266. Report Prepared by the Presidential Commission on World Hunger1

[Omitted here are a title page and an introductory note.]

Recommendations for U.S. Actions to Help Alleviate Starvation and Malnutrition among Victims of the Kampuchean Famine2

Long-term Arrangements and U.S. Organization

Most experts agree that substantial international relief will be needed in Kampuchea at least through 1981, if hundreds of thousands of people are not to die. Such a long-term effort must be authorized, funded, and organized as quickly as possible. Current U.S. Government funding for the relief effort will suffice only until Spring of 1980.3 Also, should further military action occur on a major scale, the difficulties of dealing with famine and refugees will greatly increase, both in Kampuchea and Thailand.

Even at the present time, international relief organizations are finding great difficulty in maintaining cash flow.4 Any steps taken by the United States to make funds available quickly and to convince other [Page 890] nations to “cash in” their pledges would be of critical assistance to the relief effort. Also, plans for a new pledging conference5 to continue the effort into 1981 must be finalized quickly, and any attempt by the United Nations to call such a conference should be supported by the United States.

The Commission cautions the international community that the relief effort itself can have a destabilizing effect on Kampuchea. As the feeding system along the Thailand border becomes more efficient, it tends to draw people within Kampuchea toward the border and may even encourage them to cross the border as refugees. Certainly the preference is to reach the hungry within Kampuchea and not add to the refugee problem.

With regard to current efforts in Thailand and Kampuchea to help refugees and other victims, it appears that the arrangements for delivery of relief as assistance are adequate, but the implementation of actual distribution of food has been ineffective in some cases.6 The concept of reliance on international agencies7 to operate the bulk of the programs and to facilitate and coordinate the efforts of non-Government agencies seems the best approach.8 Logistical arrangements, while periodically exhibiting great difficulties, particularly in Kampuchea, seem adequate. The food supply pipeline is in good order for the short run, and substantial quantities of food are being delivered into Kampuchea or to nearby points along the border from which they can be moved readily, once the distribution bottlenecks within Kampuchea have been resolved.

To date, food distribution within Kampuchea has not been effective, and the World Food Programme has slowed down shipments for that reason. Infrastructure requirements, including transportation and handling facilities, must be improved and augmented. Coordination of the international relief effort is difficult almost by definition because of the large number of organizations involved and the movement of refugees. The arrangements for international coordination seem appropriate, however, and are working well under the circumstances.

Arrangements for internal coordination within the U.S. Government and among private agencies, however, are only partially successful and the clear designation of a single individual as the primary [Page 891] focal point for coordination of U.S. Government actions would be helpful.

Therefore, the Commission recommends that the President designate one individual as the primary focal point for coordination of all Kampuchean assistance flowing from the United States.9

While the Commission considers the designation of one individual to coordinate relief efforts as crucial, it is also mindful of the need for efforts to facilitate funding and organizational arrangements through international agencies at least through 1981, for continuing sensitivity to the cash flow problems of international agencies, for efforts to facilitate coordination arrangements between the United States and the international groups, and for advocating even-handed treatment of the victims of famine, regardless of the political faction they represent.

Public Perception Issues

The willingness of the American people to help the Kampucheans is evident at the present time. But the assistance effort will be a long one, and there is real concern that public interest in the Kampuchean famine will wane. Public funds could then cease to flow as needed.

News stories outlining alleged misuse of funds in the relief effort further erode public support for Kampuchean assistance. There is hard evidence that bad publicity about the international effort reduces public giving through private voluntary agencies. It is likely that there will be little support for Government spending as well, if news stories from Thailand and Kampuchea reflect only mismanagement and a sense of hopelessness in dealing with the problem.

A major criticism of the Thailand operation has been that many of the hungry along the border and in the refugee camps are Pol Pot supporters. Critics claim, therefore, that the relief effort favors one faction over another, and that the favored faction is led by a ruthless dictator. The Commission is convinced that in this case, the facts of geography and movement of military forces, and not the design of international agencies or the U.S. Government, have determined who has access to food supplies. The international agencies feed hungry people, regardless of their political persuasion, and are distributing food to any [Page 892] and all they can reach. When food can be distributed within Kampuchea, there too it will go to hungry people, regardless of their political affiliation.

The Commission cautions that statements by the U.S. Government can also have the effect of reducing public interest in helping Kampucheans. For example, statements alleging a lack of support from other governments tend to divert public attention from the crucial need of famine victims and from the success stories of food distribution.

The seizure of American hostages in Iran has also diverted attention away from the famine in Kampuchea, but more importantly, it could dampen the public willingness to provide assistance for any developing nation for some time to come. The public tends to lump developing nations together and see the antagonistic actions of one as indicative of all. Many Americans are now questioning whether the United States should bother to help poorer nations, when they may respond by capturing U.S. citizens and denouncing the U.S. Government. The U.S. mood to turn inward has certainly been expressed to Members of Congress during the Congressional recess, and may be reflected in Congressional action, or inaction, during the coming session.

