102. Airgram From the Department of State to All Posts 1



  • 26th United Nations General Assembly—An Assessment

General Appraisal

Three events held the spotlight at the 26th General Assembly (Sept. 21–Dec. 22, 1971):

  • —the entry of the People’s Republic of China;
  • —the overwhelming majority for a resolution calling for a cease-fire and withdrawal of troops in the Indo-Pakistan war when the Security Council was prevented from acting by Soviet vetoes;
  • —and major power agreement in the final days of the session on the election of a new Secretary General.

The achievement record was mixed. Gains were made in UN efforts to cope with world-wide economic, social and technical problems: ECOSOC machinery to coordinate economic development and scientific activity was strengthened; a new post of Disaster Relief Coordinator was established to mobilize, direct and coordinate relief activities in emergencies; agreements were endorsed on outer space liability and biological warfare; and preparations were advanced for conferences on human environment and law of the seas.

At the same time, little headway was made on improving the UN’s institutional capacity for effective action. The election of Kurt Waldheim, former Austrian Foreign Minister and long-time permanent representative to the UN, as Secretary General served to focus on the need for fundamental reforms in the UN’s structure and functioning. The financial crisis and the pressing need for administrative reform are the two primary tasks facing him. While he was not generally regarded as the strongest candidate, we expect that the new SYG will display initiative and administrative talent in coming to grips with institutional problems. His record suggests he will be a prudent activist in seeking to promote agreed solutions to political problems.

Entry of the Peoples Republic of China focussed attention on the realignments that were taking place in the UN. The presence of the PRC will in theory make it possible for the UN to deal with a number [Page 198]of problems heretofore considered beyond its reach. In practice, however, reaching big power accommodations may become more complex because of the acrimonious Sino-Soviet rivalry. North-South issues, both colonial and economic, continue to be major preoccupations of the UN. And, with the organization heading for near-universality, problems relating to the timing of membership of the divided states (the two Germanies in particular) and of accommodating microstates will also need more attention.

China and Shift in Political Balance

The question of Chinese representation and the arrival early in November of the PRC delegation set the dominant political tone. Although we suffered a painful defeat in the voting and deeply regret the exclusion of the Republic of China, we regard the seating of the PRC in the UN as the recognition of a political reality and an opportunity to bring this major power into international councils. Expulsion of the ROC created a possible damaging precedent, and by denying representation to 14 million people in Taiwan it ran counter to the movement for inclusiveness of all peoples.

The PRC delegation did not play an active role on many issues before the UN, apparently preferring first to become familiar with Assembly politics and procedure. From the start, however, it challenged UN “domination” by the US and USSR and imported the Sino-Soviet feud into the General Assembly, the Security Council and ECOSOC. The PRC staked out its claim to leadership of the Third World against the “superpowers” among whose numbers it said it did not want to be counted. Nevertheless, it was apparent in the debate on the World Disarmament Conference and in the Indo-Pakistan conflict that the PRC showed concern for its great power interests. The strident propaganda exchanges between the PRC and the USSR did not sit well with many third world countries some of whom feared that big power polemics might distract attention from their problems.

UNGA as a Political Forum

The annual session has become an important arena for diplomatic talks on a vast range of world and bilateral problems. The Secretary of State held an extended series of diplomatic exchanges with more than 80 Foreign Ministers and special envoys. Apart from explaining US policy on Chinese representation, the Secretary’s address to the Assembly on October 4 ranged over key world issues, notably US-Soviet relations and progress on arms control negotiations, and the conditions for peaceful settlement of the Indo-Pakistan and Middle East disputes.

With respect to institutional problems of the UN, the Secretary stressed the need to select an outstanding successor to U Thant as SYG, [Page 199]and to arrest the deterioration in the UN’s financial position. As the UN becomes a more universal body, he noted in his address, “it will be better able to deal with the lengthening list of global issues confronting it—in conciliating political differences, in reducing the world’s armaments, in curbing the epidemic spread of narcotics addiction, in protecting the environment, in assuring the exploitation of the oceans for the benefit of mankind.”

The effectiveness and credibility of the General Assembly continued to suffer from the politics of confrontation and the tendency of members to place group solidarity above the need for realistic consensus. Sheer numbers remains a problem. UN membership rose to 132 during the 26th session with the admission of five new states—Bhutan, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. No serious consideration was given to our proposal that associate status be offered to future applicants who do not have the resources to discharge their responsibilities as voting members. The anomaly whereby an ever larger majority of members can prescribe paper solutions and vote budgets without necessarily having the support of the few on whom the UN relies for implementing action and for resources will thus continue to sap the organization’s credibility and effectiveness.

