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Documentary Short Featuring Ambassador Winston Lord

The Nixon Foundation has produced a new documentary short about President Nixon’s vision for peace and strategy to win the Cold War, featuring former U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, Winston Lord (1985-1989).

In addition to being America’s representative in Beijing at the end of the Cold War, Lord served as State Department Director of Policy Planning (1973-1977), President at the Council on Foreign Relations (1977-1985), and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (1993-1997).

In the Nixon administration, Lord was the principal assistant to National Security Advisor, Dr. Henry Kissinger. In this position, Lord was involved in every major diplomatic initiative that took place during the Nixon years.

The documentary film highlights the following historic events:

  • Secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese in Paris to end the Vietnam War
  • Rapprochement with the People’s Republic of China
  • Strategic Arms Limitations Talks and Detente with the Soviet Union.
  • The October 1973 Middle East War, and Shuttle Diplomacy between Israel and Egypt.

“Although I have great admiration for the leaders I served, none have thought so strategically about foreign policy as President Richard Nixon,” Lord argues in the film.

Transcript

Winston Lord: I have served seven American Presidents of both parties — Republican and Democrat —  beginning with President John F. Kennedy  and ending with President Bill Clinton. 

Although I have great admiration for the leaders I served, none have thought so strategically about foreign policy as President Richard Nixon.

My name is Winston Lord. I served as the third U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, the State Department Director of Policy Planning, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. 

In the Nixon White House, I was the principal assistant to Dr. Henry Kissinger on the National Security Council. I was with the President and National Security Advisor in virtually every major diplomatic event that took place during the administration. 

Let me give you a snapshot of what the world looked like at the time.

By the late-1960s, the United States military had committed over half a million troops to fight in the jungles of Vietnam. By 1968, nearly 60,000 Americans, and over 2 million Vietnamese on both sides were killed. Both casualties and domestic protests were mounting. 

The war in Vietnam was presenting the United States with a credibility problem at home and abroad, and with both allies and enemies alike. 

In addition, we had mutual hostility and no contact with one fifth of humanity. We were in a tense standoff with the Soviet Union, which was rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal. Much of the Middle East was under the influence of Soviet arms.

At home there were turmoil and division, with demonstrations against the Vietnam war, racial strife and assassinations of national leaders.

As Nixon was gearing up for the 1968 presidential campaign, he urged Americans to think more dynamically about Asia in an influential article he wrote in the October 1967 edition of Foreign Affairs Magazine, called “Asia After Vietnam.”

“A small country on the tip of the continent has filled the screen of our minds; but it does not fill the map,” he wrote.

Meanwhile in 1968 the Soviet Union was enforcing compliance to its Warsaw Pact when it rolled Soviet tanks into Czechoslovakia, and lined up several divisions along their Ussuri River border with the People’s Republic of China. 

Facing this challenging landscape, Nixon and Kissinger began carrying out a strategic approach on foreign policy. They sought to end the Vietnam War on an honorable basis by seeking a peace agreement through secret negotiations and strengthening South Vietnamese forces to take over combat while American forces withdrew. 

At the same time they resisted North Vietnamese pressures. With the help of American air cover, the South Vietnamese Army defended its homeland against an all out on-slaught from the Soviet backed North Vietnamese Army in the spring of 1972. 

Meanwhile the administration moved to make progress with both communist giants, the Soviet Union and China. Always thinking like a chessmaster several steps ahead, President Nixon wrote to Dr. Kissinger just ten days into the administration to explore ‘possibilities of rapprochement with the Chinese.’

Nixon felt that if he achieved an opening with the Chinese, this would spur flexibility from a concerned Soviet Union. He would be able to seize on division within the Communist bloc and achieve better relations with both countries than they had with each other.

In addition, Nixon’s sought, in breaking ground in triangular diplomacy to isolate Hanoi from its two biggest patrons. He also sought to stabilize Asia,  and show that American diplomacy was not hamstrung by the Vietnam War. 

After two years of talking to China through various secret channels, a breakthrough occurred via Pakistan, and the curious tale of the U.S. Ping Pong team being invited to China. 

As a result of Kissinger’s secret visit to Beijing,  President Nixon shocked the world on July 15, 1971 by announcing that he’d be the first President to visit the People’s Republic of China. 

President Nixon:

Premier Chou Enlai, on behalf of the Government of the People’s Republic of China, has extended an invitation to President Nixon to visit China at an appropriate date before May 1972. President Nixon has accepted the invitation with pleasure.

