29. Address by President Carter Before the United Nations General Assembly1

Thank you, Mr. Secretary General.

Last night I was in Clinton, Massachusetts, at a Town Hall meeting where people of that small town decide their political and economic future.2

Tonight I speak to a similar meeting where people representing nations all over the world come here to decide their political and economic future.

I am proud to be with you tonight in this house where the shared hopes of the world can find a voice. I have come here to express my [Page 109] own support and the continuing support of my country for the ideals of the United Nations.

We are proud that for the 32 years since its creation, the United Nations has met on American soil. And we share with you the commitments of freedom, self-government, human dignity, mutual toleration, and the peaceful resolution of disputes—which the founding principles of the United Nations and also Secretary General Kurt Waldheim so well represent.

No one nation by itself can build a world which reflects all these fine values. But the United States, my own country, has a reservoir of strength—economic strength, which we are willing to share; military strength, which we hope never to use again; and the strength of ideals, which are determined fully to maintain the backbone of our own foreign policy.

It is now 8 weeks since I became President. I have brought to office a firm commitment to a more open foreign policy. And I believe that the American people expect me to speak frankly about the policies that we intend to pursue, and it is in that spirit that I speak to you tonight about our own hopes for the future.

I see a hopeful world, a world dominated by increasing demands for basic freedoms, for fundamental rights, for higher standards of human existence. We are eager to take part in the shaping of that world.

But in seeking such a better world, we are not blind to the reality of disagreement, nor to the persisting dangers that confront us all. Every headline reminds us of bitter divisions, of national hostilities, of territorial conflicts, of ideological competition.

In the Middle East, peace is a quarter of a century overdue. A gathering racial conflict threatens southern Africa; new tensions are rising in the Horn of Africa. Disputes in the eastern Mediterranean remain to be resolved.

Perhaps even more ominous is the staggering arms race. The Soviet Union and the United States have accumulated thousands of nuclear weapons. Our two nations now have five times more missile warheads today than we had just 8 years ago. But we are not five times more secure. On the contrary, the arms race has only increased the risk of conflict.

We can only improve this world if we are realistic about its complexities. The disagreements that we face are deeply rooted, and they often raise difficult philosophical as well as territorial issues. They will not be solved easily. They will not be solved quickly. The arms race is now embedded in the very fabric of international affairs and can only be contained with the greatest difficulty. Poverty and inequality are of such monumental scope that it will take decades of deliberate and determined effort even to improve the situation substantially.

[Page 110]

I stress these dangers and these difficulties because I want all of us to dedicate ourselves to a prolonged and persistent effort designed first to maintain peace and to reduce the arms race; second, to build a better and a more cooperative international economic system; and third, to work with potential adversaries as well as our close friends to advance the cause of human rights.

In seeking these goals, I realize that the United States cannot solve the problems of the world. We can sometimes help others resolve their differences, but we cannot do so by imposing our own particular solutions.

In the coming months, there is important work for all of us in advancing international cooperation and economic progress in the cause of peace.

Later this spring, the leaders of several industrial nations of Europe, North America, and Japan will confer at a summit meeting in London on a broad range of issues.3 We must promote the health of the industrial economies. We must seek to restrain inflation and bring ways of managing our own domestic economies for the benefit of the global economy.

We must move forward with multilateral trade negotiations in Geneva.

The United States will support the efforts of our friends to strengthen the democratic institutions in Europe, and particularly in Portugal and Spain.

We will work closely with our European friends on the forthcoming Review Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.4 We want to make certain that the provisions of the Helsinki agreement are fully implemented and that progress is made to further East-West cooperation.

In the Middle East we are doing our best to clarify areas of disagreement, to surface underlying consensus, and to help to develop mutually acceptable principles that can form a flexible framework for a just and a permanent settlement.

In southern Africa, we will work to help attain majority rule through peaceful means. We believe that such fundamental transformation can be achieved, to the advantage of both the blacks and whites who live in that region of the world. Anything less than that may bring a protracted racial war, with devastating consequences to all.