Institutional and Financial Ills

This session failed signally to move on the procedural, administrative and financial reforms which had been identified as crucial during the appraisal undertaken in conjunction with the 25th anniversary session the previous year. Despite US initiatives to promote substantial reforms in General Assembly procedures, organization, and voting, so as to speed up sessions, improve operating effectiveness and promote more responsible decision-making, very limited progress was made in the 31-member Special Committee on Rationalization of Procedures appointed by the previous session. However, implementing a recommendation of the Joint Inspection Unit and the committee, the Assembly reduced documentation by 15 percent and made a corresponding reduction in the budget.

Failure to move on revitalizing the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was disappointing. Opposition of the Soviets and French and the apathy of many led the Assembly once again to postpone the action we favored to create a special committee for a full-scale review of the role of the ICJ in the international system.

UN’s Financial Plight. The financial situation deteriorated further during 1971. The Assembly failed to face up to the serious liquidity crisis which has brought the organization to the verge of bankruptcy. We made clear that we would help in finding a solution if others helped substantially as well, and that what is most needed is assurance of adequate contributions from those whose withholding of [Page 200]past assessments brought on the financial crisis. A long-range solution should also aim at eliminating or adjusting those budget items that are creating further arrearages. The Assembly handed the problem to a 15member committee for study, even though the UN Controller had predicted that the UN would run out of funds no later than May or June of 1972.

The US delegation stressed that the UN must live within its means at a time when it was on the verge of bankruptcy, and that new activities should be financed out of savings derived from eliminating or postponing activities of lower priority. We worked for maximum savings in the budget and achieved a measure of success. (Our original estimate of the budget level was $218 million as compared to the $213.1 million finally voted.) This 1972 expenditure budget exceeded that for 1971 by about $21 million, an increase of 10.9%. We considered this rise unjustified particularly in the light of the UN’s financial condition and abstained in the final vote as we had the previous year.

Burden-sharing: US Assessment. On December 22, the US Delegate reiterated to the Assembly the announcement made early in December by the Department that in the interest of more equitable burden-sharing and the principle that a world organization should not be overly dependent on any one member, the US intended to seek a reduction of the US rate of assessment from its present 31.52% to 25%. We will try to achieve this reduction expeditiously and as new members are brought in with a consequent reallocation of assessment shares. This objective is being sought as a matter of principle, not in retaliation for any policy or decision taken by the UN majority which ran counter to the US position.

Peacemaking: Indo-Pakistan Conflict and Middle East

Perhaps the gravest shortcoming in 1971 was in the UN’s role as peacemaker. In the India-Pakistan crisis, however, the General Assembly showed its utility. Early attempts by U Thant to persuade the permanent members of the Security Council to address the crisis over East Pakistan had foundered mainly on Soviet objections. In December, following the outbreak of hostilities the US had brought the dispute before the Council but repeated Soviet vetoes blocked action. On December 7, the General Assembly, acting under the Uniting for Peace procedure, recommended by an overwhelming majority (104–10–11) a ceasefire and withdrawal of troops to their own territories and the creation of conditions for voluntary return of refugees. The vote showed the strong sentiment in the United Nations against the use of military force to divide a member state.

(The Security Council belatedly adopted a resolution endorsing a ceasefire and pointing toward withdrawal of troops, political accommodation, and humanitarian relief under UN auspices.)

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Assembly debate on the Middle East was of relatively low intensity, being overshadowed by the concurrent Indo-Pakistan crisis. The resolution, adopted by 79–7–36(US), essentially reaffirmed the mandate of Ambassador Jarring based on Security Council resolution 242 and called on Israel to respond positively to Jarring’s memorandum of February 1971 (which, inter alia, involved a prior commitment of Israeli withdrawal to the former international border between Egypt and the British mandate of Palestine) in order to renew the negotiations under his auspices. We abstained on the grounds that the GA resolution altered the careful balance of Security Council resolution 242 and because the text could have been better designed to enhance the climate for serious negotiations. Neither the resolution nor the US abstention seems to have had an adverse effect on the prospects for participation by either side in such negotiations.

