to avoid destruction and anarchy while we evolve and perfect the arts of living in peace, of using our skill and resources cooperatively for our common welfare.

75. Like most other representatives in this Assembly, I am sure, I have long been convinced that the growing destructiveness of modern weapons demands a world rule of law. Since the beginning of time, as the striking power of weapons became more deadly, reasonable men have advocated the rule of law for ever widening areas.

76. When a man could bar himself in his cave and ensure the survival of his family with his club, he could afford to be a law unto himself. Today, as the offensive power of weapons threatens the destruction or mutilation of people everywhere, the question for us all is how, in the shadow of the atom bomb, to build a world order in which our disputes will be resolved by an accepted common authority whose decisions are implemented by an international force-in short, how to preserve a Pax Atomica while we build a Pax Mundi.

77. It would be presumptuous to expect a miraculous peace. Building a stable peace will require not only great skill and wisdom and respect for the rights and interests of all peoples, great and small, but, above all, patience, tolerance and charity.

78. It appears to us that, whatever allegations maybe made about the motives and intentions of Governments, there is no doubt that all the peoples of the world deeply desire a just and  stable peace. I am personally convinced also that every Government would prefer such a peace to the best that general war could bring it. That grim best could only be domination by the remnants of its own people over the remnants of a shattered civilization.

79. While we all wish for complete nuclear disarmament, we must confront the terrible fact that in the present stage of our political development it is quite vain to expect it in the immediate future. Even had we reached an agreement in principle, there are at present, I understand, no technical means of making sure that all nucleal' weapons and their components are in fact destroyed. And, as even a few of these weapons can cause such havoc, it seems to us that until they can be effectively controlled, and until it is clear beyond any possibility of doubt that they are no longer necessary for the national defence of the largest Powers, there is no hope of securing agreement to complete nuclear disarmament. Our best hope, for the present at any rate, is that we have already reached, or will soon reach, the stage of perfect nuclear stalemate or stable balance of terror between the great Powers: the stage in which it is known and acknowledged by each of them that no Power can touch off a general war without of a certainty being destroyed itself.

80. I do not of course mean to imply, as I shall, emphasize later in this speech, that within that basic condition of nuclear stalemate it is not possible for the great Powers to make useful agreements tending to limit competition in nuclear armament. Indeed, we all welcome with deep thankfulness the progress that has recently been made towards agreement on suspension of nuclear tests, and we hope that similar progress can also be made before long on unsupervised limitation of future production. But, even so, we shall have to live for many years in the presence of enormous destructive potentiality.  The ultimate objective of those who work for peace is, of course, to get ride of that potentiality by mutual consent. But the immediate objective must be to render its use less likely.

81. The difficulty of keeping war in check will increase with every addition to the number of the nuclear Powers. There can be no mistaking the urgency of the danger. It would be tragic if, at the very moment when these Powers seemed to be moved towards suspension of tests, smaller powers began to make, test and perhaps even use these terrible weapons. One can think of antagonisms between small Powers which are so bitter that one side or the other might not hesitate to use such weapons.

82. It Is therefore, we believe, In the interests of the existing members of the so-called nuclear club — the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and France — as well as in all our interests, that it should be restricted to its present membership. We would urge as a first step that there should be an international agreement to that effect; and that no State outside the club should manufacture or purchase or be supplied with or be in possession of nuclear weapons. In the interests of world peace the rest of us should agree to accept that condition as permanent. We recognize ze that this suggestion calls for a much greater sacrifice from the larger non-nuclear Powers than from the small States. There is one test, however, that we should all apply to our policies. That is to try to imagine whether, if nuclear war broke out, we would not then regret having failed to make the sacrifices which might have helped to avoid it. Nor is the condition of the members of the nuclear club altogether enviable. They have the formidable task of arranging for the security of these weapons which are becoming so dangerously small and portable. The sooner they agree to stop manufacture the easier their task will be.

83. 1 would like to stress that, if this Assembly is in present circumstances to recognize to certain Powers the privileged status of being the only countries entitled to possess nuclear weapons, these Powers should undertake not to supply these weapons to any other country. I could appeal to them in Godts name not to spread these weapons around the world.

84. Having obtained such undertakings from the nuclear Powers, the Assembly could pass a resolution calling on all other States to refrain from manufacturing or acquiring nuclear weapons. Such a resolution could be followed by a convention in which these States would bind themselves not merely to renounce nuclear weapons but to accept United Nations supervision of their nuclear development for peaceful purposes. Special arrangements would of course have to be made to secure adherence to the proposed convention by States not members of the United Nations. Among these, as we know, are States of great territorial and industrial importance whose co-operation would be necessary for any effective scheme of nuclear restriction.

