George C. Marshall

Address to the United Nations General Assembly

delivered 23 September 1948, Paris, France


Mr. President, Fellow Delegates: We are particularly happy to meet here in Paris. France has, through the centuries, nourished the arts for the enrichment of all mankind and its citizens have striven persistently for expanding freedom for the individual. It is entirely fitting that this General Assembly, meeting in France which fired the hearts of men with the Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789, should consider in l948 the approval of a new Declaration of Human Rights for free men in a free world.

Not only is it appropriate that we should here reaffirm our respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms, but that we should renew our determination to develop and protect those rights and freedoms: freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom of opinion and expression; freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention; the right of a people to choose their own government, to take part in its works, and, if they became dissatisfied with it, to change it; the obligation of government to act through law. These are some of the elements that combine to give dignity and worth to the individual.

The Charter of the United Nations reflects these concepts and expressly provides for the promotion and protection of the rights of man as well as for the rights of nations. This is no accident. For in the modern world the association of free men within a free state is based upon the obligation of citizens to respect the rights of their fellow citizens. And the association of free nations in a free world is based upon the obligation of all states to respect the rights of other nations.

Systematic and deliberate denials of basic human rights lie at the root of most of our troubles and threaten the work of the United Nations. It is not only fundamentally wrong that millions of men and women live in daily terror of secret police, subject to seizure, imprisonment or forced labor without just cause and without fair trial, but these wrongs have repercussions in the community of nations. Governments which systematically disregard the rights of their own people are not likely to respect the rights of other nations and other people, and are likely to seek their objectives by coercion and force in the international field.

The maintenance of these rights and freedoms depends upon adherence to the abiding principles of justice and morality embodied in the rule of law. It will therefore always be true that those members of the United Nations which strive with sincerity of purpose to live by the Charter, and to conform to the principles of justice and law proclaimed by it, will be those states which are genuinely dedicated to the preservation of the dignity and integrity of the individual.

Let this Third Regular Session of the General Assembly approve by an overwhelming majority the Declaration of Human Rights as a standard of conduct for all; and let us, as Members of the United Nations, conscious of our own shortcomings and imperfections, join our effort in good faith to live up to this high standard.

Our aspirations must take into account men’s practical needs -- improved living and working conditions, better health, economic and social advancement for all, and the social responsibilities which these entail. The United Nations is pledged in the Charter to promote "higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development."

The Secretary General has devoted a considerable part of his Annual Report to the nature of the progress thus far made in this field. It is evident from the record that we can be encouraged by what is being done. The United Nations is directly engaged in efforts to alleviate the social and economic disorder and destruction resulting from the war. The International Refugee Organization is giving assistance to displaced persons. The International Children’s Emergency Fund is providing emergency aid to children and mothers over wide areas. As part of the United Nations’ efforts to increase productivity by applying new and advanced techniques, the Food and Agriculture Organization is broadening the use of improved seeds and fertilizers. The tuberculosis project jointly sponsored by the World Health Organization and the International Children’s Emergency Fund represents another example of the constructive work of our Organization.

Through the United Nations we are seeking to combine our efforts to promote international trade, to solve the difficulties of foreign exchange, to facilitate the voluntary migration of peoples, and to increase the flow of information and ideas across national boundaries. The International Trade Organization Charter would establish procedures for expanded multilateral trade, with the goal of raising living standards and maintaining full employment. The Conference on Freedom of Information and the Press was responsible for three conventions now before this Assembly which embody principles and procedures for expanding the exchange of information. It is our hope that the Assembly will give these conventions thoughtful and favorable consideration.

While the United Nations and its related agencies are increasingly helpful in the economic and social field, primary responsibility for improving standards of living will continue to rest with the governments and peoples themselves. International organizations cannot take the place of national and personal effort, or of local and individual imagination. International action cannot replace self-help, nor can we move toward general cooperation without maximum mutual help among close neighbors.

The United Nations was not intended to preclude cooperative action among groups of states for common purposes consistent with the Charter of the United Nations. It has been disappointing that efforts at economic recovery consistent with this concept have been actively opposed by some who seem to fear the return of stability and confidence. We must not be misled by those who, in the name of revolutionary slogans, would prevent reconstruction and recovery or hold out illusions of future well-being at the price of starvation and disorder today.

A year ago I expressed the view to the General Assembly that "a supreme effort is required from us all if we are to succeed in breaking through the vicious circles of deepening political and economic crisis." I believe that most of us in this Organization have sought to make such an effort -- but that this is beginning -- and that this is beginning to bring results.

