Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations

March 15, 1976

I am pleased to speak to you today. This council is the oldest, the largest, and the most active organization of its kind in the country. For over 50 yean you have helped make this city and this region better informed about a world which the St. Lawrence Seaway now brings to your doorstep. Men like Adlai Stevenson, Paul Douglas, and Frank Knox studied the world through this council and went on to make history.

I want to take this opportunity to explain how I shall approach the problems of foreign policy if I am elected President:

How I see our international situation today;

What our role in the world should be;

How we should approach our relationships with different kinds of international neighbors;

What kinds of policies, and what kind of policymakers we shall need so that our international relations can be true expressions of the goals and the character of the people of our country.

Our recent foreign policy, I am afraid, has been predicated on a belief that our national and international strength is inevitably deteriorating. I do not accept this premise.

The prime responsibility of any President is to guarantee the security of our nation, with a tough, muscular, well-organized, and effective fighting force. We must have the ability to avoid the threat of successful attack or blackmail, and we must always be strong enough to carry out our legitimate foreign policy. This is a prerequisite to peace.

Our foreign policy today is in greater disarray than at any time in recent history.

Our Secretary of State simply does not trust the judgment of the American people, but constantly conducts foreign policy exclusively, personally, and in secret. This creates in our country the very divisions which he has lately deplored. Longstanding traditions of a bipartisan policy and close consultation between the President and Congress have been seriously damaged.

We are losing a tremendous opportunity to reassert our leadership in working with other nations in the cause of peace and progress. The good will our country once enjoyed, based on what we stood for and the willingness of others to follow our example, has been dissipated.

Negotiations with the Soviets on strategic arms are at dead center, while the costly and dangerous buildup of nuclear weapons continues.

The policy of détente, which holds real possibilities for peace, has been conducted in a way that has eroded the public confidence it must have.

The moral heart of our international appeal—as a country which stands for self-determination and free choice—has been weakened. It is obviously un-American to interfere in the free political processes of another nation. It is also un-American to engage in assassinations in time of peace in any country.

The people of other nations have learned, in recent years, that they can sometimes neither trust what our government says nor predict what it will do. They have been hurt and disappointed so many times that they no longer know what to believe about the United States. They want to respect us. They like our people. But our people do not seem to be running our government.

Every time we have made a serious mistake in recent years in our dealings with other nations, the American people have been excluded from the process of evolving and consummating our foreign policy. Unnecessary secrecy surrounds the inner workings of our own government, and we have sometimes been deliberately misled by our leaders.

For many nations, we have two policies; one announced in public, another pursued in secret. In the case of China, we even seem to have two Presidents.

No longer do our leaders talk to the people of the world wdth the vision, compassion, and practical idealism of men like Woodrow Wilson and John Kennedy and Adlai Stevenson.

Our foreign policy is being evolved in secret, and in its full details and nuances, it is probably known to one man only. That man is skilled at negotiation with leaders of other countries but far less concerned with consulting the American people or their representatives in Congress, and far less skilled in marshaling the support of a nation behind an effective foreign policy. Because we have let our foreign policy be made for us, we have lost something crucial in the way we talk and the way we act toward other peoples of the world.

When our President and Secretary of State speak to the world without the understanding or support of the American people, they speak with an obviously hollow voice.

All of this is a cause of sorrow and pain to Americans, as well as to those who wish us well and look to us for leadership. We ought to be leading the way toward economic progress and social justice and a stronger, more stable international order. They are the principles on which this nation was founded 200 years ago, by men who believed with Thomas Paine that the "cause of America is the cause of all mankind."

Every successful foreign policy we have had—whether it was the Good Neighbor Policy of President Franklin Roosevelt, The Point Four of President Truman or the Peace Corps and trade reform of President Kennedy— was successful becauseit reflected the best that was in us.

And in every foreign venture that has failed—whether it was Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, Angola, or in the excesses of the CIA—our government forged ahead without consulting the American people, and did things that were contrary to our basic character.