This week the Government of the United States took action to bring our country into full compliance with United Nations sanctions [Page 111] against the illegal regime in Rhodesia. And I will sign that bill Friday in Washington.5

We will put our relations with Latin America on a more constructive footing, recognizing the global character of the region’s problems.

We are also working to resolve in amicable negotiations the future of the Panama Canal.

We will continue our efforts to develop further our relationships with the People’s Republic of China. We recognize our parallel strategic interests in maintaining stability in Asia, and we will act in the spirit of the Shanghai Communique.6

In Southeast Asia and in the Pacific, we will strengthen our association with our traditional friends, and we will seek to improve relations with our former adversaries.

We have a mission now in Vietnam seeking peaceful resolution of the differences that have separated us for so long.

Throughout the world, we are ready to normalize our relationships and to seek reconciliation with all states which are ready to work with us in promoting global progress and global peace.

Above all, the search for peace requires a much more deliberate effort to contain the global arms race. Let me speak in this context, first, of the U.S.-Soviet Union relationship, and then of the wider need to contain the proliferation of arms throughout the global community.

I intend to pursue the strategic arms limitation talks between the United States and the Soviet Union with determination and with energy.

Our Secretary of State will visit Moscow in just a few days.7

[Page 112]

SALT is extraordinarily complicated. But the basic fact is that while negotiations remain deadlocked, the arms race goes on; the security of both countries and the entire world is threatened.

My preference would be for strict controls or even a freeze on new types and new generations of weaponry and with a deep reduction in the strategic arms of both sides. Such a major step towards not only arms limitation but arms reduction would be welcomed by mankind as a giant step towards peace.

Alternatively, and perhaps much more easily, we could conclude a limited agreement based on those elements of the Vladivostok accord on which we can find complete consensus, and set aside for prompt consideration and subsequent negotiations the more contentious issues and also the deeper reductions in nuclear weapons which I favor.

We will also explore the possibility of a total cessation of nuclear testing. While our ultimate goal is for all nuclear powers to end testing, we do not regard this as a prerequisite for the suspension of tests by the two principal nuclear powers, the Soviet Union and the United States.

We should, however, also pursue a broad, permanent multilateral agreement on this issue.

We will also seek to establish Soviet willingness to reach agreement with us on mutual military restraint in the Indian Ocean, as well as on such matters as arms exports to the troubled areas of the world.

In proposing such accommodations I remain fully aware that American-Soviet relations will continue to be highly competitive—but I believe that our competition must be balanced by cooperation in preserving peace, and thus our mutual survival.

I will seek such cooperation with the Soviet Union—earnestly, constantly, and sincerely.

However, the effort to contain the arms race is not a matter just for the United States and Soviet Union alone. There must be a wider effort to reduce the flow of weapons to all the troubled spots of this globe.

Accordingly, we will try to reach broader agreements among producer and consumer nations to limit the export of conventional arms, and we, ourselves, will take the initiative on our own because the United States has become one of the major arms suppliers of the world.

We are deeply committed to halting the proliferation of nuclear weapons. And we will undertake a new effort to reach multilateral agreements designed to provide legitimate supplies of nuclear fuels for the production of energy, while controlling the poisonous and dangerous atomic wastes.

Working with other nations represented here, we hope to advance the cause of peace. We will make a strong and a positive contribution at [Page 113] the upcoming Special Session on Disarmament which I understand will commence next year.8

But the search for peace also means the search for justice. One of the greatest challenges before us as a nation, and therefore one of our greatest opportunities, is to participate in molding a global economic system which will bring greater prosperity to all the people of all countries.

I come from a part of the United States which is largely agrarian and which for many years did not have the advantages of adequate transportation or capital or management skills or education which were available in the industrial States of our country.

So, I can sympathize with the leaders of the developing nations, and I want them to know that we will do our part.

