On Thursday evening, the Richard Nixon Foundation launched the inaugural Grand Strategy Summit in Washington, DC. Former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger opened the Summit via video feed.

Transcript of Dr. Kissinger’s Remarks


Dr Henry Kissinger: It is a great privilege for me to be invited to the first Grand Strategy seminar of the Nixon Foundation, because I spent six years of my life working daily with President Nixon and the remaining decades of his life, in close contact with him. In a recent book, I describe Richard Nixon as the American President, most similar to Theodore Roosevelt. In his approach to international politics, Nixon was a strategist who tried to establish the relationship between American challenges and to find solutions in which progress could be made on key issues simultaneously, dangers reduced and opportunities enhanced. Richard Nixon became president at a fraught moment in American history. In the years before, there had been three assassinations of major American figures, including the president and his brother. The war in Vietnam was had gone through a communist offensive that multiplied casualties. And it had been going on for nearly 10 years. The American public was bitterly divided over the war. And massive demonstrations prevented public appearances by President Johnson, who had to confine his visits outside the White House to military installations. The Soviet Union and its allies had occupied Czechoslovakia for daring to pursue an autonomous foreign policy. Dialogue with Russia had broke it off. Of course, China was totally outside any set of relationships with the United States. The Middle East was in turmoil, the 67 War had altered the map of the region, but no, alternate system had yet emerged, and the participants in the war were gearing for another conflict. In this situation, with an unsolved Vietnam problem, with crises in the Middle East, recent aggression in Europe, hostility with the Soviet Union, and no contact with China, Richard Nixon became president. And he honored me by appointing me his security advisor. It was a remarkable decision. Because I had never met Richard Nixon, and in fact, had been closely associated with Nelson Rockefeller, who was a close friend of mine it the period before. So it was an act of courage to make such a decision. And it showed something of the way Nixon handled his challenges. General Eisenhower told me afterwards that he had been opposed to the appointment because he didn’t think academics could operate at that level of government effectively. I look back on this period of association and leadership by Richard Nixon, with great pride because Richard Nixon introduced a concept of strategic thinking to American foreign policy. Early on in his administration, he distributed a memorandum to the various key figures involved in foreign policymaking that the President intended to avoid the approach of treating each problem on it so-called merits because that would lead to the possibility of aggressors, picking out the weakest points and keeping quiet on the key issues. So, Nixon believed that the issues needed to be related to each other. And that particularly was true of the Soviet Union. So that the Soviet Union should not be able to alternate periods of so called peaceful coexistence with periods of confrontation, but rather, they would, it would be obliged by American policy, to concentrate on issues of great importance to us if they wanted to make progress on issues of consequence to them. And he carried out this policy during his six and a half years in office, starting with the Jordan crisis, in December of 1970, and then through a series of Middle East crisis, in which Nixon displayed is characteristic quality, which was composed of two elements. One was that if American security was challenged, Nixon would resist at the highest level of power that was that yet nuclear war, but in a theory of crisis, he went on alert three times during crisis in the Middle East. But at the end of the process, he had made it lead to what was another major component, that confrontation was not an end in itself. Confrontation had to have a substantive political purpose that improved the situation in which the Challenger might develop over time and interest in maintaining the international system. So the confrontations in the Middle East led to a theory of peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, between Syria and Israel, between Jordan and Israel, all of which had been prepared by Nixon’s willingness to fight over the strategic issues and then to move towards negotiation after the issues had been dealt with. In this process, the Soviet Union at first was extremely challenging. But Nixon increased the defense budget, though not as much as he desired, because of congressional opposition, and originated a series of weapon systems that became the [inaudible] of subsequent administrations and such as land based strategic weapons and a strategic defense. One of his signal achievements was the opening to China. An idea with which he end others. And that to go the Nixon characteristics of combining strategy with tactical flexibility. At the time of Nixon entering office, it was considered axiomatic that the relationship between China was destined to be in permanent confrontation with one of the largest countries in the world. And therefore, against wide opposition, he opened a dialogue with China, which became one of the principal elements of his foreign policy. The reason for that was that between the Soviet Union and China, ideological tensions had developed even prior to Nixon’s term in office, which accelerated afterwards. And it came to our attention that there were conflict and military clashes between Soviet and Chinese troops at a faraway place at the Manchurian border between China and Russia. When that report was placed before him, Nixon noted, of course, the fact that a conflict between the two countries would present new challenges to the United States. But he decided first that in a conflict between two adversaries, we would lean towards the weaker against the stronger even if we had not yet established relationships with the weaker. Secondly, as our policy developed, he issued instructions, which basically said that we should place the American interests in such a way that we were closer to Russia and to China than they were to each other, giving us a maximum flexibility. By these methods, he created a situation in which the great issues with which he ended the conflict, the presidency settled or approaching settlement during his period in office. He had proclaimed very early in his period in office is that the we would not end the Vietnam War by betraying the people who in reliance on an American promise had sacrificed 10s of 1000s of death sentences and he maintained that promise and he achieved an honorable peace, which could can be defined as follows. In early 1972, Nixon made a series of proposals to the North Vietnamese to end the war on specific terms. Eight months later, after having attempted an offensive, a major offensive to avoid these terms, the Vietnamese accepted them. We could not maintain the assumptions on which the peace had been made. Because of the divisions in our country, had made it impossible to achieve the military commitments that were needed to sustain them. But at the end of his term, and of his period in office, Nixon had given a new strategy and a new meaning and a new direction to American foreign policy, that link power to purpose and moved America to a position where at that point, it was dominating the policy in the Middle East, and it achieved military superiority in the military field and was engaged in meaningful discussions with adversaries which had a actionable, rational vision of peace at the end of it. Of course, conditions have changed and the definition of the priority of adversaries has changed with a change in their capabilities. But the basic vision of Nixon of maintaining the values of America in which other nations could feel secure and supported to participate. That was his great contribution. And to I want to thank you all, for inviting me here. Many in your group who participated in some of these efforts and all of you are trying to remember a leader who took over his country in adversity, found enormous domestic challenges and emerged from it with a vision and a direction that American foreign policy needs to study and apply. And it was an honor for me to be a contributor to this effort which I will be forever grateful to Richard Nixon. Thank you all very much.

Watch Dr. Henry Kissinger deliver his full remarks here:

About the Grand Strategy Summit:

Fifty years after President Nixon’s historic diplomatic trips to China and the Soviet Union, great power competition has returned. To address America’s challenges on the world stage —only days after the hotly anticipated Midterm Election results— the Richard Nixon Foundation convened its inaugural Grand Strategy Summit: American Leadership in the 21st Century on November 10 and 11, 2022 at The Ritz Carlton, Washington D.C.

The Grand Strategy Summit is dedicated to establishing a consistent approach to a national (as opposed to a partisan) foreign policy, a long-term strategic direction for American statecraft —what President Nixon called “the long view.”

Considering the election results and the balance of power in Washington, summit participants discussed the pursuit of policies in America’s national interest, including how to manage the relationship with China as a major power in the 21st century, weigh the impact of ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine, and project Western influence in the Middle East.