2. Address by Jimmy Carter 1


Foreign policy was the subject of an address delivered to the American Chamber of Commerce in Tokyo, Japan, May 28, 1975. Mr. Carter said:

The world in 1975 is a very different world from that which we knew in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Recent events have proven that a stable world order for the future cannot be built on a preoccupation with the old strategic issues which have dominated East-West and North-South relations since the end of World War II.

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Recently, with the end of the Vietnam conflict, a tremendous burden has been lifted from our shoulders—both an economic burden and one of divisiveness and doubt. Our over-involvement in the internal affairs of Southeast Asian countries is resulting in a mandatory reassessment by the American people of our basic foreign policies. The lessons we have learned can be a basis for dramatic improvements in the prospects for world peace and the solutions for international problems. The people of the United States are inclined to look toward the future and not to dwell on the mistakes of the past.

Lessons Learned

What are the lessons we have learned? What are our likely decisions about the future?

There is no doubt that our people are wary of any new foreign involvements, but we realize that many such involvements will be necessary.

We have learned that never again should our country become militarily involved in the internal affairs of another nation unless there is a direct and obvious threat to the security of the United States or its people. We must not use the CIA or other covert means to effect violent change in any government or government policy. Such involvements are not in the best interests of world peace, and they are almost inherently doomed to failure.

When we embrace one of the contending leadership factions in a country, too often it is the power of the United States, not the support of the people, which keeps that leader in power. Our chosen leader may then resort to repressive force against his own people to keep himself in power.

We have learned the hard way how important it is during times of international stress and turmoil to keep close ties with our allies and friends and to strive for multilateral agreements and solutions to critical problems. I hope that our days of unilateral intervention such as occurred in Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Dominican Republic are over.

Another lesson to be learned is that we cannot impose democracy on another country by force. Also, we cannot buy friends; and it is obvious that other nations resent it if we try. Our interests lie in protecting our national security, in preventing war, in peacefully promoting the principles of human freedom and democracy, and in exemplifying in our foreign policy the true character and attitudes of the American people.

We understand the vital importance of our relationship with our allies. Our friends in Japan, Western Europe and Israel must know that we will keep our promises; yet, they will be reassured not by promises but by tangible actions and regular consultations. It is particularly im[Page 5]portant that we recement strained relationships with our allies; that will be far easier to accomplish now that our involvement in Vietnam is over. The United States will always honor those commitments which have been made openly by our leaders and with the full knowledge and involvement of the people of our country.

We must never again keep secret the evolution of our foreign policy from the Congress and the American people. They should never again be misled about our options, our commitments, our progress, or our failures. If the President sets the policy openly, reaching agreement among the officers of the government, if the President involves the Congress and the leaders of both parties rather than letting a handful of people plot the policy behind closed doors, then we will avoid costly mistakes and have the support of our citizens in our dealings with other nations. Our commitments will be stronger; abrupt changes will be fewer.

Secretaries of State and Defense and other Cabinet officers should regularly appear before Congress, hopefully in televised sessions, to answer hard questions and to give straight answers. No equivocation nor unwarranted secrecy should be permitted.

Interdependence Among Nations

What are the other elements of our future foreign policy? This is no time for thoughts of isolationism. We can now turn our attention more effectively toward matters like the world economy, freedom of the seas, environmental quality, food, population, peace, conservation of irreplaceable commodities, and the reduction of world armaments. The intensity of our interrelated problems is rapidly increasing, and better mechanisms for consultation must be established and utilized before these problems become more dangerous.

Interdependence among nations is an unavoidable and increasing factor in our individual lives. We know that even a nation with an economy as strong as ours is affected by errors such as the excessive sale of wheat to Russia in 1973,2 by commodity boycotts, and by the ebb and tide of economic events in the rest of the world. Our own temporary embargo of soybeans and other oil seeds was a damaging mistake to ourselves and to our friends like Japan.3 Such mistakes can be avoided in the future only by a commitment to consultation, as exem[Page 6]plified by the Trilateral Commission relationship among North America, Western Europe, and Japan.

The machinery of consultation must be reexamined and some new mechanisms developed. Others need to be abandoned or revitalized. We must strengthen international organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations. Our new commitment to multinational consultation should be reflected in the quality of the representatives we appoint to international agencies.

It is likely in the near future that issues of war and peace will be more a function of economic and social problems than of the military security problems which have dominated international relations in the world since World War II.

The relationship between Japan and the United States is based on both firm pillars of interest—our mutual security and our great economic relationship.

The security of Japan is vital to the United States, and we will maintain our commitment to Japan’s defense. The sensitive question of the level and deployment of military forces here will, of course, be shaped in a continuing dialogue with Japan.

The enormous trade flow of $24 billion a year is the largest overseas commerce the world has ever known. We rely on one another. There is no place for abrupt unilateral decisions which shock the other trading partner. Major foreign policy actions affecting the other must be thoroughly discussed in advance with our friend.

Interdependence means mutual sacrifice. For example, we must cooperate with our allies in reducing our demands for fossil fuel, assist them in the alternative development of energy resources, build up common stockpiles, plan jointly for future crises, and share the oil investments of the OPEC countries.

Among our people there is broad support for continuing the policy of détente with the Soviet Union and China—but not at the expense of close cooperation and consultation with our friends and allies. We must again reorient our foreign policy attention toward our friends. Our recent emphases have all too often involved our adversaries and ignored the interests and needs of our allies. Détente should be pursued on a mutually beneficial basis through a series of sustained, low key and open discussions among the participants—and not just dramatic or secret agreements among two or three national leaders.

