Richard Nixon photo

Remarks at a Working Dinner of the Washington Energy Conference.

February 11, 1974

Gentlemen and Miss Ray: 1

It is for all of us in this house a very great honor to have such a distinguished company on this occasion.

1Dixy Lee Ray was Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.

And as I welcome the foreign ministers of the 12 nations that are represented at this conference, as well as the finance ministers and other ministers of economic affairs, I want you to know that we are privileged to have you here again. Most of you have been here before when either the heads of government or heads of state have visited the United States.

In speaking to you today, I am not going to get into some of the technical matters that I understand have been covered at rather considerable length in your discussions earlier in the day.

I thought that perhaps it would be more useful for 'this distinguished company if I were to speak to you not simply in terms of the energy problem, which very properly has been the subject of primary discussion, but to put that problem in a larger context of the world in which we live and the other problems which we face to which that, of course, is very, very closely related.

I think everybody in this room is aware of the fact that we are here at what I would call a watershed of world history. We are here at a time when we have seen the conclusion of a very long and difficult war in which the United States was involved in Vietnam, a time when we have seen the beginnings toward movement toward what we hope would be not just a temporary but a permanent peace in the Mideast.

Also, over the past few years during the time that I have been in 'this office and during the time that most of you have been in the offices you hold, we have seen the whole world change. Not only the United States but other free world nations have opened a new dialog with the Soviet Union and with the People's Republic of China.

We have also seen that at the present time, as a result of that dialog, negotiations are taking place that no one would have predicted 3 or 4 years ago--negotiations with regard to the reduction of forces in Europe, negotiations insofar as the European Security Conference is concerned, negotiations which are taking place between the United States and the Soviet Union in 'the field of limiting nuclear arms.

When we look at this record and of all of the events that have come together before this day on which we meet, we realize that the world now faces an unprecedented challenge.

That has probably been said before at other times in the world's history, but probably it has never been so true, certainly not so true since World War II than today. And that challenge is to build a world of peace, not simply a peace that is an interlude between wars but a peace that has a chance to be permanent.

I would not suggest to this sophisticated group that building that peace and keeping that peace will be easy. We all know the complex situation in the Middle East, and all of us will be working toward a solution that will be permanent and just and fair to all concerned. We all know that in the relations between the great powers and the smaller powers, between what is known as the Communist world and 'the free world, that one must never assume that simply because negotiations are taking place that confrontation may not later occur.

On the other hand, I think that we can say that because we are living in an era of negotiation rather than confrontation where the free world and the Communist world is concerned, because we have seen the end of those wars--small though they were, but very painful they also were, which plagued us for the past generation-although that has happened, we realize that in order to build the peace and to keep it, that it is essential that we maintain the strength and the unity that brought us where we are.

Having spoken in that particular area, the area of security, let me now relate it to the other areas with which this conference is more closely identified, the area of economics or, should I say, of the whole field of not only how do we have peace in the terms of simply absence of war, but how do we have peace in which we build an era of progress for all of our people, the people of the free nations and, for that matter, of the Communist nations of the world.

It is this challenge that confronts us today.

I would like to speak quite directly to this audience with regard to what I see in the world and what I .see in the United States as we face this challenge.

We must examine what is a truism, I would say, in virtually every country represented here today. There are people, very well-intentioned people, but people who, I think, are erroneous with regard to their views, who in each of our countries would take the point of view that now that we have peace, the time has come for--they would not call it isolationism-but basically for each country to look after its own interest.

There are those who say that at the time when we needed the mutual security which built the great alliances in the past no longer exists or at least not to the same extent.

I would be less than candid if I were not to say that within the United States there has been growing in recent years-and perhaps it has been accelerated to a certain extent by our very difficult experience in Vietnam--a growing sense of isolationism, not just about security-those, for example, who believe that the United States unilaterally should withdraw forces from Europe and, for that matter, withdraw its forces from all over the world and make our treaty commitments to other nations in the Far East and in Europe meaningless--but also with regard to trade where those who completely oppose the initiatives we have undertaken in the trade area and who oppose even some of the initiatives in the international monetary area that you are all familiar with.

I think the ladies and gentlemen in this room are aware of the fact that this Administration-and I would like to point out that I believe that the view I now express goes far beyond simply a partisan viewpoint, because there are many Democrats as well as Republicans who support the point of view that I will now express--reject the idea that the United States should now listen to the voices of isolation which plagued us before World War II and which always seems to rise to a new crescendo after each war in which we were engaged.

We reject it, for example, in the field of trade. We believe that it is vitally important to go forward with 'the great trade initiatives that have been undertaken, as Secretary Shultz has often stated in his meetings with his counterparts represented here at this meeting.

We believe it is vitally important in the field of monetary affairs that the United States play a responsible role with other nations in the free world in developing a more stable system, one that will not be affected by the shocks that have so often, over the past 10 years, shaken the world monetary institutions to their very foundations.

We also believe this in the terms of security, as I have already indicated, where we oppose the idea that the United States, because we have entered into a period of peace which we long wanted, now can reduce its forces unilaterally without having a compensatory reduction among others or where the United States will turn away from the treaty commitments that it has, whether it is in Europe or in Asia.

