83. Position Paper Prepared in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs1
24TH UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY—SCOPE AND MAJOR ISSUES
The 24th United Nations General Assembly, which opens on September 16, should not confront us with any new critical issues and—barring some additional major crises—should not differ substantially from recent Assemblies. It will deal with a familiar list of perennials and ongoing programs. Many key questions—Middle East, some aspects of disarmament, Asian regional security, Nigeria, and perhaps peacekeeping—will be discussed off stage but will be of major interest to the Assembly.
The atmosphere is somewhat better than last year when the invasion of Czechoslovakia underscored the UN’s limitations in dealing with issues involving the vital interests of the superpowers. The President’s policy of moving from confrontation to negotiation in superpower relations has been reassuring. Despite slow progress of the Paris negotiations, current US policies have reduced anxieties about Vietnam. The prospect of SALT talks—even with the disappointments of excessive expectations—will be welcomed in a body precoccupied with disarmament. The moon landing not only enhances US prestige, but has lifted spirits and raised hopes about man’s ability to cope with problems of his environment.[Page 130]
The tone of recent Soviet utterances (and Moscow’s preoccupation with China) presage a more muted East-West debate, though probably no Soviet concessions on hard issues. We see no sign that the Soviets want to rock the boat at this Assembly. Such initiatives as they may surface will probably be based on known Soviet positions, for example, banning chemical and biological warfare.
The underlying mood will be one of concern and deepening frustration that little progress has been made on key issues of interest to the smaller powers. Awareness that the poor and technologically backward societies are being left behind in the new era of technological achievement may lead to pressures in the Assembly for international arrangements that will protect their interests and give them a fair share of the potential benefits of outer space, seabeds and nuclear energy. Another main preoccupation will be whether the major developed powers are ready to make increased financial commitments to accelerate development during the second development decade. A third concern will be with working out an equitable balance of obligations between the nuclear and non-nuclear powers respecting disarmament and the peaceful uses of atomic energy as related to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. There will be renewed efforts to move the West toward concrete support of African causes and hope for significant progress toward a Middle East settlement.
Attitudes toward the major powers are likely to be ambivalent. While wishing to avoid the tensions of the cold war and welcoming signs of major power cooperation, some of the smaller members resent what they consider to be big power collusion at their expense on certain aspects of disarmament, holding down UN budgets, inadequate development assistance, and a general neglect of their priorities.
Because the UN (especially the Security Council) cannot seem to secure “peace”, and because the growing gap between the developed nations and the developing nations is increasingly evident in the UN setting, there is a corresponding tendency to look upon the UN primarily as a forum for pleading causes and bringing pressure to bear on the major powers.
The Assembly has not overcome the problems associated with its membership explosion. It is hampered by cumbersomeness and loquacity and by use of formal majorities to steamroller through unrealistic resolutions and vote programs with budgetary implications over the heads of major contributors on whom the organization must rely for effective action.
The policies and attitudes of the new United States Administration—toward the issues before the Assembly and toward strengthening the United Nations in general—will, of course, be watched with particular attention.[Page 131]
The escalation of conflict and passions in the area, and the lack of significant progress in the Four Power and bilateral negotiations, have hardened Arab and Israeli positions and appear to have adversely affected the prospects of successful peacemaking. One or another aspect of the conflict has been before the Security Council almost continuously. The presence of the Foreign Ministers of the Four Powers and of the Middle Eastern States provides one of the remaining opportunities for making progress toward a peaceful settlement. If no progress is made, the Arabs may press for active consideration of the agenda item on the Middle East, which otherwise will probably not be discussed, with resultant polemics and extreme resolutions. The Arab refugee and human rights items will in any case almost certainly be marked by polemics which will not spare the United States.
Arms Control and Disarmament
The Assembly will again devote major attention to arms control issues. Key objectives for the United States are to build support for an approach to strategic arms talks and for the NPT, to deflect unhelpful constraints and criticisms on such issues as chemical and biological warfare (CBW) and to maintain the Assembly’s support for the Disarmament Committee which we consider a more manageable forum than the Assembly for arms control negotiations. Evidence of substantive progress in Geneva on seabed arms control, coupled with the recent modest enlargement of the Committee and the prospective beginning of SALT talks, would help counter criticism about the restricted composition of the Geneva forum (and its dominance by the Big Two) as well as dissatisfaction with the slow progress in big power negotiations. In any event, there may be sentiment in the Assembly for calling a meeting of the 126-nation UN Disarmament Commission in 1970 which some countries see as a means of pressuring the superpowers to accelerate negotiation on nuclear as well as general disarmament, particularly in moving toward a comprehensive test ban and a ban on chemical and biological weapons. A possible Swedish or Soviet initiative on CBW could be troublesome for us.
