printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Address by President Richard Nixon to the UN General Assembly


September 18, 1969

Share

Address Before the 24th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Madam President, Mr. Secretary General, distinguished Foreign Ministers, Prime Ministers, delegates--my fellow citizens of the world community:

I first wish to express my deep appreciation for the honor of addressing this organization for the first time and also to take this opportunity to welcome all of those from 126 countries who are here at the United Nations General Assembly session.

Particularly, on a personal note, I appreciate the opportunity to have been welcomed today by the Secretary General. It is hard to realize, as we were reminiscing, that just 16 years ago he welcomed me to Burma when he was Chief of Protocol and I was Vice President.

Since then, we have both come up in the world to a certain extent.

I think we would all agree that there is no nobler destiny, nor any greater gift that one age could make to the ages that follow, than to forge the key to a lasting peace.

In this great Assembly, the desirability of peace needs no affirmation. The methods of achieving it are what so greatly challenge our courage, our intelligence, our discernment.

Surely if one lesson above all rings resoundingly among the many shattered hopes in this world, it is that good words are not a substitute for hard deeds, and noble rhetoric is no guarantee of noble results.

We might describe peace as a process embodied in a structure.

For centuries, peace was the absence of war; stability was the absence of change. But in today's world, there can be no stability without change--so that peace becomes a continuing process of creative evolution. It is no longer enough to restrain war. Peace must also embrace progress--both in satisfying man's material needs and in fulfilling his spiritual needs.

The test of the structure of peace is that it ensure for the people of each nation the integrity of their borders, their right to develop in peace and safety, and their right to determine their own destiny without outside interference.

As long as we live with the threat of aggression, we need physical restraints to contain it.

But the truest peace is based on self-restraint--on the voluntary acceptance of those basic rules of behavior that are rooted in mutual respect and demonstrated in mutual forbearance.

The more closely the world community adheres to a single standard in judging international behavior, the less likely that standard is to be violated.

ROLE OF THE UNITED STATES

I am well aware that many nations have questions about the world role of the United States in the years ahead-about the nature and extent of our future contribution to the structure of peace.

Let me address those doubts and address them quite candidly before this organization.

In recent years, there has been mounting criticism here in the United States of the scope and the results of our international commitments.

This trend, however, has not been confined to the United States alone. In many countries we find a tendency to withdraw from responsibilities, to leave the world's often frustrating problems to the other fellow and just to hope for the best.

As for the United States, I can state here today without qualification: We have not turned away from the world.

We know that with power goes responsibility.

We are neither boastful of our power, nor apologetic about it. We recognize that it exists, and that, as well as conferring certain advantages, it also imposes upon us certain obligations.

As the world changes, the pattern of those obligations and responsibilities changes.

At the end of World War II, the United States for the first time in history assumed the major responsibility for world peace.

We were left in 1945 as the one nation with sufficient strength to contain the new threats of aggression, and with sufficient wealth to help the injured nations back to their feet.

For much of the world, those first difficult postwar years were a time of dependency.

The next step was toward independence, as new nations were born and old nations revived.

Now we are maturing together into a new pattern of interdependence.

It is against this background that we have been urging other nations to assume a greater share of responsibility for their own security, both individually and together with their neighbors. The great challenge now is to enlist the cooperation of many nations in preserving peace and in enriching life. This cannot be done by American edict, or by the edict of any other nation. It must reflect the concepts and the wishes of the people of those nations themselves.

The history of the postwar period teaches that nationalism can be dangerously disruptive--or powerfully creative.

Our aim is to encourage the creative forms of nationalism; to join as partners where our partnership is appropriate, and where it is wanted, but not to let a U.S. presence substitute for independent national effort or infringe on national dignity and national pride.

It is not my belief that the way to peace is by giving up our friends or letting down our allies. On the contrary, our aim is to place America's international commitments on a sustainable, long term basis, to encourage local and regional initiatives, to foster national independence and self-sufficiency, and by so doing to strengthen the total fabric of peace.

It would be dishonest, particularly before this sophisticated audience, to pretend that the United States has no national interests of its own, or no special concern for its own interests.

However, our most fundamental national interest is in maintaining that structure of international stability on which peace depends, and which makes orderly progress possible.

