383. Memorandum From Harold Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1


The White House has a choice on how we handle the UN account.

The key question is: Does the President want a Johnson policy toward the UN or a State Department policy?

With sporadic exceptions, we have generally left the job to State. There was a time when Arthur Schlesinger (Sam Belk helping full-time) made it his part-time account. Otherwise the UN account has been “additional duty” for an NSC staffer with other responsibilities. There have been brief spurts of high-level attention like the 20th Anniversary speech last year. But I think it is fair to say on balance that there has been no Presidential policy toward the UN and international organizations, at least since the end of 1963.

My earlier memo to you (copy attached)2 spelled this out in more detail. But let me add that, after five short months in this business, I think the primary gripe of the United World Federalists, UN Association and all the other internationalist groups is not that USG refuses to give up its sovereignty to the UN today, so to speak. Their gripe is that the President is not exerting strong leadership in this field.

There are several current opportunities to show this leadership:

We can bury or build from the ICY experience. I will lay this choice out for you and the President in more detail shortly. But the question is whether the President wants to capitalize on a great deal of citizen interest in practical international problems and try to direct it into useful channels.
In March, the President sent a memo3 to department and agency heads instructing them to improve the quality of our participation in international organizations. This was a Budget Bureau product, and Budget is prodding through its channels. But Sisco is not oriented this way, and little is happening in State.
The President has the usual choice of making a speech to the UNGA in the fall. Now is the time to begin vigorous staffing (see my memo).
Ambassador Goldberg has proposed we host a UN seminar on eliminating racial discrimination in connection with the Human Rights year (1968)—a terrific opportunity to marry the President’s domestic and foreign programs.

In short, there are exciting opportunities. There is probably more day-to-day slogging than dramatic achievement in them, but a good substantive speech to the UN and a decent response on ICY could be a very good six months’ work in brightening the President’s image.

How do we do this? You either have to sell the President right off or gamble on selling him case by case until he excites himself. Either way, if you want to make this presidential, you need a full-time staff man. Here are some of the choices I see (keeping the budget in mind):

Budget has a very good man (David Stottlemeyer) working on the international organizations. He has academic study in the field and has seen a lot of the operation on the ground. He wants to make his career in this field. Would it be possible to work out some arrangement with Schultze like you have with Hornig on Keeny—you buy half his time? The Budget half of his time would give him needed depth on the programs.
I could detach myself from NEA and tackle this, though I wonder whether it makes sense to sacrifice over four years of experience in the area and start over again. We are just digging into the new idea business in NEA.
A combination of #1 and #2 would be for Stottlemeyer to spend the NSC part of his time working with Howard and me, at least until he learns how to handle the President’s business.
I don’t know enough about the Johnson-Keeny enterprises to know whether there’s as much duplication there as appears. Could Chuck tackle this?
If you can afford another full-time staff member, the field is wide open.

But whatever we do, it will not succeed unless the intent is to build a positive Johnson posture. Sisco resents outsiders fiercely, but Goldberg is eager to involve the President. So the trick will be to convince IO that Presidential involvement can be a useful adjunct to its policy.4

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Agency File, United Nations, Vol. 3. Confidential.
  2. Not printed; the April 25 memorandum was entitled “Forward Planning: United Nations.”
  3. Dated March 15. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Unarranged Files, NSC Miscellaneous Memos and Reports, 1965–1968)
  4. A handwritten note by Saunders at the end of the memorandum reads: “Afterthought: A long shot might be to put a good White House Fellow on this next season. But he’d be handicapped with IO.”