Nixons Foreign Policy A Global Balance of Power

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Richard Nixon entered office in the midst of one of the gravest foreign policy crises in American history. The Cold War was at its height, hundreds of thousands of American troops were in Vietnam, and the views of society were split down the middle. With the aid of his national security adviser and secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, Nixon felt that it was imperative to change America’s foreign policy. They felt that it was necessary to support our interests in the long run, they felt it necessary to have a balance of power throughout the world in order to ensure peace and prosperity.

One has to take into consideration geopolitics when discussing balance of power. The main purpose is stability by using different political philosophies based on geography, and self-interest. If the major powers pursued their self-interest rationally and predictably, an equilibrium would emerge from the conflicting interest. Nixon knew that a strong America is essential to global equilibrium, and counted on stability to produce it.

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Under Nixon’s new policy partnership, strength, and the willingness to negotiate were the three pillars essential in keeping peace. The policy would stop trying to eliminate communism and win the Cold War, but rather replace it through new initiatives directed toward finding areas of cooperation. In fact it was clear that the Soviet Union was Nixon’s biggest partner towards peace. Nixon parted with the philosophy of containment, and thought that negotiations and peaceful competition would lead to strengthening of democracies. These negotiations became known as Détente.

When Nixon announced to the world his new plan for foreign affairs, it became known as the Nixon Doctrine. It was an outline of America’s foreign policy that dealt with the ordeal that the past involvement in Korea and Vietnam, which were countries with no prior commitment to us, and in regions not protected by any alliances. As a result he outlined the criteria for involvement in world affairs. He stated, “1) The United States would keep its treaty commitments. 2) The United States would ‘provide a shield if a nuclear power threatens the freedom of a nation allied with us or of a nation whose survival we consider vital to our security.’ 3) In cases involving non-nuclear aggression, the United States would ‘look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility of providing the manpower for defense.’” It was thought that if America would not always be a safety net for smaller countries, they would increase their defense systems to be more adequate for the job.

In the end the Nixon-Kissinger foreign policy boils down to stability, and in order to achieve that stability there must be a global balance of power. They want us as Americans to keep our idealistic values and promote peace, but realize what the country has the capability and authority to do in the world.

Wilsonian idealism reigned supreme with our foreign policy for many years, and the country was quite comfortable with it. The policy enabled the United States to conduct their global role with missionary vigor. It promoted democracy and human rights, which made people, feel good about themselves. Wilson had the perception that the world was on an inevitable course for peace and democracy, and it was our job to help the inevitable along. America is the leader of the world, and it is our duty to set an example, and at times act accordingly to show that example. Under this philosophy we are urged to preserve freedom, democracy, and peace at any price.

Wilsonianism rejects the thought of peace through balance of power in favor of peace through moral consensus. It sees foreign policy as a struggle between good and evil, in which evil foes must be defeated. When a crisis rises it is not disturbance of a balance or equilibrium, but as a deviation from moral standards and order. The liberals and Wilsonian believers thought Nixon’s policy could not answer the questions pertaining to such moral issues as arms control and human rights. They felt that his policy was not going far enough and was going to continue the Cold War. His policy was not one, which could help the little guy nor stand up for the values the majority of people had.

Wilsoinan idealism is a classic philosophy based on the universal theme of good versus evil. Striving for world peace and freedom for all, is its core principle. It is up to us as Americans to determine what we think the best approach is.

In order for Nixon and Kissenger to convince the country that their policy was the best, they had to appeal to their senses. Most of the country was idealistic in their views towards foreign policy; therefor Nixon invoked Wilsonian rhetoric. Nixon stated in an address to the Soviet Union “Speaking for the United States, I can say this: We covet no one else’s territory; we seek no dominion over any other people; we seek the right to live in peace, not only for ourselves but for all the peoples of this earth. Our power will only be used to keep the peace, never to break it, only to defend freedom, never to destroy it.” Nixon shared Wilson’s view on idealism and world peace, but felt obligated to relate the way the world actually worked. Nixon and Kissinger made their new policy not only necessary, but also desirable.

The administration gradually submitted to the country the new realities, which were the core of this policy. They admitted that the United States does have a special role to play and world leadership and involvement is necessary for the World’s and our own well being. This up coming generation had a unique opportunity to create a lasting peaceful environment, instead of unstable conflict. As a country we have to realize the importance of conflicting views, and be realistically prepared do deal with their cause. Tremendous self-restraint is needed, but agreements through negotiations are not just black and white. They have lasting significance when contributed to a stable structure of peace through sharing interests. Our country must be willing to work with all nations towards a structure of peace in which all countries have an integral role.

This gradual approach was a way to let the country ease into and get used to the idea of the policy. It was made clear in public addresses rather than official reports to Congress. The perception and views of the press changed drastically and often, with the support of liberal opponents. Through all the criticisms and controversy the Nixon Administration held strong and fulfilled their beliefs.

I must admit that growing up in the world today, Wilsonian idealism is extremely appealing, but if I have learned anything in this world it’s that people need to accept realities and capabilities. Morally I cannot argue with the values and beliefs of idealism, but realistically no one can argue the policy of Nixon and Kissinger. Especially in the time of Nixon’s presidency, it was essential to change America’s foreign policy and create a stable environment for coming generations.

The problem that I find with idealism is the abundance of unfulfilled promises. Our country cannot “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.” In fact when our country attempts to fulfill these promises our military becomes overextended, and morale drops. We cannot be the world’s policemen, because it would be hypocritical and impractical to dictate how one should act. Idealists strive for peace by creating conflict, which in turn just creates more conflict; one word backs that theory, Vietnam. Historically idealism had not proved its capability of producing peace.

Global balancing strives for peace through stability, and the only extended periods of peace in our history is when there has been a balance of power. It is when one nation becomes more powerful than all others when conflict is created. As repugnant as having a foreign policy based on our own self-interests seems; it creates an equilibrium and ultimately peace. It would definitely be safer to have a healthy United States, Europe, Japan Russia, and China each balancing each other, and not playing one against the other. Our country can become more effective around the world if and only if we base our decisions on realities rather than dreams.

Both policies want peace; one is just more practical than the other. I find no fault in promoting peace, democracy, human rights, and prosperity, but I don’t believe that it is our job to enforce it. Our country should be safe and keep foreign policy within the real of our capabilities. This is a policy of stability and cooperation, which in turn creates what everyone wants, peace.


1. Nixon: The Fourth Year of His Presidency
Congressional Quarterly
Copyright 1973 by Congressional Quarterly Inc.

2. Diplomacy
Henry Kissinger
Published: 1994 by Simon & Schuster

3. Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy
Volumes: 1 and 2
Subjects: Balance of Power, The Nixon Doctrine

4. Nixon in the White House: The Frustration of Power
Rowland Evans, Jr. and Robert D. Novak
Published: 1971 by Random House Inc.

5. Nixon: The Education of a Politician 1913 – 1962
Stephen E. Ambrose
Published: 1987 by Simon & Schuster

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