TOWARD PEACE IN VIETNAM

Since I took office as President, no single question has occupied so much of my time and energy as the search for an end to the war in Vietnam--an end fair to the people of South Vietnam, fair to the people of North Vietnam, and fair to those others who would be affected by the outcome.

We in the United States want to end this war, and we are ready to take every reasonable step to achieve that goal. But let there be no question on this one fundamental point: In good conscience we cannot-in the long term interests of peace we will not--accept a settlement that would arbitrarily dictate the political future of South Vietnam and deny to the people of South Vietnam the basic right to determine their own future free of any outside interference.

As I put it in my address to the American people last May: "What the United States wants for South Vietnam is not the important thing. What North Vietnam wants for South Vietnam is not the important thing. What is important is what the people of South Vietnam want for South Vietnam."

To secure this right--and to secure this principle--is our one limited but fundamental objective.

Both in public and at the Paris talks, we have offered a number of proposals which would bring peace and provide self-determination. And we are ready to consider any other proposals that have the same objective. The missing ingredient so far has been the willingness of the other side to talk on any terms other than those that would predetermine the result and deny the right of self-determination to the people of South Vietnam. Once that willingness exists, and once there is a genuine willingness by the other side to reach agreement, the practical solutions can readily be found.

This makes it urgent that the U.N. members, those in this room who have long taken an active interest in peace in Vietnam, now take an active hand in achieving it.

Many urged that if only we halted our bombing of the North, peace would follow. Nearly a year has passed since the bombing of the North was halted.

Three months have passed since we began the process of troop replacement, signaling both our own genuine desire for a settlement and the increased readiness of the South Vietnamese to manage their own defense.

As I announced on Tuesday, by December 15 our troop strength in Vietnam will have been reduced by a minimum of 60,000 men.

On September 2, 1969, North Vietnam's chief negotiator in Paris said that if the United States committed itself to the principle of totally withdrawing its forces from South Vietnam, and if it withdrew a significant number of troops, Hanoi would take this into account.

I repeat here today what I said in my speech of May 14: that we are prepared to withdraw all of our forces from South Vietnam.

And the replacement of 60,000 troops is a significant step.

The time has come for the other side to respond to these initiatives. The time has come for peace.

And in the name of peace, I urge all of you here--representing 126 nations-to use your best diplomatic efforts to persuade Hanoi to move seriously into the negotiations which could end this war. The steps we have taken have been responsive to views expressed in this room. And we hope that views from this organization may also be influential in Hanoi. If these efforts are successful, this war can end.

The people of Vietnam, North and South alike, have demonstrated heroism enough to last a century. And I speak from personal observation. I have been to North Vietnam, to Hanoi, in 1953, and all over South Vietnam. I have seen the people of the North and the people of the South. The people of Vietnam, North and South, have endured an unspeakable weight of suffering for a generation. And they deserve a better future.

When the war ends, the United States will stand ready to help the people of Vietnam--all of them in their tasks of renewal and reconstruction. And when peace comes at last to Vietnam, it can truly come with healing in its wings.

AN ERA OF NEGOTIATIONS

In relations between the United States and the various Communist powers, I have said that we move from an era of confrontation to an era of negotiation.

I believe our relations with the Soviet Union can be conducted in a spirit of mutual respect, recognizing our differences and also our right to differ, recognizing our divergent interests and also our common interests, recognizing the interests of our respective allies as well as our own.

Now, it would be idle to pretend that there are not major problems between us, and conflicting interests. The tensions of the past 30 years have not been caused by mere personal misunderstandings. This is why we have indicated the need for extended negotiations on a broad front of issues.

Already, as you know, we have had extensive consultations with the Soviet Union as well as with others about the Middle East, where events of the past few days point up anew the urgency of a stable peace.

The United States continues to believe that the U.N. cease-fire resolutions define the minimal conditions that must prevail on the ground if settlement is to be achieved in the Middle East. We believe the Security Council resolution of November 1967 charts the way to that settlement.

A peace, to be lasting, must leave no seeds of a future war. It must rest on a settlement which both sides have a vested interest in maintaining.

We seek a settlement based on respect for the sovereign right of each nation in the area to exist within secure and recognized boundaries. We are convinced that peace cannot be achieved on the basis of substantial alterations in the map of the Middle East. And we are equally convinced that peace cannot be achieved on the basis of anything less than a binding, irrevocable commitment by the parties to live together in peace.

