Leo Pasvolsky was a journalist, economist, state department official and personal assistant to Secretary of State Cordell Hull. He was one of the United States government's main planners for the post World War II world, and most notably, he was the "probably the foremost author of the UN Charter."The title of his New York Times obituary states "Wrote Charter of World Organization." A short, rotund, mustachioed pipe smoker with a very large and round head, he joked he might find it easier to roll than to walk. An aide compared him to the third little pig in the Three Little Pigs, Hull called him "Friar Tuck." A hardworking "one-man think tank" for Hull, he preferred to stay invisible, in the background. In the words of Richard Holbrooke, he " was one of those figures peculiar to Washington -- a tenacious bureaucrat who, fixed on a single goal, left behind a huge legacy while virtually disappearing from history."
Pasvolsky was born in Pavlograd in the Russian Empire in 1893. His parents were anti-czarists and the family fled to the United States in 1905. After graduating from the City College of New York in 1916 he studied political science at Columbia University and also attended the University of Geneva. He then edited two periodicals, the monthly The Russian Review and Amerikansky Viestnik. Engaged in the tempestuous political climate of the emigres in New York, he debated Leon Trotsky during his visit to New York in 1916. He was at first optimistic about the Russian Revolution, but became embittered and anti-communist after Lenin's October Revolution.
In 1919 he covered the Paris Peace Conference for the New York Tribune, the Brooklyn Eagle and other newspapers, and in 1921 he covered the Washington Arms Conference for the Baltimore Sun. During this period he became a Wilsonian internationalist and softened his stance toward the Soviet Union, arguing for its recognition by the US and its admittance into the League of Nations.
In 1922 he became an economist on the staff of the Brookings Institution, from which he received a Ph. D. in 1936, and which was his institutional base until his death in 1953. In November 1926, he married Clara Christine McCormick of Pittsburgh. Early in the first Roosevelt administration, he was hired by Cordell Hull as his personal assistant but returned to Brookings after two years. Later he worked in the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce of the Department of Commerce (1934-35) and in the Division of Trade Agreements 1935-36 and later in various capacities in the State Department from 1935 to 1946. During the 30s and 40s, frequently with Harold G. Moulton,. his closest ally and collaborator since the 1920's at Brookings, he envisioned a stable, open world economy based on international political cooperation involving a successor to the League of Nations, wider than an alliance of democracies, and with international police powers. Earlier Brookings studies of the 20s and 30s focused on the importance of worldwide demand to the American economy, but by 1941 Paslovsky and Moulton underscored the ever growing dependence of the American economy on foreign raw materials binding the US more tightly to the world economy. "Even before America entered the war, Pasvolsky was thinking about the postwar world. He joined the Council on Foreign Relations in 1938. Along with Norman Davis, Pasvolsky, nicknamed "Pazzy" by some council members, became the main liaison between the Council and the State Department, and regularly attended the Council's Economic and Financial Group meetings in New York.
As Hull's assistant, he was on the same level as the six assistant secretaries of state.
In September 1939, Hull assigned Pasvolsky to planning for the postwar peace, and at Pasvolsky's suggestion, set up theAdvisory Committee on Problems of Foreign Relations. After this became moribund, Hull appointed Pasvolsky the first director of the State Department's new Division of Special Research in February, 1941. When this was split in January 1943 into a Division of Political Studies and a Division of Economic Studies, Pasvolsky continued to supervise them. He was executive officer of the secretive Advisory Committee on Postwar Foreign Policy, which superseded the Division, returning to the broadly based Advisory Committee concept, The work of this committee led to the drafting of an outline for a "preliminary UN" by Undersecretary Sumner Welles, based on the design of the League of Nations. Pasvolsky and Hull eventually opposed Welles' draft as being too hastily written. The major split was over whether the organization would have a "regional" nature, perhaps with local councils, in which each great power would have most of the responsiblity for its region, or would have more centralized structure. Welles, as well as Winston Churchill (and later, Nelson Rockefeller) favored "regionalism," while Pasvolsky and Hull favored a unitary global body. Roosevelt wavered between the two sides.
Throughout 1942, Welles took the lead on planning for the UN and in January 1943 discussed a new and full draft charter with Roosevelt. It incorporated Roosevelt's four power "global policemen" but gave them less than absolute veto powers on an Executive Council with "regional" members too. Welles continued to work on the draft, but after a period of political infighting with Hull, he was forced to resign in August 1943. Subsequently Hull took charge of UN planning, and appointed Pasvolsky to put together a draft charter, which he produced in August. It retained the Security Council, General Assembly and Secretariat, which Welles and Pasvolsky had agreed on, but downplayed regionalism. With the absence of Welles or any other figure with comparable influence, interest and expertise Pasvolsky's ideas and phrasing dominated the drafting henceforward. Before Hull departed for the Moscow Conference (1943), Pasvolsky advised him that economic reconstruction, especially in the USSR, should be a prioritized, while Bowman insisted on territorial agreements restricting Soviet expansion. By February 3, 1944, Roosevelt had approved Pasvolsky's latest draft. It incorporated two major departures. Unlike the League of Nations, it entrusted security matters exclusively to the Security Council. However, it widened the Security Council into an 11 member entity, reducing the dominance of the four big powers that Roosevelt had long envisioned.
Another important innovation at Dumbarton Oaks was the Economic and Social Council. Pasvolsky and Stettinius managed to persuade Roosevelt to drop his idea of adding Brazil as a sixth member of the Security Council. Pasvolsky managed to persuade Hull and eventually the Russians to limit the veto to substantive matters only - not allowing it on procedural ones including discussions.
Thomas Connally said in his memoirs "Certainly he had more to do with writing the framework of the charter than anyone else."
In 1943 Pasvolsky was placed in charge of International Organization and Security Affairs in the State Department with responsibility for drafting the United Nations Charter; he was present at Bretton Woods and Dumbarton Oaks. He became chairman of the Coordination Committee at the San Francisco United Nations Conference on International Organization, where the charter was negotiated and signed. Secretary Hull depended heavily on Pasvolsky to explain the plans and proposals for the UN to President Roosevelt. It is striking how close a resemblance Pasvolsky's statement of objectives for the new international organization bears to the positions he had taken with Moulton throughout the previous decade.
He resigned from the State Department in March 1946. In 1946–53 he was director of international studies at the Brookings Institution, and a the time of his death, he was working on a study of the origin and history of the United Nations. He died of a heart attack on May 5, 1953 in Washington, DC.