Our concern with foreign policy, however, must go beyond avoiding the mistakes of the past, reaffirming our close relationship with our allies, and continuing the process of détente. We must end the continuing proliferation of atomic weapons throughout the world, which is as senseless as a waste of precious resources as it is a mortal [Page 7]danger to humanity. We should refuse to sell nuclear powerplants and fuels to nations who do not sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty4 or who will not agree to adhere to strict provisions regarding international control of atomic wastes. The establishment of additional nuclear-free zones in the world must also be encouraged.

In addition, however, the United States and the Soviet Union have an obligation to deal with the excessive nuclear armaments which we possess. Our ultimate goal should be the reduction of nuclear weapons in all nations to zero. In the meantime, simple, careful, and firm public proposals to implement these reductions should be pursued as a prime national purpose in all our negotiations with nuclear powers—both present and potential. The Vladivostok Agreement5 obviously permits the continued atomic arms race.

We must play a constructive role in the resolution of local conflicts which may lead to major power confrontations. Peace in the Middle East is of vital interest to us all. While peace is the basic responsibility of the nations in the area, the United States must help secure this peace by maintaining the trust of all sides. We must strive to maintain good relations with the Arab countries as well as Israel, and to recognize Arab needs and aspirations as long as they recognize that the major element of a settlement is the guaranteed right of Israel to exist as a viable and peaceful nation. The rights of the Palestinians must also be recognized as part of any final solution.

It is essential that the flow of oil to Japan and Western Europe never be shut off. The United States should not consider unilateral action in the Middle East to assure our own nation’s access to Mideast oil. Open or veiled threats of armed intervention do not contribute toward a peaceful settlement of the problems of this tortured region.

The peoples of the developing nations need the aid, technology, and knowledge of the developed nations. We need the developed na[Page 8]tions as sources for raw materials and as markets for our exports. The world will not be a safe or decent place in which to live, however, if it continues to divide between countries which are increasingly rich and those which are increasingly impoverished.

The knowledge that food, oil, fertilizer and financial credit are vital must not be the cause of international extortion; rather, our interdependence should provide a basis on which continuing international trade agreements can be reached. There is a danger that the recent economic successes of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries cartel will encourage other confrontation by countries possessing scarce raw materials. This could be a serious and self-damaging mistake, resulting in a series of pyramiding and perhaps uncontrollable confrontations, leading to serious damage to the poorer and weaker nations.

A stable world order cannot become a reality when people of many nations of the world suffer mass starvation; when the countries with capital and technology belligerently confront other nations for the control of raw materials and energy sources; when open and discriminatory trade has become the exception rather than the rule; when there are no established arrangements for supplying the world’s food and energy nor for governing, control, and development of the seas; and when there are no effective efforts to deal with population explosions or environmental quality.

We must remember that because of our tremendous and continuing economic, military and political strength, the United States has an inevitable role of leadership to play within the community of nations. But our influence and respect should go beyond our military might, our political power, and our economic wealth—and be based on the fact that we are right, and fair, and decent, and honest, and truthful.

Our U.S. foreign policy must once again reflect the basic ideals of our people and our nation. We must reassert our vital interest in human rights and humanitarian concerns, and we must provide enlightened leadership in the world community. The people of the United States want to be trusted and respected, and we are determined, therefore, to be trustworthy and respectful of others.

  1. Source: The Presidential Campaign 1976, volume I, part I: Jimmy Carter, pp. 66–70. Carter delivered prepared remarks before the American Chamber of Commerce. Carter traveled to Japan to attend the Trilateral Commission meeting held in Tokyo and Kyoto May 30–31. Private citizens of Western Europe, Japan, the United States, and Canada established the Trilateral Commission in 1973 to promote cooperation among these regions on common problems. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Trilateral Commission’s Director, addressed the members on the last day of the conference. His remarks are printed in Charles B. Heck, ed., Trialogue: Trilateral Leaders Discuss Global Redistribution of Power and Problems of Trilateral Community, Japan, May 1975 (New York: The Trilateral Commission, 1975), pp. 11–14. Brzezinski recalled that Carter’s performance at the meeting had impressed him and convinced him to support Carter’s bid for the Democratic nomination, even as the other likely Democratic nominees sought his counsel. Brzezinski began authoring foreign policy papers for Carter, and by the end of 1975 Brzezinski “had emerged as Carter’s principal foreign policy adviser.” (Brzezinski, Power and Principle, pp. 6–7)
  2. Reference is to the July 1972 Soviet purchase of $750 million worth of grain from the United States. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XV, Soviet Union, June 1972–August 1974, Document 7.
  3. On June 27, 1973, the Nixon administration placed a temporary embargo on soybean and seed exports. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXI, Foreign Economic Policy, 1973–1976, Document 46, footnote 2.
  4. Reference is to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), opened for signature in Washington, London, and Moscow in July 1968. On July 1, 1968, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, President Johnson made a statement endorsing the treaty; Dean Rusk and William C. Foster signed the treaty on behalf of the United States. Johnson transmitted the treaty to the Senate on July 9, and the Senate gave its consent to the agreement on March 13, 1969. Following ratification by the United States, United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and 40 other states, the treaty entered into force on March 5, 1970. For additional information, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XI, Arms Control and Disarmament, Document 250.
  5. In late November 1974, General Secretary Brezhnev and President Ford held a series of meetings in the Siberian port city of Vladivostok. At the conclusion of the summit, the leaders reached an understanding regarding the need to place overall limits on ICBMs, SLBMs, and long-range bombers for both the United States and the Soviet Union. The text of the Vladivostok Agreement is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXIII, SALT II, 1972–1980, Document 91. For the memoranda of conversation, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XVI, Soviet Union, August 1974–December 1976, Documents 9093.