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Remarks to Officials of the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

September 29, 1971

Mr. Secretary and ladies and gentlemen:

I hope you will not allow these microphones to frighten you into thinking that after all the speeches you have been hearing, you are going to hear a long one as you are standing here in the East Room of the White House.

But I did want this opportunity to welcome you officially as those who have come to this historic meeting, before having the chance to greet each of you personally on this occasion.

I have just been reading some notes with regard to meetings of the Fund that have taken place over the years. It is always, perhaps, difficult to try to compare one year with another. I think, however, that in terms of the great issues that are involved, it might well be said that this meeting, in terms of what follows, in terms of what is built for the future, could well prove to be the most important meeting that has occurred since over 25 years ago, or approximately 25 years ago.

The reasons for that, I think, are quite obvious to all of you as world statesmen: the fact that the world has changed so much in the past 25 years. I was just thinking, for example, when I was greeting the Emperor of Japan in Anchorage the other day, that over half of the world's people, approximately 60 percent, had been born since World War II. Half of all the people in the world now living were born since World War II. Over half of the nations in existence in the world today have come into being since World War II. I think we should also, perhaps, agree, that as we look at the situation now, compared to what it was then and even 10, 15 years ago, that today the dangers of war on a world scale are significantly less than they have been. The challenges of peace, therefore, have significantly increased. They have increased in ways that we should all be very happy about, in many ways at least: the fact that nations that were devastated by war now are strong and vigorous competitors of other nations in the world; the fact that new nations are beginning to develop economic strength with cooperation and assistance from older ones.

All of this means that the situation that the world confronts today is totally different than the one it was confronted with 25 years ago when the United States had over half of the world's production, with only 7 percent of the world's people.

Now, turning to the role of the United States today, and without just indulging in the glittering generalities that you expect on such occasions, let me simply say with all of the sincerity at my command, that as one who came to Congress 25 years ago, who supported the Marshall Plan, who has supported reciprocal trade, who believes in the world role of the United States, who has traveled to more countries in the world than anyone who has ever served in this office, that I believe that the United States, for its own interest as well as for the world interest, must play a forthcoming and constructive role in international affairs.

I would be less than candid if I were not to say that there is a growing and disturbing isolationism developing in our country because of the burden that America has carried, because of two wars that we have fought since World War II, because of other developments in world affairs. But whatever you may read about what the attitudes of people may be with regard to the desire to build new barriers for trade, with regard to the desire for the United States to lay down the burden or lay down at least a great part of the burden that we bear militarily and in terms of foreign assistance around the world, with regard to the idea that the United States should turn its attention almost exclusively to the problems within and forget the problems without, those are not views that I share. They are not views that are shared by the Secretary. They are not views that are shared, I trust, by the leaders of both major parties in this country.

We believe in the international role. We believe that one of the reasons we have come so far in the world in the past 25 years is because the United States has been willing to play a role. We trust that we can continue to play it.

Now, of course, we come to the present situation. You wonder, after these words, how was it possible that we have taken the action that we have on the international front. The reason that we have taken those actions---I do not and should not try to go into in detail before such a sophisticated group, except very simply to say that we have taken those actions because if the United States is to play a world role and not turn inward, the United States must be strong and sound economically.

A weak United States will be isolationist without question. A strong United States will continue to play a role that is responsible in the world. That is the reason that I had to take some of these actions, actions that I know were distressing to some of you, but actions that we felt were essential to strengthen the position of the United States so that we could continue to be as forthcoming in world affairs in the future as we have in the past.

Looking to the future, you can be assured of our cooperation in reducing barriers of trade, rather than raising them; our cooperation in sharing the burden, and sharing it fairly with others, of free world defense; our cooperation, also, in the area in which you, of course, are so expert, in the area of international monetary affairs.

On that score, I can only add one, perhaps, interesting anecdote. Perhaps most Americans' favorite humorist, at least that was as far as the 19th century was concerned, was Mark Twain. And he had something, usually, to say about virtually everybody in our society, something that was quite appropriate about lawyers, politicians, and also about bankers. This was his description of a banker:

He said, "A banker is someone who will loan you his umbrella when the sun is shining and ask for it back when it's raining."

Now, let me say, we understand that at this particular period there will be hard bargaining between bankers representing other countries and our own. And that is all to the good. I think a banker does no favor to a borrower by making a bad loan. It appears that it is a favor, but in the end the banker is right in insisting on responsibility and the ability to pay.

It certainly does not mean that we are going to have a sound structure for the future if it is based on simply going back to one that has broken down from time to time. The measures we have taken are temporary. How long "temporary" is depends upon what we want to come up with. If we want to go to another temporary system, it would be very, very short; but if we want to build permanently for the future and build well, then we must have that kind of discussion in which all sides bargain hard in their own interest-we expect you to, we expect to--and then have an understanding which is in all of our mutual interest. It can be done, and it will be done.

One final thought: I just concluded a meeting with the Foreign Secretary of the Soviet Union. And it was a very constructive meeting--however, a meeting which as we both recognize, still discussed many differences that we have and will continue to have. But as I thought of that meeting, I thought back to the time when so many in this world immediately after World War II talked about one world politically. That is something that is not going to happen, not in our time, and probably it should not happen because of the differences that people have and will inevitably have in their political systems, their economic systems, what they want, what kind of government they want.

But while that may not happen, certainly, as we look at the free world today, as we look at Europe, as we look at Latin America, we look at Africa, we look at the rim of nations around Asia, the mainland of Asia, we can think of the possibility of one world economically. And as we move toward one world economically, one world which is highly competitive, but with rules of the game which are fair to all, this means that those political differences that otherwise would divide us can be substantially reduced.

What has happened in Europe--free Europe--over the past 25 years has eloquently demonstrated that. So, I say to you: I greet you today as bankers, as great experts in this field. I know that you will build well for the next 25 years as you have built well for the past 25. I can assure you, as you help to develop this new monetary system, you are not only doing something which is good for international finance but you are making an immeasurable contribution to world peace.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 5:29 p.m. in the East Room at the White House during a reception for finance ministers and central bank governors who were attending the annual meetings of the Boards of Governors of the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Washington, D.C.

Secretary of the Treasury John B. Connally was present at the reception.

Richard Nixon, Remarks to Officials of the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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