38. Action Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • U.S. Position in the United Nations on Aid Targets

We must take a position in the UN on aid targets by October 13, when the General Assembly is to vote on the “strategy” for the Second Development Decade. Targets are the major issue in the strategy. There are three options:

Option 1: U.S. “reaffirmation” of the international aid target (public and private flows) under which industrialized countries endeavor to extend one percent of their GNP in foreign assistance.

State has proposed a statement to do so (Tab A).2 However, it would not be much of an affirmation. It would:

  • —Emphasize our “staggering domestic needs” for public and private resources and our “enormous” external burdens.
  • —Note that we are unable to say when we may meet the one percent aid objective, or whether our efforts to meet it will be successful at all.
  • —Conclude that we are prepared to make our “best efforts to increase both official and private flows and hope we can be successful in moving closer to the aid objectives.”

The statement would create no illusions about our reaching one percent. It would imply that the world should not expect us to attain that target in the foreseeable future—or perhaps ever. However, it would not completely negate the target, which is of great political importance to developing countries and apparently provides some assistance to other governments in getting Parliamentary support for aid appropriations.

Its main drawback is that its weakness would expose us to major criticism in the UN from the lower income countries. No stronger position, however, seems consistent with budgetary and Congressional realities.

Option 2: A commitment to seek from Congress a 10 percent annual increase in official U.S. aid expenditures, multilateral and bilateral.

Senior AID officials (Tab B)3 [Page 87] have suggested this new approach, which would:

  • —Let bygones be bygones, frankly recognizing that we are so far below the one percent target that it would be unrealistic to expect to reach it in the foreseeable future even if we wanted to.
  • —Be recognized by other countries as an important step forward, since it would add concreteness to the general statement in your Aid Message “that the downward trend of U.S. contributions to the development process should be reversed.”
  • —Focus on official aid, which governments can control, and thus avoid one of the many major weaknesses of the one percent target (which lumps together official aid and private capital, making Switzerland the top “donor” in some years).

This option would help shift attention away from the one percent target, which is both intellectually indefensible and wholly unrealistic for the United States. (There is growing sentiment among other donor countries to back away from one percent, and we could expect a sizable following if we were to take the lead in doing so.) In addition, such a commitment would provide a better basis for long-range planning in the developing countries, which our new aid program will stress, than a vague “affirmation” of the one percent target.

There are three major drawbacks: it would represent a commitment to ask Congress for annual increments (about $200-$250 million at present levels) for a particular program; it would not satisfy the foreign policy community as much as a U.S. endorsement—probably however vague—of one percent; and it could even be misleading to the foreigners by appearing to promise more than it really could.

Option 3: No commitment beyond the statement in your recent Aid Message that the downward trend should be reversed, noting however that (a) we were seeking an increase this year, (b) would expect to be able to seek further increases in the future, and (c) emphasizing our efforts to improve the qualitative and non-financial aspects of our own program (through untying, tariff preferences, multilateral coordination, etc.)

This would probably be the most honest indication of our budgetary situation and new approach to foreign assistance, with its focus on [Page 88] quality and non-financial programs. It would avoid raising unrealistic hopes among the foreigners, and might even help the program domestically.

However, State feels strongly that overt reversal of our long-standing support for the one percent target would be read as a U.S. retreat from concern with development and “could poison the atmosphere” at the 25th Anniversary General Assembly. This is so particularly because the U.S. now ranks last among the sixteen OECD donor countries, having contributed last year only 0.5 percent of our GNP to development through official and private channels (though we still contribute much more than any other donor in absolute terms). All other industrialized countries pay at least lip service to one percent, and the U.S. would be completely isolated if we opposed it.


The problem is to balance our aversion to targetry with the foreign policy importance of avoiding a negative stance toward the Second UN Development Decade, and on aid levels in general. I think that State’s proposed “reaffirmation” of the one percent target (Option 1) achieves this objective without committing us to anything new. However, all of your domestic advisers—OMB, CEA, Peter Flanigan, Bill Timmons, and Martin Anderson—recommend that we make no commitment beyond the general statement in your recent Aid Message (Option 3).


That you adopt Option 1: the statement “reaffirming” the one percent target proposed by State.


Disapprove, prefer Option 2: a commitment to ask Congress each year for annual increments of 10 percent in U.S. official aid expenditures

Disapprove, prefer Option 3: no new commitment on aid levels, recommended by OMB, CEA, Flanigan, Timmons, and Anderson

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Agency Files, Box 195, AID, 10/7/70-12/31/70. No classification marking. Attached to an October 5 memorandum from Bergsten to Kissinger, in which Bergsten noted that Option 1 was the best option to minimize foreign policy problems and recommended that Kissinger sign the memorandum to the President. On Bergsten’s October 5 memorandum Kissinger wrote a note to Haig: “Al: If we can’t move it by Monday [October 12] might approve Option 1 for P. in my name.”
  2. Document 26.
  3. Not printed. Tab B is a September 24 paper entitled “International Targets for the Transfer of Resources to Developing Countries,” prepared by Ernest Stern. Earlier in the year, on May 12 Stern sent a memorandum to Samuels regarding the 1 percent resource target. He noted that the 1 percent target was not arbitrary, but instead reflected the best estimates available of the LDCs’ resource requirements during the coming decade. (Washington National Records Center, Agency for International Development, AID Administrator Files: FRC 286 73 A 518, OCM (Peterson Task Force) FY70 April 1970)
  4. This option is checked, and Haig wrote: “Haig for HAK for Pres,” followed by the stamped date of October 12. A note indicates the State Department was notified orally and written confirmation was sent from Davis to Eliot on October 13 (see footnote 5, Document 26). (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Agency Files, Box 195, AID 10/7/70-12/31/70)