47. Editorial Note

The United Nations World Food Conference commenced in Rome on November 5, 1974. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who proposed such a forum during his September 24, 1973, speech to the U.N. General Assembly (Document 17), delivered the keynote address on the first day of the conference. After highlighting the dire food supply situation the world faced, Kissinger exhorted: “We must act now and we must act together to regain control over our shared destiny. Catastrophe when it cannot be foreseen can be blamed on a failure of vision or on forces beyond our control. But the current trend is obvious, and the remedy is within our power. If we do not act boldly, disaster will result from a failure of will; moral culpability will be inherent in our foreknowledge.

“The political challenge is straightforward: Will the nations of the world cooperate to confront a crisis which is both self-evident and global in nature? Or will each nation or region or bloc see its special advantage as a weapon instead of a contribution? Will we pool our strengths and progress together or test our strengths and sink together?

“President Ford has instructed me to declare on behalf of the United States: We regard our good fortune and strength in the field of food as a global trust. We recognize the responsibilities we bear by virtue of our extraordinary productivity, our advanced technology, and our tradition of assistance. That is why we proposed this conference. That is why a Secretary of State is giving this address. The United States will make a major effort to match its capacity to the magnitude of the challenge. We are convinced that the collective response will have an important influence on the nature of the world that our children inherit.

“As we move toward the next century the nations assembled here must begin to fashion a global conception. For we are irreversibly linked to each other—by interdependent economies and human aspirations, by instant communications and nuclear peril. The contemporary agenda of energy, food, and inflation exceeds the capacity of any single government, or even of a few governments together, to resolve.”

Kissinger devoted the remainder of his address to outlining the historical precedents and current realities of the global food crisis. Resolving the problem required the United States and other nations to mount an “urgent cooperative worldwide action,” designed to increase and accelerate production, improve food quality and distribution networks, and guard against crop emergencies. The Secretary then detailed the ways in which the United States planned to meet these goals and concluded his remarks by stating: “Our responsibility is clear. Let the nations gathered here resolve to confront the challenge, not each [Page 251] other. Let us agree that the scale and severity of the task require a collaborative effort unprecedented in history. And let us make global cooperation in food a model for our response to other challenges of an interdependent world: energy, inflation, population, protection of the environment.” (Department of State Bulletin, December 16, 1974, pages 821–829) For the text of the four resolutions delegates adopted at the conclusion of the conference, see ibid., pages 831–837. Documentation on U.S. planning for and participation in the World Food Conference is in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–14, part 1, Documents on the United Nations, and ibid., volume XXXI, Foreign Economic Policy, 1973–1976.

At a December 4 meeting of the International Food Review Group, comprised of representatives from the Departments of State, Treasury, and Agriculture, the Office of Management and Budget, the Council of Economic Advisers, the Council on International Economic Policy, the Economic Policy Board, and the National Security Council, Kissinger returned to the question of U.S. participation in resolving the food crisis: “First of all, let me explain what I think are the foreign policy interests in the food problem. My hope is that by explaining our foreign policy interests, it will help us in our later considerations. I think that one of the basic strategies we should pursue—what we want to create—is an overall statement of policy toward the food problem in relations to us and in the face of contingencies in the energy and food fields. In my view, systematic planning is one way—probably the only way—that we can get this food problem solved. I think it was a tragedy that the World Food Conference got off onto food aid and did not stick to planning. I wish now that we would have played down the food aid thing. In my view, the answer to the food problem is a systematic approach toward production, stockpiling and so forth.”

After Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz expressed his agreement, Kissinger continued: “I think that for us to have gotten into a debate in Rome over who should be giving what was a pity. The basic theme—the basic problem as I see it from a foreign policy viewpoint—is that the food problem is a structural problem of the world economy. And, I think we should correlate our solutions with other countries. One of our major contributions is going to be aid, there is no doubt about that. But, in my opinion, I think it a pity that so many countries are obsessed with this food aid thing. They are off the track.” The memorandum of conversation is printed in full ibid., Document 280.