78. Address by President Nixon to the United Nations General Assembly1
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General,2 distinguished Chiefs of State and Heads of Government, Your Excellencies the Foreign Ministers, and Delegates here assembled:
I am honored to greet the members of the United Nations on behalf of the United States as we celebrate this organization’s 25th anniversary. On this historic occasion I wish to pay a special tribute to the founders of the United Nations—to Secretary General U Thant and to all others who have played indispensable roles in its success.
In considering an anniversary and in celebrating one, there is a temptation to recount the accomplishments of the past, to gloss over the difficulties of the present, and to speak in optimistic or even extravagant terms about our hopes for the future.
This is too important a time and too important an occasion for such an approach. The fate of more than 3-1/2 billion people today rests on the realism and candor with which we approach the great issues of war and peace, of security and progress, in this world that together we call home.
So I would like to speak with you today not ritualistically but realistically; not of impossible dreams but of possible deeds.
The United Nations was born amid a great upwelling of hope that at last the better nature of man would triumph. There was hope that Woodrow Wilson’s dream of half a century ago—that the world’s governments would join “in a permanent league in which they are pledged to use their united power to maintain peace by maintaining right and justice”—would at last be realized.
Some of those early hopes have been realized. Some have not.
The U.N. has achieved many successes in settling or averting conflicts.
The U.N. has achieved many successes in promoting economic development and in fostering other areas of international cooperation, thanks to the work of dedicated men and women all over the world.[Page 275]
These are matters that all the members of the United Nations can point to with very great pride.
But we also know that the world today is not what the founders of the U.N. hoped it would be 25 years ago. Cooperation among nations leaves much to be desired. The goal of the peaceful settlement of disputes is too often breached. The great central issue of our time—the question of whether the world as a whole is to live at peace—has not been resolved.
This central issue turns in large part on the relations among the great nuclear powers. Their strength imposes on them special responsibilities of restraint and wisdom. The issue of war and peace cannot be solved unless we in the United States and the Soviet Union demonstrate both the will and the capacity to put our relationship on a basis consist-ent with the aspirations of mankind.
Commenting here today on U.S.-Soviet relationships, I see no point in responding in kind to traditional cold war rhetoric. The facts of the recent past speak for themselves. An effort to score debating points is not the way to advance the cause of peace.
In fact, one of the paramount problems of our time is that we must transcend the old patterns of power politics in which nations sought to exploit every volatile situation for their own advantage, or to squeeze the maximum advantage for themselves out of every negotiation.
In today’s world, and especially where the nuclear powers are involved, such policies invite the risk of confrontations and could spell disaster for all. The changes in the world since World War II have made more compelling than ever the central idea behind the United Nations: that individual nations must be ready at last to take a farsighted and a generous view. The profoundest national interest of our time—for every nation—is not immediate gain but the preservation of peace.
One of the reasons the world had such high hopes for the United Nations at the time of its founding was that the United States and the Soviet Union had fought together as allies in World War II. We cooperated in bringing the U.N. into being. There were hopes that this cooperation would continue.
It did not continue, and much of the world’s—and the U.N.’s—most grievous troubles since have stemmed from that fact of history.
It is not my intention to point fingers of blame, but simply to discuss the facts of international life as they are.
We all must recognize that the United States and the Soviet Union have very profound and fundamental differences.
It would not be realistic, therefore, to suggest that our differences can be eliminated merely by better personal relationships between the [Page 276] heads of our governments. Such a view would slight the seriousness of our disagreements.
Genuine progress in our relations calls for specifics, not merely atmospherics. A true détente is built by a series of actions, not by a superficial shift in the apparent mood.
It would not be realistic to suggest that all we need to improve our relations is “better mutual understanding.”
Understanding is necessary. But we do understand one another well enough to know that our differences are real, and that in many respects we will continue to be competitors. Our task is to keep that competition peaceful, to make it creative.
Neither would it be realistic to deny that power has a role in our relations. Power is a fact of international life. Our mutual obligation is to discipline that power, to seek together with other nations to ensure that it is used to maintain peace, not to threaten the peace.
I state these obstacles to peace because they are the challenge that must be overcome.
Despite the deep differences between ourselves and the Soviet Union, there are four great factors that provide a basis for a common interest in working together to contain and to reduce those differences.
The first of these factors is at once the most important and the most obvious. Neither of us wants a nuclear exchange that would cost the lives of tens of millions of people. Thus, we have a powerful common interest in avoiding a nuclear confrontation.
The second of these factors is the enormous cost of arms. Certainly we both should welcome the opportunity to reduce the burden, to use our resources for building rather than destroying.
The third factor is that we both are major industrial powers, which at present have very little trade or commercial contact with one another. It would clearly be in the economic self-interest of each of us if world conditions would permit us to increase trade and contact between us.
The fourth factor is the global challenge of economic and social development. The pressing economic and social needs around the world can give our competition a creative direction.
