Skip to content

March 18, 1968

Note for the Directorate of Political Affairs, Disarmament, 'Non-proliferation treaty: Draft resolution on non-nuclear countries guarantees'

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

March 18, 1968

N° 307/SJ RJ






Annex: Non-proliferation treaty

Draft resolution on non-nuclear

Countries guarantees.


After studying the draft resolution that the USA, Great-Britain and the USSR decided to submit to the Security Council to meet the requests for security guarantees made by some non-nuclear States called on to adhere to a future non-proliferation treaty, the Legal Department is inclined to confirm the observations written down in the note n° 1206 of November 14, 1967, and to supplement them on the following points.


The paragraph 1 of the operative provisions creates in fact a new intervention case of the Council not intended by the


Charter: the threatof aggression. Even though no reference was made to the specific provisions of the Charter, both the fact that the Council “should act” and the wording of paragraph 3 of the preamble, it follows that the authors envisage the adoption of this text within the framework of the provisions of chapter VII. But the Article 39, which restrictively establishes the theoretical rationales in which the Council may act, only provides three of them: the threat to the peace, the breach of the peace and an act of aggression.[*] This provision could thus be considered as an amendment to the Charter requiring the implementation of the procedures set out in Article 109.


It may be dangerous to equate the “threat of aggression” with “aggression” for purposes of instigate an appeal for action from nuclear powers.

We thus run a risk of justifying the launch of a preventive war.

We could think that that it is for this motive that the authors of the UN Charter eliminated this concept.


Even by imagining that the threat of aggression may, safely, be equated with the threat to peace, it is highly doubtful that the Council has the capability of working out in advance, in abstracto, whether such a threat exists.


The same Article 39 starts like this:

“The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression…”

This body is therefore tasked with deciding on a case-by-case basis on the existence of one of these three situations envisaged according to the factual data. It is therefore unclear how, without violating the Charter, it could bound itself in advance as to the conditions of its action in a hypothetical case.


Paragraph 1 of the operative provisions establishes between the permanent members of the Council and the other members an illegitimate distinction because it is not provided for by the Charter.

In addition, it creates a new category of members: those permanent members in possession of nuclear weapons. In this regard, it should be noted that only nationalist China [Taiwan], permanent member who does not possess nuclear weapons, does not fall into this category.


Paragraph 2 of the operative provisions is, in all likelihood, useless or dangerous. Indeed, it is impossible that, “in accordance with … the United Nations Charter”, some


States may, without waiting for the Council’s decision, intervene in a conflict or support a preventive military action. If there is no decision from the Council, their action could only be performed within the framework of the article 51, which provides for collective self-defense. The content of this article is the subject of reaffirmation in paragraph 3.


By reserving the use of an especially rapid procedure for the event of aggression accompanied by the use of nuclear weapons, the resolution carries out a sort of “downgrading” of non-nuclear conflicts. Moreover, such an approach, legally unfounded, does not seem reasonable when we consider that, since 1945, world peace has been threatened far less by the prospect of nuclear war than by the very conflicts using so-called conventional weapons.


Paragraph 2 establishes contrary to the Charter discrimination among non-nuclear States based on whether they are signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.



Paragraph 3 of the operative provisions is open to criticism insofar as it would imply that perfectly clear stipulations of the Charter need to be confirmed and that the Security Council is authorized to make such a confirmation.

If a reminder or a reference to Article 51 were deemed necessary, it should be listed in the preamble and not in the operative section.


Despite its debatable legal nature, the resolution would, in practice, bring no new security guarantee to the non-nuclear States.

Indeed, it is clear that this text, except for the incitation it contains to treat any potential conflict relating to nuclear powers with particular swiftness, still leaves the Security Council and more specifically its permanent members full freedom to act when it comes to which measures to adopt.


Such a resolution would bind, if it were adopted, the members of the Organization pursuant to the Articles 25[†] and 48, paragraph 2.[‡]


This would be the case for France in particular if it were to abstain from voting in the ballot since it admits that its abstention would not prevent the Security Council’s decisions from being adopted pursuant to Article 27, paragraph 3 of the [UN] Charter.[§]


[*] United Nations Charter, Chapter VII: Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression.

[†]The Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter.” United Nations Charter, Chapter V: The Security Council, Article 25.

