9. President Nixon’s Fourth Annual Report to the Congress on U.S. Foreign Policy1

[Omitted here is the table of contents.]


In January 1969, America needed to change the philosophy and practice of its foreign policy.

Whoever took office four years ago would have faced this challenge. After a generation, the postwar world had been transformed and demanded a fresh approach. It was not a question of our previous policies having failed; indeed, in many areas they had been very successful. It was rather that new conditions, many of them achievements of our policies, summoned new perspectives.

The World We Found

The international environment was dominated by seemingly intractable confrontation between the two major nuclear powers. Throughout the nuclear age both the fears of war and hopes for peace revolved around our relations with the Soviet Union. Our growing nuclear arsenals were largely directed at each other. We alone had the capacity to wreak catastrophic damage across the planet. Our ideologies clashed. We both had global interests, and this produced many friction points. We each led and dominated a coalition of opposing states.

As a result, our relationship was generally hostile. There were positive interludes, but these were often atmospheric and did not get at the roots of tension. Accords were reached on particular questions, but there was no broad momentum in our relationship. Improvements in the climate were quickly replaced by confrontation and, occasionally, crisis. The basic pattern was a tense jockeying for tactical advantage around the globe.

This was dangerous and unsatisfactory. The threat of a major conflict between us hung over the world. This in turn exacerbated local and regional tensions. And our two countries not only risked collision but were constrained from working positively on common problems.

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The weight of China rested outside the international framework. This was due partly to its own attitude and its preoccupation with internal problems, and partly to the policies of the outside world, most importantly the United States. In any event, this Administration inherited two decades of mutual estrangement and hostility. Here the problem was not one of a fluctuating relationship but rather of having no relationship at all. The People’s Republic of China was separated not only from us but essentially from the world as a whole.

China also exemplified the great changes that had occurred in the Communist world. For years our guiding principle was containment of what we considered a monolithic challenge. In the 1960’s the forces of nationalism dissolved Communist unity into divergent centers of power and doctrine, and our foreign policy began to differentiate among the Communist capitals. But this process could not be truly effective so long as we were cut off from one-quarter of the globe’s people. China in turn was emerging from its isolation and might be more receptive to overtures from foreign countries.

The gulf between China and the world distorted the international landscape. We could not effectively reduce tensions in Asia without talking to Peking. China’s isolation compounded its own sense of insecurity. There could not be a stable world order with a major power remaining outside and hostile to it.

Our principal alliances with Western Europe and Japan needed adjustment. After the devastation of the Second World War we had helped allies and former adversaries alike. Fueled by our assistance and secure behind our military shield, they regained their economic vigor and political confidence.

Throughout the postwar period our bonds with Europe had rested on American prescriptions as well as resources. We provided much of the leadership and planning for common defense. We took the diplomatic lead. The dollar was unchallenged. But by the time this Administration took office, the tide was flowing toward greater economic and political assertiveness by our allies. European unity which we had always encouraged, was raising new issues in Atlantic relations. The economic revival of Europe was straining the Atlantic monetary and commercial framework. The relaxation of tensions with the Communist world was generating new doctrines of defense and diplomacy.

The imperatives of change were equally evident in our Pacific partnership with Japan. Its recovery of strength and self-assurance carried political and psychological implications for our relationship. Its spectacular economic growth had made it the world’s third industrial power; our entire economic relationship was undergoing transformation. The earlier paternalism of U.S.-Japanese relations no longer suited either partner.

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The Vietnam war dominated our attention and was sapping our self-confidence. Our role and our costs had steadily grown without decisive impact on the conflict. The outlook at the conference table was bleak. The war was inhibiting our policy abroad and fostering dissent and self-doubt at home. There was no prospect of either an end to the fighting or an end to our involvement.

Although the historical imperatives for a new international approach existed independently, the war made this challenge at once more urgent and more difficult. More than any other factor, it threatened to exhaust the American people’s willingness to sustain a reliable foreign policy. As much as any other factor, the way we treated it would shape overseas attitudes and American psychology.

The context for our national security policy was fundamentally altered. From the mid-1940’s to the late 1960’s we had moved from America’s nuclear monopoly to superiority to rough strategic balance with the Soviet Union. This created fresh challenges to our security and introduced new calculations in our diplomacy. The U.S. defense effort remained disproportionate to that of our allies who had grown much stronger. The threats from potential enemies were more varied and less blatant than during the more rigid bipolar era. These changes, combined with spiraling military costs and the demands of domestic programs, were prompting reexamination of our defense doctrines and posture. They were underlining the importance of arms control as an element in national security. They were also leading some in this country to call for policies that would seriously jeopardize our safety and world stability.