Let me now relate this particular discussion in the field of security, in the field of trade, in the field of monetary affairs to the subject of energy.

Here, I think it is understandable that leaders, and those who affect leaders in each of the countries that we represent, might well take the point of view that each nation for its own reasons should, in effect, go into business for itself, that each nation should seek to make a bilateral agreement with the oil-producing nations, even though that bilateral agreement might not be one which would be in the interests of all of the nations--and 85 percent of all of the oil consumed is represented here in this room, the oil consumed in the free world.

This point of view which, of course, I would describe as isolation in the energy field is one that perhaps has some currency in some of your countries; it also has some in ours.

I note that some have interpreted this Administration's initiative for Project Independence--in which we have set the year 1980 as the year in which we, because we are blessed by great natural resources, can and will become totally independent, we believe, of any outside source for energy--that that in itself is an indication that the United States in the energy field will go into business for itself, that we will reject the idea of being not only dependent on any foreign sources but of working with other governments, including the governments in this room and, for that matter, of working with those nations which presently furnish oil exports to us and to other nations in the years ahead.

The purpose of our Project Independence, let me emphasize, is not isolation. The purpose is for this Nation, the United States, to do what any one of you would do if you were in our position, to develop your own resources so that you can be self-sufficient.

But our purpose, beyond that, is not then to turn away from a position of trading with other nations, of not engaging with other nations in the development of their resources and trading our resources when it serves our interest. What we desire is a world in which there will be trade between nations and among them, a world in which there will be enough energy for all the people of the world. The United States can play a significant role in that respect.

And what we learn and what we develop in our efforts toward Project Independence, I can assure you, will be not only for our own benefit but, we would hope, for the benefit of all peoples in the world who wish to share in whatever those particular enterprises may produce.

I would say, too, in this whole area, that in a group like this, it is well to gloss over all the differences, but we recognize that each of us has a responsibility--and I recognize this particularly--to look after the interests of his own country.

We respect you for it, we understand it, but I would respectfully submit that in the present world situation when we look at energy that these conclusions could well be drawn.

I go back to security. We can have no real security in the world unless we are all secure and unless we all cooperate. In the field of trade we cannot have a new trading system in which we will all benefit, where each tries to gain at the expense of others. Each, of course, must bargain hard. But the world is only going to be one in which we have a trading pattern which will be for the benefit of all if we have mutual benefit on both sides.

The same is true of what negotiations we may engage in, in terms of monetary affairs and, I would suggest to you also, in the field of energy.

Short-term, the parochial politician might say, "Make the best deal you can," and there are those who suggest that for us and, I know, for some of the countries represented here. That is good short-term politics.

To me it is, long-term, very bad statesmanship, and I say it for this reason: that if the energy-consuming nations, each of them, rather than working together, not as a combine at the expense of the oil producing nations--because it is in their interest as well that we meet in order to develop a common policy that will assure a stable supply at a price that will be reasonable for them and reasonable for us--but I would suggest that where we do follow that kind of a policy, it is possibly good short-term politics, but disastrous long-term statesmanship for this reason, because if each of the nations in effect goes off on its own or, as I have put it, goes into business for himself, the inevitable effect will be this: It will drive the prices of energy up, it will drive our economies down, and it will drive all of us apart.

That is not in the interest of, certainly, the United States, and I would respectfully suggest it is not in the interest of the nations of the free world represented at this very distinguished gathering tonight.

I would simply conclude with this thought. Sometimes it is thought that the United States, because we are in a position of rather considerable military power and economic strength, tends to throw its weight around. We do not intend to do that.

What we do want to do, as I have already indicated, is to build in the field of security, on that great base which brought us where we are, the beginning of what we think can be an era of permanent peace in the world.

And what we want to do, however, is that having achieved peace in the sense of the absence of war, we will not follow a generation plagued with wars with a generation plagued with economic warfare.

I would be less than candid also if I were not to say that competition among free peoples is inevitable, and it is desirable. We welcome it. You welcome it.

But I am simply suggesting that this conference, in which there has been a spirited discussion, as it should be, in which there has been consideration of our mutual interest, as there should be, I believe that the, let me put it, the "enlightened selfish interest" of each nation here is better served by cooperation in security, by cooperation in trade, and by cooperation in developing our sources of energy and in acquiring the energy we need to keep the great industrial complex of the free world moving ahead to ever and ever higher plateaus.

And so, gentlemen, all of our distinguished guests tonight, I want to thank you for the work that you have done in coming to this conference.

As Mr. Sharp pointed out, it was called perhaps on rather short notice, and yet, the problem was one that required immediate attention. I thank you for coming. I urge you to continue the deliberations that you are already engaged in, looking toward a goal greater than who is going to make the best deal next month, next year, on his energy, but looking at the problem in terms of the common goal we all have of building a structure of peace in the world that will last.

