96. Airgram From the Department of State to Certain Posts 1



  • 26th United Nations General Assembly—Agenda Items in the Political,
  • Economic-Social, and Administrative Fields
[Page 178]


  • (a) CA 4584 dtd August 29, 19702
  • (b) CA 6368 dtd December 23, 19701

This airgram provides the basis for exchanges of views on key issues with foreign ministry officials prior to the departure of host government delegations for the 26th UN General Assembly, which opens on September 21. Contrary to the procedure suggested last year, the information is to be used for oral presentation and the Department is not requesting that written papers be passed to host governments. These discussions should be used, as appropriate, to enlist support for US positions and to determine the positions and likely initiatives of others. Information on host government attitudes should be reported telegraphically to the Department, with USUN included in all cases as an info addressee.

Background information on developments during last year’s General Assembly (25th Session) will be found in the Department’s air-gram assessing the 25th GA (Ref (b)). The roll-call voting record of the host government is contained in a Department of State (IO) Document “Roll Call Votes at the 25th Session of the General Assembly,” which was transmitted separately.

[Omitted here is a table of contents.]

General Assessment

The 26th UNGA could well be a turbulent one. Activity and debate on the Chinese Representation issue will be even more intense than usual as the moment of decision is seen to be approaching. This issue and the problem of selecting a new Secretary-General could well dominate the session. Also, if no progress on the Arab-Israeli dispute seems perceptible and/or tensions in the area rise markedly, a major debate on the Middle East could ensue and surcharge the parliamentary scene. The situations in Cyprus and India/Pakistan, fraught with danger of conflict, could also lead to heated debates. Perennial cold war themes should be somewhat muted although we can expect the Soviets to attack propaganda targets of opportunity, making common cause as usual with the African-Asian majority on colonial issues.

On the positive side there seems a good possibility that the UNGA will support a fundamental reform in the organization and procedures of ECOSOC and a completed draft convention on liability for falling space objects. Also, an agreed draft convention prohibiting bacteriological warfare agents may be presented for Assembly approval.

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Little headway has been made on the effort launched at last year’s 25th Anniversary GA to overhaul and streamline the GA’s procedures. The study committee will report only modest progress. Another discouraging report will be made by the Committee studying ways to improve peacekeeping procedures, there having been no change in the obstructive Soviet position.

1. Secretary-General’s Succession

We accept U Thant’s repeated statements that he is not available for reappointment and believe it is time for all UN members to come to grips with the problem of choosing his successor.

U Thant’s term as UN Secretary-General ends December 31, 1971. A successor must be appointed by the 26th GA, acting on the recommendation of the Security Council. Obviously, not only to gain appointment but also to be able to function effectively, any Secretary-General must be acceptable to UN members generally, as well as to the five permanent members of the Security Council.

We have taken no firm position on any individual to succeed U Thant and have little indication of the views of other UN members on this problem. We place great emphasis on the need to find someone having not only outstanding qualifications as a statesman but also the managerial talent required to weld the Secretariat into an effective organization and to attack the UN’s serious financial problems. In our view, a candidate’s character, integrity and ability far outweigh any regional considerations. We hope the host government’s delegation shares our views on the qualifications required of an SYG and will be prepared to help gain a consensus in favor of a candidate best meeting them. It is a disservice to the UN to persist in the hope that U Thant may be persuaded to stay on for a certain period. Failure to choose a new Secretary General this year will only weaken the UN.

There are at present three announced candidates: Jakobson, Finland’s UN Representative; Amerasinghe, Ceylon’s UN Representative; and Endalkatchew Makkonen, former Ethiopian UN Representative. Former Austrian Foreign Minister Waldheim, now Austria’s UN Representative, has also let it be known that he is available. Others, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadruddin Aga Khan, have also been discussed as possible candidates, and “dark horses” may yet emerge.