The lesson we draw from recent history is that public understanding and support are now as vital to a successful foreign policy as they are to any domestic program. No one can make our foreign policy for us as well as we can make it ourselves.

The role of the United States in the world is changing. For years, we were the only free nation with the military capacity to keep the peace and the resources to insure world economic stability. Japan and Western Europe would never have been able to achieve their economic miracles without our help. Nor could world exports have risen to their present level of three-quarters of a trillion dollars, had not international trade and investment been backed for so long by the American dollars.

These were historic and generous accomplishments, of which we can be justly proud. But we also had the power to make or break regimes with adroit injections of money or arms, and we sometimes used this power in ways that are less commendable.

The world is different now. The old postwar monopolies of economic resource and industrial power have been swept aside and replaced by new structures. The Common Market countries and others like Japan, Mexico, Brazil, and Iran are strong and self-sufficient.

We have learned that we cannot and should not try to intervene militarily in the internal affairs of other countries unless our own nation is endangered.

Over 100 new nations have come into being in the past 30 years. A few have wealth, but most exist in bitter poverty. In many, independence has set loose long-suppressed emotions and antagonisms. In Uganda and Angola, Bangladesh and Lebanon—and recently in the United Nations—we have seen what can happen when nationalist and racial passions, or tribal or religious hatreds, are left to run their course.

We cannot isolate ourselves from the forces loose in the world. The question is not whether we take an interest in foreign affairs, but how we do it and why we do it.

In the last few years, I have traveled in foreign lands, and met with many of their leaders. I have served on international bodies, such as the Trilateral Commission, which makes recommendations on some of these problems. I have given thought to the structure of what our foreign policy should be.

There are certain basic principles I believe should guide whatever is done in foreign lands in the name of the United States of America.

First, our policies should be as open and honest and decent and compassionate as the American people themselves are. Our policies should be shaped with the participation of Congress, from the outset, on a bipartisan basis. And they should emerge from broad and well-informed public debate and participation.

Second, our policies should treat the people of other nations as individuals, with the same dignity and respect as we demand for ourselves. No matter where they live, no matter who they are, the people of other lands are just as concerned with the struggles of daily life as you and I. They work hard, they have families whom they love, and they have hopes and dreams, and a great deal of pride. And they want to live in peace. Their basic personal motives are the same as ours.

Third, it must be the responsibility of the President to restore the moral authority of this country in its conduct of foreign policy. We should work for peace and the control of arms in everything we do. We should support the humanitarian aspirations of the world's people. Policies that strengthen dictators or create refugees, policies that prolong suffering or postpone racial justice, weaken that authority. Policies that encourage economic progress and social justice promote it. In an age when almost all of the world's people are tied together by instant communication, the image of a country, as seen through its policies, has a great deal to do with what it can accomplish through the traditional channels of diplomacy.

Fourth, our policies should be aimed at building a just and peaceful world order, in which every nation can have a constructive role. For too long, our foreign policy has consisted almost entirely of maneuver and manipulation, based on the assumption that the world is a jungle of competing national antagonisms, where military supremacy and economic muscle are the only things that work and where rival powers are balanced against each other to keep the peace.

Exclusive reliance on this strategy is not in keeping with the character of the American people, or with the world as it is today. Balance of power politics may have worked in 1815, or even 1945, but it has a much less significant role in today's world. Of course, there are rivalries—racia', religious, national, some of them bitter. But the need for cooperation, even between rivals, goes deeper than all of them.

Every nation has a stake in stopping the pollution of the seas and the air. Every nation wants to be free from the threat of blackmail by international terrorists and hijackers. Every nation, including those of OPEC, sits on limited resources of energy that are running out. The vast majority of countries, including the Soviet Union, do not grow enough food to feed their own people. Every nation's economy benefits from expanding two-way trade. And everyone—except perhaps the speculator—has a stake in a fair and reliable international monetary system.

