March 5, 2014 By Chris Barber
By Chris Barber
Having witnessed the necessity of U.S. support for post-war Western Europe under the Marshall Plan as a Congressman, Richard Nixon the President viewed his first foreign trip to Europe as priority above all else. On February 6, 1969, President Nixon formally announced his intentions to visit Western Europe towards the end of the month. The purpose of his visit was stated as such:
“The Alliance, held together in its first two decades by a common fear, needs now the sense of cohesiveness supplied by common purpose. I am eager for an early exchange of views on all the important issues that concern us. I favor intimate and frank consultations, and I am delighted that it has proved possible to make this journey so early in my administration. I am going to discuss, not to propose; for work, not for ceremony.”
Upon taking office, Nixon inherited foreign policies largely unpopular under the Johnson administration and, particularly, a European–U.S. relationship unconvincing and weak. For five years, the United States thrusted Vietnam and its domestic policy at the forefront of its priorities list. As President, Nixon “wanted to show the world that the new American President was not completely obsessed with Vietnam….[and] that, despite opposition to the war, their President could still be received abroad with respect and even enthusiasm.”
Further, Nixon felt that this trip would establish the principle that the United States would consult its allies first before approaching their adversaries for negotiations.
It was under this foundation that Nixon believed he could revive the confidence so essential to the historically strong alliance forged between the Western European nations and the United States.
In a declassified talking points document, Nixon’s top National Security man, Henry Kissinger, addressing the Board of Trustees of the Brookings Institution, remarked on the President’s worthwhile European effort:
“This President believes that our relations with Western Europe are of overriding importance–because they are the oldest and closest allies and also because a stable world is inconceivable without a European contribution.”
Furthermore, Kissinger adds, “Western cohesion is foundation of the efforts to reduce tensions in Europe. Consultation assures that our efforts are complementary; differentiated detente would be illusory and destructive. We favor concrete negotiation on Berlin, MBFR, and other steps.”
Under this pretext, the President’s inaugural European trip was widely regarded as a resounding success. Nixon believed that he had achieved all the goals he had set out to achieve while meeting the leaders of Great Britain, Brussels, Germany and France. Most importantly, the talks had dissuaded the Soviet Union for taking Western disunity for granted. For a moment, it had appeared that national morale at home improved, demonstrating what Nixon regarded as respect for U.S. foreign policy and assistance abroad.
Of course, other factors compelled President Nixon to make Western Europe his first destination abroad. The man was a strategist and he did not simply see his excursion as a ceremonial and obligatory procedure to satisfy the status quo of U.S–Euro relations. He wanted to gauge the ability of the American allies to assist him in his overarching diplomatic goals. It was in Europe that President Nixon could plant the seeds of his backchannel diplomatic system; he would need to find leaders he could trust and most aptly rely upon for secrecy and unconditional support.
To do this, Nixon selectively probed issues among the European leaders, most notably whether or not the United States should begin discussing weapons limitations with the Soviet Union. The responses to these issues helped shape his understanding of European leaders and likewise confirmed his ideas of other parts of the world in 1969.
With his first foreign tour complete, Nixon set the stage for his grand diplomatic strategy. Europe would eventually act as Nixon’s centerpiece to his foreign policy elsewhere around the world. The roots of all his diplomatic overtures, including the big three in China, the Soviet Union, and Southeast Asia, originated with European backchannels and initiated the efficacy of his foreign policy strategy.
February 27, 2014 By Jonathan Movroydis
By Brian Robertson
As historians of the Cold War know all too well, the historiographical literature examining Nixon’s historic trip to China is diverse and fascinating. Perhaps the first scholarly account to appear proved to be Lloyd Gardner’s edited volume, The Great Nixon Turnaround: America’s New Foreign Policy in the New Liberal Era. The essays traced Nixon’s transformation from an “anti-communist crusader” to a pragmatic statesman responsible for ushering in a post-Cold War era of balance and constraint. Despite criticism toward Nixon’s Vietnam policy as “Cold Warriormanship at its best,” The Great Nixon Turnaround presented the opening of China as a landmark event symbolizing a historic transformation of American foreign and economic policy. Perhaps a greater testament to the historiographical significance of the turnaround is who it impressed. One of the foremost diplomatic historians of the second half of the twentieth century, Gardner studied under William Appleman Williams and although today Williams is widely considered to be the father of modern diplomatic history, his advocation of the open door thesis and reliance on an economic interpretation of American diplomacy led to clashes with the orthodoxy. Perhaps most infamously, historian and Kennedy loyalist Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. attempted to discredit Williams’ scholarship on grounds of “communist” influence and allegedly sought to blacklist Williams from academia.