Around the world, friends were ready for a greater role in shaping their own security and well-being. In the 1950’s and 1960’s other nations had looked to America for ideas and resources, and they found us a willing provider of both. Our motives were sound, the needs were clear, and we had many successes. By 1969, scores of new nations, having emerged from colonial status or dependency on major powers, were asserting themselves with greater assurance and autonomy.

Four years ago this growing capacity of friends was not reflected in the balance of contributions to security and development. This meant that others could do more, and the United States need do proportionately less, in the provision of material resources. More fundamentally, it meant that increasingly the devising of plans belonged outside of Washington. The sweeping American presence was likely to strain our capabilities and to stifle the initiative of others.

There were new issues that called for global cooperation. These challenges were not susceptible to national solutions or relevant to national ideologies. The vast frontiers of space and the oceans beckoned international exploration for humanity’s gain. Pollution of air, sea, and land could not be contained behind national frontiers. The brutal tools of as[Page 36]sassination, kidnapping, and hijacking could be used to further any cause in any country. No nation’s youth was immune from the scourge of international drug traffic. The immediate tragedies of national disasters and the longer-term threat of overpopulation were humanitarian, not political, concerns.

At home we faced pressures that threatened to swing America from over-extension in the world to heedless withdrawal from it. The American people had supported the burdens of global leadership with enthusiasm and generosity into the 1960’s. But after almost three decades, our enthusiasm was waning and the results of our generosity were being questioned. Our policies needed change, not only to match new realities in the world but also to meet a new mood in America. Many Americans were no longer willing to support the sweeping range of our postwar role. It had drained our financial, and especially our psychological, reserves. Our friends clearly were able to do more. The Vietnam experience was hastening our awareness of change. Voices in this country were claiming that we had to jettison global concerns and turn inward in order to meet our domestic problems.

Therefore the whole underpinning of our foreign policy was in jeopardy. The bipartisan consensus that once existed for a vigorous American internationalism was now being torn apart. Some of the most active proponents of America’s commitment in the world in previous decades were now pressing for indiscriminate disengagement. What was once seen as America’s overseas obligation was now seen as our overseas preoccupation. What was once viewed as America’s unselfishness was now viewed as our naivete. By 1969 we faced the danger that public backing for a continuing world role might be swept away by fatigue, frustration and over-reaction.

This Administration’s Approach

We were determined to shape new policies to deal with each of these problems. But our first requirement was philosophic. We needed a fresh vision to inspire and to integrate our efforts.

We began with the conviction that a major American commitment to the world continued to be indispensable. The many changes in the postwar landscape did not alter this central fact. America’s strength was so vast, our involvement so broad, and our concerns so deep, that to remove our influence would set off tremors around the globe. Friends would despair, adversaries would be tempted, and our own national security would soon be threatened. There was no escaping the reality of our enormous influence for peace.

But the new times demanded a new definition of our involvement. For more than a score of years our foreign policy had been driven by a global mission that only America could fulfill—to furnish political [Page 37] leadership, provide for the common defense, and promote economic development. Allies were weak and other nations were young, threats were palpable and American power was dominant.

By 1969, a mission of this scale was no longer valid abroad or supportable at home. Allies had grown stronger and young nations were maturing, threats were diversified and American power was offset. It was time to move from a paternal mission for others to a cooperative mission with others. Convinced as we were that a strong American role remained essential for world stability, we knew, too, that a peace that depends primarily on the exertions of one nation is inherently fragile.

So we saw the potential and the imperative of a pluralistic world. We believed we could move from an environment of emergencies to a more stable international system. We made our new purpose a global structure of peace—comprehensive because it would draw on the efforts of other countries; durable because if countries helped to build it, they would also help to maintain it.

To pursue this fundamental vision, we had to move across a wide and coordinated front, with mutually reinforcing policies for each challenge we faced.

Peace could not depend solely on the uneasy equilibrium between two nuclear giants. We had a responsibility to work for positive relations with the Soviet Union. But there was ample proof that assertions of good will or transitory changes in climate would not erase the hard realities of ideological opposition, geopolitical rivalry, competing alliances, or military competition. We were determined not to lurch along—with isolated agreements vulnerable to sudden shifts of course in political relations, with peaks and valleys based on atmosphere, with incessant tension and maneuvering. We saw as well that there were certain mutual interests that we could build upon. As the two powers capable of global destruction, we had a common stake in preserving peace.