2. Chinese Representation

Our objective is to see the People’s Republic of China seated under conditions which do not involve denial of representation to the Republic [Page 180]of China. The legal argumentation on both sides promises to be conflicting, but we regard the issue as primarily political and pragmatic. Seating of the PRC is necessary and desirable. Ejection of the ROC would be a grave matter, something that would be very difficult to undo. That is why we regard any such move as an “Important Question” requiring a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly. As we see it both the PRC and the ROC are realities. The UN should deal with realities, not try to impose the views of one party on the other. The conflicting claims of the PRC and ROC would not be prejudiced by the seating of the PRC under the terms of the kind of resolution we have in mind.

We can expect a certain amount of acrimony during the maneuvering and debate, but do not intend to contribute to it—although we will work hard to win acceptance for our proposed solution. The important thing is that for the first time it isn’t necessary for any country to accept the either/or approach of the Albanian resolution. The UN will not make progress toward the ideal of universality if it now deprives of representation a government that effectively governs some 14 million people. Countries that find they cannot support us on this issue could still make a valuable contribution by not pressing contrary views.

3. Middle East

Three agenda items on the Middle East (“the Middle East”, UNRWA, and alleged Israeli practices in the occupied territories) will provide potential platforms for debate on Arab-Israeli issues. Pressures for an all-out debate, its tone and the nature of comments about US policies in the Middle East will depend largely on whether discernible progress has been made on an interim settlement or other aspects of Arab-Israeli negotiations. There may be pressures for resolutions going beyond those of last year calling for extension of the standstill/cease-fire, for unconditional resumption of peace talks under Jarring, and condemnation of alleged Israeli practices in the occupied territories. We would prefer as little Assembly discussion as possible; if a resolution related to Security Council Resolution 242 and the Jarring Mission is proposed, we will want to have it worded in a way which does not undermine our efforts to promote a settlement acceptable to the parties.

The UNRWA debate will ostensibly focus on the plight of refugees, the precarious financial situation of the Agency, and the renewal of UNRWA’s three year mandate (which expires June 20, 1972). We expect no problem with respect to GA endorsement of UNRWA’s ongoing activities, but believe that mounting UNRWA deficits will require some cutbacks in its program unless other countries increase their contributions.

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4. African Items4


Namibia (South West Africa)

An OAU delegation will present the African view on Namibia early in the General Assembly and plans to call for a special meeting of the Security Council. We fully appreciate the importance of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice upholding the UN’s termination of South Africa’s mandate on Namibia and are examining possible constructive responses to it; we hope others will do likewise and avoid the temptation to see the opinion as an invitation to press for extreme, unworkable measures.

The Court decided that General Assembly Resolution 2145 (XXI), October 28, 1966, had validly terminated South Africa’s mandate in Namibia. The Court determined that South Africa is obligated to withdraw and that UN Member States are under an obligation to recognize the illegality of South Africa’s continued presence and to refrain from giving any support to South Africa relating to its occupation of Namibia. Subject to further definition by the Security Council, the Court considered that Member States have an obligation to abstain from entering into treaty, diplomatic, or economic relations with South Africa which would imply recognition of the legality of South Africa’s presence in Namibia.

We are studying what actions the opinion may require as well as other policy initiatives. We can already state, however, that the Court has not called for—and we cannot support—such drastic actions as mandatory sanctions against South Africa or the expulsion of South Africa from the UN. We hope the Africans understand that concentration on such extreme measures will not contribute to a resolution of the Namibia problem and will dissipate the opportunity provided by the Court’s opinion to seek more constructive and practical actions from the world community. (See also Item 9 on the International Court of Justice.)


Portuguese Territory Issue in the ECA

We will strongly oppose a proposal that the General Assembly approve the official designation of “liberation movement” leaders as the representatives of Portugal’s African territories on the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

FYI. The ECA has been maneuvering for several years to have “liberation movement” leaders fill the seats of Angola, Mozambique, and Portuguese Guinea at its meetings. These territories have been associate members of the ECA since 1963, and in 1969 the ECA decided to [Page 182]ask the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to determine who should represent them. The OAU nominated the “liberation movement” leaders in 1970 and the ECA passed their names to ECOSOC for referral to the General Assembly. At its July 1971 session, ECOSOC agreed to transmit the names of these nominees to the General Assembly for possible approval at its 26th Session. End FYI. Our position will be that acceptance of the nominations would be contrary to the Charter and the practice of the United Nations. It would in fact create a most dangerous precedent which could be exploited by dissidents in other parts of the world.