To this end, the United States will be advancing proposals aimed at meeting the basic human needs of the developing world and helping them to increase their productive capacity. I have asked Congress to provide $7½ billion of foreign assistance in the coming year, and I will work to ensure sustained American assistance as the process of global economic development continues.9 I am also urging the Congress of our country to increase our contributions to the United Nations Development Program and meet in full our pledges to multilateral lending institutions, especially the International Development Association of the World Bank.

We remain committed to an open international trading system, one which does not ignore domestic concerns in the United States. We have extended duty-free treatment to many products from the developing countries. In the multilateral trade agreements in Geneva we have offered substantial trade concessions on the goods of primary interest to developing countries.10 And in accordance with the Tokyo Declaration,11 we are also examining ways to provide additional consideration for the special needs of developing countries.

The United States is willing to consider, with a positive and open attitude, the negotiation on agreements to stabilize commodity prices, including the establishment of a common funding arrangement for fi[Page 114]nancing buffer stocks where they are a part of individual negotiated agreements.

I also believe that the developing countries must acquire fuller participation in the global economic decisionmaking process. Some progress has already been made in this regard by expanding participation of developing countries in the International Monetary Fund.

We must use our collective natural resources wisely and constructively. We’ve not always done so. Today our oceans are being plundered and defiled. With a renewed spirit of cooperation and hope, we join in the Conference of the Law of the Sea12 in order to correct past mistakes of generations gone by and to ensure that all nations can share the bounties of the eternal oceans in the future.

We must also recognize that the world is facing serious shortages of energy. This is truly a global problem. For our part, we are determined to reduce waste and to work with others toward a fair and proper sharing of the benefits and costs of energy resources.

The search for peace and justice also means respect for human dignity. All the signatories of the U.N. Charter have pledged themselves to observe and to respect basic human rights. Thus, no member of the United Nations can claim that mistreatment of its citizens is solely its own business. Equally, no member can avoid its responsibilities to review and to speak when torture or unwarranted deprivation occurs in any part of the world.

The basic thrust of human affairs points toward a more universal demand for fundamental human rights. The United States has a historical birthright to be associated with this process.

We in the United States accept this responsibility in the fullest and the most constructive sense. Ours is a commitment, and not just a political posture. I know perhaps as well as anyone that our own ideals in the area of human rights have not always been attained in the United States, but the American people have an abiding commitment to the full realization of these ideals. And we are determined, therefore, to deal with our deficiencies quickly and openly. We have nothing to conceal.

To demonstrate this commitment, I will seek congressional approval and sign the U.N. covenants on economic, social, and cultural rights, and the covenants on civil and political rights.13 And I will work closely with our own Congress in seeking to support the ratification not only of these two instruments but the United Nations Genocide Convention and the Treaty for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Dis[Page 115]crimination, as well.14 I have just removed all restrictions on American travel abroad, and we are moving now to liberalize almost completely travel opportunities to America.15

The United Nations is a global forum dedicated to the peace and well-being of every individual—no matter how weak, no matter how poor. But we have allowed its human rights machinery to be ignored and sometimes politicized. There is much that can be done to strengthen it.

The Human Rights Commission should be prepared to meet more often. And all nations should be prepared to offer its fullest cooperation to the Human Rights Commission, to welcome its investigations, to work with its officials, and to act on its reports.

I would like to see the entire United Nations Human Rights Division moved back here to the central headquarters, where its activities will be in the forefront of our attention and where the attention of the press corps can stimulate us to deal honestly with this sensitive issue. The proposal made 12 years ago by the Government of Costa Rica, to establish a U.N. High Commission[er] for Human Rights, also deserves our renewed attention and our support.16

Strengthened international machinery will help us to close the gap between promise and performance in protecting human rights. When gross or widespread violation takes place—contrary to international commitments—it is of concern to all. The solemn commitments of the United Nations Charter, of the United Nations Universal Declaration for Human Rights,17 of the Helsinki Accords, and of many other international instruments must be taken just as seriously as commercial or security agreements.

