41. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to Secretary of State Vance 1

These are the paragraphs which I hope you will find helpful. They are designed to accomplish three purposes:

1. Continue the President’s Notre Dame theme of combining a vision of America’s international role with the realities of a novel international system;2

2. Establish an agenda for U.S. and OECD activity on North-South issues over the next year which, without hiding the difficulties of the concept, examines and develops a set of proposals around the theme of basic human needs; and

3. Establishes that this theme will be a major element in the continuing North-South dialogue post CIEC 3 for constructive and legitimate reasons—not for tactical reasons of “splitting” the Group of 77.



Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff 4

As the Administration of President Carter has reviewed the major issues currently on the North-South agenda and begun to establish its own set of priorities, it has found one issue slighted in all the talk about a new international economic order. The issue has various names: the “absolute poverty” problem, the problem of “basic human needs,” the problem of “the forgotten forty percent.” Whatever we choose to call it, it is the problem of those one billion persons living at the razor’s edge of existence. Again, as President Carter noted at Notre Dame, most na[Page 178]tions share our faith that, in the longer run, expanded trade will best help developing countries to help themselves. But the immediate problems of hunger, disease, high infant mortality, illiteracy and stunted “life chances” cannot and should not be expected to await a longer-run answer.

If our nations did not have the knowledge and the resources needed to overcome these problems of meeting basic human needs within the next two decades, perhaps we could excuse ourselves from making any special effort to overcome the so-called “absolute poverty” problem.

But the knowledge of the development process and the knowledge of how to construct a viable approach to the resolution of this acute poverty problem is now within our grasp. What is missing is the joint willingness of developed and developing countries to recognize that the North-South dialogue is about human beings as well as nation-states, and that “equality of opportunity” for a richer and more meaningful life only makes sense as it applies to people.

In order to give proper focus to this aspect of the North-South dialogue, the United States proposes to proceed as follows. First, we, ourselves, will develop specific programs to overcome the absolute poverty problem globally. We have already determined the essential ingredients and objectives of such a program. It must deal with:

—Basic education, particularly in rural areas;

—Essential health services, again with emphasis on rural areas;

—increased food production and the provision of adequate nutrition;

—clean water.

At the June meeting of the OECD, we plan to ask the member countries to jointly cooperate with us in developing these programs as a principal part of the OECD’s general work program.5

Within a year, we would hope to be able to present to the developing countries a major set of programs for discussion. Our objective would be then to develop a joint effort that will effectively tackle the problem of meeting the basic human needs of the world’s poorest billion people. We recognize that this effort will require a substantial commitment of political will and resources on the part of all countries who choose to participate—North and South; developing and developed.

To carry this out and to conduct the North-South dialogue, we believe that serious consideration should be given to developing appro[Page 179]priate institutional arrangements for the North-South dialogue to continue. The United States believes that CIEC, itself, should continue to be available as a forum for such discussions. In the interim, we would suggest that our governments establish a group of recognized experts to monitor the implementation of the ideas being discussed here and to keep our governments abreast of the opportunities for further cooperation. As a part of this effort, the experts might prepare for the North-South discussions which we hope will come about by developing an overall program to meet basic needs.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Subject Chron File, Box 122, Vance, Miscellaneous Communications with: 5/77. No classification marking. Printed from an unsigned copy. There is no indication that Vance saw the memorandum.
  2. See Document 40.
  3. Vance attended the final CIEC ministerial meeting in Paris May 30–June 3. For additional information, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. III, Foreign Economic Policy, Document 265. For Vance’s May 30 address to the CIEC, see Department of State Bulletin, June 20, 1977, pp. 645–648.
  4. No classification marking. No drafting information appears on the paper.
  5. The Council of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development was scheduled to meet in Paris June 23–24; for the text of Vance’s intervention at the meeting, see Department of State Bulletin, July 25, 1977, pp. 105–109.