The United States recognizes that Angola, Mozambique, and Portuguese Guinea are associate members of the ECA. We hold, however, that the designation of their representatives must be left to the administering power—Portugal. We are guided by an unchallenged legal opinion of August 5, 1964, from the Office of the Legal Counsel of the UN which states that under international law the external representation of dependent territories is the responsibility of the state administering the territories and responsible for their international relations.

Although we abstained (instead of opposing) in ECOSOC when the ECA representation issue was considered, we and others viewed the question not as one of approving the nominations, but only of transmitting them to the General Assembly. We did, moreover, express our opposition to the ECA nominations in statements both in committee and the plenary. FYI. Our abstention was also based on a consideration of other issues being considered in ECOSOC. End FYI.

In opposing approval of the OAU nominees, we will need to enlist considerably more support than has been shown. We believe that a meaningful approach can be made to almost every country on this issue on the grounds of the dangerous precedent the Assembly would set if it (1) overruled a still valid UN legal opinion and (2) endorsed the legality of any dissident group’s effort to become the official representatives of a territory. FYI. To gain the needed votes on purely legal grounds will probably prove difficult; our chances to carry this issue would be much improved if Portugal could see fit to designate representatives from these territories. End FYI.


Political Issues in UN Specialized Agencies

We will be taking a hard look at the terms of any General Assembly resolution which dumps political issues in the laps of the UN specialized agencies, and hope others can be persuaded to join us in preventing further politicizing of these bodies. Political activity undermines the work of the agencies and possibly the support of states for them.

The meetings of many UN specialized agencies in 1971 were marked by a high degree of political activity, particularly on African issues. This followed resolutions in the last two General Assembly sessions [Page 183](2555 (XXIV) and 2704 (XXV)) calling on the specialized agencies to implement the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. Among the more objectionable things the specialized agencies have been asked to consider are discontinuing “collaboration” with Portugal and South Africa; examining the possibility of inviting “liberation movement” leaders in African colonial territories to participate in the agencies’ meetings (cf. preceding item); and giving assistance to people “struggling for their liberation from colonial rule”. The issue is on the General Assembly agenda this year and may result in even more extreme proposals.

Pressing such proposals in the Specialized Agencies can only interfere with the implementation of their responsibilities for exchange of information, setting standards and providing assistance to developing countries.

5. Effectiveness of the Security Council

We strongly believe that all UN members should be concerned that the Security Council conduct its business in a deliberate and serious manner commensurate with its responsibilities. By the terms of the Charter the Security Council has been given a most important role to play in maintaining international peace and security. All members, particularly the less powerful members, should be able to turn to the Security Council if and when they consider their territorial integrity or independence threatened and expect that the Security Council will consider their case seriously and take appropriate action. This in turn places a duty on all UN members not to take lightly a decision to appeal to the Security Council, to cooperate so that the Security Council can determine its own actions in full consciousness of its responsibilities, and especially to cooperate fully with the Security Council in its efforts to investigate thoroughly and to arrive at independent assessment of the situation before it acts.

In some cases there have been grounds to believe that appeals to the Security Council may have been made in large measure for domestic political purposes and that some members were not prepared to cooperate with Security Council missions investigating the situation. In our view it is not in the interest of any UN member for the Security Council to permit its prestige and authority to be degraded in this manner.

We have also become increasingly concerned over the disposition of regions, FYI particularly Africa and Asia End FYI, to rotate their SC seats among the members of the region without regard to the influence of these members both within and outside the region or to the competence and stature of their likely representatives on the Council. We believe that in proposing candidacies for the Security Council greater attention must be given to Article 23(1) of the UN Charter which states that due regard should be specially paid to the contribution of members to the maintenance of international peace and security.