Despite a few dissenters, historians continued to present the opening of China as the centerpiece of a new global framework and largely credited Nixon and Kissinger as its architects. Praise for Nixon’s strategic acumen and grasp of American foreign policy is still a prominent narrative, with historians such as Jussi Hanhimaki, Jeremi Suri, Luke Nichter (particularly with regard to Europe), and Margaret MacMillian examining it to varying degrees. Others, such as Jeffrey Kimball, are far more critical of Nixon and strip him of much of the credit for his foreign policy innovations. For instance, in The Vietnam War Files and Nixon’s Vietnam War, Kimball downplays Nixon’s insightful 1967 Foreign Affairs article “Asia after Vietnam” as nothing more than an anachronistic defense of SEATO and perhaps a bit strongly, awards credit for Nixon’s China policy to the People’s Republic of China, policy-planning staffers in the State Department, and fortunate timing.
Readers, of course, are free to make up their own mind but the archival record, in my view, clearly demonstrates a definitive evolution of what would become Nixon’s China policy and grand strategy for his view of the post-Vietnam War era. From 1962 to 1967, Nixon traveled broadly, visiting foreign countries and engaging the public, heads of state, and foreign dignitaries. Within the Nixon foundation’s wilderness years collection (processed and opened to the public in 2008) researchers can engage hundreds of Richard Nixon’s handwritten legal yellow pad notes documenting his conversations, observations, and conclusions from each of his foreign trips.
Of particular interest are Nixon’s 1964 notes documenting his meeting with President of Pakistan, Ayub Khan. By 1969, Nixon’s contacts with President Yayha Khan played a crucial role in the Nixon administration’s opening of China. Historian Robert Dallek and author Gary Bass, critical of Nixon for failing to interfere in Pakistan’s controversial internal affairs, portray Nixon’s alliance with Pakistan as an immoral means of maintaining a backchannel with China. As the notes show, Nixon recorded Khan’s fear of another U.S. coup against an ally, similar to John F. Kennnedy and Henry Cabot Lodge’s CIA sponsored coup against Republic of Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem (For more on the coup, click here). According to Khan, Diem’s removal created the impression that “whenever U.S. becomes displeased with any action—head rolls.”
Nixon notes on effect of Diem assassination on U.S. allies:
(Republic of Vietnam Prime Minister Ngo Dinh) Diem’s murder (all agreed) frightens others in similar position. 1. Whenever U.S. becomes displeased with any Action- head rolls. Indians have been on defensive thru history. 1) This affects their psychology- They are morally devious. Chinese plays Indians against Paks- will eventually makeup with India- India will throw U.S. out- When it no longer fears China (Soviet moved in?) 1) India receives aid from U.S.S.R. also- remains maligned (?) India continues military buildup after threat subsides.
Later in the notes:
Pakistan is an ally of the U.S. (;) Paks know the dangers of communist agg(ression?) They don’t want to be taken for granted(.) They fear India military buildup(.) They need to get along with neighbor(.)
Nixon notes on Sino-Soviet split:
”1. Sino Soviet Split real
-it is real
-but Soviet is major threat
1. Mistake to buildup Soviet.
2. Soviet intervenes directly in Budapest- Berlin et all to protect its interests. China moves more deviously”
Later in the notes:
“5. U.S. policy weakness(:) 1. It lacks morality, principle, consistency
2. Others can no longer trust U.S. or respect her. Diem murder E.G.
The evolution of Nixon’s views on a potential U.S. opening of China can also be viewed in the following documents. In an address Nixon gave to National Defense College in Thailand on April 1, 1964 he warned against the dangers of U.S. recognition of China:
basically, I believe, we could make no greater mistake, particularly at this time we would give massive to the idea, particularly in this part of the world, that communism rather than freedom was the way of the future. But beyond that, in light of recent developments, an immense psychological and propaganda push to the indirect aggression tactics and actions with the communist Chinese are waging in this part of the world.