Failing a settlement, an agreement on the limitation of the shipment of arms to the Middle East might help to stabilize the situation. We have indicated to the Soviet Union, without result, our willingness to enter such discussions.

In addition to our talks on the Middle East, we hope soon to begin talks with the Soviet Union on the limitation of strategic arms. There is no more important task before us.

The date we proposed for the opening of talks has passed for lack of response. We remain ready to enter negotiations.

Since the United States first proposed strategic arms talks 3 years ago, the task of devising an effective agreement has become more difficult.

The Soviet Union has been vigorously expanding its strategic forces; weapons systems themselves have become more sophisticated, more destructive. But as the difficulty of the talks increases, so, too, does their importance.

Though the issues are complex, we are prepared to deal with them seriously, concretely, and purposefully--and to make a determined effort not only to limit the buildup of strategic arms, but to reverse it.

Meanwhile, I want to affirm our support for arms control proposals which we hope the Geneva conference will place before this Assembly, with regard to the seabed and chemical and bacteriological weapons. We hope also that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty will soon enter into force.

We should be under no illusion, however, that arms control will in itself bring peace. Wars are fought by soldiers, but they are declared by politicians. Peace also requires progress on those stubbornly persistent political questions, questions that are considered in this room, questions that still divide the world--and it requires other exchanges, not only of words but of deeds, that can gradually weave a fabric of mutual trust among the nations and the peoples of the world.

We intend to conduct our negotiations with the Soviet Union soberly and seriously, neither encumbered by prejudice nor blinded by sentimentality, seeking to reach agreement, rather than to make propaganda.

Whenever the leaders of Communist China choose to abandon their self-imposed isolation, we are ready to talk with them in the same frank and serious spirit.

PEACE-KEEPING AND PEACE-BUILDING

For nearly a quarter of a century, the U.N. has struggled with the often thankless task of peace-keeping.

As we look to the future, however, keeping the peace is only part of our task. We also must concentrate on building the peace.

Let us be candid. There are many differences among the great powers, and among other powers, which as realists we know cannot be resolved quickly, cannot be resolved even by this organization. But we also know that there are at least five areas in particular of great concern to everyone here with regard to which there should be no national differences, in which our interests are common and on which there should be unanimity. They are these:

  • securing the safety of international air travel,
  • encouraging international voluntary service,
  • fostering economic development, population control,
  • protecting our threatened environment,
  • exploring the frontiers of space. By any standards, aircraft hijackings are morally, politically, and legally indefensible. The Tokyo Convention1 has now been brought into force, providing for prompt release of passengers, crew, and aircraft. Along with other nations, we also are working on a new convention for the punishment of hijackers. But neither of these conventions can be fully effective without cooperation; sky piracy cannot be ended as long as the pirates receive asylum.

The Tokyo Convention on Offenses and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft was favorably considered by the Senate on May 13, 1969. It was ratified by the President on June 30, 1969, and the instrument of ratification was deposited on September 5, 1969. The text is printed in United States Treaties and Other International Agreements (20 UST 2941).

Consequently, I urge the United Nations to give high priority to this matter. This is an issue which transcends politics; there is no need for it to become the subject of polemics or a focus of political differences. It involves the interests of every nation, the safety of every air passenger, and the integrity of that structure of order on which a world community depends.

The creative, dynamic kind of peace I have spoken of, of course, requires more than such basic protections as the one I have just described.

To build this kind of peace, we must join together in building our societies--in raising a great cathedral of the spirit, which celebrates the infinite possibilities of man himself.

Such a peace requires a fuller enlistment, not only of government resources and of private enterprise resources, but also of the dedication and skill of those thousands of people all over the world who are ready to volunteer in the cause of human achievement. Our own Peace Corps has helped in many countries. And I especially welcome the consideration of the U.N. itself, which it is now giving to establishment of an International Volunteer Corps. We stand ready to give this exciting new venture our full and enthusiastic cooperation.

As the U.N. looks toward the beginning of its second development decade, it faces a time of enormous challenge, but enormous opportunity.

