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Aiken, Frank 1898- 1983

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September 19, 1958

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

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 as 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.

October 2, 1957

Memorandum by Frank Aiken [on an Interview with Scott McCleod and the Taoiseach]

Aiken made an immediate impression on his arrival in the Twelfth Session of the UN General Assembly in September 1957. He adopted an impartial posture of assessing each issue on its merits and campaigning to remodel international politics around self-determination, humanitarianism, and peace. His exhortation was that only the UN had the moral authority and political legitimacy to put forward global solutions. While he did not propose nuclear disarmament measures specifically, his intent was signaled by his recommendation for a mutual drawback of foreign forces (including their nuclear weapons) in central Europe and his endorsement of a proposal to discuss the representation of China in the United Nations. The Eisenhower administration was hostile to Aiken’s course as outlined in the U.S. ambassador’s audience with Taoiseach Eamon de Valera and Aiken in Dublin on 2 October. The record underlines the Irish concerns about accidental nuclear war due to the proximity of opposing U.S. and Soviet forces in central Europe.  

October 17, 1958

Press Release containing a Speech by Minister of External Affairs Frank Aiken and Draft Resolutions on Nuclear Disarmament

Aiken’s first step was a modest paragraph calling for the formation of a UN commission to recommend measures to the next session. However, global attentions were focused on nuclear tests and their health effects, so Aiken linked his initiative with the American-led seventeen-power resolution requesting all states to suspend testing voluntarily. Aiken proposed an amendment to that motion that included the notion of brokering an understanding between nuclear weapons powers and non-nuclear powers.  He submitted that the former voluntarily desist from supplying nuclear weapons to other countries, while non-nuclear powers reciprocated and volunteered not to develop such weapons during a test suspension. This proposed quid pro quo became a staple in the Irish resolutions subsequently and eventually be inscribed into the NPT.

Aiken’s speech invoked recognizable tropes such as a ‘geometric’ increase in nuclear powers, creating an urgent need to halt the spread. His speech was seminal in identifying themes he and international opinion would rehearse in future years. He conjured up fears about small states and revolutionary groups with a bomb acting as ‘the detonator for world-wide thermonuclear war’. Aiken was perceptive – he expected criticisms about institutionalized equality between states (nuclear “haves” and “have nots”), harms to alliances, the sufficiency of test bans, and the absence of monitoring. He sought to disprove the validity of such critiques, and these issues were worked through gradually, eventually leading to the finalization of the NPT ten years later.  

June 26, 1959

Letter from Frederick H. Boland to Con Cremin (Dublin)

Boland gauged opinion at the UN and assisted in preparing the ground for Aiken’s campaign in the XIVth Session in the fall of 1959. Ireland cultivated the UN Secretariat, notably Dr. Protitch, who evaluated the Irish proposal as helpful. Likewise, intimations from the Eastern bloc were positive. The Irish Permanent Representative consolidated links with the second-in-command of the U.S. mission to the UN, James W. Barco, to enable a constructive dialogue with the Americans to fashion a resolution they could tolerate

July 7, 1959

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday 7 July 1959, Committee on Finance - Vote 59--External Affairs [Excerpt]

New Taoiseach Seán Lemass took the unusual step of intervening in a Foreign Affairs debate in July 1959 to defend Frank Aiken’s conduct at the United Nations. Trenchant critics on the opposition benches in the Fine Gael party had berated Aiken repeatedly since 1957. Critics inside and outside of the lower house of parliament (Dáil Éireann) asserted that Ireland, “a tiny country” with limited interests, had no right to voice an opinion on global matters which was more appropriately dealt with by the “Great Powers.” Worse, Aiken’s interventions would create enemies among Irish friends worldwide, most notably in the United Sstates. The tenor of the arguments was that Ireland had no nuclear energy industry and no nuclear weapons aspirations, so such matters should be left to the nuclear powers. It is difficult to avoid the sense that elements in Irish political life appreciated that American and NATO nuclear forces informally protected the anti-communist Republic of Ireland. Lemass ended speculation that he was less of a supporter of Aiken than his predecessor, de Valera. He affirmed that Ireland had a significant contribution to make to the global commons in terms of reinforcing peace and order. Aiken was empowered to continue.