On these and other issues, the Commission recommends that the President assure that the American public is frequently informed about what is happening in Kampuchea and Thailand, and that the information include the good being accomplished as well as the problems involved in a relief effort of this size.10

Congressional action

The Commission believes that the U.S. Congress should take several immediate actions relevant to the Kampuchean assistance effort and that the Administration should support those Congressional actions.

The Commission recommends that the Congress immediately undertake joint oversight hearings by both the House and Senate on the Kampuchean relief effort.11

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With the changing conditions in Indochina, the Commission believes that it is essential to clarify U.S. policy toward Kampuchea and neighboring states. This information, as well as details of the relief effort, should be requested in Congressional hearings. The Commission also stands ready to provide information or witnesses for such hearings.

The Commission recommends that the Congress draw out of the Foreign Assistance bill the $30 million appropriation for relief of victims of the Kampuchean famine and immediately appropriate those funds.12

The Foreign Assistance bill appears to be stalled at the present time,13 for reasons unrelated to Kampuchea. Yet, time is of the essence and the lives of thousands depend on the availability of the $30 million for relief assistance. Some of these crucial funds have already been spent from authorized borrowings from other programs. Continued delay could also cause serious problems for those programs from which borrowings have been made.

Currently, estimates of U.S. contributions to the international relief effort for Kampuchea total approximately $106 million, or about one-third the United Nations appeal for $311 million. Of the U.N. total, about $251 million is intended for ICRC/UNICEF relief of hungry Kampucheans, primarily located in Kampuchea, and about $60 million for UNHCR activities with refugees in Thailand. The U.S. share of the relief funds is intended to be divided between the two areas, in approximately the same proportion. In practice, of course, the distinction between relief areas is not that clear. ICRC/UNICEF is financing some activities in Thailand. Imported food aid is being distributed on both sides of the Thai-Kampuchean border, although most of the food being distributed in Thailand is purchased in that country. The Commission recognizes the difficulties involved in the relief effort but strongly urges that every effort be made to distribute the food where the greatest need for it exists.

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The $106 million pledged by the United States includes the following:

$25 million P.L. 480, Title II food commodities

5 million cash grant to ICRC/UNICEF for start-up costs

15 million UNHRC

30 million new funds, not yet appropriated

30 million reprogramming authority in Foreign Assistance bill

In addition, another $925,000 has been granted to ICRC and Catholic Relief Services from fiscal year 1979 funds.

It is important to restate that the funds now available are not new money made available for relief. The funds will have to come out of other assistance programs, unless new appropriations are enacted.

Similarly, one should note that even with the recent supplemental appropriation of $50 million for the Food for Peace program, Title II is still underfunded in terms of the 1.6 million tons mandated by the Congress. If the Kampuchean assistance must come from the regular Title II program, then another $46 million are needed to meet the mandate. If the Kampuchean assistance is a special additional program, then another $73 million are needed.

The Commission therefore recommends that the Congress enact the remaining supplemental appropriation for Title II of P.L. 480.14

P.L. 480 is not tied to the Foreign Assistance bill, but rather is complicated by its relation to domestic farm legislation. That legislation sets a budget cap for Title I and Title II of P.L. 480. The cap has been calculated to be about $98 million short of sufficient funds at present prices to provide the 1.6 million tons of food mandated in legislation. The dollar shortage totals $123 million if the Kampuchean effort is a special program instead of part of the general program. The recent supplemental appropriation bill provided $50 million of the needed funds. The remaining funds could be provided through the additional supplemental appropriation and by removing the caps from Title I and Title II and allowing the Administration to shift funds between programs. As has been stated, the Kampuchean relief assistance taken from present programs means that other deserving Title II programs will have to be drastically reduced. It also places a strain on funds that may be needed for other purposes, such as aiding refugees from Afghanistan.

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The reprogramming authority for $30 million may or may not become a matter for Congressional action, depending on the determination within the Administration as to whether funds can be made available from the general Foreign Assistance appropriation. If such funds cannot be made available from the general appropriation, then the issue of additional money must be considered along with other aspects of the long-term Kampuchean relief effort discussed earlier.

Time is of the essence in dealing with these Congressional concerns, and yet, from the Congress’ point of view, this may not seem a good time for action. Committee chairmen are reluctant to report any more supplemental appropriation bills until they examine the President’s budget proposal for 1981. Although sufficient borrowing authority exists to permit the Kampuchean effort to proceed through January, each day’s delay in authorizing funds specifically for Kampuchea limits the programs from which borrowings must be made.

Finally it should be noted that the international pledging conference for Kampuchean aid was based on eight months’ funding for UNHCR and one year for ICRC/UNICEF. There is now considerable question as to whether the $311 million in pledged funds, even if fully subscribed, will last that long. The present U.S. arrangements for Kampuchean food relief were based only on six months of operation, or through April 1980. The time for planning, funding, and implementing programs to be needed after April is becoming short.

Political and Diplomatic Actions

The crux of the solution to the famine in Kampuchea appears to be Vietnam, in both the short and long-term perspective. It seems unlikely that the Kampuchean issue can be resolved satisfactorily until Vietnam is accepted into the community of nations and persuaded to act as a responsible member of the world community. Given the history of Southeast Asia and the fact that a war is in progress, this may be difficult to achieve in time to avert starvation for hundreds of thousands of Kampucheans.

