120. Address by Secretary of State Shultz Before the United Nations General Assembly1

U.S. Foreign Policy: Realism and Progress

I begin by paying tribute to our new Secretary General, who has brought great distinction to the office during his brief tenure. Dag Hammarskjold once told the General Assembly that “independence, impartiality, objectivity—they all describe essential aspects of what, without exception, must be in the attitude of the Secretary General.” Javier Perez de Cuellar, a man of the Third World and, I am proud to note, of the New World as well, has already demonstrated his strict adherence to this most exacting standard. In so doing, he has earned the esteem of my government and the gratitude of all who believe in the purposes of the charter.

I congratulate, as well, Mr. Hollai [Imre Hollai, Deputy Foreign Minister] of Hungary upon his election as President of the 37th Session of the General Assembly.

As I stand before you today, I cannot help but reflect on my relation to this city and to this hall. I was born about 4 miles from here. I was reared and educated not far away, just across the Hudson River. And I took a tour through this building just after it opened in 1952 marveling at the reality of a temple erected in the hope, at least, of abolishing war.

When I took that tour back in the early fifties, there was great public interest in what was called “the Meditation Room.” I understand the room is still here. But in the years since then, this institution has become more famous for talk than for meditation. This hall has heard great ideas eloquently expressed. It has also heard doubletalk, platitudes, and ringing protestations of innocence—all too often aimed at camouflaging outrageous and inhuman acts.

But we must not ridicule words. I believe that the greatest advance in human history was not the wheel, the use of electricity, or the internal [Page 460] combustion engine. Indispensable to progress as these have been, our most remarkable achievement was the slow, clumsy but triumphant creation of language. It is words that released our ancestors from the prison of the solitary. Words gave us the means to transmit to our children and the future the crowning jewel of human existence: knowledge. The code of Hammurabi, the Bible, the analects of Confucius, the teachings of the Buddha, the Koran, the insights of Shakespeare, the creed of Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King—all these are arrangements of words.

Is it not profoundly revealing that the first victims of tyrants are—words? No people better know the meaning of freedom than those who have been arrested, beaten, imprisoned, or exiled because of what they said. A single man speaking out—a Lech Walesa for example—is more dangerous than an armored division.

All of us here—whether we arrived after a short 1-hour flight, as I did, or came from the other side of the globe, as many of you did—enter this auditorium for one main purpose: to talk about what our governments see as the problems ahead and how they should be solved. On one point, at least, we can all agree: The problems are many and difficult. I shall not try, in the minutes allotted me, to deal with each—or even most—of those issues in detail. Instead, I want to give you some sense of the principles and general approach the United States will take toward our common problems.

Americans are, by history and by inclination, a practical and pragmatic people—yet a people with a vision. It is the vision—usually simple and sometimes naive—that has so often led us to dare and to achieve. President Reagan’s approach to foreign policy is grounded squarely on standards drawn from the pragmatic American experience. As De Tocqueville pointed out, “To achieve its objective, America relies on personal interest, and gives full reign to the strength and reason of the individual.” That is as true now as when it was said 150 years ago. Our principal instrument, now as then, is freedom. Our adversaries are the oppressors, the totalitarians, the tacticians of fear and pressure.

On this foundation, President Reagan’s ideas and the structure of his foreign policy are so straightforward that those of us enmeshed in day-to-day details may easily lose sight of them. The President never does; he consistently brings us back to fundamentals. Today, I will talk about those fundamentals. They consist of four ideas that guide our actions.

  • We will start from realism.
  • We will act from strength, both in power and purpose.
  • We will stress the indispensable need to generate consent, build agreements, and negotiate on key issues.
  • We will conduct ourselves in the belief that progress is possible, even though the road to achievement is long and hard.


If we are to change the world we must first understand it. We must face reality—with all its anguish and all its opportunities. Our era needs those who, as Pericles said, have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and, notwithstanding, go out to meet it.

Reality is not an illusion nor a sleight of hand, though many would have us believe otherwise. The enormous, grinding machinery of Soviet propaganda daily seeks to distort reality, to bend truth for its own purposes. Our world is occupied by far too many governments which seek to conceal truth from their own people. They wish to imprison reality by controlling what can be read or spoken or heard. They would have us believe that black is white and up is down.

Much of present-day reality is unpleasant. To describe conditions as we see them, as I do today and as President Reagan has over the course of his presidency, is not to seek confrontation. Far from it. Our purpose is to avoid misunderstanding and to create the necessary preconditions for change. And so, when we see aggression, we will call it aggression. When we see subversion, we will call it subversion. When we see repression, we will call it repression.