Thus, in these four matters, we have substantial mutual incentives to find ways of working together despite our continuing difference of views on other matters.
It was in this spirit that I announced, on taking office, that the policy of the United States would be to move from an era of confrontation to one of negotiation.
This is a spirit that we hope will dominate the talks between our two countries on the limitation of strategic arms.[Page 277]
There is no greater contribution which the United States and the Soviet Union together could make than to limit the world’s capacity for self-destruction.
This would reduce the danger of war. And it would enable us to devote more of our resources—abroad as well as at home—to assisting in the constructive works of economic development and in peaceful progress: in Africa, for example, where so many nations have gained independence and dignity during the life of the United Nations; in Asia, with its rich diversity of cultures and peoples; and in Latin America, where the United States has special bonds of friendship and cooperation.
Despite our many differences, the United States and the Soviet Union have managed ever since World War II to avoid direct conflicts. But history shows—as the tragic experience of World War I indicates—that great powers can be drawn into conflict without their intending it by wars between smaller nations.
The Middle East is a place today where local rivalries are intense, where the vital interests of the United States and the Soviet Union are both involved. Quite obviously, the primary responsibility for achieving a peaceful settlement in the Middle East rests on the nations there themselves. But in this region in particular, it is imperative that the two major powers conduct themselves so as to strengthen the forces of peace rather than to strengthen the forces of war.
It is essential that we and the Soviet Union join in efforts toward avoiding war in the Middle East, and also toward developing a climate in which the nations of the Middle East will learn to live and let live. It is essential not only in the interest of the people of the Middle East themselves, but also because the alternative could be a confrontation with disastrous consequences for the Middle East, for our nations, and for the whole world.
Therefore, we urge the continuation of the cease-fire and the creation of confidence in which peace efforts can go forward.
In the world today we are at a crossroads. We can follow the old way, playing the traditional game of international relations, but at ever-increasing risk. Everyone will lose. No one will gain. Or we can take a new road.
I invite the leaders of the Soviet Union to join us in taking that new road—to join in a peaceful competition, not in the accumulation of arms but in the dissemination of progress; not in the building of missiles but in waging a winning war against hunger and disease and human misery in our own countries and around the globe.
Let us compete in elevating the human spirit, in fostering respect for law among nations, in promoting the works of peace. In this kind of competition, no one loses and everyone gains.[Page 278]
Here at the United Nations, there are many matters of major and immediate global concern on which nations even when they are competitors have a mutual interest in working together as part of the community of nations.
In approaching these matters each of us represented here, in our national interest as leaders and in our self-interest as human beings, must take into consideration a broader element: “The World Interest.”
It is in the world interest to avoid drifting into a widening division between have and have-not nations.
Last month I proposed a major transformation of the American foreign aid program.3 A major thrust of my proposals is to place larger shares of American assistance under international agencies, in particular the World Bank, the U.N. Development Program, the Regional Development Banks. We seek to promote greater multilateral cooperation and the pooling of contributions through impartial international bodies. We are also encouraging developing countries to participate more fully in the determination of their needs. Within the inter-American system, for example, new mechanisms have been established for a continuing and frank dialogue.
In the spirit of the U.N.’s second development decade, we shall strive to do our full and fair share in helping others to help themselves—through government assistance, through encouraging efforts by private industry, through fostering a spirit of international volunteer service.
It is in the world interest for the United States and the United Nations, all nations, not to be paralyzed in its most important function, that of keeping the peace.
Disagreements between the major powers in the past have contributed to this paralysis. The United States will do everything it can to help develop and strengthen the practical means that will enable the United Nations to move decisively to keep the peace. This means strengthening both its capacity for peacemaking, settling disputes before they lead to armed conflict, and its capacity for peacekeeping, containing and ending conflicts that have broken out.
It is in the world interest that we cooperate, all of us, in preserving and restoring our natural environment.
Pollution knows no national or ideological boundaries. For example, it has made Lake Erie barely able to support life, it is despoiling Lake Baikal, and it puts Lake Tanganyika in future jeopardy. The U.N. [Page 279] is uniquely equipped to play a central role in an international effort to curtail its ravages.
It is in the world interest for the resources of the sea to be used for the benefit of all—and not to become a source of international conflict, pollution, and unbridled commercial rivalry.
Technology is ready to tap the vast, largely virgin resources of the oceans. At this moment, we have the opportunity to set up rules and institutions to ensure that these resources are developed for the benefit of all mankind and that the resources derived from them are shared equitably. But this moment is fleeting. If we fail to seize it, storm and strife could become the future of the oceans.
This summer the United States submitted a draft United Nations convention on this matter which I hope will receive early and favorable attention.
It is in the world interest to ensure that the quantity of life does not impair the quality of life.
As the U.N. enters its second development decade, it has both the responsibility and the means to help nations control the population explosion which so impedes meaningful economic growth. The United States will continue to support the rapid development of U.N. services to assist the population and family planning programs of member nations.