Despite the cooperative action of most nations to rebuild peace and well-being, tension during the past year has increased. The leaders of the other nations are creating a deep rift between their countries and the rest of the world community. We must not allow that rift to widen any further and we must redouble our efforts to find a common ground. Let us go back to the Charter, to words that were solemnly written by the peoples of the United Nations while the tragedy of war was vividly stamped on their minds.

"We the People[s] of the United Nations," says the Charter, are "determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war... ...for these ends to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors.1

Three years later, we are confronted with the need to save not only succeeding generations, but our own.

The first purpose of the United Nations is to maintain international peace and security, and to that end all members are pledged to settle their international disputes by peaceful means and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law.

We are pledged to seek an accommodation by which different cultures, different laws, different social and economic structures, and different political systems can exist side by side without violence, subversion or intimidation. An elementary requirement is that international obligations be respected and that relations among states be based on mutual confidence, respect and tolerance.

How can we establish among governments and peoples the confidence which is necessary to a just and stable peace, and is basic to the work of the United Nations? The need at this session of the General Assembly and in subsequent months is to achieve, or at least to move nearer, a settlement of the major issues which now confront us. For its part, the United States is prepared to seek in every possible way, in any appropriate forum, a constructive and peaceful settlement of the political controversies which contribute to the present tension and uncertainty.

I do not wish to deal at this time with the details of any particular issue, but there are broad lines along which a just and equitable settlement of each of these questions might be reached. Some of these matters are on the agenda of the United Nations; others, such as those dealing with the peace settlements, are to be dealt with in other forums. Nevertheless, whatever the forum, as members of the United Nations, we are all subject to the principles of the Charter.

If we want to have peace we must settle the issues arising out of the last war. The Charter was written with the expectation that the solution of the problems before the United Nations would not be made more difficult by long delay in completing the peace settlements.

We should, therefore, make every effort to achieve an early and just peace settlement so that Japan and Germany may exist as democratic and peaceful nations, subject to safeguards against the revival of military or economic means of aggression, and so that they may in due course demonstrate their qualification for admission to membership in the United Nations. In Austria our aim is the restoration of its political and economic freedom within its 1937 frontiers, and its immediate admission as a member of the United Nations.

Other questions affecting world peace are now before the United Nations, some of them before this Assembly. We believe that the ends to be sought on these matters may be briefly summarized as follows:

[1] A Palestine free from strife and the threat of strife, with both the Jews and Arabs assured the peaceful development envisaged by the actions of the General Assembly and the Security Council; an early demobilization of armed forces to permit the return to conditions of peace and normal living in Palestine; the repatriation of the refugees who wish to return and live in peace with their neighbors; economic aid to Jews and Arabs to restore and strengthen their economic well-being; the admission of Transjordan and Israel to membership in the United Nations.

[2] A unified and independent Korea, accepted as a member of the United Nations, acting under a constitution and a government selected by the Koreans themselves through free elections, and receiving the economic and political encouragement which it will need as it embarks upon its new life as a Korean nation.

[3] A Greece made secure from aggressive and unlawful interference from without; ordering its political life by the democratic process and by respect for law; enabled to rebuild its economy and to provide its people the essentials of a decent life which they have been without for so long.

[4] A negotiated settlement without further bloodshed in Indonesia, along the broad lines of the Renville Agreement, providing within a brief period both the sovereign independence sought by the peoples of Indonesia and continued cooperation between them and the people of the Netherlands.

[5] Continuation of the mediation and negotiation between the great nations of India and Pakistan with respect to Kashmir, in order that the processes of peaceful settlement may bring to a conclusion an issue which has been charged with great dangers.

[6] The early adoption of an international system for the control of atomic energy, providing for the elimination of atomic weapons from national armaments, for the development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes only, and for safeguards to insure compliance by all nations with the necessary international measures of control.

[7] Under adequate and dependable guaranty against violation, a progressive reduction in armaments as rapidly as the restoration of political confidence permits.

Other situations or problems might be mentioned, but if constructive steps are taken toward the settlement of those which have been indicated, new hope would arise among men and new confidence among the nations of the world. It will be readily seen that the above pattern is toward peace. No governments or peoples who work toward such ends can be held to be seeking war, or imperialistic expansion, or disorder and strife.

We have noted with particular interest the report of the Secretary General on the work of the United Nations relating to the millions of people who are not yet fully self-governing. We are mindful of the obligations undertaken in the Charter for the political, economic, and social development of these peoples. We believe that all possible assistance and encouragement should be given to them, to the end that they may play their full part in the family of nations -- either as independent states or in freely chosen association with other states.