  • Events in Poland, for example, cannot be ignored or explained away. The Polish people want to be their own master. Years of systematic tyranny could not repress this desire, and neither will martial law. But in Poland today, truth must hide in corners.
  • Nor can we simply turn our heads and look the other way as Soviet divisions brutalize an entire population in Afghanistan. The resistance of the Afghan people is a valiant saga of our times. We demean that valor if we do not recognize its source.
  • And Soviet surrogates intervene in many countries, creating a new era of colonialism at the moment in history when peoples around the globe had lifted that burden from their backs.
  • Nor will we shy away from speaking of other problems affecting the free and developing worlds. Much of the developing world is threatened by a crisis of confidence in financial institutions and the stultifying effects of state-controlled economies. The naturally vibrant economies of many Western nations and trade between the world’s major trading partners are threatened by recession and rising protectionism. The great alliances that shore up world stability and growth—our hemispheric partnership and NATO, and the Western and Japanese [Page 462] industrial democracies—are challenged by new as well as chronic strains.
  • Finally, the shadow of war still darkens the future of us all. There is no ultimate safety in a nuclear balance of terror constantly contested. There is no peace of mind at a time when increasing numbers of nations appear willing to launch their armies into battles for causes which seem local but have ramifications for regional and even global harmony.

The list of troubles is long; the danger of despair great. But there is another side to the present reality; it is a reality of hope. We are living in a fantastic time of opportunity.

Historians in the future will surely marvel over the accomplishments achieved by human beings in the last half of this century. We have expanded the frontiers of thought—in science, biology, and engineering; in painting, music, and mathematics; in technology and architecture—far beyond the point anyone could have dared predict, much less hoped for. We know much today about the oceans and forests and the geological strata that lock in the story of our past. We know more about a baby—or the brain—than was accumulated in 10 millenia before our time. We are learning to produce food for all of us; we are no longer helpless before the threat of disease; we explore our universe as a matter of course. We are confronting the nature of nature itself. The opportunities are grand. This, too, is a clear reality.

Thus, realism shows us a world deeply troubled, yet with reason for hope. There is one necessary condition: The only way we can enhance and amplify the human potential is by preserving, defending, and extending those most precious of conditions—freedom and peace.


America’s yearning for peace does not lead us to be hesistant in developing our strength or in using it when necessary. Indeed, clarity about the magnitude of the problems we face leads inevitably to a realistic appreciation of the importance of American strength. The strength of the free world imposes restraint, invites accommodation, and reassures those who would share in the creative work that is the wonderful consequence of liberty.

Strength means military forces to insure that no other nation can threaten us, our interests, or our friends. But when I speak of strength, I do not mean military power alone. To Americans, strength derives as well from a solid economic base and social vitality at home and with our partners. And, most fundamentally, the true wellspring of strength lies in America’s moral commitment.

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The bulwark of America’s strength is military power for peace. The American people have never accepted weakness, nor hesitancy, nor abdication. We will not put our destiny into the hands of the ruthless. Americans today are emphatically united on the necessity of a strong defense. This year’s defense budget2 will insure that the United States will help its friends and allies defend themselves—to make sure that peace is seen clearly by all to be the only feasible course in world affairs.

Along with military readiness and capability must come the willingness to employ it in the cause of peace, justice, and security. Today in Beirut the U.S. Marines—together with our allies Italy and France—are helping the Lebanese Government and Armed Forces assure the safety of the peoples of that tormented capital. Our Marines represent an extension of American power, not for war but to secure the peace. They are there to speed the moment when all foreign forces depart from Lebanon. There must be early agreement on a timetable for the full application of Lebanon’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. Lebanon deserves the world’s help—to secure peace and to rebuild a thriving society.

America will continue to use its strength with prudence, firmness, and balance. We intend to command the respect of adversaries and to deserve the confidence of allies and partners.

The engine of America’s strength is a sound economy. In a time of recession, industrialized and less developed nations alike are bedeviled by excessive inflation, restricted markets, unused capacity, stagnating trade, growing pressure for protectionism, and the most potent enemy of expansion—pervasive uncertainty.

The United States, with its vast human and scientific resources, can survive an era of economic strife and decay. But our moral commitment and our self-interest require us to use our technological and productive abilities to build lasting prosperity at home and to contribute to a sound economic situation abroad.

President Reagan has instituted a bold program to get the American economy moving. Our rate of inflation is down markedly, and we will keep it down. This will add stability to the value of the dollar and give greater confidence to international financial markets.