Peacekeeping. During 1971 our efforts to reach an understanding, initially with the Soviets, on reliable and effective means to conduct and finance peacekeeping proved unavailing. We had submitted certain suggestions to the Soviets early in 1970, hoping to find a basis for agreement. The long-delayed Soviet response, in mid-1971, continued to insist that Permanent Members of the Security Council must achieve unanimity at every stage of a peacekeeping operation, including direct control over operational matters. Our position continues to be that to assure flexibility and efficiency the SYG should retain executive latitude while consulting with a committee of the full Council. The General Assembly’s Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, which had been trying to complete groundrules for the conduct of observer missions, marked time. Nor was any progress made on advance preparations for peacekeeping operations, such as earmarking and training troops and observers. The 26th session renewed the mandate of the committee and called for more frequent progress reports, but there is no sign that the impasse can be broken in 1972, expecially as the entry on the scene of the PRC introduces a new variable.

Other Political and Security Issues

On a number of political and security issues that preoccupied the session, the US found itself playing a defensive role. By and large we succeeded in containing what we considered damaging or undesirable actions.

World Disarmament Conference. The Soviet proposal for a World Disarmament Conference (WDC) was recast to conform with amendments sponsored by Mexico and Sweden intended to save face for the Soviets when the PRC opposed the Soviet formula. The Swedes feared that an open Soviet defeat might have harmful ramifications in the entire disarmament field. The resolution was amended to call only for the “consideration” of a World Disarmament Conference, a formula we could support.

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Indian Ocean Peace Zone and other Arms Control Issues. We abstained on the Ceylonese resolution for virtual prohibition of arms in the Indian Ocean when the sponsors refused to amend it. On the resolution as a whole abstentions almost equalled affirmative votes (61–0–55). On the key operative paragraphs abstentions actually outnumbered affirmative votes, indicating that a more moderate approach is favored by the majority. The US also abstained on sweeping resolutions to end nuclear tests and for a moratorium on the production and stockpiling of chemical weapons. In both cases we consider more discussion and negotiation on verification to be essential before such restraints would be viable and add to international security.

Colonial and African Issues. We were often in a small minority of those opposing or abstaining on resolutions which proposed extreme and unworkable measures to combat colonial and racial policies in Southern Africa. Thus, we voted against those resolutions on Portuguese Territories, Rhodesia, and apartheid in South Africa which contained provisions for mandatory enforcement action by the Security Council or contemplated solutions by force. Because the matter was still under consideration by the US Government, we did not participate in the vote on a resolution expressing grave concern at the decision of the US Congress which would allow importation of Rhodesian chrome ore despite the mandatory provisions of Security Council sanctions resolutions. We abstained on a resolution rejecting British settlement proposals on Rhodesia on the grounds that the Assembly should not prejudge the views of the Rhodesian people on acceptability of the proposals. On the other hand, we supported recommendations for practical goals to counter apartheid in South Africa. Secretary Rogers affirmed US acceptance of the ICJ advisory opinion which recognized the illegality of South Africa’s continued presence in Namibia and urged states to discharge their responsibilities toward Namibia accordingly. He observed that the opinion was consistent with US support of practical and peaceful means to achieve self-determination and end racial discrimination.

Strengthening International Security. Western countries did not succeed in side-tracking a substantive resolution on this Soviet item. We pointed out that realistic progress in strengthening international security could only be achieved by concrete measures rather than hortatory declarations. In the end, changes in the resolution to reflect third world concerns and postponement of the vote till late in the session reduced Soviet propaganda gains.

Korea. The Korean item, which has been the occasion for East-West acrimony, was deferred to the next session, mainly because of the bilateral talks being held at Panmunjom between Red Cross representatives of North and South Korea.

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Security of UN Missions. The Soviet-Arab drive for a harsh resolution on the security problem faced by certain UN missions in the United States was blunted. The resolution adopted sets up a committee on host country relations whose form and composition give some promise of dealing with the problem in a temperate manner.

Treaty Law: Outer Space and Prohibition of Biological Weapons

The 26th Assembly was noteworthy for endorsing new conventions on outer space liability and on prohibiting biological weapons. Eight years of difficult negotiation in the UN Outer Space Committee culminated in agreement on an Outer Space Liability Convention covering the liability of space powers for damage and loss caused by falling objects. Even more important was the convention for the prohibition of biological weapons which the General Assembly, by an overwhelming vote of 110–0–1(France), commended to members for signature and ratification. The PRC delegate, though seated, did not vote and was recorded as absent. A companion resolution called on the Conference of the Committee for Disarmament urgently to continue negotiations on measures for the prohibition of chemical weapons.