It is in the world interest that the narcotics traffic be curbed.
Drugs pollute the minds and bodies of our young people, bringing misery, violence, and human and economic waste. This scourge of drugs can be eliminated through international cooperation. I urge all governments to support the recent recommendations of the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs, to take the first step toward giving them substance by establishing a United Nations Fund for Drug Control. And I urge all governments to support a strengthened narcotics treaty that would govern all production by restricting it solely to medical and scientific purposes. The United States has already circulated such a proposal for consideration at the next session of the U.N. Narcotics Commission.
It is in the world interest to put a decisive end to sky piracy and the kidnapping and murder of diplomats.
In this assembly last year, I called for international action to put an end to air piracy. This problem has grown even more acute. Recent events have dramatically underscored its gravity and also underscored the fact that no nation is immune from it. The United States has taken a number of steps on its own initiative. But this issue requires effective international actions, including measures to permit [Page 280] the suspension of airline services to countries where such piracy is condoned.
The increase of kidnappings of accredited diplomats is a closely related matter that should urgently concern every member of this Assembly.
Finally, it is in the world interest to ensure that the human rights of prisoners of war are not violated.
In an address earlier this month proposing a cease-fire in Indochina, I called for the immediate and unconditional release by both sides of prisoners of war and innocent victims of the conflict. This is not a political or a military issue. It is a humanitarian issue. The United Nations should register its concern about the treatment of prisoners of war and press all adversaries in this conflict, indeed in every conflict, to honor the Geneva Convention.
I have mentioned some of the problems on which the United Nations can—if its members have the will—make substantial progress. There are many others. I urge this body, and the U.N. system, to move ahead rapidly with effective action. And as we move ahead, the United States will do its full share.
The United States came to its present position of world power without either seeking the power or wanting the responsibility. We shall meet that responsibility as well as we can.
We shall not be so pious or so hypocritical as to pretend that we have not made mistakes, or that we have no national interests of our own which we intend to protect.
But we can with complete honesty say that we maintain our strength to keep the peace, not to threaten the peace. The power of the United States will be used to defend freedom, never to destroy freedom.
What we seek is not a Pax Americana, not an American Century, but rather a structure of stability and progress that will enable each nation, large and small, to chart its own course, to make its own way without outside interference, without intimidation, without domination by ourselves or any other nation. The United States fully understands and respects the policy of nonalignment, and we welcome joint efforts, such as the recent meeting in Lusaka, to further international cooperation.
We seek good relations with all the people of the world. We respect the right of each people to choose its own way.
We do hold certain principles to be universal:
- —that each nation has a sovereign right to its own independence and to recognition of its own dignity.
- —that each individual has a human right to that same recognition of his dignity.
- —that we all share a common obligation to demonstrate the mutual respect for the rights and feelings of one another that is the mark of a civil society and also of a true community of nations.
As the United Nations begins its next quarter century, it does so richer in experience, sobered in its understanding of what it can do and what it cannot, what should be expected and what should not.
In the spirit of this 25th anniversary, the United States will go the extra mile in doing our part toward making the U.N. succeed. We look forward to working together—working together with all nations represented here in going beyond the mere containment of crises to building a structure of peace that promotes justice as well as assuring stability that will last because all have a stake in its lasting.
I remember very vividly today my visit to India in 1953 when I met for the first time one of the world’s greatest statesmen, Prime Minister Nehru. I asked him, as he considered that great country, with its enormous problems, what was its greatest need? He replied: The greatest need for India, and for any newly independent country, is for 25 years of peace—a generation of peace.
In Africa, in Asia, in Latin America, in Western Europe, in Eastern Europe—in all the 74 nations I have now visited, one thing I have found is that whatever their differences in race or religion or political systems, whatever their customs, whatever their condition, the people of the world want peace.
So let the guns fall silent and stay silent.
In Southeast Asia, let us agree to a cease-fire and negotiate a peace.
In the Middle East, let us hold to the cease-fire and build a peace.
Through arms control agreements, let us invest our resources in the development that nourishes peace.
Across this planet let us attack the ills that threaten peace.
In the untapped oceans of water and space, let us harvest in peace.
In our personal relations and in our international relations, let us display the mutual respect that fosters peace.
Above all, let us, as leaders of the world, reflect in our actions what our own people feel. Let us do what our own people need. Let us consider the world interest—the people’s interest—in all that we do.
Since the birth of the United Nations, for the first time in this century the world’s people have lived through 25 years without a world war.
Let us resolve together that the second quarter century of the United Nations shall offer the world what its people yearn for, and what they deserve: a world without any war, a full generation of peace.
- Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard Nixon, 1970, pp. 926-932. The President spoke at 3:55 p.m. at the UN Headquarters. His address was broadcast live on television and radio.↩
- The President of the General Assembly was Dr. Edvard Hambro of Norway; the Secretary-General was U Thant.↩
- See Document 70.↩