We can only guess at the new scientific discoveries that the seventies may bring. But we can see with chilling clarity the gap that already exists between the developed economies and the economies of the developing countries and the urgent need for international cooperation in spurring economic development.

If, in the course of that second development decade, we can make both significant gains in food production and significant reductions in the rate of population growth, we shall have opened the way to a new era of splendid prosperity. If we do only one without the other, we shall be standing still, and if we fail in both, great areas of the world will face human disaster.

Increasingly, the task of protecting man's environments is a matter of international concern. Pollution of air and water, upsetting the balance of nature--these are not only local problems, and not only national problems, but matters that affect 'the basic relationships of man to his planet.

The United Nations already is planning a conference on the environment in 1972. I pledge the strongest support of the United States for that effort. I hope that even before then we can launch new national and international initiatives toward restoring the balance of nature, and maintaining our world as a healthy and hospitable place for man.

Of all of man's great enterprises, none lends itself more logically or more compellingly to international cooperation than the venture into space. Here, truly, mankind is one: as fellow creatures from the planet earth, exploring the heavens that all of us enjoy.

The journey of Apollo 11 to the moon and back was not an end, but the beginning.

There will be new journeys of discovery. Beyond this, we are just beginning to comprehend the benefits that space technology can yield here on earth. And the potential is enormous.

For example, we now are developing earth resource survey satellites, with the first experimental satellite to be launched sometime early in the decade of the seventies.

Present indications are that these satellites should be capable of yielding data which could assist in as widely varied tasks as these: the location of schools of fish in the oceans, the location of mineral deposits on land, the health of agricultural crops.

I feel it is only right that we should share both the adventures and the benefits of space. As an example of our plans, we have determined to take actions with regard to earth resource satellites, as this program proceeds and fulfills its promise.

The purpose of those actions is that this program will be dedicated to produce information not only for the United States, but also for the world community.

We shall be putting several proposals in this respect before the United Nations.

These are among the positive, concrete steps we intend to take toward internationalizing man's epic venture into space--an adventure that belongs not to one nation but to all mankind, and one that should be marked not by rivalry but by the same spirit of fraternal cooperation that so long has been the hallmark of the international community of science.

And now, Madam President, Mr. Secretary General, if I could speak a personal word to the representatives gathered in this room.

I recognize that those here are dedicating their lives to the cause of peace and that, in this room, what is done here will have an enormous effect on the future of peace.

I have had the great privilege over the past 23 years to travel to most of the countries represented in this room. I have met most of the leaders of the nations represented in this room. And I have seen literally thousands of people in most of the countries represented in this room.

There are differences between the nations and differences between the leaders and differences between the peoples in this world. But based on my own experience, of this one thing I am sure: The people of the world, wherever they are, want peace. And those of us who have the responsibilities for leadership in the world have an overwhelming world mandate from the people of the nations we represent to bring peace, to keep the peace, and to build the peace.

Now, I realize that a survey of history might discourage those who seek to establish peace.

But we have entered a new age, different not only in degree but in kind from any that has ever gone before.

For the first time ever, we have truly become a single world community.

For the first time ever, we have seen the staggering fury of the power of the universe unleashed, and we know that we hold that power in a very precarious balance.

For the first time ever, technological advance has brought within reach what once was only a poignant dream for hundreds of millions: freedom from hunger and freedom from want--want and hunger that I have personally seen in nation after nation all over this world.

For the first time ever, we have seen changes in a single lifetime in our lifetime--that dwarf the achievements of centuries before, and those changes continue to accelerate.

For the first time ever, man has stepped beyond his planet--and revealed us to ourselves as "riders on the earth together," bound inseparably on this one bright, beautiful speck in the heavens, so tiny in the universe and so incomparably welcoming as a home for man.

In this new age of "firsts," even the goal of a just and lasting peace is a "first" we can dare to strive for. We must achieve it. And I believe we can achieve it.

In that spirit, then, let us press toward an open world--a world of open doors, open hearts, open minds; a world open to the exchange of ideas and of people, and open to the reach of the human Spirit; a world open in the search for truth, and unconcerned with the fate of old dogmas and old isms; a world open at last to the light of justice, and the light of reason, and to the achievement of that true peace which the people of every land carry in their hearts and celebrate in their hopes.



Back to Top
Sign-in

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.