These issues present increasing difficulties for us in the Assembly. The Afro-Asians are frustrated over the refusal of South Africa and Portugal to heed hortatory resolutions by the Security Council and the General Assembly on apartheid, Southern Africa and the Portuguese Territories, and disillusioned over the ineffectiveness of mandatory economic sanctions against the Smith regime in Rhodesia. Given this mood, we can expect once again to find ourselves in a small minority of those opposing extreme Assembly resolutions calling on the [Page 132]Security Council to impose sanctions against South Africa and Portugal, as well as for the use of force against the Rhodesian rebels.
In both the Assembly and the Council we have made it clear that we do not believe the application of mandatory sanctions to South Africa and Portugal would be effective or wise. However, our position is increasingly challenged as more Africans become disenchanted with the UN and seek a confrontation between members favoring political efforts and members inclined toward military liberation activities. As it becomes more difficult for us to demonstrate convincingly our disapproval of racism and colonialism in Southern Africa, United States interests in other parts of Africa are likely over time to be under increasing pressure. Confrontation with the Africans on this issue could also affect African support on other issues of concern to us.
A perennial East-West item, Korea, will occasion the usual polemics and resolutions. We had hoped this year to avoid the annual time-consuming wrangle over Korea by avoiding inscription on the agenda, but the USSR and other supporters of North Korea have now inscribed their items calling for the withdrawal of United Nations forces and the dissolution of the UN Commission for Korea. Despite the Assembly’s weariness with the question and failure of many newer countries to appreciate the issue, we expect that with extensive lobbying the Assembly will again adopt resolutions that maintain South Korea’s position.
Canadian and Italian moves toward recognition of Peking are not likely initially to alter the Assembly’s basic arithmetic on Chinese representation, largely because of Communist China’s unresponsive policies and a widespread feeling—specifically shared by the Soviets—that this is not a propitious time for change. While we are thus reasonably confident of defeating the annual attempt to substitute Peking for Taipei in the United Nations, we cannot rule out the possibility of embarrassing initiatives from some of our friends who are under domestic pressure and interested in testing the limits of current US policy for diplomatic, cultural and economic openings to Communist China. These possible initiatives, which would focus on the desirability of Communist China’s admission rather than Nationalist China’s expulsion, could present us with a most difficult situation.
Deep differences over future arrangements for peacekeeping remain unresolved and the deficit resulting from the Soviet-French refusal to pay their assessments for the Congo and Middle East operations [Page 133]unliquidated. In recent months some progress has been made in the peacekeeping committee (established by the Assembly in 1965) on guidelines for observer missions (as against those involving organized contingents), mainly as a result of quiet exchanges between us and the Soviets. The Assembly will thus be in a position to register some degree of progress and routinely continue the mandate of the peacekeeping committee. Further private US-Soviet exchanges will be required to determine whether progress can be made on arrangements involving military contingents and on the financial question.
We will be under pressure throughout the Assembly on our trade and aid policies, particularly our reluctance to commit ourselves at this stage to larger contributions to development. The focus will be Assembly discussion of plans for the Second Development Decade. The poor countries are increasingly frustrated at the inability or refusal of the major developed powers to speed economic solutions and suspect them of becoming less interested and less generous in helping the poor. The majority—not confined to the developing nations—is pressing for major new international commitments in both trade and aid before the decade starts.
Our view—shared by many of the other developed countries—is that the decade should be primarily a vehicle for better coordination of UN development efforts, more effective and sophisticated use of available and prospective resources (in terms of funds, human resources, and family planning) and generating public backing. Our difficulty is that while we have publicly favored an enlarged role for multilateral institutions (IBRD, regional development banks and an increase in our contribution to UNDP), our policies regarding the magnitude of our foreign aid in general and the question of tariff preferences are still under consideration.
One of the newest and most hopeful areas of UN cooperation is the field of human environment. Last year the Assembly broke new ground by expressing the concern of member states over the threat to the quality of the environment and decided to schedule an international conference on the subject in Stockholm in 1972. We have an opportunity at the 24th Assembly to suggest specific areas of international cooperation on such problems as urban planning, housing and community service, air pollution, water supply, and land utilization.
Partly as a result of pressures from the Big Four, the Secretary General’s budget for 1970, which will be presented to the Assembly, has [Page 134]been kept to $164.1 million, about 6% over the 1969 appropriation. We consider this the tightest and the best budget in years. However, there will be strong pressures for additions from the developing countries, and because of the substantial reduction in surpluses from prior years, a greater proportion of the 1970 budget will have to be met from new assessments. As a result, the US contribution may be almost 10 percent higher than for 1969, or about $45.5 million. We must therefore continue our efforts to effect economies wherever and however possible.
