290. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State (Ball) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1



In accordance with our telephone conversation,2 I am enclosing a strategy paper3 prepared for the UNCTAD meeting in Geneva.

The problems posed by this conference result from the lamentable fact that the less-developed countries have been the victims of a high-class confidence game conducted in elegant economic jargon. When they finally open the package and find it contains old newspapers they will be mightily upset.

Almost alone among the economically competent countries, we have tried to be realistic and honest. We have not been rewarded with smiles of gratitude but we have kept expectations from soaring too far into the stratosphere. Moreover—as was shown at the last OECD Trade Committee meeting—we have brought several of our European allies toward sobriety and responsibility.

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The tactical problems at the conference will be:

How to continue to play a responsible role without appearing overly negative;
How to avoid the appearance of sympathy with commercial policies that could give comfort to the enemy in the forthcoming political campaign; and
How to steer the conference in a manner that will be instructive to the participants, yet permit the conference to end with a whimper and not a bang.

This will not be easy.

The best tactic, I think, is for us to play a relaxed role during the early weeks of the conference while it generates its own confusions. There will be well over 100 countries represented from both sides of the Iron Curtain and the speech-making will be interminable.

I propose to appear for the first three or four days when ministers from most countries will be in attendance.4 I plan a bland opening speech that will contain sympathy for the problem of the LDCs and emphasize the need to free LDC products from discrimination in markets of economically advanced countries. With the exception of cotton textiles and certain raw materials, our own record in this area will stand comparison with that of almost any other Western country. Our skeptical attitude toward special preferences and some of the other Prebisch gimmickry5 is well enough known and can, I think, be let alone without any further public utterance for the time being.

In the meetings of the Gargantuan working committees—each of which will contain representatives of every member country—I think we should, during the early phase, pursue the Socratic method—attempting to draw the other countries out so far as possible. We can be reasonably confident that chaos will result since the interests and views represented will be many and diverse.

At the end we should try to pick up the shards and put together all that is good and salvageable. We have some sane and positive ideas and in the end they should prevail.

George W. Ball
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Agency File, United Nations, UNCTAD. Limited Official Use.
  2. A memorandum of their conversation is ibid., Ball Papers, UN.
  3. Not attached and not found.
  4. Ball visited Geneva for the opening of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, March 23–June 15.
  5. Reference is to a paper submitted by Dr. Prebisch, Conference Secretary General. It was summarized in an attached but not printed February 24 strategy paper.