[‡] “Such decisions shall be carried out by the Members of the United Nations directly and through their action in the appropriate international agencies of which they are members.” United Nations Charter, Chapter VII: Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression,” Article 48, paragraph 2.

[§] “Decisions of the Security Council on all other matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members; provided that, in decisions under Chapter VI, and under paragraph 3 of Article 52, a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting.” United Nations Charter, Chapter V: The Security Council, Article 27, paragraph 3.

The finalization of a completed draft nuclear nonproliferation treaty, which the ENDC transmitted to by the United Nations without endorsement on March 18, 1968, launched a French review of the NPT’s implications for international law. The draft NPT was accompanied by a proposed United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSC), whose soft guarantees against nuclear-weapon use or threats had been a compromise workd out between Washington and Moscow. An initial study by Foreign Ministry lawyers identified numerous “juridical reasons… to fight against a project that, in its letter if not its spirit, constitutes a revision of the [UN] Charter." The report elaborated on how the hierarchization of “forms of aggression” would “downgrade” non-nuclear (i.e. conventional) violence. Non-nuclear-weapon states treaty signatories would receive non-binding security guarantees. The “Anglo-Saxons and Soviets” would maintain “freedom of action as far as what measures they choose to adopt.” Although the French government’s foremost legal experts opted not to advise vetoing the UNSC resolution, they warned the NPT package could serve as a warrant for nuclear-armed permanent members of the UN Security Council to wage “preventive war” in the name of worldwide nonproliferation.

Related Documents

March 2, 1960

Maurice Couve de Murville, 'Reflections on France’s isolated pursuit of the constitution of an autonomous “deterrent”'

This Foreign Ministry analysis was written for French Foreign Minister Maurice Couve de Murville. It spells out the obstacles facing an independent deterrent two weeks after France’s first nuclear test on February 13, 1960. The author cautions that a “minor deterrent” of a few dozen 100-kilton atom bombs loaded on vulnerable, short-range Mirage IV A fighter-bombers would cost hundreds of billions of francs. Intermediate-range ballistic missiles with which to threaten Moscow would require an additional 8-10 years and a further cost of 500 billion francs (around $100 billion in 1960). In order to match the superpowers’ thermonuclear level, that figure could rise as a high as “several trillion” over more than a decade, during which time the United States and the Soviet Union might well leapfrog the French force de dissuasion.

March 15, 1960

Maurice Couve de Murville to Prime Minister Michel Debré, 'Revision of the EURATOM Treaty,'

The French decision to join EURATOM was conditioned on the regional agency not impinging on national nuclear programs. As early as 1955, French Prime Minister Guy Mollet had instructed French negotiators that “Euratom will not be an obstacle toward the possible decision of France … to build nuclear weapons.”  While EURATOM’s jurisdiction would be limited to negotiating purchases of fissile materials, promoting trade with the United States and the United Kingdom, and exchanging reactors designs and civilian technology among members of the Atlantic community, Couve de Murville credited EURATOM with a fringe benefit: monitoring West Germany. In this spring 1960 letter to Prime Minister Michel Debré about revising the treaty, he warned against the removal of EURATOM controls over raw uranium and thorium or enriched uranium. Their removal, he cautioned, would create a dilemma: “either abandon the idea that German’s renunciation of atomic armaments could be enforced or support the enforcement of equivalent controls under the West European Union, which … would interfere in the direction of our programs and the development of our nuclear weapons.”

February 28, 1967

Note from Mr. Francis Perrin, High Commissioner for Atomic Energy, 'French foreign policy in terms of atomic armaments, particularly with regard to the proliferation of this armaments'

