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

[Omitted here are Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler’s introduction of Kissinger, his explanation of the rules governing a background briefing, and the initial questions fielded by Kissinger in the briefing, relating largely to the Yugoslav portion of the trip.]

Let me say a word about the general objective of the President in the last two days and then fit the Springfield into it.2

Many of you have heard me talk about the Nixon Doctrine at perhaps exorbitant length. But one of the problems that we have faced in connection with our foreign policy and with the transition from a period in which the United States carried the almost exclusive responsibility to one in which we are trying to share increasingly our responsibility with others, is the fear of many countries, particularly of many allies, that the United States might withdraw from its responsibilities altogether.

Whenever we have met Europeans over recent months, European leaders over recent months, this has been one of their principal concerns. It turned out to be one of the important concerns of Italian leaders when we saw them yesterday, one of whom pointed out to us that the first visit of the President here in February was very important but the one this week was really quite crucial in reassuring the Europeans, and particularly the countries of the Mediterranean, that the United States was not withdrawing into isolationism, but, rather, remained committed to its alliances.

I mention this because the President has reiterated wherever he has been that the United States did not intend to make any unilateral reductions of its forces; that we considered the problems of the Western Alliance a concern for all the countries.

What we attempted to do this afternoon was to review with our commanders in the Mediterranean two problems. One, the problems [Page 259] posed for the southern flank of NATO by the developments in the Mediterranean over recent years and partly by the growth of the Soviet naval presence in the Mediterranean, and, secondly, to draw some lessons from the experiences of recent weeks, to review the experiences of recent weeks, and to see about the relationship between our strength in this area and the prospect for stability in this area.

We thought that this was particularly important, because, as I pointed out in the backgrounder I gave before we left, we are not only interested, obviously, in the aspect of how to protect the security of these countries, or help to protect the security, but how we can contribute to a more stable and more permanent peace, a problem which we want particularly to explore in our next stop when we visit Yugoslavia.

So, what we had this afternoon was a full review of the various capabilities in the Mediterranean, both as they affected NATO and as they affected other areas.

[Omitted here is discussion of official U.S. attendance at the funeral of United Arab Republic President Nasser.]

Q. Doctor, it seems at times that the relationship between the Nixon Doctrine as enunciated at Guam was not entirely clear in relationship to the President’s statements concerning our role and our future role and our intentions in the Mediterranean.

Specifically, in his opening remarks with President Saragat,3 I believe he was talking along the lines that we intend to see to it that this will not become the place where future wars will begin. Can you talk about this statement in connection with the Nixon Doctrine?

Dr. Kissinger: This is great for my ego, but it is very dangerous. The question is that the relationship between the Nixon Doctrine and some of the pronouncements on this trip did not seem self-evident to the questioner, particularly the opening remarks to President Saragat where the President said, “We will see to it”, or some words to that effect, “that peace in this area will be maintained.”

Let me say two things about it. First, we have always brought out the fact that there can never be a neat breakoff point between American foreign policy in one place and another.

Secondly, it is clear that the Nixon Doctrine had always envisaged a continuation of some significant American presence in crucial areas of the world where that American presence was necessary and was considered to be in the American interest.

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Both of these conditions obtain in the Mediterranean. The objective of the Nixon Doctrine continues to be one of the guidelines, or the guideline, of our foreign policy. We intend to shift an increasing amount of responsibility to our allies. We intend to cooperate with them more fully than has been the case in the past, and we do look to them to make their contribution.

But we also recognize that the threat in the Mediterranean may have grown larger than anyone assumed over, say, 10 years ago, and, therefore, we recognize that some of the measures that are possible in other parts of the world do not apply with equal force here. But the basic objectives remain.

[Omitted here is the remainder of the briefing, devoted largely to questions relating to the Middle East.]

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 426, Subject File, Background Briefings, September-October 1970. No classification marking. The briefing took place from 7:10 to 7:45 p.m. local time.
  2. The question Kissinger was responding to at this point was: “What did the President discuss in his conference today with the military commanders on the Springfield?” Nixon had met with the commanders of the Sixth Fleet aboard the U.S.S. Springfield earlier in the day. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, Staff Members and Office Files, Office of Presidential Papers and Archives, Daily Diary)
  3. Reference is to Nixon’s arrival statement in Rome on September 27. For text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard Nixon, 1970, p. 772.