30. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rogers to President Nixon 1


  • Priority Objectives at the UN: A Status Report

In your October 23 speech to the UN General Assembly, you singled out eight problem areas in which “it is in the world interest” for the UN to make substantial progress.2 The General Assembly wound up its work December 17. I thought you would be interested to know to what extent progress was actually made there in the areas that you marked for special emphasis.

“… to avoid drifting into a widening division between have and have-not nations.” Your pledge that we would do our full and fair share in the matter of aid “in the spirit of the UN’s Second Development Decade” was a major boost to multilateralism. It helped to set the stage for adoption on the next day, by acclamation, of the Second Development Decade Strategy document. Our willingness to join in international reaffirmation of an aid “target” of 1% of GNP, although we avoided any commitment as to our own assistance, contributed significantly to the success of this effort in world-wide economic development cooperation.
“It is in the world interest for the United Nations not to be paralyzed in its most important function, that of keeping the peace.” Although we pressed hard for at least limited steps to improve peacekeeping machinery, the Assembly again failed to move forward and simply remanded the issue to its peacekeeping committee, which has made little headway in five years of effort. However, the fact that you marked peacekeeping as a US priority objective at the UN will strengthen the hand of our negotiators as we try during the coming year for an agreement, initially with the Soviets, on mutually acceptable peacekeeping ground rules.
“… that we cooperate in preserving and restoring our natural environment.” Further progress was made toward defining the goals of the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment which is scheduled [Page 49]to take place in Stockholm. One difficulty has been the suspicion of less developed countries that concern over the environment will inhibit their economic development. To help overcome this, the resolution passed by the General Assembly asked the Preparatory Committee of the Stockholm Conference to give special consideration to the economic development aspects of preserving and restoring the environment.
“… for 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.” We formally proposed early convocation of a law-of-the-sea conference. This encountered opposition from countries that favor wide territorial seas (principally the Latin Americans) and those developing countries that fear they will not be prepared at an early date, but in the end the Assembly agreed to convene the conference in 1973. Much arduous work lies ahead in preparing for agreements at this conference, but a part of the groundwork was laid when the Assembly adopted a declaration of “principles” governing the seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. Those principles are consistent with those that you enunciated in your seabeds proposal last May.
“… to ensure that the quantity of life does not impair the quality of life.” Although the UN population program is now established and growing, some suspicions among less-developed countries were still evident in the fairly large number of abstentions on our proposal to designate 1974 as a World Population Year. The vote was 70–8–31. Among major LDC’s, India, Indonesia and Egypt spoke in favor of population control, and Brazil against. Population policy was also made an integral part of the Second Development Strategy document.
“… that the narcotics traffic be curbed.” In line with your statement, the Economic and Social Council, acting under the authority of the General Assembly, approved an enlarged program of action, for immediate implementation, to deal with drug abuse and the illicit traffic; the establishment of a UN Fund for Drug Abuse Control; and the elaboration by the Secretary General of a plan for long-term action to fight drug addiction.
“… to put a decisive end to sky piracy and the kidnapping and murder of diplomats.” On November 25 the Assembly passed without opposition a strong anti-hijacking resolution on which we had worked closely with the principal co-sponsors. The resolution put further impetus behind the drafting of the hijacking convention which has just been completed at The Hague. Conventions on sabotage and sanctions are less far along. The General Assembly did not consider an item on kidnapping or terrorism against diplomats this year.
“… to ensure that the human rights of Prisoners-of-War are not violated.” The resolution which we sponsored, calling for compliance with the Geneva Convention and spelling out what needs to be done, [Page 50]obtained 67 votes (including India and a fairly large number of Africans), with 30 voting against. The Communists made strenuous efforts to politicize the debate on this humanitarian issue but were placed on the defensive. As Ambassador Yost put it, the vote showed “that this treatment of prisoners weighs on the conscience of the world.”
William P. Rogers
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 300, Agency Files, USUN, Vol. VI. Limited Official Use. Attached memoranda indicate that this memorandum was sent under cover of a memorandum from Melvin Levine to Kissinger on December 29, and from Kissinger to the President on January 4, 1971.
  2. President Nixon’s address to the UN General Assembly is printed in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard Nixon, 1970, pp. 926–932.