THE conception that more advanced Powers have a special duty for the welfare of backward peoples is very old. It has been evolving since the end of the fifteenth century, when Queen Isabella of Spain spoke out on behalf of exploited Indians in Central and South America. In 1783, Edmund Burke, shocked by tales of tyranny and corruption in India, defined the power which British traders had acquired there as a "trust," to be exercised for the welfare of the Indian people. During the past 150 years, that objective, sometimes obscured, has been often reaffirmed, and India is now at the threshold of nationhood.

Britain is supremely indebted to America for the painful lesson of the War of Independence which quickened to birth the new imperial doctrine of moral responsibility, stimulated the abolition of the slave trade, and roused men's consciences to the rights of colonial peoples. The United States again set the banner forward when, in 1900, the Philippine Islands were described as "an unsought trust which should be unselfishly discharged." The first phase of that great undertaking came to an end with the proclamation of the Philippines Republic and the inauguration of a partnership between the two countries, based on treaty.

The mandates system, set up by Article 22 of the League of Nations Covenant after the First World War, for the first time imposed external limitation on the sovereign powers of national states holding responsibility for backward peoples under the League. Enthusiasm for the "self-determination" principle, embodied in President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, undoubtedly gave much impulse to the establishment of the new system.

The mandates system was not a great success. Attacks were soon launched against the principles on which it was based, and in particular against the idea of self-determination. There were many, however, who held that the system did not go far enough; that noble aims and high ideals for the liberation of slave races had been frustrated at the council table; that the "race equality" principle, valiantly advocated by the Japanese, had been unwarrantably shelved for selfish reasons by the British and American delegates; and that Article 22 of the Covenant, while paying lip-service to the rights of colonial peoples, had in fact sanctified with the fiction of mandates an exploitation of those peoples which could only be based upon a theory of racial superiority. Specific charges were later brought against individual Mandatory Powers, alleging that they had improperly maintained or extended their domination and had hoodwinked the Mandates Commission. The Commission itself was assailed as a faulty and ineffective mechanism, designed to guard against relapse in the treatment of backward peoples rather than to stimulate advance, and failing both ways. Those who supported the system claimed, however, that it did in fact operate usefully as a brake on actions of the Mandatory Powers, because they sensed international cognizance of their policies and closer scrutiny of their behavior.

Now a new page has been turned with the organization of the United Nations. Chapter XI of the Charter enumerates the quasi-trustee obligations of member nations which administer non-self-governing territories. This is a momentous declaration of standards. Chapters XII and XIII make provision for the establishment of an international trusteeship system "for the administration and supervision of such territories as may be placed thereunder by subsequent individual agreements." The basic objective, in each case, is the promotion of the well-being of the inhabitants of the territories, in accord with the purposes of the United Nations, and, in particular, the furtherance of international peace and security.

A third kind of trusteeship obligation seems to be emerging as a consequence of what is called, in popular phraseology, the "conferring of independence" by a tutelary Power upon its dependency: e.g., the relationship between the United States and the Philippines Republic, and between Britain and Egypt, 'Iraq, Trans-Jordan. It is to be hoped that, at no very distant date, India, Burma and Ceylon may be added to Britain's list. In such cases, the roots of two nations' lives have become intertwined in every field -- trade, industry, political thought, culture, religion and general economy. The sponsor Power must accordingly continue to bear a measure of fiduciary responsibility for its former ward, but the "basic objective" applies also to this kind of relationship. The Charter provides remedies for its disregard by a member nation.

The provisions of Chapters XI-XIII of the Charter represent an attempt to amend and amplify the Covenant scheme in the light of fuller knowledge and painful experience, and to bring all non-self-governing territories under the aegis of its principles. Full emphasis is given to the doctrine that the obligations of administering Powers are a "sacred trust," a joint concern to all nations, to be discharged with scrupulous respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The wardship of backward peoples is no longer viewed through the rosy mists of imperialistic enterprise but has emerged as a clear-cut and vital responsibility for the Charter family of nations.

Nevertheless, there are snags ahead. Trust problems are sure to come up for scrutiny soon, because highly contentious issues have emerged since the chapters were framed. It may, therefore, be helpful to enumerate the important emendations made by the Charter in the Covenant scheme, and to evaluate the aspirations which underly them.