By 1967, the year Nixon would write “Asia After Viet Nam” and after his extensive foreign travels during the wilderness years, Nixon discussed opening relations with China after concluding the Vietnam War. This memorandum of a conversation between Nixon and Romanian General Secretary Nicolae Ceausescu suggest Nixon not only believed he could end the Vietnam War but believed the U.S. could open China:
Mr. Nixon said after the conclusion of the war in Vietnam he could foresee the possibility of U.S. China relations being normalized.”
Of course, the opening of China predated the ending of the Vietnam War but the memorandum demonstrates Nixon’s commitment to realigning American foreign policy and establishing a new international structure beyond Vietnam and the containment policies which previously dominated the post-war era.
Brian Robertson holds a Ph.D. in Diplomatic History and specializes in the Nixon Presidency.
February 27, 2014 By Chris Barber
By Chris Barber
42 years ago— on a day that marked the end of President Nixon’s stay in the People’s Republic of China—RN observed: “We have been here a week. This was the week that changed the world.”
Integral to the President’s trip to China were the discussions held with Chairman Mao and Prime Minister Zhou En-lai. The product of these discussions resulted in a joint communiqué issued and agreed upon by both the United States and China. In recognizing this week as the 42nd anniversary of President Nixon’s trip to China, it cannot go unmentioned the impact of this diplomatic achievement. Read the Communiqué below:
The fact of the matter was that President Nixon’s trip to China hinged on a mutual understanding between the two parties—a hashed out agreement where normalizing relations would make possible the prospect of future peace despite fundamental ideological differences. When Chairman Mao met President Nixon on the first day of the journey, he made clear that if the two parties failed to come together on an agreement, the people of the world would ask, “Why are we not able to succeed the first time? The only reason would be that we have taken the wrong road.”
Red China, coming out of its prolonged 22 year isolation from Western Civilization, and the United States, facing a difficult foreign policy obstacle due to the Vietnam conflict, came together in search of common strategic interests. What concerned President Nixon was China’s stance on particularly critical issues, such as the U.S.’s military presence in Taiwan.
However, a number of factors contributed to China’s desire for rapprochement. The forced cooperation between China and the Soviet Union over the past two decades emphasized the deep ideological differences inherent among these Communist powers. So deep were the differences that hostilities and the dangers of all-out war loomed as the days passed. Hence, the changing power structure of the Communist world in the beginning of the 1970s presented a possibility for U.S. “intervention.”
Because of Sino-Soviet disagreements, President Nixon observed an opportunity to restrain the Soviets from possible military confrontation against China. He also recognized that Moscow no longer acted as a bridge between Beijing and the rest of the world. But the prevailing policy issues of the time and a consensus as to how China would act in relation to U.S. interests was not as important in so much as agreeing to work for mutual prosperity and peace. The Shanghai Communiqué, as President Nixon strived to extricate from the meetings, would have to establish language that acknowledged each other’s internal differences and recognized a mutual non-aggression pact in the Asia-Pacific region.
The communiqué set forth these agreements between the two countries:
• progress toward the normalization of relations between China and the United States is in the interests of all countries.
• both wish to reduce the danger of international military conflict.
• neither should seek hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region and each is opposed to efforts by any other country or group of countries to establish such hegemony.
• neither is prepared to negotiate on behalf of any third party or to enter into agreements or understandings with the other directed at other states.
• the United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Straight maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China.
What resulted after a half-year effort of tentative drafting was a communiqué satisfactory to the goals of peace and progress for the years ahead.
15 years after the Shanghai Communiqué made possible a new era of Sino-U.S relations, President Nixon reflected on the impact of the document. He noted that with foreign policy, there are necessary risks to be taken. The possibility of success could only occur through taking risks.
The lesson of the Shanghai Communique is that great risks were taken and great goals were achieved. May our two countries and our leaders continue to take risks for peace in the future.
February 21, 2014 By Chris Barber
Max Lerner, syndicated American journalist and known Nixon opponent, said of President Nixon’s announcement of his planned trip to Beijing, “The politics of surprise leads through the Gates of Astonishment into the Kingdom of Hope.” That hope being the framework for a future generation of peace.