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We recognize that we cannot expect any region consistently to ignore the desires of their weaker, less influential members for that recognition considered inherent in election to the Council. However, we hope the regions will come to recognize their own stake in the calibre of the Council and the prestige accruing to the region itself when it has outstanding representation on the Council. For example, Asian prestige is almost certain to be enhanced next year with Japan and India in the two Asian SC seats, and the Latin Americans have sought from the beginning in their own regional self-interest to have one of their two SC seats always occupied by one of their middle-sized or larger members.

We have not ourselves reached any conclusions about how regions might best be encouraged to recognize their own interest in the stature of the Council and in the calibre of regional representation thereon. We are, however, giving this problem our active attention and would therefore be most interested in the thinking of other member states in this regard.

6. Measures to Strengthen the Economic and Social Council

The most widely discussed item at the last ECOSOC session concerned measures to strengthen the Council itself. At the close of the session the Council approved a 15-nation (US) resolution (17–7–3) calling for ECOSOC enlargement and the establishment of two new standing committees for science and technology and review and appraisal of the Second Development Decade. The most far-reaching of these recommendations calls for enlargement of the Council from 27 to 54 members. ECOSOC was enlarged from 18 to 27 members in 1965 but was still considered too small by many developing countries. Although the US took the initiative as a co-sponsor of the resolution, we sought to ensure that prior to any such enlargement ECOSOC would take immediate steps to retain jurisdiction over vital economic and social issues which are clearly within its competence. We also emphasized that such enlargement is envisaged only in order to strengthen the work of the Council and is not in any way designed to encourage the enlargement of other UN bodies, particularly the Security Council. The resolution will now come before the General Assembly. Creation and enlargement of ECOSOC committees can be accomplished by decision of ECOSOC without GA approval. Council enlargement, however, requires not only approval of two-thirds of the General Assembly but also ratification by two-thirds of the UN membership, including all five permanent members of the Security Council.

7. Disaster Relief Coordinator

The Economic and Social Council during its summer session in Geneva adopted a resolution (25–0–2) calling on the United Nations Secretary-General to appoint a Disaster Relief Coordinator to mobilize, [Page 185]direct and coordinate relief activities of various organizations of the UN system in response to requests for disaster assistance from stricken states. The Coordinator is to have a small permanent office in the UN which will be the focal point in the UN system for disaster relief matters. If the General Assembly approves this initiative, which we support, the coordination office could become operational by the beginning of next year. The necessity for a central UN disaster relief office has received additional impetus as a result of the large scale assistance in response to the two recent disasters in East Pakistan provided by the UN, the specialized agencies, voluntary agencies and donor countries.

8. UN Financial Problem

We expect the SYG will address a special message to the 26th GA concerning the UN deficit situation and prospects for its solution. According to Secretariat sources, the UN faces an impending liquidity crisis, possibly by early 1972, if the present situation is allowed to persist. In late May Ambassador Hambro of Norway, who had volunteered his good offices in this matter after serving as President of the 25th GA, circulated a suggested solution to all permanent missions in New York. To date there has been little official reaction by UN members. The U.S. position on this subject is well known: No over-all solution is possible until the major delinquents (U.S.S.R., other East European members and France) assert their willingness to contribute a sizable cash contribution (about $50 million). This same point was made, though in more veiled terms, by Ambassador Hambro in his memorandum. Once the delinquent members make their contributions, we are prepared to pitch in with other members toward eliminating the deficit altogether.