Thus we decided to follow certain principles in our policy toward the Soviet Union. We would engage in concrete negotiations designed to produce specific agreements, both where differences existed and where cooperation was possible. We would work with Moscow across a broad front, believing that progress in one area would induce progress in others. Through the gathering momentum of individual accords we would seek to create vested interests on both sides in restraint and the strengthening of peace. But this process would require a reduction in tactical maneuvering at each other’s expense in favor of our shared interest in avoiding calamitous collision, in profiting from cooperation, and in building a more stable world.

Peace could not exclude a fourth of humanity. The longer-term prospects for peace required a new relationship with the People’s Republic of China. Only if China’s weight was reflected in the international [Page 38] system would it have the incentive, and sense of shared responsibility, to maintain the peace. Furthermore, the time was past when one nation could claim to speak for a bloc of states; we would deal with countries on the basis of their actions, not abstract ideological formulas. Our own policies could be more flexible if we did not assume the permanent enmity of China. The United States had a traditional interest in an independent and peaceful China. We seemed to have no fundamental interests that need collide in the longer sweep of history. There was, indeed, rich potential benefit for our two peoples in a more normal relationship.

So we launched a careful process of private diplomacy and public steps to engage the People’s Republic of China with us and involve it more fully in the world. We did so, confident that a strong, independent China was in our national interest; resolved that such a process need not—and would not—be aimed at any other country; and looking for a reciprocal attitude on the part of the Chinese.

Peace must draw upon the vitality of our friends. Our alliances with Western Europe and Japan would continue as major pillars of our foreign policy, but they had not kept pace with the changed international environment. We thus sought to forge more equal partnerships based on a more balanced contribution of both resources and plans.

America had been the automatic source of political leadership and economic power. Now we needed new modes of action that would accommodate our partners’ new dynamism. The challenge was to reconcile traditional unity with new diversity. While complete integration of policy was impossible, pure unilateralism would be destructive.

Before, we were allied in containment of a unified Communist danger. Now Communism had taken various forms; our alliances had stabilized the European and Northeast Asian environments; and we had laid the foundations for negotiation. We had to decide together not only what we were against, but what we were for.

Peace required the ending of an ongoing war. Our approach to the Vietnam conflict and our shaping of a new foreign policy were inextricably linked. Naturally, our most urgent concern was to end the war. But we had to end it—or at least our involvement—in a way that would continue to make possible a responsible American role in the world.

We could not continue on the course we inherited, which promised neither an end to the conflict nor to our involvement. At the same time, we would not abandon our friends, for we wanted to shape a structure of peace based in large measure on American steadiness. So we sought peace with honor—through negotiation if possible, through Vietnamization if the enemy gave us no choice. The phased shifting of defense responsibilities to the South Vietnamese would give them the time and means to adjust. It would assure the American people that our [Page 39] own involvement was not open-ended. It would preserve our credibility abroad and our cohesion at home.

Given the enemy’s attitude, peace was likely to take time, and other problems in the world could not wait. So we moved promptly to shape a new approach to allies and adversaries. And by painting on this larger canvas we sought both to put the Vietnam war in perspective and to speed its conclusion by demonstrating to Hanoi that continued conflict did not frustrate our global policies.

Peace needed America’s strength. Modifications in our defense policy were required, but one central truth persisted—neither our nation nor peace in the world could be secure without our military power. If superiority was no longer practical, inferiority would be unthinkable.

We were determined to maintain a national defense second to none. This would be a force for stability in a world of evolving partnerships and changing doctrines. This was essential to maintain the confidence of our friends and the respect of our adversaries. At the same time, we would seek energetically to promote national and international security through arms control negotiations.

Peace involved a fresh dimension of international cooperation. A new form of multilateral diplomacy was prompted by a new set of issues. These challenges covered a wide range—the promise of exploration, the pollution of our planet, the perils of crime—but they were alike in going beyond the traditional considerations of doctrine and geography. They required cooperation that reached not only across boundaries but often around the globe. So we resolved to work both with friends and adversaries, in the United Nations and other forums, to practice partnership on a global scale.

Above all, peace demanded the responsible participation of all nations. With great efforts during the postwar period we had promoted the revitalization of former powers and the growing assurance of new states. For this changed world we needed a new philosophy that would reflect and reconcile two basic principles: A structure of peace requires the greater participation of other nations, but it also requires the sustained participation of the United States.