The recent drop in U.S. interest rates will stimulate new investments within and beyond our shores. Conservation through market [Page 464] pricing of energy has reduced U.S. demand for world energy supplies. We are putting the recession behind us. A growing and open American economy will provide new markets for goods and services produced elsewhere and new opportunities for foreign investment. Just as we have a stake in worldwide recovery, others will prosper as our recovery develops.

For wider prosperity to take hold, we must cooperatively attend these international issues.

  • The lure of protectionist trade policies must be resisted—whether in the form of overt import restrictions and export subsidies or by more subtle domestic programs. These can only distort world trade and impair growth everywhere. Let us determine to make the November ministerial meeting of the GATT [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade] a time to stem these protectionist pressures and reinvigorate positive efforts for a more open trading system.
  • The implications of the external debt of many nations must be understood. Immediate debt problems are manageable if we use good sense and avoid destabilizing actions. But the magnitude of external debt will almost inevitably reduce resources available for future lending for development purposes. Economic adjustment is imperative. The International Monetary Fund can provide critical help and guidance in any country’s efforts to smooth the adjustment process. The new borrowing arrangement proposed by the United States can be crucial to this effort.
  • And the necessity of reducing government interference in the market must be recognized. Every nation has the right to organize society as its inhabitants wish, but economic facts cannot be ignored. Those facts clearly demonstrate that the world’s command economies have failed abysmally to meet the needs of their peoples. The newly prosperous industrialized nations are those with the most free and open markets.

The bedrock of our strength is our moral and spiritual character. The sources of true strength lie deeper than economic or military power—in the dedication of a free people which knows its responsibility. America’s institutions are those of freedom accessible to every person and of government as the accountable servant of the people. Equal opportunity; due process of law; open trial by jury; freedom of belief, speech, [Page 465] and assembly—our Bill of Rights, our guarantees of liberty and limited government—were hammered out in centuries of ordeal. Because we care about these human values for ourselves, so must we then be concerned, and legitimately so, with abuses of freedom, justice, and humanitarian principles beyond our borders. This is why we will speak and act for prisoners of conscience, against terrorism, and against the brutal silencing of the Soviet Helsinki Watch Committee.3 This is why we are anxious to participate in periodic reviews of the human rights performance of ourselves as well as others. We welcome scrutiny of our own system. We are not perfect, and we know it, but we have nothing to hide.

Our belief in liberty guides our policies here in the United Nations as elsewhere. Therefore, in this forum the United States will continue to insist upon fairness, balance, and truth. We take the debate on human rights seriously. We insist upon honesty in the use of language; we will point out inconsistencies, double standards, and lies. We will not compromise our commitment to truth.

Readiness To Solve Problems

The world has work to do for the realists, the pragmatists, and the free. With a clear understanding of the troubled circumstances of the hour and with a strengthened ability to act, we need, as well, the vision to see beyond the immediate present.

All of us here represent nations which must understand and accept the imperative of fair engagement on the issues before us and, beyond that, of common effort toward shared goals. Whether we are seeking to bring peace to regional conflict or a resolution of commercial differences, the time of imposed solutions has passed. Conquest, pressure, acquiescence under duress were common in decades not long past, but not today. Not everybody who wants his concerns addressed will find us automatically receptive. But when negotiations are in order, America is prepared to go to work on the global agenda and to do so in a way that all may emerge better off and more secure than before.

We manage our problems more intelligently, and with greater mutual understanding, when we can bring ourselves to recognize them as expressions of mankind’s basic dilemma. We are seldom confronted with simple issues of right and wrong, between good and evil. Only those who do not bear the direct burden of responsibility for decision and action can indulge themselves in the denial of that reality. The task of statesmanship is to mediate between two—or several—causes, each of which often has a legitimate claim.

It is on this foundation that the United States stands ready to try to solve the problems of our time—to overcome chaos, deprivation, and the heightened dangers of an era in which ideas and cultures too often [Page 466] tend to clash and technologies threaten to outpace our institutions of control.

We are engaged in negotiations and efforts to find answers to issues affecting every part of the globe and every aspect of our lives upon it.

The Middle East. The agony of the Middle East now exceeds the ability of news bulletins or speeches to express; it is a searing wound on our consciousness. The region is in constant ferment. Unrest flares into violence, terror, insurrection, and civil strife. War follows war. It is clear to everyone in this hall that international peace, security, and cooperative progress cannot be truly achieved until this terrible regional conflict is settled.