9. The International Court of Justice


Decision on Namibia

We are pleased with the conclusions in the operative paragraph of the Court’s opinion on Namibia (Item 4a). In reaching these conclusions, however, the Court adopted a wider view of the powers of the Security Council under articles 24 and 25 of the UN Charter than we have generally accepted. It has been our view that the decisions of the Security Council which are binding are those taken under Chapter VII of the Charter (Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace and Acts of Aggression), whereas the Court has reasoned that other actions taken under the Council’s responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security as defined in Article 24 may also be binding on UN members under Article 25. The Court’s reasoning gives us problems and we anticipate that in voting in the Security Council to accept the decision we will make the point that the Council is passing only on the Court’s conclusions and not on any of the specific reasoning underlying those conclusions.


Role of the Court

We urged last year that an extensive review of the International Court of Justice be undertaken, and as a result the Secretary-General circulated a questionnaire seeking the opinions of member-states on a variety of issues concerning the Court. We think that this year the General Assembly should appoint an ad hoc committee to study the report of the Secretary-General on the results of his questionnaire and to make further recommendations on strengthening the role of the Court. We will support, and may introduce, a resolution to that end.

10. Seabeds—Law of the Sea

We think it of the highest importance that the 26th General Assembly adhere to the 1973 date set by the 25th General Assembly and call upon the Seabed Committee (acting as a Preparatory Committee for the Conference) to proceed with all possible speed towards drafting treaty articles on outstanding oceans questions. The increasing accessibility of ocean resources, and the danger of more conflicting jurisdictional claims, point up the urgent need to avoid delay in achieving international agreement on these issues.

11. Stockholm Conference on the Environment

The UNGA will consider a report of the Secretary-General on the UN Conference on the Human Environment to be held in Stockholm in June 1972. We expect that GA consideration of the Secretary-General’s report will be pro forma and non-substantive. The sticky issue will be the question of invitations, particularly with respect to East Germany. Guidance on the invitation issue will be provided in a separate message.

12. Outer Space

On June 29, after three years of difficult negotiations, the Outer Space Legal Subcommittee adopted a draft Convention on liability for damage caused by objects launched into outer space. We support this draft, believe that it is the best obtainable under existing circumstances (e.g., the Soviet position) and that the GA should approve it despite the preference expressed by a few states for stricter provisions on the claims commission and on the extent of compensation.

The Soviets have submitted a draft Lunar Treaty for consideration during the 26th GA. While we are unsure of their motivation in proposing a treaty which adds very little to the substance of present space law, we are still reviewing it and will be interested in the views of others.

13. Human Rights


High Commissioner for Human Rights

The United States will oppose attempts at further delay of discussion of the proposal to establish a new post of High Commissioner for Human Rights, which was first presented in 1965. The High Commissioner would be an [Page 187]official at the level of an Under-Secretary who would provide advice and assistance to the Secretary-General and UN organs concerned with human rights. In addition, he would be empowered to give assistance on human rights problems to states requesting it.

The proposal has received the endorsement of the Commission on Human Rights and of ECOSOC but at each GA session since 1967 its consideration has been postponed. We are prepared to discuss clarifying amendments to the proposal which will make it more attractive to more states, so long as the essential degree of independence and objectivity for the High Commissioner is preserved.


Respect for Human Rights in Armed Conflict

Last year, discussion of the item on respect for human rights in armed conflict occupied a major portion of the Third Committee’s time and five resolutions were adopted by the GA, including one dealing with humane treatment of prisoners of war which was co-sponsored by the U.S. Since the last UNGA, the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva has begun the process of updating and supplementing the rules of international humanitarian law applicable in armed conflicts. Since we consider that expert forum far preferable to the more political UNGA committees, we hope to limit UN action at the 26th GA to endorsement of ICRC activities, avoiding either the adoption of additional substantive resolutions, which could prejudice the work of the ICRC forum, or the institution of unnecessary and potentially damaging parallel activities in the UN. If other governments express interest in introducing such resolutions, we would discourage them from doing so.

14. Korea

If this item is again inscribed for consideration by the Assembly, we plan to work for the defeat of resolutions calling for the dissolution of the UN Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea (UNCURK) and the withdrawal of foreign troops from Korea. We hope that friendly governments will support us in the voting on the various segments of the Korean item. Information on tactical handling of this item will be sent in a separate message.

