251. Memorandum From Charles Cooper of the National Security Council Staff to Secretary of State Kissinger1


  • U.N. World Food Conference2

To warrant the attention you have given the U.N. World Food Conference it should do more than the FAO would have accomplished in the normal course. However, a forum which by its nature will tend to be dominated by the LDCs and problems of feeding poor countries is not a good arena to try to make progress in resolving our basic agriculture trade problems with Europe. We should try to structure the Conference so that we, the Europeans and Japan will be cooperating on the issues discussed, thereby laying a useful cooperative base which may be extended to accommodation on the basic trade issues in other forums.

We should also try to use the Conference to bring the USSR and PRC into more cooperative international relationships on such issues as food aid, food reserves and production-stock information. (The USSR is not a member of the FAO but presumably would participate in a U.N. Conference.)

The phrasing of your speech requires that the Conference focus on only two issues:

  • Food reserves. The FAO has a proposal on the table for improved international consultation and cooperation in maintaining food reserves. Endorsement of this proposal, perhaps with modest modification, would be an important, but not very dramatic, accomplishments.
  • Disaster relief. Cooperation in meeting natural disasters tends to be ad hoc, although the FAO is increasingly playing a coordinating role (Sahelian area and Bangladesh for example). Some formalization of such arrangements on a standby basis could be agreed, and we might [Page 870] get additional participation from developed countries which are not food exporters and from wealthier LDCs.

The scope of the Food Conference could be expanded to make way for one or more U.S. initiatives which would give the Conference more significance. If we in the U.S. were prepared to take the lead on certain initiatives, the prospects are fairly good that others would cooperate. The level of concern with food supplies has reached a new high in most countries, and many political leaders are looking for ways to show they are protecting their consumers’ interests in reliable and economical supplies. However, any initiatives will require some rethinking of policy within the U.S.

Among the possibilities for initiatives are:

  • World Food Bank. The modest FAO proposals for national food-stocks could be extended to place some (perhaps modest) food supplies actually under international control or to provide for national stocks explicitly reserved for food aid. This could be in our interest in several ways. It might give other countries more security of supply and thus head off measures in Japan and the EEC to increase inefficient production at the expense of U.S. markets. Much of the food in the international reserve would be purchased from the U.S. with the money of others. An initiative to place some stocks under international control would help reduce fears that the U.S. will use scarce food as an economic or even political weapon. Access to the international food when needed would give the USSR and the PRC an incentive for constructive participation.
  • Food Aid. Beyond disaster relief there is a need to rethink food aid in general. Should it be a surplus related program? Should the U.S. continue to carry so much of the burden? Can’t food importers such as Japan be encouraged to participate more in food aid? We may have to take a legislative initiative on food aid domestically to establish the program on a sound basis without requiring surplus conditions. A domestic effort could be part of an international effort to do much more about hunger and malnutrition throughout the world. There is room for a dramatic initiative such as announcing that the U.S. would contribute 40 to 50 percent toward a recast world food aid program. The U.S. aid program is in deep trouble with the Congress and with the people. A new initiative focused on the direct people-related problems of agriculture production and nutrition might do much to rekindle support for foreign assistance in the U.S. Such an initiative would in fact represent only modest change in U.S. policies. We already are concentrating financial assistance on agriculture and food aid is already a third of our bilateral aid. But there will be resistance from domestic interests which want to concentrate all our efforts on expanding foreign commercial markets for U.S. farmers.
  • LDC Food Production. Discussion of food aid virtually requires a discussion of LDC efforts to produce their own food. They should not rely on food assistance indefinitely. Both the U.S. and the international banks are focusing increased attention on helping the LDCs in the agriculture field. While the LDCs will focus on their food needs, the agenda could be structured to develop criteria under which food aid would make a maximum contribution to expansion of LDC agriculture production so that regular food aid could gradually be phased out, with appropriate allowances for requirements caused by natural disasters including poor food production weather.
  • Improved information. In an inter-dependent trading system improved information on shifts in supply and demand are particularly important to allow production elsewhere to adjust and to avoid speculation. We shall want to urge improvements in information at the Conference, but our initiatives in this field will not give major importance to the Conference.

The NSSM now underway3 will lay the basis for the needed work within this Government to permit one or more initiatives in connection with the Conference. But we still have a lot of work to do with Agriculture, Treasury, and even with the Economics Bureau of State. Agriculture has surfaced some interesting food stock and food aid proposals in a preliminary draft of the NSSM.

In the meantime it will be important to preserve our options as the mechanical processes move forward in New York. If we are going to take an initiative on food aid and food reserves, it might be useful to have the Conference in the U.S.—perhaps in the Midwest. (Duluth is interested.) Although the mechanical problems of having a Conference in the first half of 1974 would be great, an early Conference would keep the pressure on this Government and others to move now while the political reaction to food shortages is still fresh. If we wait until after the next harvest, the iron may grow cool or others may take initiatives, including modifying their domestic policies in an unfortunate way.

If you want to use the Conference to focus on international cooperation, it will be important not to let it become merely another Conference of agriculture ministers concerned primarily with their domestic policies.

Until we get more specific options laid out in the NSSM, you may not want to fix our position on the Conference. However, some exploration of possibilities with other governments would be helpful. Among the questions you might ask are: [Page 872]

  • —Could agreement be reached on a standard procedure to coordinate disaster relief?
  • —Could the Conference be used to get an early decision to implement the FAO proposal on food reserves? Can this proposal be extended and some means found to require compliance?
  • —Would it make sense to have some food reserves held by an international organization for disaster relief? To help avoid sharp price fluctuations in commercial markets.
  • —Can international cooperation on food aid in general be expanded?
  • —Would countries which do not export food be prepared to contribute in cash for food aid?
  • —How can food aid be coordinated better internationally? Can criteria be developed and adopted so that food aid does not discourage agricultural production in LDCs?
  • —What other issues would be important in a U.N. Food Conference?
  • —What initiatives on food aid and stocks would receive support from your government?

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–200, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 187. Confidential. Sent for information. Attached to an undated note from Scowcroft to Kissinger that reads: “You wanted this for your UN trip.” Kissinger wrote on the note: “Chuck—Well done—but how do I proceed bureaucratically?”
  2. On September 24, Kissinger delivered a speech to the United Nations General Assembly entitled “A Just Consensus, A Stable Order, A Durable Peace,” in which, among other things, he called upon the UN to convene a World Food Conference in 1974. For the text of Kissinger’s speech, see Department of State Bulletin, October 15, 1973, pp. 469–473. It was printed in The New York Times, September 25, 1973, p. 18.
  3. Reference is to the study in response to NSSM 187, Document 246.