Increased U.S. unilateral arrangements with the Vietnamese should be explored as one method to reach a solution to the famine. If better understanding could develop, a short-term benefit would be to facilitate the entire Kampuchean relief effort. In the long term, a return to formal diplomatic relations could allow the United States to exert more influence in Indochina, and would provide the United States with a better listening post for local conditions.

For these reasons, the Commission recommends that the President actively explore improved official relationships with the Vietnamese Government, particularly through those countries which now have a more effective re [Page 896] lationship with the Vietnamese, in order to facilitate the provision of assistance to Kampuchea, and improved monitoring of the relief assistance our nation is providing to Kampuchea.15

The Commission further recommends that the United States continue to show sensitivity to the difficulties placed on Thailand by the influx of nearly one million refugees, and that the United States marshall international support for Thailand in order that the country not suffer unduly from the strain placed upon it.16

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P800052–1807. No classification marking. Mayer, serving as acting Chairman, transmitted the report to the President under a January 25 covering letter, indicating that the Commission “shall continue to monitor this situation on your behalf and we hope that our recommendations at this time are helpful.” (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 261.
  3. An unknown hand underlined this sentence.
  4. An unknown hand underlined “cash flow.”
  5. The first UN pledging conference for Kampuchean relief took place in New York on November 5, 1979, garnering $210 million worth of cash and commodities. For Vance’s statement on the U.S. effort, see Department of State Bulletin, December 1979, pp. 10–11.
  6. An unknown hand highlighted this sentence.
  7. An unknown hand highlighted the phrase “reliance on international agencies.”
  8. An unknown hand highlighted the phrase “seems the best approach.”
  9. In a January 31 memorandum, Dodson asked Tarnoff for a brief summation of ongoing Department of State efforts related to the Commission’s recommendations. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P800052–1806) The Department’s February 7 response, in the form of a memorandum from Tarnoff to Brzezinski, focused upon six of the PCWH recommendations, those related to coordination, public information, congressional oversight, appropriations, the Thai refugee situation, and U.S.-Vietnam relations. Tarnoff indicated that the President had delegated the coordination responsibility to U.S. Coordinator for Refugee Affairs Victor H. Palmieri. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P800052–1803)
  10. The Department of State outlined efforts in this area, highlighting the President and the First Lady’s participation in meetings of the National Cambodian Crisis Committee and the Department’s response to numerous public inquiries concerning the refugee situation. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P800052–1803)
  11. Noted Tarnoff, “While we do not believe that joint oversight hearings are likely to be called, we would welcome hearings by the appropriate committees of the Senate and the House. In any event, Administration officials will be testifying on all aspects of the US refugee effort, including Khmer relief, in the consultations with Congress required by the new refugee legislation.” (Ibid.) The United States Refugee Act of 1980 (P.L. 96–212; 94 Stat. 102) was signed into law by President Carter on March 17. Among other things, the act created the position of U.S. Coordinator for Refugee Affairs.
  12. Tarnoff expressed the Department’s concurrence with this recommendation, adding: “The President, the Secretary of State, and other senior Administration officials have repeatedly urged the leaders of Congress to break the log-jam on these bills.” (Ibid.)
  13. Presumable reference to the FY 1980 appropriations bill (H.R. 4473). A House–Senate conference committee held up the bill at the end of the 1979 legislative session. As a result, Congress funded existing foreign aid programs under an emergency funding resolution (H.J. Res 440; P.L. 96–123; 93 Stat. 923–926) enacted on November 20, 1979. (Congress and the Nation, Volume V, 1977–1980, p. 74) Lincoln Bloomfield, of the NSC Global Issues Cluster, briefed the PCWH on December 20, 1979, urging Commission members to “lobby to get the AID bill (containing the ‘Zablocki $30 million’)” once Congress resumed in January 1980. (NSC Global Issues Cluster Evening Report, December 20, 1979; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Global Issues—Oplinger/Bloomfield Subject File, Box 37, Evening Reports: 9–12/79)
  14. Bloomfield, in his December 20, 1979, briefing of the PCWH (see footnote 13 above), also encouraged the Commission members to lobby Congress to enact the remaining P.L. 480 Title II supplemental. (Ibid.)
  15. Tarnoff indicated that senior U.S. officials were engaged in direct contact with Hanoi on a variety of issues, including Khmer relief. (Memorandum from Tarnoff to Brzezinski, February 7; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P800052–1803)
  16. In recognition of the Government of Thailand’s position vis-à-vis the Khmer refugee population, Tarnoff noted that the United States had “increased our monthly off-take of refugees from Thailand to more than one-half of the monthly total we resettle from all of the first-asylum countries in Southeast Asia.” Similarly, the United States had engaged with the UN, ASEAN countries, and other governments to “impress upon Hanoi and its Soviet backers the great importance we attach to Thailand’s territorial integrity and the continued safety and well-being of the over one-half million displaced Khmer now located along the Thai-Cambodian border.” (Ibid.)