69. Editorial Note

In a campaign speech delivered in Exeter, New Hampshire, on February 10, 1976, Ronald Reagan, a candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination, criticized the foreign policy of the Ford administration, its conception of détente, and what he perceived as concessions made to the Soviet Union in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) and the 1975 Helsinki agreements. For Reagan, détente under the Ford administration had been a “one-way street” that favored the Soviets, a policy that “will fail. As a two-way street it may succeed.” Reagan asserted, “we can bargain successfully only if we are strong militarily and only if we are willing to defend ourselves if necessary.” “For many years,” he continued, “we remained the strongest nation on earth. Through the 1950s and on into the early ’60s our national security was coupled with a sense of national unity and purpose. But that changed. The Soviet Union has now forged ahead in producing nuclear and conventional weapons. Opening the Chinese door [in 1972] offered an excellent opportunity for us to blunt the expansionism of the Soviet Union. But we have since lost the momentum we gained by acting as if we expected the Soviets to inherit the earth.” With the SALT I agreement, Reagan argued, “we compromised our clear technological lead in the anti-ballistic missile system, the ABM, for the sake of a deal”; at Helsinki, the administration “agreed to legitimize the boundaries of Eastern Europe, legally acquiescing in the loss of freedom of millions of Eastern Europeans.” “Let us not be satisfied with a foreign policy [Page 375] whose principal accomplishment seems to be our acquisition of the right to sell Pepsi-Cola in Siberia. It is time we, the people of the United States, demanded a policy that puts our nation’s interests as the first priority.” (Ronald Reagan, “Tactics for Détente,” Wall Street Journal, February 13, 1976, page 8; see also Richard Bergholz, “Reagan Attacks Kissinger and Ford’s Foreign Policy,” Los Angeles Times, February 11, 1976, page B1)

Responding to Reagan’s criticisms, President Gerald Ford, in a February 13 Orlando, Florida, press conference, stated he was “very proud of the accomplishments of our American foreign policy” and defended his administration’s record. “We are at peace,” he asserted. “We are at peace because we are strong.” Pointing out that he had submitted “strong, affirmative Defense Department budgets” to Congress, Ford went on to list his administration’s foreign policy achievements: the alliance with Western Europe “has never been better,” relations with Japan “are excellent,” and there had been “tremendous success in diffusing the volatile situation in the Middle East.” As far as relations with Communist countries were concerned, Ford noted that the United States had “maintained a growing relationship with the People’s Republic of China. At the same time, we have been able to negotiate with strength with the Soviet Union.” He also defended his administration’s negotiation of an arms limitation agreement with Moscow, arguing it would “relax tensions between the two super powers.” Ford concluded by saying his foreign policy was “in the best interest of the United States” and “I am proud of it. I think most Americans are proud of it, and they should know that it will continue—a policy of peace with strength under the next 4 years of the Ford administration.” (Public Papers: Ford, 1976–77, Book I, page 268)

On February 24, Ford narrowly defeated Reagan in the New Hampshire Republican primary. In the final count, Ford received 51 percent of the vote (54,824 votes) to Reagan’s 49 percent (53,507 votes). (Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, 1976, page 27864) A poll taken by the New York Times and the Columbia Broadcasting System, published on February 26, indicated that the voters’ concerns about détente helped account for the closeness of the race. Sixty percent of Republican voters opposed to détente voted for Reagan, while only 36 percent of anti-détente voters cast their ballots for Ford. (Robert Reinhold, “Reagan Voters Viewed as Similar to Carter’s,” New York Times, February 26, 1976, page 1)

In the weeks following the New Hampshire primary, Ford eschewed the word “détente” in his public appearances. When asked about this during an interview with a Miami television station, Ford commented, “Détente is only a word that was coined,” adding, “I don’t think it is applicable anymore.” He told his interviewer, “I think what [Page 376] we ought to say is that the United States will meet with superpowers, the Soviet Union and with China and others, and seek to relax tensions so that we can continue a policy of peace through strength.” He continued: “If we are strong militarily, which we are, and if we continue that strength, we can negotiate with the Soviet Union, with China, and with others to maintain that peace.” In a Chicago Tribune article reporting Ford’s comments, “top White House officials” were said to “insist” that the President’s remarks “do not reflect any change in American foreign policy.” However, one unidentified official stated: “It did not go unnoticed that one survey showed that detente cost the President votes in New Hampshire.” White House Press Secretary Ron Nessen explained that the word détente “has become perverted and polluted by use and misuse” and that Ford’s decision not to use it was “‘an effort to educate and illuminate’ Americans about the administration’s foreign policy.” (Aldo Beckman, “‘Detente’ a Dirty Word, Ford Decides to Shun It,” Chicago Tribune, March 2, 1976, page 3)

On March 5, during a question-and-answer session following an address to the Everett McKinley Dirksen Forum in Peoria, Illinois, Ford began his answer to a question regarding the administration’s foreign policy toward the Soviet Union and China by stating, “let me say very specifically that we are going to forget the use of the use of the word détente.” “The word is inconsequential,” he continued. “What happens in the negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union, what happens in the negotiations between the People’s Republic of China and the United States—those are the things that are of consequence. Now, this administration believes that we have an obligation not to go back to the cold war where confrontation, in effect, took place literally every day of the year. We have an obligation to try and meet every problem individually; specifically, every issue as it comes up, in an effort to negotiate rather than to confront, whether it’s with the Soviet Union or the People’s Republic of China. And we can do this effectively if we have the strength, militarily and otherwise, to have a two-way street. Now, the United States, despite what some critics have said, has not under any circumstances gotten the short end of the deal. We’re good Yankee traders, and we’ve done darn well by the United States.” (Public Papers: Ford, 1976–77, Book I, page 552)