111. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • List Attached2

Following the introduction of members of the head table, Dr. Kissinger was introduced and received a standing ovation.3

[Omitted here are introductory comments.]

We took over essentially a post-war foreign policy. Complete attitudes had to be changed. We took office when the American pre-eminence to wage war had begun to wane. Much of our policy was based on previous successes. The principal problem was to adjust to the new realities.

When America adopted the post-war policies, the United States was the only country capable of having a global foreign policy. We had a history of uninterrupted success. We could invite challenge anywhere in the world.

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Our task was how to define a role for the United States where we could have a constructive and permanent relationship with other nations. The Nixon Doctrine gives other countries a bigger role. Some call it a retreat. It has led to our now evolving relationships with the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union. It is sometimes called the balance of power approach.

The first concern of any leader must be the basic security of the country. It cannot base decisions on circumstances elsewhere. Each country wants independent relations with the other nations. We have been lucky in the past because of geographic considerations. Vast oceans lay between ourselves and possible enemies. Technology has changed all this, requiring us now to develop careful relationships with other countries. It is important that we establish relationships with other countries even where painful to our traditional friends, who are seeing us establish relationships with previously rejected countries. We no longer have a black and white foreign policy. All nations have a stake. We could not overlook the 800 million people in the People’s Republic of China.

Our relations with China started in a curious way. The President asked us to explore contacts. It is amazing how difficult it is to establish ties to a nation after 22 years of an isolationist policy. It is difficult to find an intermediary and even to do simple things like drafting messages acceptable to both sides. It is an interesting analysis for a good student in foreign relations. Once contact was established, problems arose because so many nations were looking at our China policy. They were looking at specific details and were concerned we might be shifting our weight.

The essence of our China policy is that we do not impinge on Chinese interests very much. Our effort was basically in three levels. First was what specific arrangement could be made in Shanghai. Second was to make inroads bilaterally which, if acceptable, would prove significant. And third was the impact of Americans on Chinese society, and vice versa.

In our discussions with the Chinese our vast cultural differences became apparent. Where Americans are pragmatic, the Chinese concentrate on principle. They want to distill things into absolute terms. We talk about peace. The Chinese talk about justice and they are dedicated to the proposition that without justice, peace is meaningless. We talk about compromise. They talk about truth. It is interesting to observe what happens. The Chinese have many of the rules my former students thought they would like to have, but with the Chinese we are making no great deals. There is no counter-Soviet strategy or shifting of weight from Tokyo to Peking.

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With Japan we have concrete problems. In China we are making a policy framework, results of which will not be known for four to five years. Our Japanese experience has been considerably different than the Chinese. After the war, the Japanese concentrated on economic matters and left foreign policy and security in American hands. This relationship could not continue. Japan must play a more significant role without nationalism and without all their weight with one major power.

Our objective in the Soviet summit is to try to create vested interests for both parties in many areas so that when crises occur, there will be a group within the Soviet Union with a vested interest want-ing a steady course resulting in negotiation.

Now, about Southeast Asia. Our major concern is that a new international order must be built. This is complicated by a disaster which has lasted ten years. The debate is so strong that I cannot bridge the valley. The problem we face is how to act in a situation where success for the opponent would mean the capture of an additional 60,000 Americans. The only alternative given us is to impose a Communist government on the South. This we refuse to do. We will not join our enemies to defeat our friends. This is the only obstacle. This is a very painful problem and painful decisions have to be made.

I am not here to talk about Vietnam but Asian policy, but the discussion must include Vietnam. After the elections, we will find we have had great successes but also some regrets. We want to help other nations become participants in world order. [applause]4

[Omitted here is a non-substantive explanatory comment by the notetaker.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1026, Presidential/HAK Memcons. Administratively Confidential. There is no drafting information on the memorandum.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Kissinger was addressing a dinner of the Asian Society in the Plaza Hotel.
  4. Brackets in the source text.