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

U.S. side declared: The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain that there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. . . . [The U.S.] will progressively reduce its forces and military installations on Taiwan as the tension in the area diminishes.
[For the future] Both sides . . . agree to facilitate the progressive development of trade. . . . The two sides agreed that they will stay in contact through various channels including the sending a senior U.S. representative to Peking from time to time . . . [and] open up new prospects for the relations between the two countries. (bracketed headings added)7

Readers are encouraged to read Nixon and Kissinger’s summary of the new policy on China published a year later in U.S. Foreign Policy—1973: Excerpt on China. At this point it is important to note the mixed consequences of the U.S. opening to China. The opening contributed to the signing of the Vietnam Agreement of 1973, although this was quickly violated as China (and the Soviet Union) stepped up aid to North Vietnam. It led to a measure of U.S.-Chinese cooperation in monitoring Soviet military developments. And, as hoped, it clearly complicated the Soviet Union’s calculations of “the correlation of forces” in global diplomatic, military, and geopolitical areas, not least including the cohesion and leadership of the “Socialist Camp” and Soviet influence in the “nonaligned” movement. While Nixon’s moves, and the U.S.-PRC diplomatic “normalization” to follow in the Carter presidency, created serious diplomatic problems for the Republic of China on Taiwan, it also aided Reagan’s vigorous later Cold War strategy to roll-back the Soviet empire in Afghanistan and elsewhere by increasing pressure on the Soviet Union that exposed Soviet imperial overreach.

4. Nixon’s “Vietnamization” Strategy and the Peace Accords of January 1973

In his strategy on Vietnam, Nixon no doubt counted on his détente policy towards both the Soviet Union and the PRC to moderate Soviet and Chinese actions. Yet he may have relied even more on the new “Vietnamization” counterinsurgency strategy on the ground and on negotiations with, and a resumption of hard air strikes against, North Vietnamese military sanctuaries in the North (and in Laos and Cambodia). U.S. President Johnson had previously halted all U.S. strikes against North Vietnam on October 31, 1968. Nixon’s strategies were designed to support reform and progress in South Vietnam and potentially to lead the two Communist giants to put pressure on their stubborn North Vietnamese ally. He knew they had done so in the Indochina Accords signed in Paris in 1954. With progress on the ground, and the help of the Soviet Union and the PRC, Nixon might get the “peace with honor” he sought.

Vietnamization. Drawing on changed U.S. tactics underway in Vietnam before Nixon became president, the “Vietnamization” strategy hinted at during Nixon’s 1968 campaign was proclaimed in Nixon’s Address to the Nation on Vietnam on May 14, 1969 and was further described in an Address to the Nation on Peace and Vietnam on November 3, 1969. In these speeches, Nixon outlined a policy of phased U.S. troop withdrawals in parallel with sustained U.S. assistance to reform and strengthen Vietnam’s military, economic, and political capabilities. Vietnamization was based on a new U.S. approach initiated in 1967 during the Johnson administration by General William Westmoreland, his deputy and successor General Creighton Abrams, and senior U.S. civilians like Robert Komer, William Colby, and John Vann. It included a new unified management program known as CORDS (Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support), a new military/civilian U.S./Vietnamese approach that proved a sound basis for progress as South Vietnam recovered from the Tet offensive of January 1968. On the Communist side, Tet had largely wiped out the South Vietnamese Communist insurgents (the Viet Cong) and had forced Hanoi’s reliance on main-force regular army regiments from North Vietnam not rooted in a southern population of whom many had fled from Ho Chi Minh’s severe Communization campaigns in the 1950s.

Nixon’s Vietnamization emphasis further strengthened and accelerated U.S.-Vietnamese planning, assistance, and training in a partnership reflected from the field through the ranks from the highest levels of South Vietnam’s government and military personnel to counterparts on the U.S. side (with elements throughout South Vietnam, at the U.S. Embassy, and in Washington D.C.). As these efforts reoriented, restructured, and reformed U.S. and South Vietnamese military and civilian programs, Nixon’s planned U.S. troop withdrawal schedules could be more reasonably tied to an improving situation on the ground. There was considerable confidence that the combination of assistance, progress, and withdrawals in the South and military and diplomatic pressure on the North could be sustained with a reasonable chance for a negotiated settlement between South and North Vietnam.

[Book pg. 105]