258. Editorial Note

At 3:30 a.m. on May 23, 1972, Nixon President scrawled notes in preparation for what he wanted to say at his next meeting with General Secretary Brezhnev. He began: “Let us talk frankly: We have had a familiar rivalry. We are great powers—We are rivals—We have different goals—philosophies. Historically this means war—We have never fought a war—Neither will win a war—. Our interests will not be served—Our people do not want war.” Nixon wrote that they were at the summit because their national interests would be served. Regarding arms, each side had an advantage in some areas, but neither could or would let the other get one. An arms race was one “no one wins except those who have [the] good sense to stay out of it. Let us protect our security.… Let us reduce [the] chances of being dragged into war—when our direct interests are not involved.” He noted the history of great powers being dragged into wars they should have avoided.

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The President wrote that the United States would end the Vietnam war with the “least embarrassment” to the Soviet Union. It should put itself in the place of the United States with 50,000 dead, 250,000 wounded, and 1,500 missing in action. It might say get out, but this would not happen “when we could finish [the war] in an afternoon.” Nixon wrote that the United States sought no bases, but did seek honor—a cease-fire, return of POWs, and the war would stop. It would not go further at the peace conference, but it would go further on the battlefield. He noted that a Vietnam settlement would open up cooperation on all other issues. The two sides “must think big” by reducing arms, doubling trade, and respecting neutrality. “Let’s win a great victory for both [sides].” The President wrote that sentiment about peace and friendship wouldn’t settle their differences, but respectful discussion about those differences was the way to a settlement which could build a new world. He had come to the summit because “peace is in our interest.” They must be strong and negotiate—no unilateral disarmament. “We must have faith in ourselves—our country and our future.… To withdraw means an unsafe world.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Personal Files, Box 75, President’s Speech File, May 22–29, 1972, Russia)