Security and economic considerations are inevitably linked, and energy cannot be separated from either. And it is for that reason that when we talk about developing policies in the energy field that we are talking about one of the fundamental pillars in that structure of peace that we all want to build, a structure that will last, we trust, many generations after all of us are here.

Tonight, of course, it is always the custom to propose a toast to someone in the audience. And my difficulty is that here at this, what is supposed to be a head table, are the ranking guests, all of whom are foreign ministers.

And as I looked over the guest list, I was trying to think which of the foreign ministers should receive the toast. We have at least two foreign ministers here who have been former prime ministers, so they might rate. However, we have one who is especially distinguished. And I was thinking, as a matter of fact, before I found that we could get the Army Chorus free, that we might call on Mr. Scheel to perform, but having sold 400,000 records, his price was simply too high--we could not afford him tonight)2 [Laughter]

2 In December of 1973, Walter Scheel, Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany, recorded a folk song for the benefit of several charitable organizations in Germany.

But then as I looked over the list of foreign ministers I found that, distinguished as their past careers were and as their futures may be, there is only one of the foreign ministers tonight here who is also a president.

And so, in proposing a toast to all of you, and that is what I intend to do, I propose that we raise our glasses to President Scheel.

President Scheel.

Note: The President spoke at 9: 17 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

In his remarks, the President referred to Mitchell Sharp who was Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs.

Foreign Minister Scheel, in his capacity as President of the Council of Ministers of the European Communities, responded to the President's remarks as follows:

Mr. President:

When I left the office last Saturday to come here, the doorman at our Foreign Office asked me, "Where are you going this time?"

I said, "To Washington. We will be discussing energy."

The doorman replied, "Oh, preventing the world from being blown into pieces."

Apparently the man had heard something about atomic energy and thought our conference would be dealing with a bomb. He was not entirely wrong. [Laughter]

So, our subject is not the bomb, but who would deny that there was some explosive force in our conference, too. Energy is a challenge to all of us, but at the same time, it offers an opportunity. Who would say that our governments and our societies had foreseen all the difficulties, had initiated the necessary steps in good time, had not been taken by surprise?

Energy is the driving force of our lives, and yet, haven't we behaved for years as if we got it for practically nothing? Did we not all think that substitutes would have been found by the time the oil resources were completely exhausted and that until then, until the turn of the century, there would be ample time?

We all live in a society of affluence with all its waste and extravagance. Only when we were confronted with sudden political developments did we become alive to the real situation. These events make us aware of the implications of problems with which we had been living all along without realizing them.

We should indeed be grateful for this, since without that experience we might have been aroused too late. By that time, the energy sources would have been largely exhausted.

But now it is still possible for us to cope with the problem by means of prices, the market, and cooperation among governments. Now we can still make arrangements to strengthen the basic elements of world trade and to avoid its disruption and a relapse into a sacro egoismo.

This is our opportunity. If the conference initiates joint efforts on the part of the industrialized, the oil-producing, and the developing countries, we will have taken a first step in the right direction, but only a first step, no more.

We cannot yet expect solutions. The time is too short for this, and we are not yet sufficiently aware of the community of our interests. The problems are varied. The degree of dependence differs from one industrialized country to the other. It was a good thing, therefore, that the least dependent country, the United States, has taken the initiative to convene the present conference.

The question of the right price will continue to occupy us for quite some time. There can be no dispute that before the outbreak of the crisis the price of crude oil was too low in view of the existing market situation. As early as the late sixties, the crude oil market had changed from a buyer's to a seller's market without this having had any effect on prices, but there is no doubt that the prices demanded now are too high.

In the medium and long term, they would have adverse effects on the oil-producing countries, too. It will be essential for producers and consumers jointly to find the price that assures the long-term competitiveness of oil as compared with other energy sources.

This question cannot be considered among industrialized countries alone. The result would be bound to arouse the suspicion of the producing countries.

At long last, producers and consumers will have to get together to develop a joint basic concept.

And finally, let us not forget the economic and the monetary consequences of the present international emergency situation. It is not only the industrialized countries that suffer from them. Many developing countries which do not have oil resources of their own are also affected, in that an unbearable burden is imposed on their already unfavorable foreign exchange balance.

This gives rise to great complexities. The disorder in the international monetary system, the frequent change of parities were one of the causes for the upward movement of oil prices. We now have to make a point of avoiding that the price changes on their part do not make the international monetary structure disintegrate altogether.

Our governments are now called upon to act jointly. The prosperity of our nations is based on the orderly development of international trade. Its disruption would be to nobody's interest. It would benefit neither energy producers nor the producers of raw materials in general. Nor would it be to the advantage of either developing or industrialized countries.

This again confirms the truth of the words of John Donne, "No man is an island, entire of itself." It is now essential for us that we stand the test. We all must bear social responsibility, social responsibility in the widest sense of the word, towards the community of nations and towards our own citizens.

I raise my glass and drink to the health of our host, the President of the United States, and to the well-being of the American people, to that of the countries' representatives at the conference, and to the success of our joint efforts.

Richard Nixon, Remarks at a Working Dinner of the Washington Energy Conference. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/256325

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