An additional concern this year is likely to be the drive to alter the UN percentage scale of assessments so as to give additional relief to the poor nations. We will have a tough time in defending the present assessment criteria, which include the principle of a ceiling of 30 percent on the largest assessment (the US). Any increase in our assessment percentage would provoke a strong Congressional reaction.
Of major importance to us will be Assembly consideration of a proposal by the Secretary General to expand the UN Headquarters facilities in New York at a cost of $60 million. Approval of this measure is required if New York is to remain the focal point of UN activities and important elements of the Secretariat are not to be moved abroad. It is unlikely that the Assembly will approve the proposal and vote funds ($15 million) for the expansion unless the United States is prepared to make some kind of a commitment to contribute a matching $15 million.
Among other items likely to be formally or informally considered during the Assembly, the following are of particular interest:
Microstates. In our efforts to check the extension of full membership to newly independent small entities, we initiated Security Council consideration of the microstates problem as a step toward Assembly discussion of some form of associate status for microstates. The Council appointed an expert committee of the whole to study the matter, leaving open the possibility of later inscribing such an item on the Assembly’s agenda.
Nigeria will probably not be formally considered despite widespread concern about the civil war. There is little disposition to override the desire of the Africans and the Secretary General to keep the issue outside the UN except for cooperation on relief. The Assembly may provide openings to enlist the delegations in diplomatic efforts toward promoting a settlement and improving relief operations.
Seabeds. We want to marshall support for a set of principles and arrangements governing exploration and exploitation of the seabeds in the area beyond national jurisdiction. However, sentiment among the developing countries is swinging toward concentration on establishing [Page 135]international machinery as a means of helping to ensure that they will participate in exploitation and obtain a just share of benefits. We hope the Assembly will not press important substantive seabeds issues to a vote, but refer them back to the 42-member Seabeds Committee.
Outer Space. The Assembly will have before it a report of the Outer Space Committee dealing with the still unnegotiated liability convention and with use of satellites for direct broadcast. With respect to satellite broadcasting, many countries fear that the space powers will misuse this technology for propaganda purposes, and call for international controls on program content. We understand their concerns, but believe these should be balanced against world interest in freedom of information. We expect the debate to be manageable, and that the Committee’s mandate will be continued.
Human Rights. We will again support the proposal for establishing a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to spotlight human rights violations throughout the world and render assistance to states requesting it. The Soviets have opposed the idea because of the vulnerability of closed Communist societies to such exposure but we believe this proposal could materially improve protection of human rights throughout the world.
International Education Year (IEY). The Secretary General will report on preparations for observing the International Education Year in 1970. We expect a consensus that the IEY is primarily an occasion for action by the member states to improve and expand their educational systems.
Tourism. The less developed countries are pressing for establishment of a new intergovernmental tourism organization. The resumed session of ECOSOC this fall is expected to refer to the Assembly a report of the Secretary General on the constitutional, organizational and financial implications of establishing such an organization. We prefer to strengthen the International Union of Official Travel Organizations rather than establish a new organization.
Declaration on Social Progress and Development. We hope this General Assembly will complete an acceptable Declaration, extensively considered last year, intended to define the objectives of social development and the methods and means of achieving it. We hope to compromise a contentious Soviet proposal related to the Arab-Israeli dispute that compensation be made for economic and social damages “caused as a result of aggression and of illegal occupation of territory by the aggressor.”
Youth. The General Assembly will consider a quite satisfactory report of the Secretary General on strengthening and coordinating existing programs of international action relating to youth which was considered by the recent session of ECOSOC.[Page 136]
We expect to have problems with a possible Soviet-Bulgarian proposal that the Assembly adopt a far-reaching “Declaration on Youth” covering economic, political, cultural and human rights and containing politically-slanted provisions.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 296, Agency Files, USUN, Vol. II. Confidential. Drafted in IO/NAP on September 10. An attached transmittal letter to Henry Kissinger signed by Executive Secretary Theodore Eliot is dated September 12. Airgram CA–4850, August 29, sent all posts a general assessment of the upcoming 24th session of the General Assembly and information on issues that might arise. Airgram CA–4891, September 2, identified for all posts the most significant economic, social, and human rights items on the provisional agenda, and airgram CA–5522, October 7, set out the items to be considered by the Administrative and Budgetary Committee (Committee Five). (All ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, UN 3 GA)↩