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320. Memorandum From Thomas Thornton of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Outlook for North-South Matters

Attached is a paper that I have put together from the contributions of the Tuesday morning North-South group (cluster plus Deal, Mathews, Denend, Platt and Albright). It probably reflects nobody’s view completely, but it is probably as close to a consensus as we could come—and we would all agree that it is the most viable consensus.

While we and State both envision a Vance speech early in the year, our approach differs from some of the thinking going on in the State Planning Staff. Our outlook is bleaker; we are more inclined to focus our approach on a few issues rather than go through a laundry list that sounds like Kissinger’s Seventh Special Session speech; and we want to see the speech specifically aimed at the US domestic audience.2

Erb and I will be working with State on the proposed Vance speech. It would be very helpful if you could remind Vance or Lake at some point that you want us to be thoroughly involved at all stages of work. We don’t want to have to go through once again the coordination problems associated with Vance’s UNGA speech.

[Page 1013]


Paper Prepared by Thomas Thornton of the National Security Council Staff 3


While the impulse of the North-South relationship is political, its content continues to be economic and is usually defined in terms of the agenda set forth by the G–77 and in UNCTAD. By its nature, this agenda is loaded against us—at least in terms of our short and mid-range ability to respond effectively. The LDCs look to a different distribution of the world’s resources and power—we find difficulties here not only because we perceive ourselves to be pretty short of resources at this time but also because we lack a strong base of public and Congressional support for policies that affect international power relationships or cost money. Also, many believe that the demands being put forth by the LDCs make little economic sense.

There are, however, bright spots in the picture. We have improved our performance in some of the areas of concern to the LDCs. We came out well on the aid budget this year; we will have a generally reasonable posture in the next round of Common Fund negotiations; we have pulled back from a potentially bitter confrontation over the COW mechanism, and we have been forthcoming in a number of other specific areas. Movement in these areas, however, has not been sufficient to offset growing LDC perceptions in the framework of the N/S dialogue that the United States has not altered its stance on NIEO issues.

But there are more bright spots when we move away from the “G–77 agenda” items.

—On the political front, our actions in Southern Africa, the Middle East and on the Panama Canal have been well received and bought us a lot of support.

—In bilateral relationships we have made some significant steps forward, especially in dealing with the emerging middle powers. While this progress has been mainly in the political/psychological realm, it has also been economic.

Unfortunately, there is relatively little feed-back among these realms, except to the extent that the broad atmosphere of trust and confidence generated by the Carter Administration on political issues has [Page 1014]probably reduced somewhat the kind of bitterness our economic “shortcomings” would otherwise have evoked.

The good will is wearing thin, however, and we will be confronting a new range of challenges from the G–77 in the coming year.

In addition, continued budgetary stringencies in the US plus run-up to an election year in 1980 will make it very difficult for us to meet our own targets, let alone the G–77 demands. We could also encounter some very heavy political weather in the coming months, especially in Southern Africa, that would dispel much of the good will that we have gained by our past policies. Also, we are once again increasingly isolated in the UN on such issues as racism and mass media. Thus, we expect things to get harder rather than easier.

Given the predictable distractions at home plus steady pressure from the G–77, we generally agree that our North-South policies in the multilateral economic area should be pursued cautiously and with limited involvement by the President—probably until after the next election. Although there was some sentiment for the proposition that domestic political capital could be found in an aggressive approach to North-South matters, this was a minority view.

In our domestic public relations effort, we should continue to work hard on long-term building of public and congressional attitudes and mount major or dramatic programs only to meet particular legislative goals; namely the final MTN package and perhaps foreign assistance.

We will have to assess very carefully what our capabilities are, and carefully focus our rhetoric and actions in those areas that are (a) most likely to produce results, (b) most likely to obtain effective domestic support, or (c) salient in terms of the negotiating agenda. We have not generally indulged in excessive rhetoric in the past, but an even more cautious approach is indicated. There will be pressure for retrenchment of explicit and implicit administration goals—e.g. growth in aid levels—and we will have to give this a serious hearing.

In 1979, trade and commodities, including continuing negotiations on a Common Fund, are the areas on which we will have to focus. There will be important negotiations in these fields; they are probably the most promising in terms of stimulating development; and they should be saleable domestically since they can produce measurable benefits for our economy. Of course, since they cause dislocations, they also gore some specific oxen in a way that aid—paid for out of the general revenue—does not. (Tactically, this suggests that we should key our public relations efforts to groups that have a positive interest in our programs—especially consumers.)

These, however, are not the only issues that we will be facing. Macro-economic performance, monetary and financial issues, energy, our IFI arrearages, technology transfer, WARC and Law of the Seas [Page 1015]issues will all need attention at the negotiating table and possibly action by Congress. Our strategy, while concentrating on trade and commodities, must also include these. The entire agenda should be presented to the public and to Congress with special attention to matters that will require Congressional support in the next session. We should probably avoid setting public priorities for as long as possible in developing our legislative programs and rationales; we will, however, need to have our priorities clearly set in our own minds as we elaborate a strategy for the remainder of the session.

Putting across our policy, with all of its limitations, is going to be hard. We will find it difficult to participate in any North-South debate without either raising undue expectations or returning to the confrontations of previous years. We will have especially heavy going at UNCTAD for failure to respond to the broad range of G–77 demands. Under these circumstances, it will be a challenge to keep our rhetoric in line.

There is an argument to be made that we should downgrade our representation there (and in similar fora) as a symbol of our refusal to accept them as the proper place for serious negotiation. This would provide a certain cover for our inability to do much and, it is hoped, force the LDCs to deal with us more bilaterally. This probably overestimates our ability to define the scope and content of the North-South debate, and given this Administration’s commitment to the UN and North-South debate, most of us do not support such a step.

We will, however, need to focus much more attention on the problem of getting economic discussion more into channels where we have strong cards to play.

The proper vehicle to get this off the ground will be a major speech by an Administration official in the U.S. to an American audience. The speech should set out our approach to relations with LDCs (shared responsibilities), our accomplishments thus far, our objectives for the future (both political and developmental), and the means with which we intend to accomplish them. Vance is the likely candidate. It will have to be very well advanced if it is to have an impact. By way of introduction, there should be some reference to key North-South issues in the State of the Union message.

Overall then, the prospect on the North-South economic front is for concentration on things that we do best and/or are most important. We continue to discuss among ourselves how we might be able to make some gains on the political front, either through dealings with the NAM or by shifting position slightly on some key UN-related issues. Any such gains will, however, affect our overall position only marginally.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Subject Chron File, Box 108, North-South Policy: 1978. Confidential. Sent for information.
  2. In this paragraph, Brzezinski underlined the phrases “outlook is bleaker,” “our approach,” “on a few issues,” and “aimed at the US domestic audience.” He also wrote “I tend to agree. ZB” at the bottom of the page and drew a line pointing to this paragraph. For Kissinger’s speech to the Seventh Special Session of the UN General Assembly, see footnote 3, Document 257.
  3. Confidential.