The first emendation is concerned with the ultimate political destiny of non-self-governing and trust territories. Article 22 of the Covenant was commonly interpreted as signifying that independence was the only legitimate goal for the peoples of mandated territories, in conformity with the self-determination idea.

Article 73 of the Charter, which sets up as a general objective "the progressive development of . . . free political institutions" in the case of non-self-governing territories, specifies that such development shall be in accord with "the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples and their varying stages of advancement." The delegates of the United Nations at San Francisco, after animated discussion, seem to have expressly rejected any reference to "independence" in the Chapter XI declaration.

Article 76 in Chapter XII, dealing with the international trusteeship system, employs the guarded phrase "progressive development towards self-government or independence as may be appropriate to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples and the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned, and as may be provided by the terms of each trusteeship agreement." The decision to eliminate or qualify the use of the word "independence" in Chapters XI-XIII is probably irreversible. It represents a defeat for the extreme pressure groups who are convinced that all peoples should have "freedom to be free," by which they seem to mean untrammelled political independence, manhood suffrage under a democratic constitution, and absolute civil and religious liberties.

When the self-determination idea was formulated by President Wilson, it was hailed as a just and wise principle of human action; and it is still widely, and rightly, venerated. But it soon became apparent that there were practical limitations to the application of the principle as a cure for world unrest. President Wilson perhaps thought that he was proposing for European and other countries a doctrine upon which his own country's constitution had been successfully established. Many critics, however, promptly voiced their conviction that his principle repudiated the fundamental concept of American federalism. They contended that, if nationalistic aspirations were thus sanctified, the forces of disintegration would be encouraged, political stability would be undermined, and the essential basis of law and order in a federal state -- namely, the responsibility of the controlling power for the preservation of individual freedom -- would be weakened. The feeling grew that undiluted self-determination would commit the world to a disastrous experiment, intensifying the nationalism of the nation-state, splintering cultural and linguistic affiliations, and overriding vital strategic and economic considerations. And it soon became clear that the division of territories into nation-states on lines clamored for by racial, political, cultural or other pressure groups would foster world insecurity.

The weakest point of the doctrine is its impracticability: the wine of independence is a heady draft for primitive peoples and unruly groups quite unfitted to posture as sovereign states; and it is as yet impossible to create a supra-national state for the maintenance of law and order. President Wilson himself seems to have recognized this in his later days, for he is reported as having said: "When I gave utterance to those words [that all nations had a right to self-determination], I said them without the knowledge that nationalities existed, which are coming to us day after day." Fanatical self-determinationists seem to forget that the indispensable prerequisite for the stability of democratic institutions is supremacy of the rule of law; and that "interdependence," not "independence," must be the key to the prosperity and welfare of the world's peoples, until such time as a supra-national authority can be brought into being. The doctrine of unbridled self-determination has faded from Chapters XI-XIII of the Charter, but its adherents are not likely to acknowledge defeat, and they can point to the fact that it is still enshrined among the "Purposes of the United Nations" in Article 1, and in Article 55.


The second noteworthy emendation of the Covenant scheme is the new objective set for trust territories in Article 76c: "to encourage respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion." The objective finds place also among the "Purposes of the United Nations." The affirmation is, however, qualified in Article 76 by a reminder of the "interdependence" of the peoples of the world. It is also qualified by the dictum in Article 74 that United Nations policy in respect of non-self-governing territories "must be based on the general principle of goodneighborliness, due account being taken of the interests and well-being of the rest of the world," and by the security provisos in Articles 82-84 regarding trust territories.

Bitter controversy is sure to arise over the precise significance of the words "without distinction as to race," in the fundamental-freedoms directive. Supporters of out-and-out race equality, of whom there are many in the ranks of self-determinationists, fervently believe that racial intolerance -- the instinctive antagonism which people of one group seem to exhibit for another group, or perhaps for any other group -- is one of the world's most disruptive forces. They urge, therefore, that it should be banned by world ordinance, and that colonialism -- the dominance by advanced peoples over alien backward races -- should be eradicated, root and branch. They issue dire warnings that the age of the white man's dominance has passed; that all colored peoples are seething with anger on account of racial discrimination; and that from the ferment a new world war will be born in which the white minority must succumb. "Abdicate," they say, "before it is too late. Renounce racial supremacy and racial intolerance and practise brotherhood in sincerity and humility."

