375. Memorandum From the Representative to the United Nations (Goldberg) to President Johnson 1


  • Twentieth General Assembly—An Assessment

Summary and Conclusions

After two years on the sick list because of the Article 19 crisis, the General Assembly got back on its feet to dispose of some one hundred items of business.2 The wounds from the financial battle were partly healed although recovery is far from complete. On no single count was a serious United States national interest prejudiced, and on most of the important issues our policy goals were met. In an expanded membership of 117 interested primarily in colonial and economic questions, this was no mean feat. This proved possible, however, in several instances because the United States was prepared to adopt greater flexibility in its [Page 822] voting position. That is, on several issues, we voted for resolutions or abstained on them even when they did not accord with our views, accompanying our vote by an explanation which interpreted the text broadly as falling within the general framework of our policy.

The so-called Cold War items met increasing resistance and apathy, Tibet and Korea suffering accordingly. Moreover, there was a significant and dangerous erosion in our position on Chinese Representation. While by very hard lobbying we maintained a thin majority, we must seriously reconsider our policy on this subject if we are to avoid a major defeat in the Assembly next year. This is particularly true because there was a disturbingly dangerous tendency in this session to treat more and more items which clearly involve substantive matters as being purely procedural and, therefore, requiring only a simple majority to decide.

Disarmament, which occupied more than one-half of the Political Committee’s time, was one area where we can perhaps take the most satisfaction with the outcome. With near unanimity, the General Assembly agreed with our view that disarmament questions should be negotiated in Geneva and that priority attention should be given to efforts to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. This is particularly reassuring since when the session opened it was unclear—in view of its previous lack of progress—whether the Eighteen Nation Disarmament Committee would even be continued. We were able to vote with the overwhelming majority in favor of a World Disarmament Conference which was designed to bring the Chinese Communists into the disarmament picture, but we must proceed delicately on the follow-up steps. We are trying to organize preparations so that any such conference would be productive and that, if it should fail, the onus would rest with the Chinese Communists.

The Assembly regrettably made little headway in clarifying how future peacekeeping operations can be financed in the aftermath of Article 19. The entire problem was remanded to the Committee of 33 for further study. The one bright note in this regard was the Assembly’s willingness to continue the apportionment of UNEF costs for 1965 and 1966 among the entire membership. If this pattern can be maintained in one form or another, United Nations peacekeeping will be more effective and the United States will have less to pay than if the United Nations should have to rely solely on voluntary contributions. We were pleased with a French initiative establishing a study committee to examine how the budgets of United Nations agencies could be brought under tighter control.

A related and equally important item, introduced by the United Kingdom, on Peaceful Settlement of Disputes, unfortunately suffered a sudden demise when the Africans vented their spleen on the British for Southern Rhodesia by deciding not to consider it further in this session.

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Viet-Nam was not on the agenda but, together with the Dominican Republic, constituted the basis of the Soviet attack on us under their item on non-intervention. Their effort backfired to a considerable extent with the Latins and Afro-Asians joining forces to condemn all forms of outside interference, including those clearly endorsed by the USSR and Peiping. A Declaration to this effect was adopted almost unanimously.3 The general debate revealed widespread support for the idea of unconditional negotiations on Viet-Nam, although our bombing of North Viet-Nam is widely criticized.

We were able to make common cause with the Africans on Southern Rhodesia in the Assembly, prior to UDI, and in the Security Council afterwards. While our fast reaction in following the United Kingdom lead, including an oil embargo, has left us temporarily in a strong position with the Africans, the proof of the pudding will be whether the sanctions result in Smith’s downfall; if not, we will come under heavy pressure for more far-reaching measures including mandatory sanctions (Chapter VII)4 and use of force.

We remain in a very small minority on subjects like apartheid and Portuguese Territories where African demands for sanctions go far beyond our views of what is fitting and proper. Our large investments in South Africa are under particularly heavy attack and, if our opposition to apartheid is to remain credible, we may have to take steps to reduce future investment. Should South Africa and Portugal flout the oil embargo on Rhodesia, pressure for further action against them would be particularly difficult to resist.

Over the coming year, we will still be faced with troublesome colonial problems in several General Assembly sub-organs such as the Committee of 24 and the Apartheid Committee.

The merger of the Expanded Program of Technical Assistance and the Special Fund into the United Nations Development Program with a program target of $200 million designed to carry out the United Nations work in the fields of technical assistance and preinvestment had overwhelming support, including that of the United States, as did the decision to establish within the United Nations a United Nations Organization for Industrial Development to assist the developing countries. The fact that the United States and other Western countries were able, after intensive discussion and negotiation, to convince the developing [Page 824] countries to support the latter as a reasonable alternative to their idea of a new Specialized Agency for Industrial Development is encouraging.

The Assembly adopted a Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination which we supported although we considered it necessary to interpret certain questionable provisions as not imposing restrictions on the right of free speech. The proposal for the establishment of the post of United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, endorsed by the United States, was remanded to the Human Rights Commission for further study. Plans were advanced for celebration of 1968 as Human Rights Year.5

Many of the new members will from time to time misuse the Assembly and over-ride its rules on matters in which they are emotionally involved. Nevertheless, the Assembly will continue to be useful to us not only as a forum for exchanging views with friends and enemies alike, but also as a fallback for peacekeeping operations blocked by a veto in the Security Council. We should look to the degree feasible to the Security Council as the primary instrument for accomplishing major peace and security business, despite the fact that the veto and the recent expansion of the Council from 11 to 15 members will limit its utility. Already during this session we have seen how the Council can perform important tasks in this area even while the General Assembly is meeting, since it dealt successfully with such critical problems as Kashmir, Cyprus and Southern Rhodesia.

Arthur J. Goldberg
  1. Source: Johnson Library, White House Central Files, Confidential File, IT 47 UN. Confidential.
  2. During its September 21–December 22 session.
  3. G.A. Res. 2103 (XX).
  4. On November 5 the General Assembly approved a resolution calling on the United Kingdom to use “all necessary measures,” including military force, to subdue the rebellion in Southern Rhodesia. The white colonial administration of Southern Rhodesia declared its independence on November 11. On November 20 the Security Council voted to impose an embargo on Southern Rhodesia. (S.C. Res. 217 (1965))
  5. Documentation on U.S. policies on human rights is in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXXIV, Documents 315 ff.