How do Americans see Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon and US Foreign Policy 1969-1974: A Maker of Peace between East and West?

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. Nixon and Kissinger: the conservative turn
2.1. Historical background
2.2. Foreign policy conception and Nixon doctrine

3. US policy towards the People's Republic of China
3.1. Approach and relaxation
3.2. The Taiwan question
3.3. Effects on Japan

4. American-Soviet bilateralism
4.1. Approach and relaxation
4.2. SALT and "peaceful coexistence"

5. Relations with Europe
5.1. Perception of the American-Russian rapprochement in Western Europe
5.2. Economic conflict of interest
5.3. Effects of the Yom Kippur War

6. Middle East Policy

7. The Vietnam Policy
7.1. The Concept of "Honorable Peace"
7.2. The agreement of January 27, 1973

8. Watergate and its Impact on US Foreign Policy

9. Assessment of Richard Nixon's and Henry Kissinger's foreign policy

1 Introduction

"The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker" - The greatest honor that history can bestow is the title of peacemaker. A statement with which Richard Nixon took office as the 37th President of the United States on January 20, 1969. A president who was mainly perceived negatively by posterity and in connection with the Watergate affair, which triggered the most profound crisis of confidence in America's political system to date. However, this work aims to shed light on a side of Richard Nixon's presidency that has often been forgotten in the wake of Richard Nixon's domestic political misconduct: his foreign policy. As indicated in the opening sentence, Nixon had set out to break up the rigid encrustation of the Cold War between East and West and to secure world peace by bringing the opposing camps closer together. Under what circumstances this happened, what main actors were involved in the foreign policy process, what impulses the Nixon administration brought to international relations and to what extent it lived up to its claim to secure peace, should be the subject of this work. The impact of the Watergate scandal on foreign policy is also covered. I deliberately refrained from explaining the multi-causal causes of the individual international conflicts, as it would go beyond the scope of this work.

2. Nixon and Kissinger: The Conservative Change in 1969

2.1. Historical background

In order to understand the claims of Richard Nixon's policies and the changes they brought about in US-American foreign policy, it is necessary to consider the situation at the time Nixon took office in January 1969.

Domestically, the US has been rocked by growing social and political unrest. The shock of the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy was still not entirely behind the country. The assassination of civil rights activist Martin L. King led to increased racial unrest between blacks and whites. The ever deeper entanglement in a murderous war in distant Vietnam shook the legitimacy of American foreign policy and thus the self-image of the Americans and their sense of mission to the core.

When Nixon became president on January 20, 1969, there were around 550,000 US soldiers in Vietnam. The cost of the war was already $ 30 billion that year. More than 31,000 Americans had fallen since 1961. Traditional Cold War foreign policy appeared to have failed.

It was in this situation that Richard Nixon began to reunite the United States and restore internal and external peace. In 1968 he was made a presidential candidate for the Republican Party and presented himself as a savior under the motto "Nixon’s the One". His ambitious efforts were crowned with success. On January 20, 1969, he was sworn in as the 37th President of the United States of America. However, the previous choice was extremely tight at 43.6%. The main reason for his success was the credibility with which he presented his intention to end the war in Vietnam. Another reason was the self-tearing of the Democratic Party, which culminated at its party congress in Chicago in 1968, which was accompanied by civil war-like circumstances. In his swearing-in speech, the "Inaugural Address", he emphasized the claim, already mentioned in the foreword of this work, to go down in US history as President of Peace:

"The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker. This honor now beckons America ... If we succeed, generations to come will say of us now living that we mastered our moment, that we helped make the world safer for mankind. This is our summons to greatness. "

In view of the looming military and moral disaster, which is still unique in US history and weighs like a trauma on the historical consciousness of many Americans, Nixon began to turn foreign policy around to unite the country internally and externally and with itself to reconcile.

Nixon was aware that in order to make this claim a reality, he had to have at his side competent advisors with specialist knowledge and assertiveness in the political process. He needed a "woodcutter" who could get through the thicket of American foreign policy and cut off others. He found such a personality in Henry Kissinger, whom he appointed national security advisor on December 2, 1968, even before his foreign secretary. He wanted to keep his promise to "give back to the NSC its important role in planning national security"[1] and to achieve a large-scale reorganization of the foreign policy apparatus with a concentration of power in the White House on himself and Kissinger and away from the State Department and the bureaucracy.

