35. Address by President Nixon1

Pragmatism and Moral Force in American Foreign Policy

[Omitted here are Nixon’s introductory remarks.]

When the war ended in Europe and Asia in 1945, America was the only economic and military superpower in the world. Most of Europe [Page 188] and Japan were in ruins—economically exhausted, politically demoralized. Leadership of a whole free world fell on our shoulders, whether we wanted it or not.

Hard as it was, our task at the outset was made easier by our overwhelming material strength and by a strong, unified sense of national purpose.

Around the globe, we, as Americans, committed ourselves to halting the advance of communism, to promoting economic development, and even to encouraging other countries to adopt our economic, political, and social ideals.

Simplistic and occasionally misguided as this goal may have been, it was a noble and unselfish goal in its enthusiasm. And despite some mistakes which we came to correct, we in our hearts know—and millions in Europe and Japan and in the developing world know—that America’s contribution to mankind in the quarter century after the war was of historic and unprecedented dimensions.

And we can be proud that America was as generous in helping our former enemies as we were in aiding our friends.

During this same period, the face of the world changed more rapidly and dramatically than ever before in the world’s history. Fifty-eight newly independent nations joined the world community. The once-monolithic Communist bloc was splintered. New centers of power emerged in Europe and Asia.

American zeal and innocence were tempered during these years, also. The war in Korea, followed by the long war in Viet-Nam, sapped too much of our national self-confidence and sense of purpose. Our own domestic needs commanded greater attention. And by the later 1960’s, our policy of trying to solve everyone’s problems all over the world was no longer realistic, nor was it necessary.

America was no longer a giant, towering over the rest of the world with seemingly inexhaustible resources and a nuclear monopoly.

As our overwhelming superiority in power receded, there was a growing threat that we might turn inward, that we might retreat into isolation from our world responsibilities, ignoring the fact that we were, and are still, the greatest force for peace anywhere in the world today.

This threat of a new wave of isolationism, blind to both the lessons of the past and the perils of the future, was, and remains today, one of the greatest potential dangers facing our country—because in our era, American isolation could easily lead to global desolation. Whether we like it or not, the alternative to détente is a runaway nuclear arms race, a return to constant confrontation, and a shattering setback to our hopes for building a new structure of peace in the world.

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When we came into office in 1969, this administration faced a more complex, a more challenging, and yet in some ways a more promising world situation than that which existed in the post-World War II era.

While we could not, and will not, abdicate our responsibilities as the most powerful nation in the free world, it was apparent that the time had come to reassess those responsibilities. This was the guiding purpose of the Nixon doctrine,2 a doctrine which says that those we help to enjoy the benefits of freedom should bear a fair share of the burden of its defense as well.

It was also clear that both pragmatism and moral force had to be the double prongs of any American foreign policy in the new era. A sense of moral purpose is part of our heritage, and it is part of the tradition of our foreign policy. Pragmatism, realism, and technical efficiency must not be the sole touchstone of our foreign policy. Such a policy would have no roots or inspiration and could not long elicit positive support from the American people and the Congress, and more important, it would not deserve the respect of the world.

We had to remember, however, that unrealistic idealism could be impractical and potentially dangerous. It could tempt us to forgo results that were good because we insisted upon results that were perfect.

Resolving Problems With the Soviet Union

A blend of the ideal and the pragmatic in our foreign policy has been especially critical in our approach to the Soviet Union.

The differences between our two systems of life and government are sharp and fundamental. But even as we oppose totalitarianism, we must also keep sight of the hard, cold facts of life in the nuclear age.

Ever since the Soviet Union achieved equality in strategic weapons systems, each confrontation has meant a brush with potential nuclear devastation to all civilized nations. Reduction of tensions, therefore, between us has become the foremost requirement of American foreign policy.

The United States will not retreat from its principles. The leaders of the Soviet Union will not sacrifice theirs. But as we have the valor to defend those principles which divide us as nations, we must have the vision to seek out those things which unite us as human beings.

Together, we share the capacity to destroy forever our common heritage of 4,000 years of civilization. Together, we are moving to insure that this will not—because it must not—happen.

Slowly and carefully over the past five years, we have worked with the Soviet Union to resolve concrete problems that could deterio[Page 190]rate into military confrontations. And upon these bridges we are erecting a series of tangible economic and cultural exchanges that will bind us more closely together.

The American people are a great people; the Russian people are a great people. These two great people who worked together in war are now learning to work together in peace. Ultimately, we hope that the United States and the Soviet Union will share equally high stakes in preserving a stable international environment.