85. Nuclear restriction would not be just a negative and precautionary measure. It would be a positive one, interlocking closely with the most pressing political requirements of peace.

86. The gravest threat to stable peace, in the period of nuclear stalemate between the major Powers, is the contest between them for the adherence and control of the non-attached and the detachable States. How can we prevent this contest inadvertently bringing about the general war which no one wants? How can we also prevent another danger which flows from this contest: that the rivalry between the great Powers, held back from direct conflict by the nuclear balance, should spend itself in creating strife and tension among and within the lesser States?


87. The solution to this problem is, we think, twofold. The first part of the solution is a great Power agreement to create, as opportunity offers, ever widening arenas in which the contest for the adherence of the smaller States will be brought to an end. The smaller States can play their part, if they desire to do so, by declaring neutrality which the great Powers and the United Nations should guarantee. The second part of the solution is to persuade, and to help as far as we can, the nuclear Powers to practise co-operation along political, economic and cultural lines, and especially for the economic development of under-developed states.

88.  We would therefore urge the great Power groups to take up vigorously the good work they began in Austria, and to reduce competition wherever it is mutually safe and wherever the net balance of advantage to either is negligible. The hope for a just and stable peace lies, we believe, not in the perpetuation of "iron curtains", lines of containment, "cold war" propaganda and astronomically costly defence expenditure, but in the growing realization that these expedients are outmoded, and in a determination to replace them by a system of security and welfare corresponding to the necessities and possibilities of this nuclear age. Nuclear restriction could be one important element in such a system. In my remaining remarks, Mr. President, I hope to indicate other elements, of which some are political, some social and economic.

89. The Irish delegation has suggested that there should be a military and diplomatic drawing back in Middle Europe and in the Middle East. Here are two areas in which the contest for the adherence of smaller Powers is much too dangerous to be continued, and where, as far as we can see, there is no net balance of advantage to either side in holding to their present positions In the case of the Middle East considerable efforts have been made to reduce tension. Is it too much to hope that similar efforts will also be made in Middle Europe?

90. What is necessary in Middle Europe is not, of course, an abrupt withdrawal of forces for which people may not be mentally prepared and which might plunge the region into turmoil. It is rather a measured and carefully prepared drawing back, East and West, supervised and controlled by the United Nations, and with United Nations observers in the evacuated area, to serve as a guarantee against the return of foreign troops. If, as in the case of Austria, a permanent neutrality were to be declared by the States evacuated, it should be welcomed and guaranteed by the great Powers and by the United Nations.

91. The various suggestions made by our delegation have but a single aim: to insulate atomic weapons, as bees cover with wax the ugly intruders they are unable to eject, while we set to work for peace and prosperity.

92. With the help of the agreements suggested, together with local political settlements, nuclear weapons can be restricted and the existing nuclear Powers gradually separated by States under bond not to fight unless attacked. Under these conditions it will become possible to launch a determined campaign against the dire poverty of most of the world's population. That poverty is one of the most fundamental and enduring causes of bitterness and unrest in the under-developed countries. It has in the past created openings – dangerous openings – for contention among the great Powers. It could in the future serve instead as a fruitful field for their co-operation.

93. May I suggest that in a campaign against poverty our greatest handicap is not lack of resources but the non-application of our financial knowledge. Indeed, of all the fields in which we fail to keep up with the spectacular achievements in science and technology, that of international finance is the outstanding example. Yet, as the European Payments Union proved, it is the easiest field in which to achieve agreement and in which to practise international co-operation.

94. Under the beneficial influence of the European Payments Union, inter-European trade increased within a few years by 75 per cent, with a consequent increase in capital resources and the standard of living. If, in the light of the European Payments Union experience, the Second Committee examined the problem of how to bring the world exchange of goods and services up to the level of our combined productive capacity it could, I feel sure, recommend an agreement, based on the balancing of payments at the highest potential level and on the extension of mutual credits, which would greatly increase world trade.

95. As far as I can see there would be no technical difficulty in providing that a United Nations institution, say the International Monetary Fund should act as a world payments union or even a world central bank; and that this institution should Increase or restrict as required the world’s supply of international money and provide for the balancing of international payments. Initial untied credits, issued to all countries at the rate of even a few dollars per head of population, would restore international liquidity and would give international trade the stimulus it needs so urgently. Such credits would enable under-developed countries to buy the equipment they so badly need to reduce poverty and hunger, without at the same time requiring developed countries to impose additional taxation or draw on their liquid reserves.

