President Nixon greeting the men of the U.S.S. Saratoga on May 17, 1969.
By the summer of 1968, Americans had grown so weary of the Vietnam war, so alarmed by America’s domestic situation, and so disillusioned with its country’s foreign policy that a new isolationist thought and a consensus to unburden American defense commitments became very attractive philosophies.
When many thought that the United States should turn inward and nurse its own ills while crises amounted abroad and at home, Richard Nixon recognized a unique opportunity. An opportunity not for the assertion of heavy-handed American pressure abroad, but of empowering free nations around the world who faced the challenge of adversarial expansionism. He ascertained that the United States should not be wooed by the prospects of reducing its defense budget, for history has shown flawlessly that negligence on the part of the US abroad invited conflict regardless.
Richard Nixon believed in a new generation of peace–one void of wars yet conducive to economic competition and international prosperity. It served the ends of his administration’s foreign policy model. The means to which he would achieve this end began with American military strength.
“What we have to do is to have the strength and the intelligence in our negotiation to see to it that this period in which we are entering will be a period of negotiation and a period of peace.”
To be sure, RN did not support strong military for the purpose of threatening anyone or waging war. Rather, he backed a strong military for the purpose of negotiating through strength and not fear. Fear would invariably give a potential adversary, one of expansionary motives, a clear upper-hand. He believed in a strong United States because he recognized that the US was the guardian of peace and could only sustain this role on the basis that it could negotiate with strength peaceful settlements around the world. As he campaigned in 1968, RN alluded to this very concept, citing former President Kennedy’s inaugural wisdom:
“I think President Kennedy put it very well in his first inaugural, better than anybody else has put it, when he said we should never fear to negotiate and never negotiate from fear. And at this time the United States is reaching a position where we might negotiate from fear.”
In September of 1973, when Congress threatened to further reduce the United States defense budget, President Nixon wrote to leading senators in Congress expressing his views on why these proposed cuts concerned him. He warned them of the consequences of a slashed defense budget.
“It is ironic that in this critical period in which the United States has so much at stake in the international arena, argument to erode our military posture have gained such currency.”
President Nixon was referring to two important foreign policy events that his administration was partaking in: 1) a new phase of strategic arms limitation talks with the the Soviet Union and 2) discussions with the Warsaw Pact regarding mutual troop reductions in Europe.
A cut in defense at this pivotal juncture while President Nixon attempted to steer America in the direction of real peace would assuredly disrupt the ongoing burden-sharing negotiations, the transition to peace in Vietnam, and would weaken U.S. weapons capability while potential adversaries improved theirs.
With the risks identified, President Nixon ended the letter with a call for unity:
An adequate defense must not become a partisan issue. A strong and ready military force is an asset to all Americans and supports all of their interests. Therefore, the Congress and the Executive Branch must work together to provide the funds, the manpower and the leadership needed to assure this capability. I ask for your support in this most critical effort.
Read the President Nixon’s entire letter to Senate leaders here.