When Air Force One, carrying the President and select staff, landed in Beijing on February 21, 1972, a new era of Sino–U.S. relations commenced. A surprise no longer, the gates of hope opened to RN’s diplomatic initiative for peace. Exiting Air Force one and arriving at the bottom steps of the ramp, President Nixon extended his hand in a gesture of respect to Zhou En-Lai, Premier of the People’s Republic of China. It was a handshake that “came over the vastest ocean in the world–twenty-five years of no communication.”
President Nixon’s week long trip in China produced a joint communiqué setting forth mutual agreements where real progress towards a long-lasting peace could be bridged. It was a document that recognized the two countries’ inherent differences, which China had vocally stipulated, yet verbalized a commitment to a world of peace and stability.
The ingenuity of RN’s trip to China not only lay in the methods of securing the pivotal overture, but also in the process of crafting the joint communiqué–the concrete document that would show the meeting to be a resounding success.
RN’s meeting with Zhou En-lai on the second day of the trip evidences the President’s seemingly flawless command of diplomacy and geopolitical knowledge. It would help sway the language of the communiqué. Holding firm to pragmatism–contrary to doctrinaire or pure principle–RN advised Premier Zhou En-lai on realigning the Chinese perception against U.S. forces in the Asia pacific region, particularly in Taiwan and Japan. His arguments, advocating that U.S forces must remain, can be seen below.
February 14, 2014 By Chris Barber
By Chris Barber
This week marks the 45th anniversary of President Nixon’s swearing-in of Walter E. Washington as Mayor of the District of Columbia. The Mayor of D.C at the time was by law an appointee of the President of the United States, yet the decision by RN to reappoint Washington marked the first stages of a prominent shift in Washington D.C. local governance that ultimately led to the ratification of the District of Columbia Self-Government and Reorganization Act signed in 1973. In hopes of propelling his “Home Rule” campaign–that of strengthening the representative capacity of local government to tackle local problems–through an effective cooperation “yet achieved in the relations between the Federal and city governments”–RN retained Washington as his select man in 1969.
Mayor Washington, a democrat, was one of three African American mayors to lead major American cities by 1967 and the first of these three to do so. Mayor Washington was also tasked with leading a predominantly African American city underrepresented, and to a large degree, under-served by the federal government for whom they relied upon.
The condition of America’s capital in 1969 was that of societal disarray. Crime rates were soaring at calamitous rates, the standards of education were faltering, and uncertainties flourished in the face of massive social readjustment. Amidst prevailing riots and increasing illicit drug use, the latter half of the 1960s effectively steered the District of Columbia onto a road of incivility and outright lawlessness.
President Nixon would not stand idly by and witness the crumbling of the capital city at the footsteps of Federal leadership. 14 days prior to the swearing in of Mayor Washington, RN delivered a resounding statement outlining proposed actions and recommendations to be taken for the District of Columbia. The common theme among his proposals: the establishment of local responsibilities and local mechanisms. It was then that President Nixon said “responsibility begins at home.” Mayor Washington would be the man he could rely on at the local level to bring about this shift.
That is why, as we look at the city of Washington, while the Federal Government has a greater responsibility here than toward any other city, that here, too, we must recognize that without a strong local government, without real home rule, and without the support of the citizens, the people of Washington, the Federal activities will come to naught.
Over the next two years of the Nixon presidency, Washington D.C. experienced a profound drop in crime, with crime index offenses decreasing by 5.2% in calendar year 1970 and 13.2% the following year. The drop was attributed to Mayor Washington’s local crime action effort, and the provisions for which his early 1970 “Crime Action Plan” proposed. Below, read Mayor Washington’s D.C. crime plan memorandum and accompanying report. Note the synchronized relationship between Federal oversight and local action plans. The success of Washington D.C.’s fight on crime and drug use was contingent upon the appropriate distribution of funds in key areas.
A concept that predated RN’s presidency and one that helped shape his early domestic policy framework, “New Federalism” would be birthed, appropriately so, at the nation’s capital. Demanding that the high standard of American government be reflected upon in its Federal City, that the high standard of American civil rights be upheld, particularly as it applied to the underrepresented African American population, RN promised to instigate home rule for the District, to push for Congressional representation, a criminal justice system operated at its own sovereignty, and a locally elected body of lawmakers. Because of the self-government reorganization act, Washington became the first locally elected Mayor to head the District of Columbia in 1975.