58. White House Background Press Briefing by the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here are White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler’s introduction of Kissinger, Richardson, and Packard, and Kissinger’s comments on specific references in the President’s report.]

Q. Dr. Kissinger, the President used the word “watershed” in introducing this briefing this afternoon.2 If I understand watershed correctly, it means a separation, division, going in a new direction. I have not had a chance to read this. What are the watershed points in this foreign policy statement?

Dr. Kissinger: What the President meant is the fact that there now exists a comprehensive, philosophical statement of American foreign policy. It makes it clear that for better or worse our policies are not simply tactical responses to immediate situations, but that there exists a coherent picture of the world; that we are taking our action in relation to this picture; and that this document outlines his experience in foreign policy, national security policy and his expectations for the future.

So whatever debate is generated by this would have to be in terms of a general concept of foreign policy and not simply in terms of tactical responses to immediate situations.

Secondly, it is his belief and it is the Administration’s belief that we are reaching the end of the post-war era, the end of the post-war era in the sense that in the immediate period after World War II the United States, among the non-Communist countries, was the only one that had emerged from the war with its society and its economy relatively intact. Therefore, it was natural that the United States would assume a predominant role anyplace where it felt that security of the non-Communist world was threatened.

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This, in turn, imposed on us the requirement that we were trying to remedy immediate crisis situations rather than deal with the overall structure of peace, or, rather, we identified the overall structure of peace with the solution of immediate crisis.

This is ending now for a number of reasons. It is ending, according to this document and our convictions, because many other parts of the world have now regained a degree of cohesion, have grown into independence, which was, of course, not the case at the end of World War II, and are capable of assuming a greater responsibility, both for their security and for their problems.

In these conditions, the United States should not be the fireman running from one conflagration to the other, but can address itself to the longer-term problems of a peaceful international structure and leave to local responsibilities the immediate task of construction.

In other words, the United States will participate where it can make a difference. It will attempt to contribute to the creation of regional organization where that is appropriate, but the United States in this new era will have to change its position from one of predominance to one of partnership.

Now, we recognize—and to pick up a point that the President made in introducing this report—that there is a danger that in moving from predominance to partnership some people may believe that we are moving towards disengagement or returning to isolation. This is not the philosophy of this Administration.

The philosophy of this Administration is to find a basis for a long-term engagement in the world, one that is consistent with the realities of the contemporary world, one that we can sustain over an indefinite period of time, and one that will give an impetus to our foreign policy of the same order that the Marshall Plan conception did to the conditions of 1947. Those conceptions were appropriate to the realities of the ’40s and ’50s and early ’60s and we are attempting to find conceptions that are appropriate to the realities of the ’70s.

[Omitted here are exchanges with reporters about questions arising from the report.]

Q. Dr. Kissinger, I am not sure from all of this whether you think the Cold War is increasing or lessening. Do you think it is increasing or lessening from this broad philosophical statement?

Dr. Kissinger: The Cold War, as it came to be known in the immediate post-war period, we would say has in that forum lessened. At that time, there was a belief in a monolithic communism, and that no longer exists in this forum.

At that time, there was a belief in the notion of irreconcilable hostility. On the other hand, we believe that there are objective causes for [Page 190] the tension that has existed over this period. We believe that we are doing no one a service by pretending that these tensions do not exist or that they can be removed by mere atmospherics.

We are prepared to negotiate seriously, either individually or comprehensively, on these issues with either of the great Communist countries. And, therefore, the foreign policy that was appropriate to the period that was called the Cold War is not appropriate to the period into which we believe we are now entering.

But we make this statement without under-estimating that there are still serious causes of tension, that ideology is not dead, even though it has changed some of its character, and that large areas of potential discord and of hostility remain. But we are prepared to work seriously, and as energetically as we can.

[Omitted here is the remainder of the briefing, which ranged over questions relating to SALT negotiations and developments in the Middle East, Latin America, and Vietnam.]

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 425, Subject File, Background Briefings, Feb-June 1970. Kissinger, Under Secretary of State Elliot Richardson, and Deputy Secretary of Defense David Packard were responding to questions concerning an advance text of the President’s report to Congress on foreign policy, which had been distributed to reporters. The report was sent to Congress on February 18; see Document 60. Kissinger opened the briefing.
  2. In his remarks to the reporters, President Nixon characterized the report to Congress, which ran to some 40,000 words, as “the most comprehensive statement on foreign and defense policy ever made in this country.” As such, he styled it “a watershed in American foreign policy.” (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard Nixon, 1970, p. 114)