In our efforts toward political settlement we must continue to improve the functioning of the machinery of the United Nations. We hope that the Security Council will proceed to recommend during this session of the General Assembly the admission of additional new members. There are a number of fully qualified states, now awaiting admission, whose election has been supported by the United States but has been blocked for reasons not consistent with the Charter. The most recent applicant, Ceylon,2 one of the new states to emerge in Southern Asia, has been denied the membership to which it properly aspires.

The Report of the Interim Committee on the problem of voting in the Security Council represents the first comprehensive study of this vital problem since San Francisco, and contains the views of an overwhelming majority of the members. The work of the Security Council would be greatly facilitated if the recommendations of the Interim Committee could be accepted by the members of the Council.

The Interim Committee itself has worked usefully and effectively during the past year and can continue to render an important service to the General Assembly. We hope that the Assembly will agree to its continuation for another year in order to give us more experience before deciding whether it should become a permanent part of our Organization.

The United States joins in expressing great appreciation to those individuals who have served on United Nations missions during the past year, either as members of national delegations or of the Secretariat. These representatives in the field have served with courage and devotion to duty. Their service has been rendered under conditions of great hardship and personal danger. We have been given a particularly solemn reminder of these conditions by the tragic death of Count Folke Bernadotte and Colonel Serot at the hands of assassins. The people of the United States join in tribute to the man who worked brilliantly and courageously as the United Nations Mediator in Palestine. We pay tribute also to those others, who have lost their lives in the service of peace.

We believe that the Assembly should give sympathetic consideration to the suggestions of the Secretary General for the establishment of a small United Nations guard force to assist United Nations missions engaged in the pacific settlement of disputes. The fate of the Mediator in Palestine and the experience of the several commissions already working in the field has already demonstrated the need for such a group. This great world Organization should not send its servants on missions of peace without reasonable protection. The guards would be entirely distinct from the armed forces envisaged under Article 43 and would not carry out military operations. They could, however, perform important services in connection with United Nations missions abroad not only as guards but as observers and as communications and transportation personnel.

Mr. President, one of the principal purposes of the United Nations, according to Article 1, is "to be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations" in the attainment of the common ends set forth in the Charter. The problem of making and keeping the peace involves many governments and many peoples. On the issues which call for settlement, the large powers as well as the small must submit their policies to the judgment of the world community. For this purpose appropriate forums have been established for the adjustment of differences through the impartial opinions of the international society. This process has been seriously hampered by the refusal of a group of nations to participate in certain of the important commissions established by this Assembly, such as the Balkan Commission, the Korean Commission, and the Interim Committee.

More important than this boycott, however, is the disturbing lack of cooperation which the United Nations has received in its efforts to resolve such questions as Korea and Greece and to bring about the international control of atomic energy. This persistent refusal of a small minority to contribute to the accomplishment of our agreed purposes is a matter of profound concern.

There is no plot among members of this Organization to keep any nation or group of nations in a minority. The minority position is self-imposed. The record shows that there are no mechanical majorities at the disposal of any nation or group of nations. Majorities form quickly in support of the principles of the Charter. Nations consistently in the minority would be welcomed among the ranks of the majority -- but not at the price of compromise of basic principle.

The United Nations has sought to promote the free exchange of ideas on a basis of full reciprocity. The effort is of the greatest political importance. Any government which by deliberate action cuts itself and its people off from the rest of the world becomes incapable of understanding the problems and policies of other governments and other peoples. It would be a tragic error if, because of such misunderstanding, the patience of others should be mistaken for weakness.

The United States does not wish to increase the existing tension. It is its wholehearted desire to alleviate that tension. But we will not compromise essential principles. We will under no circumstances barter away the rights and freedoms of other peoples. We earnestly hope that all members will find ways of contributing to the lessening of tensions and the promotion of peace with justice. The peoples of the earth are anxiously watching our efforts here. We must not disappoint them.

1 From the United Nations Charter of 1945. Fuller quotation:


to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and

to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of
the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations
large and small, and
to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations
arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be
maintained, and
to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good
neighbors, and
to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
to ensure by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods,
that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic
and social advancement of all peoples,

Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives
assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full
powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present
Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international
organization to be known as the United Nations.
[Source:] [See also:]

2 Sri Lanka -- Ceylon was the area's given name under British colonialism

Original Text Source: The George C. Marshall Foundation

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