25 July 1969: The Nixon Doctrine
The day after welcoming the Apollo XI astronauts home from the moon, RN talked with some reporters during a stopover on the mid-Pacific island of Guam.
The backstory and the reception of his very few words on that July afternoon have been the subject of speculation on the part of officials, reporters, and historians ever since.
In some accounts the controversies about intention —and even nomenclature— have overshadowed the very real and great importance of what was actually said, and the meaning it had for America’s role in Asia after Vietnam; and in the world since.
Here is what RN had to say about it in RN:
The first stop after the Apollo splashdown was on the island of Guam. Shortly after we arrived I conducted an informal press conference with the reporters covering the trip. It was there that I enunciated what at first was called the Guam Doctrine and has since become known as the Nixon Doctrine.
I stated that the United States is a Pacific power and should remain so. But I felt that once the Vietnam war was settled, we would need a new Asian policy to ensure that there were no more Vietnams in the future. I began with the proposition that we would not make any more commitments unless they were required by our own vital interests.
In the past our policy had been to furnish the arms, men, and material to help other nations defend themselves against aggression. That was what we had done in Korea, and that was how we had stared out in Vietnam. But from now on, I said, we would furnish only the material and the military and economic assistance to those nations wiling to accept the responsibility of supplying the manpower to defend themselves. I made only one exception: in case a major nuclear power engaged in aggression against one of our allies or friends, I said that we would respond with nuclear weapons.
The Nixon Doctrine announced on Guam was misinterpreted by some as signaling a new policy that would lead to total American withdrawal from Asia and from other parts of the world as well. In one of our regular breakfast meetings after I returned from the trip Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield articulated this misunderstanding. I emphasized to him, as I had to our friends in the Asian countries, that the Nixon Doctrine was not a formula for getting America out Asia, but one that provided the only sound basis for America’s staying in and continuing to play a responsible role in helping the non-Communist nations and neutrals as well as our Asian allies to defend their independence.