The results of this policy have been heartening. The problem of Berlin, where our nations were at swords’ point for a quarter of a century, has now been resolved by negotiation. Our two countries have concluded an historic agreement to limit strategic nuclear arms.

We and our allies have engaged the Soviet Union in negotiations on major issues of European security, including a reduction of military forces in Central Europe. We have substantially reduced the risk of direct U.S.-Soviet confrontation in crisis areas. We have reached a series of bilateral cooperative agreements in such areas as health, environment, space, science and technology, as well as trade.

At the Moscow summit in 1972, our Secretary of the Navy, the Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy, signed an agreement on the prevention of incidents on and over the high seas—a code of conduct aimed at eliminating dangerous actions of the cold war era and a code of conduct which has already proved a success.

Over the past five years, we have reached more agreements with the Soviet Union than in the entire postwar period preceding that, and this is a record in which all Americans can take pride.

In keeping with our efforts to bring America’s foreign policy into line with modern realities, we have also sought to normalize our relations with the People’s Republic of China, where one-fourth of all of the people in the world live, a country with which we shared nothing but confrontation and distrust during a quarter century of cold war.

Beginning with an official dialogue opened in 1971, we have negotiated constructive agreements in the areas of trade and scientific and cultural exchanges. We established Liaison Offices in our respective capitals last year. We expect further progress in the years ahead.

We have also succeeded, as Admiral Mack3 has indicated, in ending our military involvement in Viet-Nam in a manner which gave meaning to the heavy sacrifices we had made and which greatly enhanced the preservation of freedom and stability in Southeast Asia.

One result is that today the 20 million people of South Viet-Nam are free to govern themselves and they are able to defend themselves. [Page 191] An even more important result is that we have proved again that America’s word is America’s bond.

We have preserved the trust of our allies around the world by demonstrating that we are a reliable partner in the defense of liberty; we have earned the respect of our potential adversaries by demonstrating that we are a reliable partner in the search for peace.

Road to Middle East Peace

America’s unique and essential contribution to peace is nowhere better demonstrated than in the Middle East. The hate and distrust that has for so long poisoned the relationship between Arabs and Israelis had led to war four times in the last 40 years, and the toll of death and human suffering was immense, while the tension made the Middle East a world tinderbox that could easily draw the United States and the Soviet Union into military confrontation.

The need for a stable solution among the regional parties as well as between the great powers was overwhelmingly urgent.

The October war of last year, while tragic, also presented a unique opportunity—because for the first time it was clear to us and clear to the moderate leaders of the Arab world that a positive American role was indispensable to achieving a permanent settlement in the Middle East. And it was for this reason that I sent Secretary of State Kissinger to the Middle East to offer our good offices in the process of negotiation.

The results, which reflect more than anything else the vision and statesmanship of the leaders of both sides, have been encouraging. An agreement to separate military forces has been implemented on the Egyptian-Israeli front, and now a similar accord has been negotiated between Israel and Syria.4 For the first time in a generation, we are witnessing the beginning of a dialogue between the Arab states and Israel.

Now, the road to a just and lasting and permanent peace in the Mideast is still long and difficult and lies before us. But what seemed to be an insurmountable roadblock on that road has now been removed, and we are determined to stay on course until we have reached our goal of a permanent peace in that area. The role of Secretary Kissinger in this process has presented a testament to both his remarkable diplomatic capabilities and to the soundness and integrity of our belief that a lasting structure of peace can and must be created.

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Primary Concern of Foreign Policy

In surveying the results of our foreign policy, it is ironic to observe that its achievements now threaten to make us victims of our success. In particular, a dangerous misunderstanding has arisen as to just what détente is and what it is not.

Until very recently, the pursuit of détente was not a problem for us in America. We were so engaged in trying to shift international tides away from confrontation toward negotiation that people were generally agreed that the overriding consideration was the establishment of a pattern of peaceful international conduct. But now that so much progress has been made, some take it for granted.

Eloquent appeals are now being made for the United States, through its foreign policy, to transform the internal as well as the international behavior of other countries, and especially that of the Soviet Union.5 This issue sharply poses the dilemma I outlined at the outset. It affects not only our relation with the Soviet Union but also our posture toward many nations whose internal systems we totally disagree with, as they do with ours.

Our foreign policy therefore must reflect our ideals, and it must reflect our purposes. We can never, as Americans, acquiesce in the suppression of human liberties. We must do all that we reasonably can to promote justice, and for this reason we continue to adhere firmly to certain humane principles, not only in appropriate international forums but also in our private exchanges with other governments—where this can be effective. But we must recognize that we are more faithful to our ideals by being concerned with results and we achieve more results through diplomatic action than through hundreds of eloquent speeches.