Our diplomatic agenda must also include preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and controlling the flow of narcotics.

In the future, we must turn our attention increasingly toward these common problems of food, energy, environment, and trade. A stable world order cannot become a reality when people of many nations of the world suffer mass starvation or when there are no established arrangements to deal with population growth or environmental quality. The intensity of these interrelated problems is rapidly increasing and better mechanisms for consultation on these problems that affect everyone on this planet must be established and utilized.

While the American people have had their fill of military adventurism and covert manipulation, we have not retreated into isolationism. We realize that increased anarchy will not only reverse the progress toward peace and stability that we have made, but also strengthen the hand of our adversaries.

That is why we must replace balance of power politics with world order politics. The new challenge to American foreign policy is to take the lead in joining the other nations of the world to build a just and stable international order.

We need to reorder our diplomatic priorities. In recent years, we have paid far more attention to our adversaries than to our friends, and we have been especially neglectful of our neighbors in Latin America.

It is important to continue to seek agreements with the Russians and the Chinese, especially in the control of weapons. Success there could mean life instead of death for millions of people. But the divisions between us are deep. The differences of history and ideology will not go away. It is too much to expect that we can do much more in these relationships than reduce the areas of irritation and conflict and lessen the danger of war.

Our nation should coordinate its policy with our friends—countries like the democratic states of Europe, North America and Japan—those countries who share with us common goals and aspirations. We should work in concert with them. Ours are the fortunate countries of the world. But our continued prosperity and welfare depend upon increased coordination of our policies. If we can work together on goals which reflect the common needs and shared values of our people, we can make our societies the strong and stable inner core around which world cooperation, prosperity and peace can develop.

If we believe in the importance of this effort, we should make some changes. We must both lead and collaborate at the same time. We must consult with others more about our plans. The days of "Nixon Shocks" and "Kissinger Surprises" must end. Our goal should be to act in concert with these countries whenever we can.

And we must have faith in their commitment to democracy. We do not need to preach to the western Europeans about the dangers of communism as the Secretary of State did last week. Their traditions and political good sense are not inferior to ours.

Our policies toward the developing countries also need revision. For years, we have either ignored them or treated them as pawns in the big power chess game. Both approaches were deeply offensive to their people. The oil embargo taught us that even the least developed nation will eventually have control over its own natural resources and that those countries which, alone or together, can control necessary commodities are a force that can neither be ignored or manipulated.

An attitude of neglect and disrespect toward the developing nations of the world is predicated in part on a sense of superiority toward others—a form of racism. This is incompatible with the character of American people.

We need to enlist the cooperation of the developing nations, for when we speak of the tasks of a stable world order, we include preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, policing the world's environment, controlling the flow of narcotics and establishing international protection against acts of terror. If three-quarters of the people of the world do not join in these arrangements, they will not succeed.

Our policies toward the developing world must be tough-minded in the pursuit of our legitimate interests. At the same time, these policies must be patient in the recognition of their legitimate interests which have too often cast aside.

The developing world has, of course, a few leaders who are implacably hostile to anything the United States does. But the majority of its leaders are moderate men and women who are prepared to work with us. When we ignore the Third World, as we have for so long, the extremists will usually have their way. But if we offer programs based on common interests, we can make common cause with most of their leadership.

Our program of international aid to developing nations should be redirected so that it meets the minimum human needs of the greatest number of people. This means an emphasis on food, jobs, education, and public health—including access to family planning. The emphasis in aid should be on those countries with a proven ability to help themselves, instead of those that continue to allow enormous discrepancies in living standards among their people. The time has come to stop taxing poor people in rich countries for the benefit of rich people in poor countries.

In our trade relations with these nations we should join commodity agreements in such items as tin, coffee, and sugar which will assure adequate supplies to consumers, protect our people from inflation, and at the same time stop the fluctuation in prices that can cause such hardship and uncertainty in single-commodity countries.