All of us have witnessed in the past several months a graphic reminder of the need for practical peace negotiations in the Middle East. Of the nations in the world which need and deserve peace, Israel surely holds a preeminent place. Of the peoples of the world who need and deserve a place with which they can truly identify, the Palestinian claim is undeniable.

But Israel can only have permanent peace in a context in which the Palestinian people also realize their legitimate rights. Similarly, the Palestinian people will be able to achieve their legitimate rights only in a context which gives to Israel what it so clearly has a right to demand—to exist, and to exist in peace and security.

This most complex of international conflicts cannot be resolved by force. Neither the might of armies nor the violence of terrorists can succeed in imposing the will of the strong upon the weak. Nor can it be settled simply by the rhetoric of even the most carefully worded document. It can only be resolved through the give and take of direct negotiations leading to the establishment of practical arrangements on the ground.

In other words, it can only be resolved through hard work. For those who believe that there is no contradiction between permanent peace for Israel and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people—and for those who believe that both are essential for peace and that neither can be achieved without the other—the task can truly be a labor of love.

On September 1, President Reagan challenged the parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict to make a fresh start on the road to peace in the Middle East.4 The Camp David agreements, resting squarely on U.N. Security Council Resolution 242,5 with its formula of peace for territory, remain available to those who would accept the challenge to make this journey with us. The road will not be easy but, in his statement, President [Page 467] Reagan made a number of proposals which, for those who are willing to join the effort, make the journey safer and easier. I call on all concerned to accept President Reagan’s challenge and hasten the realization of true peace in the Middle East.

Arms Control. In addition to the imperative need to resolve regional problems, there is an equally significant global imperative: to halt, and reverse, the global arms buildup. As an American, I am aware that arms control and disarmament are a special responsibility of the world’s most powerful nations—the United States and the Soviet Union. And as an American, I can report that we are fulfilling our responsibility to seek to limit and reduce conventional and nuclear arms to the lowest possible levels.

With this goal in mind, President Reagan has initiated a comprehensive program for negotiated arms reductions. In central Europe, the most heavily armed region on this planet, the Western allies are seeking substantial reductions in NATO and Warsaw Pact troops to equal levels. To achieve this goal, we have recently introduced a new proposal designed to revitalize the talks in Vienna on mutual and balanced reductions in military manpower.6

In the area of strategic arms, the United States has also taken the initiative by calling for a one-third reduction in the number of nuclear warheads that American and Soviet ballistic missiles can deliver.7 And in the talks in Geneva on intermediate-range nuclear forces, the United States has gone even further, by asking the Soviet Union to agree to a bold proposal for eliminating an entire category of weapons from the arsenals of the two sides.

But as important as these negotiations are, the problem of arms control cannot be left to the two superpowers. The threat of nuclear proliferation extends to every region in the world and demands the attention and energy of every government. This is not solely, or even [Page 468] primarily, a concern of the superpowers. The non-nuclear countries will not be safer if nuclear intimidation is added to already deadly regional conflicts. The developing nations will not be more prosperous if scarce resources and scientific talent are diverted to nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

Unfortunately, as the task becomes more important, it also becomes more difficult. Greater quantities of dangerous materials are produced, and new suppliers emerge who lack a clear commitment to nonproliferation. But the technology that helped to create the problems can supply answers as well. Vigorous action to strengthen the barriers to aggression and to resolve disputes peacefully can remove the insecurities that are the root of the problem. The United States, for its part, will work to tighten export controls, to promote broader acceptance of safeguards, to urge meaningful actions when agreements are violated, and to strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency. As our action last week in Vienna should make clear, we will not accept attempts to politicize—and, therefore, emasculate—such vital institutions.8


Perhaps the most common phrase spoken by the American people in our more than two centuries of national life has been: “You can’t stop progress.” Our people have always been imbued with the conviction that the future of a free people would be good.

America continues to offer that vision to the world. With that vision and with the freedom to act creatively, there is nothing that people of goodwill need fear.

I am not here to assert, however, that the way is easy, quick, or that the future is bound to be bright. There is a poem by Carl Sandburg in which a traveler asks the sphinx to speak and reveal the distilled wisdom of all the ages. The sphinx does speak. Its words are: “Don’t expect too much.”9

That is good counsel for all of us here. It does not mean that great accomplishments are beyond our reach. We can help shape more constructive international relations and give our children a better chance at life. It does mean, however, that risk, pain, expense, and above all endurance are needed to bring those achievements into our grasp.