Moscow, after hearing the news of the China opening, agreed to an immediate summit and moved toward pacts on arms control and Berlin.

Nixon’s February 1972 trip was truly “the week that changed the world,” connecting America to one-fifth of the world’s people after nearly a quarter century of mutual isolation and enmity. Symbolically, he shook hands with Premier Chou En-Lai upon arriving in China.

At the end of that historic trip, Nixon and the Chinese leadership issued the joint-Shanghai Communiqué. This unique document candidly expressed differences between the two nations, which gave credibility to the areas where they converged, including balancing the Soviet Union. 

While the U.S and China had major differences and world views, they postponed tough obstacles so as to launch a new relationship.  

China’s leadership sought ties with a country separated by 3,000 miles of ocean, to balance their Communist neighbor from whom they were facing security threats. 

In brief, while each side stated its differences outright, they both agreed on general principles that would guide peaceful relations moving forward. 

The two-sides stated an ambiguous “One-China” policy, with the United States government acknowledging that Chinese on both sides of the strait adhered to this principle. Meanwhile, the U.S. maintained diplomatic relations and a defense treaty with Taiwan.

In May 1972, Nixon visited Moscow, where he negotiated the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks which resulted in multiple agreements, including the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM).

The two sides agreed in principle to a treaty that limited each to only one missile launching site and 100 interceptor missiles. The United States and the Soviet Union were limited to defending just a small fraction of their respective lands, and thus kept both subject to the deterrent effect of the other’s strategic weapons. They also put a cap on offensive missiles where Moscow had been outpacing Washington.

This marked the beginning of an era of detente — or easing of tensions —  with the two great superpowers. While it wasn’t an end to all Soviet pressures, it put the relationship on a more stable basis and paved the way for successor administrations eventually to win the Cold War. 

By the end of 1972, the Nixon-Kissinger team were three for three: America opened relations with China, achieved arms control and detente with the Soviet Union, and ended the Vietnam War and brought all American POWs home. 

South Vietnam fell to Hanoi’s invasion in 1975, though the accord had given them every chance to succeed. If it weren’t for the shameful actions of Congress to deny Saigon much needed military and economic aide as the Soviets supplied for Hanoi, the fate of Vietnam might well have had a different outcome.

During his second administration, the Watergate scandal proved of course to be an immense distraction from the President’s policy agenda, and then removed him from office.

There was still much to be done,  including strengthening alliances, and starting negotiations in the Middle East. Despite the growing scandal, progress was made on the latter.

Much to the world’s surprise, on October 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against America’s ally Israel. Egyptian tanks crossed the Suez Canal, and the Israeli Defense Forces incurred significant losses. 

Nixon saw a chance for American diplomacy, but knew that our friend Israel needed further military support. Many in the American bureaucracy thought that shipping arms to Israel would be provocative to the Arabs. Nixon overrode their concerns and ordered an immediate airlift of war materials to the Jewish state. “Send them everything that can fly,” Nixon ordered his national security advisor Dr. Kissinger.

Israeli Defense Forces were able to recover their losses,  and surrounded the Egyptian third army near the Suez Canal. 

Where Nixon saw crisis, he also saw opportunity. He sent Kissinger abroad to freeze the battlefield situation. Israel was sobered by its initial setback. Egypt had not suffered a humiliating defeat. Thus both sides were prepared to negotiate. 

The Israelis and Egyptians agreed to a ceasefire under the aegis of an American-Soviet agreement. 

While Nixon insisted on UN peacekeepers to enforce the agreement, the Soviets were eager to send in their own troops.

Nixon and Kissinger immediately ordered U.S. forces to DefCon 3, a state of increased military readiness.

The Soviets backed down. The stage for further diplomacy was now set.

All sides involved agreed to disengage their forces.

Later Nixon became the first President to tour the Middle East in June 1974, two months before he resigned.

Anwar Sadat did the unthinkable, and visited Israel in 1977.

In 1978, Egypt and Israel officially normalized relations through the Camp David Accords.

I was proud to be part of the Nixon administration. We made the world safer and more peaceful.

  • We ended the Vietnam war and brought the POWs home.
  • We opened China and transformed the global landscape. 
  • We limited stockpiles of nuclear weapons between the United States and the Soviet Union and stabilized our relations.
  • And we set the stage for the Middle East peace process.
  • Through these diplomatic triumphs Nixon restored American credibility as a global leader rather than looking bogged down in a war and domestic turmoil. 

And he lifted the spirits of the American people who had been demoralized by a turbulent decade.

I am Ambassador Winston Lord. Thank you for watching.