15. Strengthening International Security

A Soviet item on “Strengthening International Security” is on the agenda. Our position, expressed during last year’s debate on this issue, is that the United Nations should be concerned with taking concrete actions to strengthen international security—making better use of and improving existing procedures and machinery for peacekeeping and peaceful settlement of disputes; resolving the peacekeeping financial deficit and establishing a sound basis for future financing. We see no benefit in debate just on generalities. Thus we hope to achieve the [Page 188] minimum possible discussion of the item and to resist the preparation of a resolution on the matter.

16. 1973 Planning Estimate

As a means of establishing long-term planning in the UN, the Committee of 14 in 1966 proposed, and the General Assembly in resolution 2370 (XXII) provided, that the Secretary-General should each year prepare a “planning estimate for the United Nations regular budget estimates for the second succeeding budgetary period.” Twice this procedure has been postponed due to fears of some Member States, especially the less developed, that it would inhibit the growth of UN activities.

The US has strongly supported the planning estimate procedure in the belief that the information would be helpful to Member States, would set the framework within which the SYG could develop the next year’s program of work, and would contribute to more rational determination of priorities among competing programs, improve selectivity— and assist in controlling the growth of the UN budget. We thus believe that there should be no further delay in instituting the planning estimate procedure. We think the General Assembly at its 26th Session should establish such an estimate for the 1973 budget.

There is a further and urgent reason for a 1973 planning estimate. We understand that UN cash liquidity position is becoming critical (Item 8). At the same time it seems probable the 1972 UN regular budget will increase substantially. We believe public opinion in the US and in other countries would find it hard to understand how the UN, at a time when it may be unable to meet its payroll, could contemplate a greatly increased budget for the next year. We thus regard the 1973 planning estimate exercise as one that should put the UN under some constraint to show that it is seriously attempting to live within its means and devote its resources to the most pressing problems facing the organization.

17. Reactivating the Committee of Fourteen

At the 25th General Assembly, the US proposed a resolution, cosponsored by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Nigeria, USSR, UAR and UK, to reactivate the Ad Hoc Committee of Experts to Examine the Finances of the United Nations and the Specialized Agencies (Committee of 14) with a broad mandate to study ways of improving financial, budgetary and administrative practices of the UN system including the Specialized Agencies. Action was deferred to the 26th General Assembly.

Our feeling now is that last year’s proposal was too ambitious. At this session we will seek reactivation of the Committee to deal only with two inter-related problems in the UN itself, although the Committee should be free to make any study it believed appropriate. These problems are: [Page 189] (1) means of establishing an effective planning, programming, and budgeting system, as called for in 1966 by the original Committee and subsequently by a number of other bodies such as the Committee for Program and Coordination (CPC) and the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU); and (2) means of instituting improved procedures within the UN for evaluating the Organization’s performance in implementing previously agreed activities.

We believe that if the expert and prestigious body which produced such successful results in 1966 can be gotten to take a careful look at some aspects of the present situation, it would recommend courses of action to strengthen both the internal management of the UN and control over its activities by Member States.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, UN 3 GA. Confidential. Drafted by the IO/UNP staff, John W. McDonald, and Richard V. Hennes; cleared by Armitage, McDonald, Ernest L. Kerley, William A. Helseth, Monsma, Oliver S. Crosby, Goott, Walker, McNutt, and W. Beverly Carter; and approved by Assistant Secretary De Palma. Sent to all posts except the following to which it was repeated: Bern, Bonn, Bucharest, Budapest, Khartoum, Moscow, Prague, Saigon, Seoul, Sofia, Warsaw, USUN, USOECD Paris, USNATO Brussels, Geneva, and USEC Brussels.
  2. Not printed.
  3. This airgram was an appraisal of the 25th UN General Assembly. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, UN 30)
  4. Telegram 150235 to all African posts, August 17, sent a summary of “selected points of interest” to those posts. (Ibid., UN 3 GA)