Kissinger was born as Heinz Alfred Kissinger in Fürth, Franconia in 1923 and emigrated to the USA with his parents in 1938 due to the Nazi persecution of Jews. In 1943 he received American citizenship and studied at Harvard University. In 1973 he was to be appointed by Nixon as the first US Secretary of State who was not born on the American continent.

The relationship with Nixon was ambivalent from the start. This is not surprising, as Kissinger had been a close confidante of Nixon's internal party opponent Rockefeller for a long time and is said to have claimed before the 1968 election that Richard Nixon was "The most dangerous, of all the men running, to have as President"[2]. Nixon himself was aware of this fact, but he was also aware of Kissinger's excellent foreign policy knowledge and experience. Although he had only known Kissinger for a year, the numerous publications by the Harvard historian with the models Bismarck and Metternich on foreign policy had convinced him. His comment "I don’t trust Henry, but I can use him" provides apt information about this. Their mutual relationship was marked by personal distrust and great admiration. In the course of time, Kissinger was "nixonized"[3], he conformed to the President's expectations for the most part and thus fulfilled his expectations. Nonetheless, his distance also kept him free space, which he used to expand his personal power, so that at the end of Nixon's term in office he had more influence on foreign policy than his president. The saying "Everybody reports to Kissinger, and only Kissinger reports to the President"[4] provides information about the close connection between the two politicians. Kissinger succeeded in largely eliminating the Foreign Ministry with Foreign Minister Rogers at its head. This can only be seen in the number of his trips abroad, which will be discussed in more detail later. From 1969 to 1973 alone, he led thirteen secret negotiations on the Vietnam War in Paris, traveled six times to Beijing and five times to Moscow. He also held very close consultations with high-ranking government officials from the FRG, France, Japan and South Vietnam. This came from a "monopoly as foreign policy advisor to the President"[5] equal. At the end of the Nixon era, his sphere of influence was so extensive that he was "President before foreign relations"[6] was designated.

2.2. Foreign Policy Concept and Nixon Doctrine

At his inauguration, Richard Nixon announced:

“America cannot work out all the plans, make all the programs, carry out all the decisions, and take on all of the defense of the free world… Our goal is primarily based on our interests and those of other nations, the more effective our role can be to be in the world. We are not involved in world events because we have obligations; we have obligations because we are involved. Our obligations must be based on our interests, not the other way around. "[7]

In practical terms, this meant a departure in the US's self-image from the world policeman, as it had been recognized that there was a great discrepancy between the powerful obligations as the sole defender of the free world against world communism and its limited possibilities - the Vietnam War had shown this.

A turn to neo-isolationism, however, was not discernible; the opposite was the case. Nixon only wanted to comply with the demand for US troops to withdraw from Vietnam in order to restore the legitimacy of US foreign policy and to successfully pursue America's engagement in Asia. Isolationist demands should therefore take the wind out of the sails. An important part of the Nixon Doctrine is the concept of "Honorable Peace", which I will go into in more detail in the seventh chapter of this work. Nixon laid down this concept and his views on Vietnam at a press conference in Guam in July 1969. They form the core content of the Nixon Doctrine: The authority and legitimacy of American foreign policy and thus a lasting peace could only be restored if the main cause of the decline in the consensus within society and the blocking of foreign policy action, Vietnam, were resolved. A new "peace of mind" of the USA itself should be brought about with the intended withdrawal of troops from Vietnam and the return of all prisoners of war. The main reason for the withdrawal from Vietnam was domestic political pressure.

Nixon didn't want to become the first President of the United States to lose a war. At the same time, however, he realized that South Vietnam's ability to survive without American support was very unreal. With the adoption of the Nixon Doctrine, US foreign policy turned away from the dogmatic domino theory of the 1950s. This had said that if the USA were restrained and the great communist powers exerted appropriate influence, a process of "nation building" would take place in Southeast Asia, and the countries, like dominoes lined up, would fall to communism. Nixon, on the other hand, developed a more objective and differentiated attitude towards the two communist great powers. Communism became in no way acceptable, but Nixon and Kissinger realistically recognized that the goal of communist containment in Vietnam was of peripheral importance, the goal was out of relation to the intolerable moral, political and economic costs and that the fear of the The domino effect did not seem to be justified.