But the facts of the present world must be faced. The Charter's tolerant acknowledgement of the existence of non-self-governing and trust territories is in itself antithetic to the concept of race-equality. The age of the white man's ascendancy and his tutelage of colored peoples has not passed in many areas of the globe, and it is bound to continue for many years to come. Its abolition by decree is unimaginable. The chaotic result would tax the powers of a world government fortified with the atomic bomb. The racial involvements on the African continent vividly illustrate this premise. Mr. Cordell Hull, in a broadcast address dated July 23, 1942, stressed the opinion that advances in political freedom must be achieved by each nation primarily through its own effort, and that no nation or group of nations can prescribe the methods or provide the means by which any other nation can accomplish or maintain its own political and economic independence: the pledge of freedom in the Atlantic Charter implies an obligation for each nation to demonstrate its capacity for stable and progressive government.

Again, the late President Roosevelt, speaking on November 15, 1942, on the subject of a pattern for a global civilization regardless of differences of creed or race, said that it is essential to remember that such a pattern is based on two important factors. The first is that there shall be a period of preparation through the dissemination of education and the recognition and fulfillment of physical and social and economic needs; the second is that there shall be a period of training for ultimate independence and sovereignty through the practice of more and more self-government in the various steps leading to complete statehood. Even when a dependency of colored peoples has achieved statehood, it must continue to lean upon some greater Power, probably of the white race, for support and guidance.

But granting that the white man's political dominance cannot, at the moment, be terminated in many countries, the zealot will ask whether the Charter's injunctions about its exercise could not now be supplemented with an ordinance banning race discrimination throughout the world. The answer is that there is not, and probably never will be, a world authority which could enforce such a ban. It is, of course, obvious that physical incongruities, incompatibilities of temperament, idiosyncrasies of speech, and diversities of habits and customs, which are frequently though by no means invariably traceable to racial discordancies, do grievously envenom relations between groups of peoples. This fact has to be taken into serious account in plans for achieving world security. But the diverse characteristics of the world's multitudinous races can never be obliterated. The differences among peoples of the earth arise from causes deep-rooted in the origin of mankind. The diverse races have conflicting customs, traditions and personal habits. They have different ideas of right and wrong, they think differently about religion, about women, about the family bond and many other things, and they have different economic standards. There need not be, and should not be, any implication of superiority or inferiority in these differences, but in fact there is, because each race and order of men cherishes an inner pride in the conviction that men of his own kind are endowed with virtues and qualities superior to those of other stocks.

Colored peoples have rivalries and incompatibilities of their own which make for cleavages and ostracism. The Hindu caste system in India is a negation of social equality; Moslems in various countries hold that the gulf between the infidel and the true believer can be bridged only by conversion. In Russia people of many races have considerable equality of cultural life and economic opportunity, yet political power is not vested in any constitutional body, and democratic liberty, even as we know it, is unborn. Dependent peoples, and particularly those who feel themselves treated as racial inferiors, are apt to regard the Soviet social system as an inspiring ideal. But there is small evidence as yet that colored peoples favor Communism as a political experiment. Only one Communist candidate secured election to the Indian Constituent Assembly, out of a total of 296 provincial seats.

Group intolerance is often a highly composite conceit, not rooted merely in pride of ancestry but in many extrinsic relationships. It is heightened by neighborhood conditions which regulate the cultural, religious and social development of a group, favor the growth of national solidarity, and foster a community of language and a special standard of living. All these factors eventually tend to stereotype the physical characteristics, the speech and habits, and even the thoughts of an aggregation of humanity.

Sheer racial or group assertiveness and intolerance, wherever manifested, is worthy of all condemnation, because it is unbrotherly, undemocratic and unchristian. It is unfortunately very prevalent in many countries; but it will not be cured by a commandment. No provision for the enforcement of race equality in every phase of human relations is likely to be written into the terms of any trusteeship agreement. The discriminatory legislation against Indians in South Africa, and the problem of Jews and Arabs in Palestine, will probably be brought before the General Assembly of the United Nations, but there is little hope that the Gordian knot will be cut in either case, though ventilation of the issues may help to awaken men's consciences.

