“Nixon moved detente to the top of his foreign policy agenda.  By the time he took office [in 1969], the one-time ardent Cold Warrior viewed the Soviet Union as a ‘normal’ world power more intent on maintaining its position than upsetting the international status quo and therefore a nation that could be negotiated with.  He recognized that the relative decline in U.S. power required major adjustments in its relations with other nations and that Soviet needs and especially the Sino-Soviet conflict provided openings a skillful diplomatist might exploit.  He perceived that his reputation as a hard-liner enabled him to do things other U.S. politicians could not –indeed, by making him appear statesmanlike they might even win him points at home.  In pursuing detente, Nixon and Kissinger did not abandon containment.  Rather, they hoped through negotiations on key issues to create linkages that would enable them to influence Soviet behavior in other areas.  Through what Kissinger called the ‘subtle triangle of relations between Washington, Beijing, and Moscow,’ they sought to ‘improve the possibilities of accommodations with each as increase our options with both.’  They viewed detente not as an end in itself but rather, in Nixon’s words, a means to ‘minimize confrontation in marginal areas and provide, at least, alternative possibilities in the major ones.’  They hoped it would enable them to manage Soviet power and thus get the USSR to accept the emerging world order.”  –George Herring, From Colony to Superpower, p. 771

Discussion Questions

  • Explain how detente affected US policy in Asia, in regard to attempts to negotiate an end to the war in Vietnam or to explore an opening in relations with Communist China.
  • How did the Nixon-Kissinger approach to detente compare to their policies in other areas of the world, like Latin America, the Middle East, or Africa?