Chapter 5 – U.S. “Détente” Strategy from Nixon to Ford - 1969 to 1977

Détente and the Yom Kippur War—October 1973. In this broader historical context, further grave new doubts about U.S. détente policy were also produced by the massive flow of Soviet military supplies and diplomatic support provided to attacking Egyptian and Syrian armed forces during the “Yom Kippur War” of October 1973 against Israel, as well as signs of Soviet readiness to fly up to seven Soviet paratroop divisions into the battle area. Nixon’s alert of U.S. strategic forces deterred a Soviet invasion and he sent massive supplies of modern arms to Israel, but shockwaves of a new Soviet imperial assertiveness carried throughout the world. Harsh Soviet treatment of its Jewish and other dissidents, many of whom wanted to emigrate, similarly shocked the American and global public. Doubts about Nixon’s summit agreements with Moscow thus engendered increasing proposals from the Congress and non-governmental organizations to link any U.S.-Soviet arms control and trade agreements to Soviet performance in other critical areas, notably including internationally recognized human rights.

Jackson-Vanik Amendment on Rights and Trade—April 1972. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the Trade Reform Act of 1972 was introduced in April 1972 as a bipartisan human rights shot across the bow of Nixon’s détente strategy just before the June summit in Moscow. The Amendment was sponsored in the U.S. Senate by Senator Jackson (a Democrat) and in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representative Charles Vanik (a Republican). It sought to hit the Soviet Union at a point of acknowledged weakness as the stagnant “non-market” Soviet planned economy depended substantially on U.S. technology and financial flows. With this amendment, U.S. trade and the granting of Most Favored Nation (MFN) status were linked to requirements for the liberalization of laws restricting Soviet citizens, particularly Jewish dissidents seeking to emigrate. Thus:

to assure the continued dedication of the United States to fundamental human rights. . . . After October 25, 1972, no nonmarket economy country shall be eligible to receive most-favored-nation treatment or to participate in any program of the government of the United States which extends credits or credit guarantees or investment guarantees directly or indirectly . . . [if] the President of the United States determines that such country—
(1) denies its citizens the right or opportunity to emigrate; or
(2) imposes more than a nominal tax on emigration or on the visas or other documents required for emigration . . . ;
(3) imposes more than a nominal tax, levy, fine, or other charge . . . as a consequence of the desire . . . to emigrate.6

The Jackson-Vanik Amendment Continued—1974–1975. When introduced, the amendment was immediately popular in the U.S. Congress and was co-sponsored by 76 Senators and 289 Representatives. Because of strong White House opposition, however, it was held up for a formal vote until after Nixon’s August 1974 resignation from the presidency after the Watergate scandal and was not approved by the Congress until December 1974. It was signed by President Ford on January 4, 1975 as Public Law 93–618. This book’s Internet Document Library includes a copy of the amendment’s insertion into the Congressional Record by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, William Fulbright (Democrat from Arkansas) along with a supportive “Open Letter to the United States Congress” from the influential Soviet dissident, Andrei Sakharov. Nearly forty years later, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment remained an issue of U.S.-Russian contention until it was replaced in 2012 with new human rights-trade linkage in the Magnitsky Amendment.

3. The Opening to China and the Shanghai Communiqué of 1972

A comprehensive review of the roots, secret diplomacy, documents, and full implications of Nixon’s opening to Mao Zedong’s People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the latter’s opening to Nixon and the United States is beyond the scope of this narrative, whose principal focus is on the global Cold War conflict between the two nuclear superpowers, the U.S. and the USSR. However, several historical points can provide important policy context.

The Inherited Past. A reality largely ignored at the time, and even today especially in China, was  that the U.S.-PRC opening built on relatively good U.S. relations with pre-Communist China from at least the time of the Boxer rebellion of 1900 to 1903. Throughout the Second World War, American forces, Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang Chinese Nationalist forces, and Mao’s Communist forces, fought together to defeat the Japanese, armies which had invaded China in the 1930s. Then conflict followed Mao’s Communist Revolution

[Book pg. 103]