It is futile to expect that pious references in the Charter to human rights, and to fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, will bring about any revolutionary change. At the moment, it can only be said that white peoples have got to join hands in earnest with colored peoples, and to cause them to join hands, if world peace and prosperity are to be assured. To that end, we must push forward the process, already begun in some countries (notably in Russia, India and the Philippines Republic) of proscribing by public law race discrimination in specific fields, and of discouraging by common sentiment exhibitions of racial and social intolerance in private life. Discriminatory legislation in the matter of immigration quotas and political and civic rights is particularly hurtful to the pride of colored peoples. They are justifiably convinced that national independence will alone ensure for them the "human rights" enjoyed by citizens of sovereign states. But before the race-equality principle can be elevated into an ordinance by United Nations authority, the public is entitled to demand that its precise meaning and significance shall be made clear, and that the sphere in which it is to operate shall be defined. The sentiment of universal human fellowship, a noble emotion, is in some danger of perversion into a creed which repudiates the order of values among men, a temper which hates hierarchies and distinctions of merit, breeding, rank or character; and which would bring about equality by levelling down. That paves the way for dictatorship.


The third emendation of the Covenant scheme is dictated by the requirements of world security and introduces a change of great importance. Article 22 of the Covenant precluded the establishment of fortifications or military and naval bases in mandated territories (Classes B and C), and also banned military training of the natives for other than police purposes and the defense of territory. Article 84 of the Charter imposes upon the administering authority the duty of ensuring that the trust territory shall play its part in the maintenance of international peace and security; and authorizes it to make use of volunteer forces, facilities and assistance from the trust territory in carrying out its security obligations, as well as for local defense and the maintenance of local law and order. The objective, "to further international peace and security," is specifically enjoined as regards both "non-self-governing" and "trusteeship" territories (Articles 73c and 76a). The maintenance of security is stressed again and again as a primary obligation of the responsible Power or Powers in Article 73, Article 82 -- which permits of the designation of the whole or any parts of a trust territory as a "strategic area," -- and Article 83 -- which prescribes that the Security Council shall exercise all functions of the United Nations relating to strategic areas.

Self-determinationists are likely to regard this change as particularly obnoxious, on the ground that it may postpone indefinitely the attainment of independence by unfree peoples; because the "have" Powers may be expected to interpret security requirements in each case to suit their own convenience and rapacity and race prejudice; and because it seems profoundly immoral to exalt force, instead of democratic consent, as the means of attaining security.

Their opponents will argue, on the other hand, that disturbances in one corner of the world may inflame great nations to war, and that aggression cannot be cured by exhortation, because nation groups are driven to expand by the subconscious instinct for survival -- an elemental urge which pays no heed to moral precepts. They will note that the trust system has to be built by the United Nations, not on universal acknowledgment of abstract principles of justice, but on an unstable foundation of power politics, commercial rivalry and political immaturity. And they will point to the events of the past year as reinforcing their contention. Certain non-self-governing countries, notably India, Palestine, Java, Burma, Indo-China and others, in their advance toward nationhood, are experiencing internal troubles which are a potential threat to world security. This is a matter of grave concern, not merely to the individual guardian Powers, but to the United Nations.

Our primary need at present seems to be the maintenance of stable institutions during the painful progress toward world peace. That is why so much emphasis is laid on "security" in the trusteeship Chapters, and why, in particular, the proposed strategic areas are to be brought under the direct supervision of the Security Council (subject to the terms of Article 76 regarding "basic objectives"). Utopian visions of universal self-determination are a dangerous guide for students of world affairs, because they distract attention from the invidious but vital task of upholding law and order in lands where freedom and self-government are coming to birth.


The fourth emendation of the Covenant scheme concerns the classes of territories to which the trusteeship system may apply. Under Article 22, mandates were to be granted only for "those colonies and territories which as a consequence of the late war have ceased to be under the sovereignty of the States which formerly governed them." Under Article 77 of the Charter, there are to be three categories -- namely, territories now held under mandate; territories detached from enemy states; and territories voluntarily placed under the system by states responsible for their administration. But it is to be a "matter for subsequent agreement" which territories in the categories are brought under the trusteeship system and upon what terms. It seems very doubtful whether any trusts will, in fact, be created in the third category. Chapter XI makes trust principles applicable to non-self-governing territories, and any change of status ought presumably to have the consent of the dependent people. They might be expected to object.[i]

The terms of trusteeship for each territory are to be agreed upon by "the states directly concerned," including the mandatory Power in cases where the Mandate is held by a member of the United Nations (Article 79), but the agreements have to be approved by the General Assembly (Article 85), except in the case of strategic areas, where approval is reserved to the Security Council (Article 83). There is room for much difference of opinion as to the proper interpretation of the phrase "the states directly concerned." Consider, for instance, the claim which Soviet Russia put forward, but ultimately withdrew, for individual trusteeship for Tripolitania.

