51. Address by Secretary of State Rogers1

In this first year the Nixon administration has put its own stamp on United States foreign policy. It is a mix of continuity and change.

There is a necessity for continuity in our foreign policy which derives from the fact that we are the world’s greatest power. Nothing [Page 166] can relieve us of the inescapable responsibilities that go with that status. Certainly one of the most stabilizing influences in world affairs today is that other nations, friendly and not so friendly, take it for granted that the United States will live up to its obligations. Without the element of continuity in basic United States foreign policy, world affairs would be much more unstable and dangerous.

Yet there must be change, too, because world events require a dynamic foreign policy. When this administration took office, our participation in the war in Viet-Nam had come to pervade and color the whole of our foreign policy. In fact, it consumed much of the time and energy of our top leaders. The alternatives seemed to be either to negotiate a settlement or to go on fighting indefinitely.

It was clear that we needed another approach. President Nixon decided that our policy should be to negotiate a settlement or, if that were not possible, to transfer the responsibility for combat activities to the South Vietnamese in a way which would assist them to achieve self-determination. As you know, that has come to be known as Vietnamization, and we are cautiously optimistic about its success. It will be carried out until all combat forces and ultimately other forces have been withdrawn or until Hanoi decides to work out a peace through negotiation which will give the people of South Viet-Nam the right of free choice.

President Nixon’s program to end American participation in combat in Viet-Nam is irreversible. We are training and equipping the forces of the Republic of Viet-Nam to take care of themselves as we transfer to them the whole of the combat role. There is a growing confidence in South Viet-Nam that this can be done. Assuming its success—and our policy makes this assumption—the result will be valuable for the future security of the area: a feeling of independence and self-reliance not just in South Viet-Nam but in Southeast Asia as a whole.

We believe we are on the right track toward national release from total preoccupation with this one area of foreign affairs.

If United States foreign policy a year ago was overly concentrated on Viet-Nam, the foreign policy of the Soviet Union was equally preoccupied with the quarrel with Communist China. As far as we can see this is still the case, and there is no reason to believe that it is likely to change dramatically in the near future.

It therefore seemed wise to us to make known what our position was with respect to the Sino-Soviet border dispute and the general tensions between those governments. This we have done.

We have made it clear that we have no intention of attempting to exploit their differences.

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We intend to negotiate with the Soviet Union, hopefully in a meaningful way, in pursuit of common ground and mutual advantage.

We also intend to seek ways to have better relations with Communist China. Consequently, we are pleased that we now have an agreement to meet in Warsaw on January 20.

To have better relations with the Soviet Union and with Communist China, we believe, would be in our national interest, and our policy is to seek sensible ways to accomplish this. The fact that a Sino-Soviet conflict exists is strictly their affair, but it should not be a restraint on our efforts to improve relations with both.

I think I should mention two other powerful nations in the world which are making new contributions to the dynamics of world affairs.

The first is Japan. Japan has become the third industrial power of the world. She is ready to play a part in the affairs of the Asian and Pacific community of nations more commensurate with that status. In recognition of this fact our administration decided to return Okinawa to Japan in 1972. This historic decision should be looked upon as the closing act of the postwar period of United States-Japanese relations. Our relations with Japan now enter a new stage of close and friendly cooperation at the beginning of a new decade.

The Pacific community provides a bright picture. The highest rates of sustained economic growth in the world are found today in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand. The picture in Indonesia is most encouraging. Cooperative regional organizations in the Pacific area have come into being; and as I have indicated, the new strength and energy of Japan is an outstanding factor in that regional picture.

The fourth most productive economy in the world is the Federal Republic of Germany. There is a new government in Bonn with which we have excellent relations, both bilaterally and within NATO.

The German Government is seeking in every practical way to reduce tensions that made the German question the most dangerous of the cold-war issues. The North Atlantic Council serves as a good forum for close consultation on policies and methods of improving relationships with the countries of Eastern Europe. But if East-West relations are to return to a more normal state, Germany obviously must play a major role in that process. The present German Government is engaged in an effort to do this in consultation with, and with the support of, its allies, including, of course, the United States.

These brief remarks serve to highlight the fact that in this next decade glacial changes will undoubtedly occur. The Nixon administration’s general approach to foreign policy as we enter the decade of the seventies is: [Page 168]

  • First, to try to move from stalemated confrontations to active negotiations on outstanding issues with the Soviet Union and others;
  • Second, to encourage other more developed nations, and especially in the framework of regional organizations, to assume greater responsibility for leadership and initiative in the affairs of the major regions of the world;
  • Third, to lower our voice and our visibility on the world stage to accord with what we intend to be a more moderate dialogue and a greater degree of partnership with our friends and allies; and
  • Fourth, to make it clear that the United States has no intention of renouncing its treaty obligations, of withdrawing from the international scene, or of failing to play a proper and active role in the constant search for security and for a better life for all of mankind.

On the negotiating front, we have successfully launched the strategic arms limitations talks; we have agreed with the Soviet Union on a draft treaty banning the emplacement of weapons of mass destruction on the ocean floor; we are seeking to discuss arrangements to normalize access to Berlin; we have negotiated intensively, but with disappointing results so far, to find a framework on which the parties may negotiate a lasting settlement in the Middle East; and we have indicated a willingness to negotiate with the Warsaw Pact nations on mutual and balanced reduction of forces in Europe.

We shall make some proposals next week to the Communist Chinese in Warsaw in the hope that we can improve relations with them.

On the second point—encouraging greater responsibility for regional leadership by the nations of the area—we have moved forward in Europe, Asia, and Latin America.

To our NATO allies, President Nixon has offered to consult more on subjects of mutual concern. This has eliminated the fear of unilateral action, and our Western allies are appreciative.

In Asia our friends and allies have agreed that henceforth, if it should be required, they will provide the necessary military forces to cope with subversion, both internally and externally promoted, with the United States providing appropriate support by way of equipment and training, et cetera. We have agreed, too, that the proper role of the United States is that of partner and participant in regional activities, for which Pacific and Asian countries will undertake initiatives and provide leadership. This is the way we want it and the way the Asians want it.

In Latin America a comparable development has taken place. In accord with our neighbors to the south, we are proceeding on the basis of a more mature and a more equal partnership. Our hemisphere friends have accepted responsibility for providing a leading voice in [Page 169] inter-American affairs and in setting their own course in the struggle for economic development and social reform.

I have not mentioned Africa, but next month I shall visit Africa. I will in particular discuss with African leaders their views of how best to find a steady, long-term basis for relating our interest in helping them raise standards of living to their own efforts.

Overall, I believe that the United States, under the leadership of President Nixon, has had a successful year in the conduct of its foreign affairs.

Finally, I want to underscore that the foreign policy of this administration cannot be characterized as tending toward isolationism—as a curtailment of interests or a shedding of responsibility in world affairs. We cannot retreat from a world in which we will increasingly be involved, however longingly some might glance in that direction.

What we can do and what we propose to do is to alter the character of our involvement, to make that involvement more consistent with present-day realities, to give it a sound footing for the long term. We can be less intrusive and less domineering. We can have a lower profile. We can speak with a less strident voice. By working more effectively with other nations, by conducting our international affairs with a bit more modesty, we hope that we may become more successful and effective partners in the search for peace and security in the world during this last third of the 20th century.

  1. Source: Department of State Bulletin, February 2, 1970, pp. 118-120. Secretary Rogers addressed the National Foreign Policy Conference for Editors and Broadcasters in the Department of State.