27. Editorial Note

The severity of the global energy crisis in late 1973 prompted the Nixon administration to engage other nations in a search for solutions. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger used his December 12, 1973, speech to the Society of Pilgrims in London (Document 24) to propose the establishment of an Energy Action Group, with members comprised of oil-consuming and oil-producing countries. Concerned that the energy situation jeopardized global political and economic stability, Nixon invited all major industrial consumer and producer nations to meet at the Foreign Minister level in Washington during the second week of February 1974 to analyze the current situation and develop a consumer action program. For the text of Nixon’s January 9 letters to the heads of OPEC member states and the oil-consuming nations comprising the High Level Oil Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, see Department of State Bulletin, February 4, 1974, pages 123–124. See also Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXVI, Energy Crisis, 1969–1974, Document 280.

On January 10, Kissinger and Administrator of the Federal Energy Office William Simon held a joint press conference at the Department of State to discuss the foreign and domestic implications of the energy crisis. Kissinger sketched out the parameters of the upcoming meeting and added: “The basic conviction of the President and of his associates is that it is a problem of truly global significance in which selfish advantages cannot be attained, or if attained, cannot be sustained, either among consuming nations or between consuming and producing nations. It is in this spirit that the United States will make its proposals, first at the meeting on February 11, and at the subsequent meetings that will, we hope, flow from that. And it will be in a spirit that we are con[Page 142]structing a solution for all of mankind, and not of particular benefit to any one segment of it, that the President has addressed both the consuming and the producing nations to start a process which we hope will provide long-term answers to the problem of supply as well as to the problems of the economy.” (Department of State Bulletin, February 4, 1974, page 111)

Nixon subsequently used his January 19 radio address to review the energy conservation measures undertaken by Americans during the 1973 Arab oil embargo and to highlight the administration’s efforts in pursuing international accommodation on oil supplies and prices. Reiterating the severity of the crisis, Nixon commented: “The burden of energy conservation, of cutbacks and inconvenience, of occasional discomfort, continued concern is not, I can assure you, an artificial one. It is real. During the Second World War, Winston Churchill was once asked why England was fighting Hitler. He answered, ‘If we stop, you will find out.’” (Public Papers: Nixon, 1974, page 15)

Four days later, on January 23, Nixon submitted to Congress his first legislative message of 1974, which delineated the administration’s short-term and long-term legislative proposals concerning the energy crisis. For the text of this message, see ibid., pages 17–32. The President also devoted a portion of his State of the Union message to underscoring the importance of these legislative initiatives and the necessity for cooperation at the upcoming Washington Energy Conference: “As we seek to act domestically to increase fuel supplies, we will act internationally in an effort to obtain oil at reasonable prices. Unreasonable increases in the cost of so vital a commodity as oil poses a threat to the entire structure of international economic relations. Not only U.S. jobs, prices and incomes are at stake, but the general pattern of international cooperation is at stake as well. It is our hope that we can work out cooperative efforts with our friends abroad so that we can all meet our energy needs without disrupting our economies and without disrupting our economic relationships.” (Ibid., page 58)

The Washington Energy Conference commenced on February 11. In his opening remarks to conference delegates, Kissinger asserted: “The United States has called this conference for one central purpose: to move urgently to resolve the energy problem on the basis of cooperation among all nations. Failure to do so would threaten the world with a vicious cycle of competition, autarky, rivalry, and depression such as led to the collapse of the world order in the thirties. Fortunately, the problem is still manageable multilaterally: National policies are still evolving, practical solutions to the energy problem are technically achievable, and cooperation with the producing countries is still politically open to us.” After outlining seven potential areas of collaboration, including promulgation of a “new energy ethic,” development of alter[Page 143]native energy sources, funding of energy research and development, institution of a multilateral energy sharing program, increased international financial cooperation, consideration of the needs of developing nations, and improved consumer-producer relations, Kissinger ended his remarks, stating:

“As we look toward the end of this century, we know that the energy crisis indicates the birth pains of global interdependence. Our response could well determine our capacity to deal with the international agenda of the future.

“We confront a fundamental decision. Will we consume ourselves in nationalistic rivalry which the realities of interdependence make suicidal? Or will we acknowledge our interdependence and shape cooperative solutions?

“Our choice is clear, our responsibility compelling: We must demonstrate to future generations that our vision was equal to our challenge.” (Department of State Bulletin, March 4, 1974, pages 201–206)

That evening, Nixon delivered prepared remarks at a working dinner for conference delegates. Preferring to place the energy crisis in a broader context of global politics, Nixon commented that the United States and other nations had reached a watershed in world history. New challenges, such as energy dependence, confronted the world’s leaders, leading Nixon to pose the question as to how the assembled leaders could secure peace in order to build an “era of progress for all of our people, the people of the free nations and, for that matter, of the Communist nations of the world.” The President referenced the insular sentiment within the United States, not simply relating to security matters but also to trade and international monetary policy. He asserted that his administration would not disengage from the world: “We reject it [withdrawal], for example, in the field of trade. We believe that it is vitally important to go forward with the great trade initiatives that have been undertaken, as Secretary Shultz has often stated in his meetings with his counterparts represented here at this meeting.

“We believe it is vitally important in the field of monetary affairs that the United States play a responsible role with other nations in the free world in developing a more stable system, one that will not be affected by the shocks that have so often, over the past 10 years, shaken the world monetary institutions to their very foundations.”

“We also believe this in terms of security, as I have already indicated, where we oppose the idea that the United States, because we have entered into a period of peace which we long wanted, now can reduce its forces unilaterally without having a compensatory reduction among others or where the United States will turn away from the treaty commitments that it has, whether it is in Europe or in Asia.” (Public Papers: Nixon, 1974, pages 151–152)

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At the conclusion of the conference on February 13, the invited leaders issued a communiqué outlining additional steps to be taken in resolving the current energy situation. For the text of the communiqué, see Department of State Bulletin, March 4, 1974, pages 220–222. See also Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXVI, Energy Crisis, 1969–1974, Documents 318322.