There are a few other less important emendations. Under the Covenant system, members of the Mandates Commission were regarded, by a well-recognized convention, as individuals exercising an independent judgment. The Charter Trusteeship Council, which is to operate under the authority of the General Assembly (Article 85), is to be chosen in rather a complicated manner (Article 86) from among members of the United Nations, and their individual delegates are evidently to act as national representatives.

Article 22 prescribed "equal opportunities for the trade and commerce of other Members of the League," in B and C Mandates, and the principle was apparently applied not only to tariffs and investment of private capital but also to immigration. Article 76d of the Charter, ensuring equal treatment for members of the United Nations and their nationals in commercial and other matters, contains qualifying words intended to protect the interests of the dependent peoples. This opens a door to controversy, and it is doubtful what the outcome will be.

The Council is to have two new powers which constitute a marked improvement over the Covenant system. It will have the right to "accept petitions and examine them in consultation with the administering authority" (Article 87b); that is to say, petitions need no longer be submitted through the Mandatory Power. And it will have the right of inspection through "periodic visits to the respective trust territories" (Article 87c).

In general, the emphasis placed on "voluntary agreement," as an integral feature of the trusteeship system, seems to reflect a special tenderness for the national sovereignty of the states concerned, and to discount the possibility of direct international administration. Article 81 does, however, contemplate that the organization itself, or a combination of member states, may be the administering authority. This alternative was apparently rejected in 1919, during discussions of the Covenant. A United States representative is reported to have said at the San Francisco Conference that "condominium [of bases conquered by America in the Pacific] can only mean pandemonium." America could not carry out her task of salvaging Japan if General Mac-Arthur's administrative authority were subject to limitations and appeals. The British have learned by painful experience in India that a minority or regency administration in a semi-sovereign Indian state, though subject to general supervision by the paramount Power, must be allowed to function with as little interference as possible, if intrigue is to be discouraged and law and order maintained.

In various countries now enjoying sovereign status, and in others likely to achieve it soon, administrative stability and the orderly development of democratic institutions seem jeopardized by local dissensions and deep-seated antagonisms. It is perhaps permissible to speculate (magnis componere parva) whether a useful lesson might not be drawn from the method of city government adopted by a great American town, Cincinnati, in order to bar party rivalry from the administration. The nine elected members of the City Council hire, at a large salary, a City Manager who is selected for his administrative ability and his aloofness from politics, and it appears that he conducts the administration effectively and without any noteworthy political hindrance, in spite of the fact that one party organization has a majority in the Council.

The rival parties in an imperilled state might be constrained to decide, either by mutual agreement or under stimulus from the United Nations in the interest of general security, that "management" of the central administrative machine must be entrusted to expert personnel to be provided by a neutral state. The selection of the neutral state, and the terms of management, would be a matter for negotiation with the United Nations organization, which would also have to exercise general powers of supervision. The system would have to be so devised as to give the fullest possible play to democratic institutions, within the limits of managerial requirements.

The United Nations have yet to find the answers to some vital practical questions concerning non-self-governing and trust territories. Which territories, in addition to the old mandates, are to be the subject of trusteeship? How is the "administering authority" to be selected in each case? What are to be the individual terms of each trust agreement? Who is to identify the "states directly concerned," under Article 79? And lastly, how will discord be avoided in deciding the crucial problem whether a given "trust territory" shall be a "strategic area" or not?

Upon the answers to these questions depends the success or failure of the whole system.

[i] Cf. K. H. Bailey, "Dependent Areas of the Pacific: An Australian View," FOREIGN AFFAIRS, April 1946.

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  • SIR ROBERT HOLLAND, for 35 years an official in India, including five years of service as member of the India Council; Judicial Adviser to the Siamese Government, 1933-1936
  • More By Robert Holland