Reform of ECOSOC . On the economic and social side, the key accomplishment in 1971 was the strengthening of ECOSOC to assure its primacy in review and appraisal of the Second Development Decade and in the application of science and technology. This recognizes ECOSOC’s role as the intergovernmental organ for achieving coordination of economic, social and technical activities throughout the UN system. The General Assembly, by a vote of 105–2(UK, France)–15(Soviet bloc), endorsed a plan which the US had initiated at the summer session of ECOSOC, which included enlargement of the Council from 27 to 54 (so as to broaden representation) and establishment of standing committees to deal with the application of science and technology and to review and appraise progress in implementing the goals of the Second Development Decade. Enlarging ECOSOC requires an amendment to the Charter ratified by two-thirds of the membership, including all five permanent members of the Security Council. Enlargement is aimed at rekindling third world confidence in ECOSOC as the central organ to achieve UN economic and social objectives. Asians and Africans pressed hard at the 26th session for a redistribution of seats in their favor and were partially satisfied; however, this issue may be raised again.

Disaster Relief Coordinator. In response to another US initiative, the United Nations greatly strengthened its capability to respond to requests for aid from countries struck by natural or other disasters. Starting early in 1972 the newly appointed UN Disaster Relief Coordinator will have wide powers to mobilize, direct and coordinate relief activities in cases of natural disaster and other emergency situations. [Page 204]Several large humanitarian relief operations undertaken by UN agencies in East Pakistan and Peru demonstrated both the value of multilateral efforts and the need for their speedy mobilization and coordination.

Conferences on Environment and Oceans. The Assembly made progress in preparations for major international conferences on the preservation of the human environment (Stockholm, June 1972) and on the law of the sea (LOS), scheduled for 1973 to fix boundaries and establish rules for sharing the benefits of the seabed. A Soviet effort to postpone the environment conference unless the GDR participated with voting status was rejected, but the issue of GDR participation will continue to be troublesome. Timetables of preparatory work for both conferences were approved. An expanded Seabeds Committee will hold two sessions in 1972 in preparation for the LOS conference. We are pleased at the results so far which move us closer to the President’s goal of creating a rational new international law for oceans.

Other Assembly Actions: Narcotics, humanitarian aid, human rights

US policies were reinforced in the areas of narcotics control, humanitarian aid, and human rights in armed conflict. Resolutions were adopted urging support for the UN Fund for Drug Abuse Control and requesting UN Specialized Agencies to provide assistance to developing countries to combat illicit production and traffic in narcotic drugs; calling on governments and international agencies to support humanitarian aid to Pakistan refugees in India and relief requirements in East Pakistan, programs to which the US had made the major contributions; and calling for observance of rules contained in conventions governing human rights in armed conflict.

The US pressed for observance of human rights during armed conflict in accordance with existing instruments, mainly the Geneva Conventions (to which 130 nations are parties), calling for humane treatment of prisoners of war and war victims. We underscored our unremitting concern for implementation of these rights on behalf of our POWs held by North Vietnam. We were disappointed that the Assembly again failed to act on creating a post of High Commissioner for Human Rights, deferring the matter for two years to the 28th session. The Assembly also stalled action on elimination of religious intolerance.

North-South Differences on Trade and Monetary Matters. Charges that rich nations failed to take their trade and monetary concerns into account led to a demand by the LDCs that UNCTAD negotiate on such matters. This move was successfully countered, but resolutions were adopted highly critical of world trade and monetary practices, demanding that all restrictive measures imposed as a result of the financial crisis be lifted and that “all interested countries” participate in the creation of a new international monetary system. Some of the criticism [Page 205]was disarmed by the Washington agreement of the Group of Ten at the end of December on a framework for exchange rate adjustments, by US lifting of the import surtax, and by the Administration’s announcement that it would introduce legislation in the next Congressional session on a generalized system of preferences for LDCs. In addition, the US supported key resolutions sponsored by the LDCs on “transfer of technology” to under-developed economies and rescheduling of debts. Unresolved differences on trade, aid and monetary matters will remain chronic problems and are bound to be pressed by developing nations at the world conference on trade and aid (UNCTAD III) to be held in April 1972.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, UN 3 GA. Limited Official Use; Priority. Drafted by Pelcovits and the IO Staff; cleared by Herz, Rothenberg, Hennes, McDonald, Walker, McNutt, and Chase; and approved by Assistant Secretary De Palma.