147. Draft Memorandum From Secretary of State Rogers to the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (De Palma)1



  • PARA Review on UN Prospects, Opportunities and Problems Over the Next Five Years

The following is a summary of the conclusions reached at the review on the five-year prospects of the UN system chaired by the Deputy Secretary on September 8, 1972.2 It is intended to serve as basic policy guidance to the Bureau of International Organizations and the United States Mission to the United Nations.

Part I—Guidance

The UN five years hence probably will not be substantially different from the UN of today.

  • —Much of what the UN does is not directly relevant to the primary interests of the United States. Nevertheless, the facilitative and supportive functions of the UN system have become part of the essential infrastructure of the international community, including the United States. The importance of the UN as international manager of a multiplicity of social, economic and technical services will grow over the next five years.
  • —The political-security dimension of the UN will remain distinctly secondary to the economic-social-technical work of the UN. Although there may be improvement in the Security Council’s peacekeeping and peacemaking ability, this will be slow in coming.
  • —The confrontation will sharpen between the undeveloped majority, who see the UN primarily as a means of obtaining developmental and trade advantages, and the affluent minority. African “liberation”, [Page 378] colonialism and apartheid will be an increasing focus of General Assembly attention.
  • UN budgets in the Ô70s will continue to rise, but at a slower rate than in the Ô60s.

Given this forecast, our basic policy toward the UN should be oriented along the following lines:

We should concentrate our efforts on the technical, scientific and social areas, working to establish international regimes on matters such as seabeds, drug control, hijacking, environmental pollution, etc. This is the area in which the UN has been most successful to date, and in which we can further real interests of our own.
While maintaining bilateral aid programs, we should contribute our fair share to UNDP and allied programs. For dollar inputs that are small in comparison with our bilateral aid total, we reap a significant political payoff. We must be careful, however, to keep the international financial institutions well insulated from third world political pressures.

[Omitted here are 3 paragraphs unrelated to development issues.]

Part II—Discussion

We and our European allies who founded the United Nations in 1945 saw it preeminently as an organization to provide political security. Although the UN did have an economic and social dimension from the outset, our principal concern was the creation of an organization which would prevent the rise of a state bent on international hegemony, la Nazi Germany. Additionally, we expected the five major powers who formed the permanent membership of the Security Council to cooperate in settling disputes among lesser powers so that such disputes would not reach the point of open warfare.

During the Cold War years, we found the UN useful as a forum in which to denounce Soviet ambitions and actions. But the massive influx of newly independent states in the 1960s ended the almost automatic pro-US majority in the General Assembly and a more moderate Soviet stance enabled them to work successfully with the new majority on many political issues.

The “third world” countries which now form the overwhelming majority in the Assembly see the UN primarily as a means to obtain a transfer of skills and resources from the developed world. And the political issues debated in the Assembly are those which seize the attention of undeveloped Asia and Africa: colonialism, white minority rule and apartheid. With political and security functions dependent upon cooperation among the five permanent members—and therefore spasmodic [Page 379] and uncertain—the economic and social dimension has become predominant. In 1971, about 94% of UN expenditures went for economic, social and human rights activities; only 6% went for political and security functions.

We are substantially wealthier and militarily stronger than the bulk of the UN membership, and therefore our concerns and needs are quite different from those countries. Because we are so different, and because we have only one vote in the Assembly, we find our concerns often untreated and our views frequently ignored. And because we pay so substantial a proportion of the UN’s bills, we instinctively find this situation anomalous. We have thus come to see the UN system as a whole as a rather uncomfortable environment for the US. However, this is because we fail to perceive that the world itself has changed. In its priorities, the UN does reflect the concerns of a majority of the world community.

Looking ahead five years, we have little reason to expect any basic change in UN orientation. As long as the interests of the Big Five remain divergent, peacekeeping will remain uncertain, though it is possible that more can be done through good offices and fact-finding missions to prevent disputes among minor powers from reaching the boiling point. The confrontation between the undeveloped majority and the affluent minority over economic and trade questions will, if anything, sharpen. And the demand will grow for action against South Africa, Portugal and Rhodesia, and for UN assistance to African “liberation groups.” On these latter issues, the prospects are that by 1977, the UN will be voting substantial sums to assist “liberation groups” and that, as the UK integrates her foreign policies more closely with her EC partners, the US will increasingly find itself isolated on African issues.