To these ends, we developed the Nixon Doctrine of shared responsibilities.2 This Doctrine was central to our approach to major allies in the Atlantic and Pacific. But it also shaped our attitude toward those in [Page 40] Latin America, Asia, and Africa with whom we were working in formal alliances or friendship.

Our primary purpose was to invoke greater efforts by others—not so much to lighten our burdens as to increase their commitment to a new and peaceful structure. This would mean that increasingly they would man their own defenses and furnish more of the funds for their security and economic development. The corollary would be the reduction of the American share of defense or financial contributions.

More fundamental than this material redistribution, however, was a psychological reorientation. Nations had habitually relied on us for political leadership. Much time and energy went into influencing decisions in Washington. Our objective now was to encourage them to play a greater role in formulating plans and programs. For when others design their security and their development, they make their destiny truly their own. And when plans are their plans, they are more motivated to make them realities.

The lowering of our profile was not an end in itself. Other countries needed to do more, but they could not do so without a concerned America. Their role had to be increased, but this would prove empty unless we did what we must. We could not go from overinvolvement to neglect. A changing world needed the continuity of America’s strength.

Thus we made clear that the Nixon Doctrine represented a new definition of American leadership, not abandonment of that leadership. In my 1971 Report,3 I set forth the need for a responsible balance:

“The Nixon Doctrine recognizes that we cannot abandon friends, and must not transfer burdens too swiftly. We must strike a balance between doing too much and thus preventing self-reliance, and doing too little and thus undermining self-confidence.

“The balance we seek abroad is crucial. We only compound insecurity if we modify our protective or development responsibilities without giving our friends the time and the means to adjust, materially and psychologically, to a new form of American participation in the world.

“Precipitate shrinking of the American role would not bring peace. It would not reduce America’s stake in a turbulent world. It would not solve our problems, either abroad or at home.”

Peace had a domestic dimension. Steadiness abroad required steadiness at home. America could continue to make its vital contribution in the world only if Americans understood the need and supported the ef[Page 41]fort to do so. But understanding and support for a responsible foreign policy were in serious jeopardy in 1969. Years of burdens, Cold War tensions, and a difficult war threatened to undermine our constancy.

While new policies were required to meet transformed conditions abroad, they were equally imperative because of the changing climate at home. Americans needed a new positive vision of the world and our place in it. In order to continue to do what only America could, we had to demonstrate that our friends were doing more. While maintaining strong defenses, we also had to seek national security through negotiations with adversaries. And where American families were most directly affected, we had to gain a peace with honor to win domestic support for our new foreign policy as well as to make it credible abroad.

We have thus paid great attention, as in these Reports, to the articulation, as well as the implementation, of our new role in the world.

[Omitted here are the remainder of the introduction, discussing accomplishments, disappointments, and goals, and the 158-page body of the report, which is divided into 7 parts.]


In the past four years, there have been fundamental changes and signal successes. We have cleared away vestiges of the past. We have erased or moderated hostilities. And we are strengthening partnerships.

The specific events or policies, however important, reflect a more profound enterprise. We are seeking the philosophical, as well as the practical, reorientation of our foreign policy. This is the primary challenge of a radically different world. If America is to provide the leadership that only it can, Americans must identify with new visions and purposes.

As we look toward this nation’s two hundredth birthday, we shall continue our efforts—with the people and the Congress—to create this new consensus.

In the transition from the bipolar world of American predominance to the multipolar world of shared responsibilities, certain themes need emphasis. They indicate not only what our approach is, but what it is not.

We seek a stable structure, not a classical balance of power. Undeniably, national security must rest upon a certain equilibrium between potential adversaries. The United States cannot entrust its destiny entirely, or even largely, to the goodwill of others. Neither can we expect other countries so to mortgage their future. Solid security involves external restraints on potential opponents as well as self-restraint.

Thus a certain balance of power is inherent in any international system and has its place in the one we envision. But it is not the over[Page 42]riding concept of our foreign policy. First of all, our approach reflects the realities of the nuclear age. The classical concept of balance of power included continual maneuvering for marginal advantages over others. In the nuclear era this is both unrealistic and dangerous. It is unrealistic because when both sides possess such enormous power, small additional increments cannot be translated into tangible advantage or even usable political strength. And it is dangerous because attempts to seek tactical gains might lead to confrontation which could be catastrophic.