We must recognize the complex and vexing character of this world. We should not indulge ourselves in fantasies of perfection or unfulfillable plans or solutions gained by pressure. It is the responsibility of [Page 469] leaders not to feed the growing appetite for easy promises and grand assurances. The plain truth is this: We face the prospect of all too few decisive or dramatic breakthroughs; we face the necessity of dedicating our energies and creativity to a protracted struggle toward eventual success.


That is the approach of my country—because we see not only the necessity, but the possibility, of making important progress on a broad front.

  • Despite deep-seated differences between us and the Soviet Union, negotiators of both sides are now at work in a serious, businesslike effort at arms control.
  • President Reagan has issued an important call for an international conference on military expenditure.10 The achievement of a common system for accounting and reporting is the prerequisite for subsequent agreement to limit or curtail defense budgets.
  • The Caribbean Basin initiative establishes the crucial bond between economic development and economic freedom. It can be a model for fair and productive cooperation between economies vastly different in size and character.
  • And the diplomatic way is open to build stability and progress in southern Africa through independence for Namibia under internationally acceptable terms.

Realism and a readiness to work long and hard for fair and freely agreed solutions—that is our recipe for optimism. That is the message and the offer which my government brings to you today.

I began my remarks here today with an informal personal word. Let me end in the same spirit. We must be determined and confident. We must be prepared for trouble but always optimistic. In this way the vast bounties produced by the human mind and imagination can be shared by all the races and nations we represent here in this hall.

A predecessor of mine as Secretary of State, whose portrait hangs in my office, conveyed the essence of America’s approach to the world’s dangers and dilemmas. He said we would act with “a stout heart and a clear conscience, and never despair.”

That is what John Quincy Adams said nearly a century and a half ago. I give you my personal pledge today that we will continue in that spirit, with that determination, and with that confidence in the future.

  1. Source: Department of State Bulletin, November 1982, pp. 1–3, 6–9. All brackets are in the original. Shultz’s delegation in New York sent the Department and USIA the text of the address in Secto 13027, September 30. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D820506–1039) All brackets are in the original. Shultz, in characterizing the address, wrote in his memoir that he had “summed up what little wisdom I picked up from the incredible events of August and September. We would start from realism. We would act from strength, both in power and purpose. We would stress the essential need to generate consent, build agreement, and negotiate on key issues. We would conduct ourselves in the belief that progress was possible, even though the road to its achievement was long and hard. I thought these points were straightforward and obvious benchmarks for our foreign policy in the 1980s. They proved to be anything but easy to implement.” (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, pp. 111–112)
  2. The President transmitted the FY 1983 budget, including proposed defense expenditures, to Congress on February 8. For his message to Congress, see Public Papers: Reagan, 1982, Book I, pp. 121–134. On August 18, Congress cleared the Department of Defense Authorization Act for 1983 (S.2248; P.L. 97–252; 96 Stat. 718), which the President signed into law on September 8. (Congress and the Nation, vol. VI, 1981–1984, p. 217)
  3. Reference is to the dissolution of the Soviet Helsinki Watch Committee, which had been established to monitor Soviet compliance with the 1975 Helsinki Accords. For additional information, see “Other Helsinki Units Deplore Soviet Move,” New York Times, September 9, 1982, p. A3.
  4. See Document 116.
  5. See footnote 9, Document 63.
  6. In a statement issued July 8, Rostow indicated that the President, in his June 9 Bundestag address, had remarked that the North Atlantic Alliance had agreed to a “proposal designed to give new life to the Vienna negotiations” and that NATO leaders had recently announced that the Western MBFR participants would “soon present a draft treaty embodying a new, comprehensive proposal.” Rostow continued, “This morning in Vienna’s Hofburg Palace, where the MBFR plenary sessions take place, the West formally tabled its draft treaty. This new initiative is the result of an effort by this Administration to develop an arms control approach on the question of conventional forces in central Europe which calls for substantial reductions—reductions which, if implemented, could reduce the risk of war in central Europe.” Concluding, he commented, “This is the first time that a Western proposal in the MBFR negotiations has been tabled in the form of a draft treaty. Doing so underscores Western seriousness in the negotiations and readiness to bring about substantial reductions.” (Department of State Bulletin, August 1982, p. 53)
  7. Reference is to the proposal made by the President in his Eureka College commencement address; see Document 99.
  8. On September 24, the U.S. delegation withdrew from the 26th General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna after the IAEA voted to reject Israel’s credentials.
  9. Reference is to Sandburg’s 1936 work The People, Yes.
  10. The President proposed the international conference in his June 17 address before the UN General Assembly Special Session on Disarmament; see Document 106.