Nonproliferation talks entered their decisive phase after the submission of a joint U.S.-Soviet draft to the ENDC on February 21, 1967. One week later, High-Commissioner of the French Commissariat à l’énergie atomique, Francis Perrin, assessed France’s options. It was not “by accident,” he noted, the original five UN Security Council permanent members—the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the Soviet Union, and China—were in line for nuclear-club membership: “…they are the same profound reasons, of a geographical, demographic or other nature, which led to the choice [in 1945] … of the countries with special responsibilities in the maintenance of world peace.” After noting how advances in “India, Israel, Japan, Sweden, and also West Germany” portended the further spread of nuclear weapons—and acknowledging France had itself sought help with its weapon program—Perrin pondered whether proliferation might hasten nuclear disarmament by convincing the superpowers of its merits. In the end, however, fear of a “large and hostile” nuclear-armed PRC made him pessimistic. While he did not advise signing the NPT, it would be “very important” for France to affirm publicly, if unilaterally, “its constant policy since 1958 … not to cede any atomic weapon or any atomic explosive device to a country which does not possess it, and not to help any such country to manufacture them.” He dismissed internal opposition toward the NPT as defensive—"an a posteriori justification of the French decision to constitute an atomic armament." More significant was the likelihood West Germany would gain its own atomic arsenal, jeopardizing France’s “dominant political position among the Europe of the Six” members of the European Communities and reviving Cold War tensions in Europe. He finished with an eye-opening analysis of how the Kosygin proposal for nuclear-weapon states to extend negative security guarantees to non-nuclear-weapon states’ signatory to the NPT would not impede the use of French nuclear armaments against a West German blitzkrieg backed by the United States.

March 28, 1968

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Directorate of Political Affairs, Disarmament, 'Note: Guarantees for non-nuclear-weapon States, Draft resolution of the Security Council'

 This short research note briefly explores the case for and against vetoing the UNSC resolution. As the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union were serving as co-sponsors, and the Republic of China on Taiwan would welcome any international measure the People’s Republic of China opposed, France was the only state in a position to veto the UNSC resolution and perhaps torpedo the NPT when the UNGA special session met in late April. If France were to abstain, it would be henceforth bound by the resolution. Even so, the report cautioned whether “a negative attitude” should outweigh “the downside of defeating a project whose intention, if not whose content, fulfills the wishes of the vast majority of non-nuclear delegations.”

April 3, 1968

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Directorate of Political Affairs, Disarmament, 'Note: The Question of the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons'

This 18-page memorandum was circulated to French embassies on the eve of the special UNGA session. The report recaps the series of events leading up to the international meeting, including the early history of the treaty, through an article-by-article analysis of the treaty text’s negotiating history. After reviewing the contexts in which the treaty was negotiated, the report concluded by citing three major elements as informing the French attitude. The first was the German question and, specifically, how the NPT would internationalize West Germany’s non-nuclear status, deepening its dependence on France. The second was the positive attitude of most nations—the vast majority of which lacked the wherewithal to build nuclear deterrents—to institutionalize their neighbors’ non-nuclear-weapon status. The third and “most remarkable element” was the U.S.-Soviet joint effort, undeterred by the Vietnam War, “to consolidate the current world balance under their dual control.” French “reservations” therefore boiled down to two critiques of the emerging regime: that it would “consolidate nuclear monopolies,” namely the U.S. and Soviet power blocs, “and legalize discrimination between States.”

July 10, 1968

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Directorate of Political Affairs, Disarmament, 'Note: The treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons'

This report recounts developments at the UN First Committee from the beginning of the special session, April 24, to the plenary vote on June 12, 1968. Among the interesting observations was how the “most important resistance cell had … surprisingly developed among the Black African states,” who had sought concessions from the United States on apartheid South Africa’s mandate over South West Africa (modern-day Namibia). The report notes the various changes forced on the superpowers by Italy and Mexico on behalf of the non-nuclear-weapon delegations. The aide-memoire concluded that “[a]lthough these concessions [were] more apparent than real, they served as a pretext for a number of delegations, under intense Soviet and American pressure, to go along with the draft resolution thus revised.” The French delegate to the United Nations, Armand Berard, explained to the General Assembly on June 12 the reasons for France’s abstention. In accordance with Francis Perrin’s recommendations, Berard elaborated that although France would not sign the NPT when “the real issue was effective nuclear disarmament,” it would nonetheless pledged to behave “[e]xactly in such a way as those States which opt to adhere to it.”

Document Information


Cote 517INVA, Box 768, Centre d'archives diplomatiques de La Courneuve (CADLC). Contributed by Jonathan Hunt.


The History and Public Policy Program welcomes reuse of Digital Archive materials for research and educational purposes. Some documents may be subject to copyright, which is retained by the rights holders in accordance with US and international copyright laws. When possible, rights holders have been contacted for permission to reproduce their materials.

To enquire about this document's rights status or request permission for commercial use, please contact the History and Public Policy Program at [email protected].

Original Uploaded Date



Record ID



Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY) and University of Southampton