But there are limits to what we can do, and we must ask ourselves some very hard questions, questions which I know members of this class have asked themselves many times. What is our capability to change the domestic structure of other nations? Would a slowdown or reversal of détente help or hurt the positive evolution of other social systems? What price, in terms of renewed conflict, are we willing to pay to bring pressure to bear for humane causes?

Not by our choice, but by our capability, our primary concern in foreign policy must be to help influence the international conduct of nations in the world arena. We would not welcome the intervention of [Page 193] other countries in our domestic affairs, and we cannot expect them to be cooperative when we seek to intervene directly in theirs.

We cannot gear our foreign policy to transformation of other societies. In the nuclear age, our first responsibility must be the prevention of a war that could destroy all societies.

We must never lose sight of this fundamental truth of modern international life: Peace between nations with totally different systems is also a high moral objective.

An Era of Cooperation

The concepts of national security, partnership, negotiation with adversaries, are the central pillars of the structure of peace that this administration has outlined as its objective.

If a structure of peace is to endure, it must reflect the contributions and reconcile the aspirations of nations. It must be cemented by the shared goal of coexistence and the shared practice of accommodation. It must liberate every nation to realize its destiny free from the threat of war, and it must promote social justice and human dignity.

The structure of peace of which I speak will make possible an era of cooperation in which all nations will apply their separate talents and resources to the solution of problems that beset all mankind: the problems of energy and famine, disease and suffering—problems as old as human history itself.

It was with this thought in mind that in February we launched an effort to bring together the principal consumer countries to begin working on the problem of equitably meeting the needs of people throughout the world who are faced with the prospect of increasingly scarce resources—in this case, energy.6

Out of recognition of the tragedy of human hunger and of the urgent need to apply man’s technology cooperatively to its solution, the United States has also called for a U.N. World Food Conference to take place in Rome this fall.7

My trip to the Middle East next week8 will provide an opportunity to explore with the leaders of the nations I shall visit ways in which we can continue our progress toward permanent peace in that area.

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And then later this month, on June 27, I will again journey to Moscow to meet with General Secretary [Leonid I.]9 Brezhnev to explore further avenues, further prospects for a lasting peace not only between the Soviet Union and the United States but among all nations.

Each of these missions, in a way, is a reflection of America’s broader hopes and responsibilities. And I say to you gentlemen, these are hopes and responsibilities each of you will be helping to meet as you journey to your first duty stations.

As long as you do your duty, as long as the people and the government support you, the America, the country you love and serve, will survive.

Today, each one of you becomes a custodian of a noble tradition of service. As the first class to have begun its studies in the post-Viet-Nam era, it falls to you to serve in such a way that the graduates who follow you in the years to come will enter a U.S. Navy that is strong, that is prepared and is respected, and above all, a Navy and a nation at honorable peace with all nations in the world.

One-hundred seventy years ago, after Nelson’s great victory at Trafalgar, Prime Minister William Pitt was honored at a dinner at London’s historic Guildhall. He was hailed as the savior of Europe. He responded to that toast with a brief speech that has been named by Lord Curzon as one of the three masterpieces of English eloquence.

Listen to his words: I return you many thanks for the honor you have done me. But no single man will save Europe. England has saved herself by her exertions and will, I trust, save Europe by her example.

Today, 170 years later, we can say no single nation can save the world but America can and will save herself by her exertions and will, we trust, by our example, save the cause of peace and freedom for the world.

  1. Source: Department of State Bulletin, July 1, 1974, pp. 1–5. Nixon’s address was made before the graduating class of the U.S. Naval Academy.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 9.
  3. Vice Admiral William P. Mack, Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy.
  4. The Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement was signed at Kilometer 101 on the Cairo-Suez Road on January 18; Syrian and Israeli officials signed the Syrian-Israeli disengagement agreement on May 31.
  5. Reference is possibly to the U.S. reaction to the treatment of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russian author of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago and recipient of the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature. He was stripped of his citizenship by the Soviet Government on February 12 and sent into exile in West Germany.
  6. See Document 27.
  7. See Document 47.
  8. Nixon departed for the Middle East on June 10, with a 2-day stopover in Austria, and returned to Washington on June 19, after spending an evening in the Azores. The President, accompanied by Kissinger, met with Sadat, Faisal, Assad, Israeli President Ephraim Katzir and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and Hussein. See Department of State Bulletin, July 15, 1974, pp. 77–122.
  9. Brackets are in the original.