On page 223 of The Final Days, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein say the following about President Richard Nixon's negotiations with the Soviets to slow down the arms race:
"The President had
often confided to Kissinger his most telling reason for slowing down the
nuclear-arms race. He feared that the United States would lose it.
Continued military competition was too expensive. The country might not
be able to sustain the costs of a prolonged cold war. America, the
President felt, was too likely to buckle under the pressure. Besides
the economic weakness of the country, Nixon perceived a weakness of
will. Too many of the same political critics who were pushing him to
the wall on Watergate would not support a tough posture toward the
Russians, he said."
In this post, I'll just assume that Nixon felt this way, even though I don't know for sure if that was the case.
sounds as if Nixon saw detente as second-best, as if he would have
preferred for the United States to have the guts to be tough with the
Soviets and to win the nuclear arms race. Not only did Nixon admire
guts, but, reading some of his foreign policy books, Nixon looked back
with apparent pleasure at the days when the United States had nuclear
superiority and could appeal to that to get the Soviets to back off from
some of the adventures that they were pursuing. Nixon considered that
to be keeping the peace!
But I think that there was another side
to Nixon. Nixon in his memoirs, especially the first volume, depicts
himself as someone who wants peace. He wanted peace when his father and
his brothers fought. He saw some of the horrors of war. And he
admired pacifists, even if he did not go so far as to be a pacifist
himself. I have my doubts that this side of Nixon saw detente merely as
Moreover, Nixon argues that he as President spent
more money on domestic concerns than on military defense. Maybe Nixon
here is simply presenting himself as progressive, against liberal
critics, and his point is that he has done more to further liberal
concerns than liberals themselves have. Or perhaps a part of Nixon had a
sense that the arms race was costing the United States money, money
that could be used to help people.
I admire guts, but I also don't
think that peace and negotiation should be considered second-best. I
think that the best option is what Nixon said detente was: negotiation,
but not negotiation that allows others to walk all over you. Detente is
tough negotiation, according to Nixon.
I would like to mention
one more thing. On page 222, Woodward and Bernstein say: "The Soviet
press had largely ignored Watergate. When the matter was referred to,
it was portrayed as a plot to destroy d[e]tente." That actually
overlaps with the argument of the book, Silent Coup: that there
were military people in Nixon's Administration who did not like being
shut out of the decisionmaking process, and who did not care for
detente, and they contributed to President Richard Nixon's downfall.
3 hours ago