Secondly, our approach includes the element of consensus. All nations, adversaries and friends alike, must have a stake in preserving the international system. They must feel that their principles are being respected and their national interests secured. They must, in short, see positive incentive for keeping the peace, not just the dangers of breaking it. If countries believe global arrangements threaten their vital concerns, they will challenge them. If the international environment meets their vital concerns, they will work to maintain it. Peace requires mutual accommodation as well as mutual restraint.

Negotiation with adversaries does not alter our more fundamental ties with friends. We have made a concerted effort to move from confrontation to negotiation. We have done well. At the same time, our determination to reduce divisions has not eroded distinctions between friends and adversaries. Our alliances remain the cornerstones of our foreign policy. They reflect shared values and purposes. They involve major economic interests. They provide the secure foundation on which to base negotiations.

Although their forms must be adapted to new conditions, these ties are enduring. We have no intention of sacrificing them in efforts to engage adversaries in the shaping of peace. Indeed such efforts cannot succeed, nor can they have lasting meaning, without the bonds of traditional friendships. There is no higher objective than the strengthening of our partnerships.

Détente does not mean the end of danger. Improvements in both the tone and substance of our relations have indeed reduced tensions and heightened the prospects for peace. But these processes are not automatic or easy. They require vigilance and firmness and exertion. Nothing would be more dangerous than to assume prematurely that dangers have disappeared.

Thus we maintain strong military power even as we seek mutual limitation and reduction of arms. We do not mistake climate for substance. We base our policies on the actions and capabilities of others, not just on estimates of their intentions.

Détente is not the same as lasting peace. And peace does not guarantee tranquility or mean the end of contention. The world will hold perils for as far ahead as we can see.

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We intend to share responsibilities, not abdicate them. We have emphasized the need for other countries to take on more responsibilities for their security and development. The tangible result has often been a reduction in our overseas presence or our share of contributions. But our purpose is to continue our commitment to the world in ways we can sustain, not to camouflage a retreat. We took these steps only when our friends were prepared for them. They have been successfully carried out because American backing remained steady. They have helped to maintain support in this country for a responsible foreign policy.

I underlined the vital importance of the redefined American role two years ago:

“Our participation remains crucial. Because of the abundance of our resources and the stretch of our technology, America’s impact on the world remains enormous, whether by our action or by our inaction. Our awareness of the world is too keen, and our concern for peace too deep for us to remove the measure of stability which we have provided for the past 25 years.”

Measured against the challenges we faced and the goals we set, we can take satisfaction in the record of the past four years. Our progress has been more marked in reducing tensions than in restructuring partnerships. We have negotiated an end to a war and made future wars less likely by improving relations with major adversaries. Our bonds with old friends have proved durable during these years of profound change. But we are still searching for more balanced relationships. This will be our most immediate concern, even as we pursue our other goals.

Where peace is newly planted, we shall work to make it thrive.

Where bridges have been built, we shall work to make them stronger.

Where friendships have endured, we shall work to make them grow.4

During the next four years—with the help of others—we shall continue building an international structure which could silence the sounds of war for the remainder of this century.

  1. Source: Public Papers: Nixon, 1973, pp. 348–518. The report was issued by the White House in a 234-page booklet entitled “U.S. Foreign Policy for the 1970’s: Shaping a Durable Peace; A Report to Congress by Richard Nixon, President of the United States, May 3, 1973.” Under a November 16, 1972, covering memorandum, Rogers forwarded to Kissinger a paper entitled “Themes and Textual Suggestions for the President’s Annual Review of American Foreign Policy.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Subject Files, Box 328, The President’s Annual Review of Foreign Policy 1972 (Agency Submissions) Vol I)
  2. During a tour of Asia in July 1969, Nixon outlined what would become one of the major foreign policy themes of his administration. In reference to the U.S. role vis-à-vis Asia, Nixon declared that the United States would stand by its treaty commitments but expect Asian nations to shoulder their own defense burdens. For additional information on the Nixon Doctrine, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, 1969–1972, Document 29, and Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pp. 544–556.
  3. For Nixon’s second annual report on U.S. foreign policy, February 25, 1971, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, pp. 219–345.
  4. In remarks recorded for radio broadcast on May 3, Nixon added the following sentence: “We shall keep America strong, involved in the world, meeting the responsibilities which no other free nation is able to meet in building a structure of peace.” (Public Papers: Nixon, 1973, p. 347)