This issue is important in itself. It should not block progress on other important matters affecting the security and well-being of our people and of world peace. It is obvious that the reduction of tension, the control of nuclear arms, the achievement of harmony in the troubled areas of the world, and the provision of food, good health, and education will independently contribute to advancing the human condition.

[Page 116]

In our relationships with other countries, these mutual concerns will be reflected in our political, our cultural, and our economic attitudes.

These then are our basic priorities as we work with other members to strengthen and to improve the United Nations.

First, we will strive for peace in the troubled areas of the world; second, we will aggressively seek to control the weaponry of war; third, we will promote a new system of international economic progress and cooperation; and fourth, we will be steadfast in our dedication to the dignity and well-being of people throughout the world.

I believe that this is a foreign policy that is consistent with my own Nation’s historic values and commitments. And I believe that it is a foreign policy that is consonant with the ideals of the United Nations.

Thank you very much.

  1. Source: Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, pp. 444–451. All brackets are in the original. The President spoke at 7:35 p.m. in the General Assembly Hall at the Headquarters of the United Nations; Waldheim introduced the President. Following the address, Carter attended a reception hosted by Waldheim. Documentation concerning Department of State and NSC efforts in preparing the President’s address is in the National Archives, RG 59, Policy and Planning Staff—Office of the Director, Records of Anthony Lake, 1977–1981: Lot 82D298, Box 2, TL 3/1–3/15/77; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 28, Human Rights: 2–4/77; and Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Defense/Security, Huntington, Box 37, Human Rights: 2–3/77.
  2. For the text of the President’s March 16 remarks and the transcript of the question-and-answer session, see Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, pp. 382–402.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 26.
  4. See footnote 6, Document 16.
  5. Congress cleared H.R. 1746 (P.L. 95–12; 91 Stat. 22–23) on March 15, and the President signed it into law on March 18. The legislation reinstated the embargo against the importation of Rhodesian chrome and other strategic minerals, but retained the substance of the Byrd Amendment that barred the President from refusing to import strategic materials from other non-communist countries. See footnote 10, Document 19. (Congress and the Nation, vol. V, 1977–1980, p. 47) For the President’s remarks at the signing ceremony, held in the Cabinet Room, see Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, pp. 451–452. See also Austin Scott, “Embargo Restored on Chrome Import,” The Washington Post, March 19, 1977, p. A–2 and Charles Mohr, “President Pledges Foreign Aid Changes,” The New York Times, March 19, 1977, p. A–4.
  6. The February 1972 Joint Communiqué of the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China, commonly known as the Shanghai Communiqué, committed both the United States and the People’s Republic of China to pursuing a normalization in relations. Printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XVII, China, 1969–1972, Document 203.
  7. Vance traveled to Moscow March 27–30 to meet with the Soviet leadership on arms limitation proposals; see Document 31.
  8. See footnote 5, Document 24.
  9. The President submitted his foreign assistance program to Congress on March 17. For the text of the President’s message to Congress, which was released on March 18, see Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, pp. 455–458.
  10. See footnote 4, Document 6.
  11. Contracting Parties to the GATT met at the ministerial level in Tokyo September 12–14, 1973, and released the Tokyo Declaration. The declaration outlined the aims for the Tokyo Round of comprehensive, multilateral trade negotiations, which included securing “additional benefits for the international trade” of developing nations. For the declaration’s text, see Department of State Bulletin, October 8, 1973, pp. 450–452.
  12. See footnote 5, Document 24.
  13. See footnote 9, Document 9.
  14. See footnotes 7 and 8, Document 9.
  15. During his March 9 news conference, the President announced that the restrictions on travel to Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea, and Cambodia would be removed on March 18; see Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, p. 340 and “Last Travel Curbs Removed by Carter,” The New York Times, March 10, 1977, p. 11.
  16. For information on the 1965 proposal, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXXIV, Energy Diplomacy and Global Issues, Document 323 and Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXXIII, Organization and Management of Foreign Policy; United Nations, Documents 344 and 347.
  17. For text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948, see Department of State Bulletin, December 19, 1948, pp. 752–754.