The burden of economic development is going to be a heavy one. There are many countries which ought to share it, not only in Europe and Asia but in the Mideast. Today, a greater proportion of royalties from oil can be channeled to the Third World by international institutions. Tomorrow, they can receive a part of the profits from the mining of the seas. The purpose of such development is not to level the economic lot of every person on earth. It is to inject the wealth-creating process into countries that are now stagnant; it is to help developing countries to act in what is their own best interest as well as ours—produce more food, limit population growth, and expand markets, supplies, and materials. It is simply to give every country a sufficient stake in the international order so that it feels no need to act as an outlaw. It is to advance the cause of human dignity.

We must also work with the countries of the communist world. The policy of East-West détente is under attack today because of the way it has been exploited by the Soviet Union. The American people were told it would mean a "generation of peace," at no risk to the nation's vital interests. And yet, in places like Syria or Angola, in activities like offensive missile development, the Soviets seem to be taking advantage of the new relationship to expand their power and influence, and increase the risk of conflict.

I support the objectives of détente, but I cannot go along with the way it has been handled by Presidents Nixon and Ford. The Secretary of State has tied its success too closely to his personal reputation. As a result, he is giving up too much and asking for too little. He is trumpeting achievements on paper while failing to insist on them in practice.

The relationship of détente is one of both cooperation and competition, of new kinds of contacts in some areas along with continued hostility in others. In the troubled history of our relationships with the Soviet Union, this is where we have arrived. The benefits of détente must accrue to both sides, or they are worthless. Their mutual advantage must be apparent, or the American people will not support the policy.

To the Soviets, dltente is an opportunity to continue the process of world revolution without running the threat of nuclear war. They have said so quite openly, as recently as 1 month ago at their 25th Party Congress. To the Soviet Union, with our acquiescence, dltente is surface tranquility in Europe within boundaries redefined to their benefit together with support for wars of national liberation elsewhere. It is having the benefits of the Helsinki Accords without the requirement of living up to the human rights provisions which form an integral part of it. This is not the road to peace but the bitter deception of the American people.

But while dltente must become more reciprocal, I reject the strident and bellicose voices of those who would have this country return to the days of the cold war with the Soviet Union. I believe the American people want to look to the future. They have seen the tragedy of American involvement in Vietnam and drawn appropriate lessons for tomorrow. They seek new vistas, not a repetition of old rhetoric and old mistakes.

It is in our interest to try to make ddtente broader and more reciprocal. Détente can be an instrument for long-term peaceful change within the Communist system, as well as in the rest of the world. We should make it clear that dltente requires that the Soviets, as well as the United States, refrain from irresponsible intervention in other countries. The Russians have no more business in Angola than we have.

The core of ditente is the reduction in arms. We should negotiate to reduce the present SALT ceilings on offensive weapons before both sides start a new arms race to reach the current maximums, and before new missile systems are tested or committed for production.

I am not afraid of hard bargaining with the Soviet Union. Hard bargaining will strengthen support for the agreements that can be reached, and will show that we, as well as they, can gain from ditente. We can increase the possibility that the fear of war and the burden of arms may be lifted from the shoulders of humanity by the nations that have done the most to place it there.

Our vision must be of a more pluralistic world and not of a Communist monolith. We must pay more attention to China and to Eastern Europe. It is in our interest and in the interest of world peace to promote a more pluralistic Communist world.

We should remember that Eastern Europe is not an area of stability and it will not become such until the Eastern European countries regain their independence and become part of a larger cooperative European framework. I am concerned over the long-range prospects for Rumanian and Yugoslavian independence, and I deplore the recent infliction upon Poland of a constitution that ratifies its status as a Soviet satellite. We must reiterate to the Soviets that an enduring American-Soviet ddtente cannot ignore the legitimate aspirations of other nations. We must likewise insist that the Soviet Union and other countries recognize the human rights of all citizens who live within their boundaries, whether they be blacks in Rhodesia, Asians in Uganda, or Jews in the Soviet Union.

