29. Editorial Note
On July 25, 1969, during a tour of Asia, President Nixon met with reporters in Guam. His remarks were on a background basis, for attribution but not direct quotation. Nixon was in Guam after witnessing the splashdown in the Pacific Ocean of the Apollo astronauts following their return from the first landing on the moon. Speaking at 6:30 p.m. in the Top O’ the Mar Officers Club, Nixon outlined what was first called the Guam Doctrine and later the Nixon Doctrine. Looking to the future, Nixon said that Asia “poses, in my view, over the long haul, looking down to the end of the century, the greatest threat to the peace of the world, and, for that reason, the United States should continue to play a significant role.” But he qualified the scope of that role:
“Asians will say in every country that we visit that they do not want be dictated to from outside, Asia for Asians. And that is what we want, and that is the role we should play. We should assist but we should not dictate.
“At this time the political and economic plans that they are developing are very hopeful. We will give assistance to those plans. We, of course, will keep the treaty commitments that we have.[Page 92]
“But as far as our role is concerned, we must avoid the kind of policy that will make countries in Asia so dependent upon us that we are dragged into conflicts such as the one we have in Vietnam.”
In response to a question, the President reiterated that the United States would honor its treaty commitments, but added “that as far as the problems of military defense, except for the threat of a major power involving nuclear weapons, that the United States is going to encourage and has a right to expect that this problem will be handled by, and responsibility for it taken by, the Asian nations themselves.”
The full text of the President’s remarks was subsequently released and is printed in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard Nixon, 1969, pages 544-556.
President Nixon’s remarks stirred great interest among the press and the public in both Asia and the United States. The doctrine was refined and restated repeatedly and became one of the principal foreign policy themes of the Nixon administration. As to its origins, Henry Kissinger recalls that in preparing for the Asian trip he and Nixon had discussed redefining the parameters of U.S. commitments in the region in light of U.S. experience in Vietnam, but he was surprised by Nixon’s informal remarks in Guam. According to Kissinger, the original intention was to make a speech along similar lines later in the summer. (Kissinger, White House Years, pages 222-225)
In his memoirs, Nixon notes that the doctrine he announced on Guam was misinterpreted by some as signaling a U.S. withdrawal from Asia, as well as other parts of the world. In his view, “the Nixon Doctrine was not a formula for getting America out of Asia, but one that provided the only sound basis for America’s staying in and continuing to play a responsible role in helping non-communist nations and neutrals as well as our Asian allies to defend their independence.” (Nixon, RN, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, page 395)