292. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State (Ball) to President Johnson 1


  • United Nations Trade and Development Conference

I returned last night after attending the first week of the United Nations Trade and Development Conference (UNCTAD) in Geneva. These are my impressions:

This Conference was originally inspired by the Communist Bloc as a device to demoralize trading relations among the industrialized Western countries and gain a propaganda advantage with the less-developed countries. The leadership was subsequently taken over by a small group of intellectuals from the less-developed countries headed by Dr. Raul Prebisch of Argentina.
As it has developed, the Conference has become an organized pressure campaign designed to force a massive transfer of resources from the industrialized countries to the less-developed countries by pegging prices and manipulating world trading patterns.
Dr. Prebisch, who has been working on this Conference for over a year, has managed to whip up a high degree of enthusiasm among his clients. The less sophisticated of the less-developed countries have been led to regard the Conference as the dawn of a golden age. These expectations have been encouraged by the fact that some of the Western industrialized countries—particularly France—have given the appearance of sympathy to Dr. Prebisch’s ideas-although with no intention of adopting them.
We have pursued the opposite tactic. We have tried to bring about the deflation of expectations by directing the attention of the Conference at the hard facts of the development problem and the need to be quite clear as to what each country is talking about.
My speech last week2 was designed as the first step in this deflationary and educational process. It was not intended to gain us any cheap and transient popularity that would lead later to disenchantment and that, meanwhile, could embarrass us on the Hill. As I had hoped, the speech was accepted by the less-developed countries for what it was—an honest statement of the realities. While we did not tell the less-developed countries what they wanted to hear, they seemed generally to accept the fact that we were being straightforward with them and that we intended to be helpful.
Except for a captious and ignorant editorial in The Washington Post,3 the press treatment in the United States has, on balance, been satisfactory. In Europe, including France, the press reaction has been even more favorable; in fact our statement has received more friendly treatment than that of the French Finance Minister. A canvass of the less-developed countries reveals little editorial comment of any kind so far.
In the next few weeks the deceptively solid position of the less-developed countries will crumble as they begin to realize that their individual interests widely differ. As the chief Indian representative has already told me, we can also expect a spreading recognition that the Prebisch gimmickry is not the answer to their problems.
At that point, the United States can and should step in to pick up the pieces and put together a constructive set of proposals that will be both economically sensible and politically feasible. We should be in [Page 629] good position then to take the leadership since the less-developed countries will know that we have held out no false hopes and that, from the beginning, we have told them the truth.
One interesting point was the behavior of the Soviet Delegation. I sent word to the Soviet Minister through the Yugoslavs that we were not going to take the lead in turning the Conference into an East-West confrontation. I said I hoped that the Soviets would follow this same course, but that, if they didn’t, we were loaded for bear and they would wish they had never come.
The next day the Soviet Minister assured me that they would not attack the United States and, in fact, his speech was the mildest Soviet statement I have seen in years. Quite clearly they recognized that, in this particular Conference, their interests were on the side of the industrialized countries.
Che Guevara, on the other hand, delivered a 1–1/2 hour tirade. His speech might have been effective had it been short, but, in the end, it bored the delegates and a number expressed their gratitude to us for not taking Guevara on and making the Conference an East-West donnybrook.

George W. Ball
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Agency File, United Nations, UNCTAD. Confidential.
  2. Ball’s March 25 speech is in the Department of State Bulletin, April 20, 1964, pp. 634–640; excerpts are in American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1964, pp. 141–149.
  3. “Dutch Uncle at the UNCTAD,” March 28, 1964.