Our relations with China are important to world peace and they directly affect the world balance. The United States has a great stake in a nationally independent, secure, and friendly China. The present turmoil in Chinese domestic politics could be exploited by the Soviets to promote a Sino-Soviet reconciliation which might be inimical to international stability and to American interests. I believe that we should explore more actively the possibility of widening American-Chinese trade relations and of further consolidating our political relationships.

The Middle East is a key testing area for our capacity to construct a more cooperative international system. I believe deeply that a Middle East peace settlement is essential to American interests, to Israel's long-range survival and to international cooperation. Without a settlement, the region will become increasingly open to Soviet influence and more susceptible to radical violence. I believe that the United Stales should insure Israel's security while at the same time encourage both sides to address themselves to the substance of a genuine settlement.

There is no question that both Africa and Latin America have been ignored since the Presidencies of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. These areas should become, and indeed will become, increasingly important in the next decade. Our relationships with these must abandon traditional paternalism. The United States-Brazilian agreement, signed recently by Secretary of State Kissinger on his trip to Latin America, is a good example of our present policy at its worst. Kissinger's remarks during his visit that "there are no two people whose concern for human dignities and for the basic values of man is more profound in day-to-day life than Brazil and the United States" can only be taken as a gratuitous slap in the face of all those Americans who want a foreign policy that embodies our ideals, not subverts them.

If our aim is to construct an international order, we must also work through the international bodies that now exist. On many of these issues, they are the only places where nations regularly come together. We have all been deeply disturbed by the drift of the United Nations and the other international organizations, and by the acrimony and cliquishness that seems to have taken hold. But it would be a mistake to give up on the United Nations.

In the future, we should make multilateral diplomacy a major part of our efforts so that other countries know in advance the importance the United States attaches to their behavior in the United Nations and other international oiganizations. We should make a major effort at reforming and restructuring the U.N. systems.

We should undertake a systematic political and economic cost-benefit analysis of existing international institutions in the United Nations systems and outside, with a view to determining the appropriate level of U.S. support. We should end the current diplomatic isolation of the United States in international forums by working more closely with our allies and with moderate elements in the developing world on a basis of mutual understanding consistent with our respective national interests.

A stable world order cannot become a reality when people of many nations of the world suffer mass starvation, when the countries with capital and technology belligerently confront other nations for the control of raw materials and energy sources, when open and nondiscriminatory trade has become the exception rather than the rule, when there are no established arrangements for supplying the world's food and energy, nor for governing control and development of the seas, and when there are no effective efforts to deal with population explosions or environmental quality. The intensity of these interrelated problems is rapidly increasing and better mechanisms for consultation on these problems that affect everyone on this planet must be established and utilized.

For it is likely that in the future, the issues of war and peace will be more a function of economic and social problems than of the military security problems which have dominated international relations since 1945.

Finally, I said I would touch on the kind of people we need to administer our foreign policy. I believe that the foreign policy spokesman of our country should be the President, and not the Secretary of State. The conduct of foreign policy should be a sustained process of decision and action, and not a series of television spectaculars. Under the current administration, the agencies which are supposed to conduct our foreign affairs have been largely wasted and demoralized. They must be revitalized and if necessary reorganized—to upgrade their performance, their quality, and the morale of their personnel.

In our search for peace we must call upon the best talent we can find in the universities, the business world, labor, the professions, and the scientific community. Appointments to our U.N. delegation, to other diplomatic posts, and to international conferences should be made exclusively on a merit basis, in contrast to the political patronage that has characterized appointments under this administration.

The world needs a strong America and a confident America. We cannot and should not avoid a role of world leadership. But our leadership should not be based just on military might or economic power or political pressure, but also on truth, justice, equality, and a true representation of the moral character of our people.

From this leadership the world can derive mutual peace and progress.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347602

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