Given this prospect, what orientation should the US adopt toward the UN?

We begin with the assumption that despite petty annoyances, we will continue to be able to prevent the UN from taking actions which would go directly against vital US interests; that while many UN actions and programs will not be directly relevant to our primary concerns, we have a real interest in the success of most of the economic, social and technical work of the UN system. The facilitative and supportive functions of the UN and its specialized agencies have become part of the essential infrastructure of the international community, including the US. The UN will thus have usefulness for us as it manages a multiplicity of social, economic and technical services.

This combination of no threat, a lack of relevance in certain areas but also growing and essential benefits for us in others, dictates that we remain engaged in the UN system. We also have an interest in preserving and fostering the UN’s potential for action in the political-security [Page 380] area. Indeed, if we believed the UN to be useful or necessary at the peak of our relative power and influence, it would be strange to find the UN unnecessary at a time when our ability to control international military and economic situations unilaterally has diminished.

Given present realities and our forecasts for the next five years, however, we should take a fresh look at the role we will wish to play in the UN system.

  • —We should concentrate efforts on using the UN system to establish international regimes on matters such as law of the sea and seabeds, drug control, hijacking, environmental protection, telecommunications, epidemic control, etc. That is, we should recognize that it is the scientific, technical and social areas in which the UN has been most successful to date, and that we can use this area to further real interests of our own. The LDCs will cooperate, but their major interest in programs affecting their economic development will have to be taken into account.
  • —The UN Development Program (UNDP) is and will remain the UN activity most important to the majority of the UN membership. Its performance has improved recently, and though high quality is hardly uniform, the same may be said of our own aid programs. For political reasons, we certainly will wish to maintain our bilateral aid operations. Moreover, we will always find some UNDP projects far from our liking in conception or administration. Nevertheless, we should recognize that (1) UNDP and allied programs play an essential role in convincing the undeveloped majority of our willingness to provide the UN with at least the minimum resources needed to deal with economic and technical needs; and (2) our dollar inputs amount to little more than 5% of our (now reduced) bilateral aid total. In short, with relatively modest inputs we derive certain political and public relations benefits stemming from the fact that UNDP is the most important UN activity to most of the membership.

We must be careful, however, to keep the international financial institutions well insulated from third world political pressures.

  • —We must recognize that UNDP and allied programs, even though inexpensive in terms of our total aid commitment still involve appropriation of substantial funds. It will be necessary to educate the Congress and the public on the point that our own interest dictates such programs be adequately funded, requiring an increase in the level of our contribution if we are to pay our fair share.
  • —We should substantially lower our profile in the General Assembly on matters which do not affect our vital interests, particularly on African issues. Resolutions that we would consider unwise or extreme will continue to be offered in the Assembly and will continue to pass by large majorities. Our general approach should be that, rather [Page 381] than attempting to improve bad resolutions—for example on African issues—we either abstain or vote against as interests and circumstances dictate. As a rule, however, we should avoid a vote against such resolutions if in doing so we would find ourselves in the company of only South Africa and Portugal. If some matter of principle is involved, our position should be succinctly explained for the record. Certainly we should attempt to end the US public impression and concern that in the General Assembly we are constantly arrayed against the rest of the world.

[Omitted here is a paragraph on UN peacekeeping.]

William P. Rogers 3
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, S/S Files: Lot 82 D 126, PADM 56. Secret. Attached to an October 5 memorandum from Claus Ruser (S/PC) to the Deputy Secretary advising him that the Policy Analysis Decision Memorandum (PADM) stemmed from a PARA review that Ruser chaired on September 8. Ruser recommended that the draft memorandum be sent to the Secretary for his review and approval considering his “deep interest and involvement in UN matters.” There is no indication that the memorandum was sent to Secretary Rogers. The Policy Analysis and Resource Allocation (PARA) process was internal to the Department of State and did not include clearances from other agencies.
  2. A 25-page paper entitled “PARA on the United Nations,” dated August 28, is attached but not printed.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.