96. Our approach to the problems we have dealt with is conditioned by our conviction that majorities in all States desire a stable peace in order to devote their energy and resources to economic and social development. We believe that when it is a permanent and co-operative peace we want its terms must not offend the self-respect or the prestige of either opponent. Webelieve that an essential preliminary to peace is to reduce to a minimum recrimination, hate propaganda and threats. We believe that, while the nuclear stalemate may have saved us from a third world war, we should leave nothing undone to secure the eventual total abolition of nuclear weapons. We feel sure that if a community is subject to a government with aggressive designs that government is more likely to be changed by a release of tension around its borders, and by offers of peaceful and friendly co-operation, than by outside pressure and threats. It was after all the sun and not the wind which persuaded the gentleman in Aesop's fable to shed his cloak. A very strong element also in our approach is the belief that through the heavy clouds of threats and propaganda we can discern rays of hope for the organic growth of United Nations institutions in keeping with our scientific achievements and our economic resources, and in keeping with common sense and common humanity.

97. It would be quite wrong to assign all the blame for the troubles of the world to governments of the present day. These governments, particularly the Governments of the major Powers, were bequeathed grave difficulties, frightening responsibilities and dangerous antagonisms; the heritage of the chaos and terror of two world wars. It is not surprising that the aftermath of the Second World War has been a period marked by fear, resentment and suspicion. In such a climate it is not easy to bring about even limited agreements between contesting groups. Yet a number of such agreements have been achieved, and offer the best hope of future advance in international understanding. I need only mention among the more recent of such achievements the agreement which led to the evacuation and neutrality of Austria those which made possible the United Nations Emergency Force and the United Nations Observation Group in Lebanon; the cultural and technical exchanges between the major Powers; and the scientific co-operation between different groups of Powers during the International Geophysical Year, 1957-1958. Each agreement, each act of international co-operation, does something to clear from the  atmosphere the poisonous accumulations of earlier conflicts and thereby to render a new conflict less likely.

98. It should be noted too that, despite so much publicized contention on the highest levels, the many organs of these United Nations are working quietly on the acute problems that confront humanity in these days of revolutionary technological and pollical change. The great Powers are in closer diplomatic contact here in this building and elsewhere than they have been for years. The Geneva Conference for the cessation of atomic tests[1] was successful beyond expectation. It was particularly heartening to note the success of the Second United Nations International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy. The United States proposals for the co-operative exploration of outer space and the internationalization of Antarctica have great possibilities for eliminating tension and for our common welfare. President Eisenhower's suggestions [733rd meeting] for a United Nations development fund for the Middle East and for the expansion of the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development also give promise of fruitful co-operation.

99.Recent developments in the Formosa Straits remind us that great difficulties still subsist and that the danger of war has not ceased to hang over the world. All of us earnestly hope that talks now proceeding in Warsaw may not only be successful in relation to the immediate crisis but also may soon open the way to a just and stable settlement in the Far East, averting the recurrence of threats to peace from that region of the world. Pressing however, as are the military, psychological and political difficulties confronting us, and great as is the temptation to despair of solving them, I have no doubt that, if only we can preserve peace for another few years, this Organization Will, with God's help, find ways of fostering our esprit de corps ns a world community of neighbours on this satellite of the sun, helping each other in our difficulties, keeping our differences within bounds and taking a just pride in our common achievements.

100. Mr. HEKMAT (Iran): …


[1] Conference of Experts to Study the Possibility of Detecting Violations of a Possible Agreement on the Suspension of Nuclear Tests.

Aiken’s landmark address to the plenary of the UN General Assembly on 19 September 1958 launched his non-proliferation campaign. It is the first time he publicly identified stopping the spread of nuclear weapons as a concrete step in the collective interest to unblock the disarmament impasse, preventing a runaway arms race among the powers of the Earth. It was clearly framed as part of his wider campaign for global governance based on the rule of law rather than the threat of force. For Aiken, the challenge was stabilizing the arms race and generating trust to construct a world order based on justice and law – “to preserve a Pax Atomica while we build a Pax Mundi.” This speech was a critical departure. The widespread positive reception encouraged Aiken, persuading him to draft a formal resolution.


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General Assembly Official Records, 23th Session : 751st Plenary Meeting, Friday 19 September 1958, New York, A/PV.751, United Nations Digital Library, Contributed by Mervyn O'Driscoll.


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