When conceiving foreign policy in the 1970s, Nixon and Kissinger assumed three innovations in international relations. First, the number of participants in the international system had multiplied. Most of the actors acted in the shadow of the Cold War and were ideologized by it. Second, the opportunities for mutual influence had greatly improved. Third, the scope of the actors' goals had increased. Influenced by these three aspects, Kissinger was no longer faced with a bipolar world of the two superpowers, but with an increasing multipolarity. He saw it as his task to reduce the resulting instability, always knowing that increasing, uncontrolled and unimaginable expansion of military power would not lead to stability in international relations. The principle of military superiority was less important in this concept.

Nixon and Kissinger took the view that political problems, especially with the Soviet Union, should not be viewed in isolation, but rather viewed and resolved in an overall context. Their actions were shaped by the assumption that rapprochement with the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China could lead to a compromise solution with South Vietnam. This mindset reversed the classic domino theory: While it was previously feared that the communist centers of great power would provide support, Nixon and Kissinger now hoped for the opposite effect: preventing communist uprisings through cooperation with the USSR and China might develop in the common interest of the great powers. This hope turned out to be an illusion.

Another component of the new foreign policy concept was the goal of a “pentagonal” system of international power relations. The alliance triangle USA-Japan-Western Europe and the great power triangle USA-PR China-Soviet Union came into focus. The Nixon administration said goodbye to the dichotomous thinking of the Cold War in clear friend-foe schemes. Rather, it was replaced by a mixture of graduated relationships that were supposed to provide a chance for a balance at the great power level. Important impulses for turning away from a total war of confrontation towards a relaxation of international relations can be found in the economic and political resurgence of Western Europe and Japan, in the emerging nation-state movements in the Third World, in the collapse of the unity of the communist bloc as a result of the Soviet-Chinese conflict and in the The end of the US military superiority can be seen. The USA saw itself increasingly overwhelmed by the changed circumstances and increasingly demanded from other countries to take on the burdens and tasks of global peacekeeping themselves. Regional ownership, another element of the Nixon Doctrine, should affect US allies. The anti-communist dogmatism of the 1950s was replaced by a foreign policy pragmatism that envisaged a balance of powers as a basic requirement for peace. No longer moral opposites between the western democratic and the communist, but cross-ideological interests were now in the foreground of the US American politics. Increased interest in political opponents became a trademark of the Nixon administration.

3. US policy towards the People's Republic of China

3.1. Approach and relaxation

His visit to the People's Republic of China in February 1972 is undoubtedly a milestone in Richard Nixon's foreign policy. He symbolized the thaw between the two great powers at the beginning of the 1970s. A few years earlier, American and Chinese soldiers had fought each other in Korea. In 1962, the US Secretary of State had declared that US troops were ready to contain Chinese communism in Vietnam. The aim of the Nixon administration was now to reduce ideological contradictions and bring about a relaxation of relations. When it was founded in 1949, the People's Republic of China automatically became an ideological ally of the Soviet Union and thus an enemy of the USA. This resulted in a radicalization of American China policy, which had the isolation and containment of the People's Republic of China as its goal. The domino theory mentioned above emerged from this. In the Chinese image of America, dogmatic foreign policy aroused fear and hatred of an alleged imperial-capitalist threat. Deep mutual distrust and ideological confrontation were the result. Nixon now saw the opportunity to take advantage of the conflict between the Soviet Union and China in the mid-sixties and to weaken the position of the USSR by bringing America closer to the People's Republic of China. While his predecessor Lyndon B. Johnson assumed an ideological homogeneity of the communist bloc, under Nixon the contradictions between the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China became the focus of his considerations.


[1] Bierling, p. 67

[2] An assessment based on Kissinger's fear that Nixon might seek a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union.

[3] Safire, Before the Fall, p. 161

[4] Bierling, p. 71

[5] Bierling, p. 72

[6] Bierling, p. 80

[7] Hacke, p. 79

End of the reading sample from 24 pages