I’ll comment on three passages today for my write-up on Richard Nixon’s 1980 book, The Real War.
1. On pages 167-168, in his chapter on “Military Power”, Nixon defines parity, which is what he supports:
“It is essential that the United States have, and be seen to have, at least as much flexibility and sophistication in our forces as the Soviets have in theirs—-in addition to having simply as much weight, or as many total warheads, or as many missile launchers. In order to deal effectively with the Soviet strategic nuclear forces of the future, we will require retaliatory forces in sufficient numbers and with sufficient types of weapons to survive a well-executed surprise attack on them, and then to carry out their assigned retaliatory mission in a way that will control escalation, rather than cause it. That means they must be able to penetrate Soviet defenses and destroy military targets in the U.S.S.R., with enough survivable reserve forces to constitute an adequate remaining deterrent. With parity so defined, the Russians are not likely to launch a first strike on the United States, and they are not likely to engage in the sort of overt aggression that would be calculated to trigger a strategic nuclear response.”
I think that this passage highlights why Nixon believes that the United States’ military inferiority to the Soviet Union is such a problem. Suppose that the Soviet Union attacks us and in the process destroys a significant number of our weapons, and we don’t have enough weapons to launch a sufficient counter-attack. Or suppose that we attack the Soviet Union, and it still has enough weapons to attack us back. If the Soviets know that this would be the outcome of any attack they would make on the U.S., or that the U.S. would make on them, they would think that they could do whatever they wanted throughout the world, and they would not fear the U.S. were it to challenge their activities. Consequently, for Nixon, the U.S. needs to correct its military deficiencies—-so that the Soviets would know that, were it to attack the U.S., the U.S. would have enough weapons to attack back. Awareness of that threat on the U.S.S.R.’s part, in Nixon’s eyes, would deter nuclear war.
Nixon supports SALT treaties to limit nuclear arms (as long as both sides abide by them), but he does not think that unilateral disarmament on the part of the U.S. would work. He notes that, while the U.S. has decreased its military spending, the Soviet Union has beefed her military up. Nixon is also critical of President Jimmy Carter for killing the B-1 bomber and for slowing down the MX missile’s development as well as the production of Trident missiles. On the B-1 bomber, Nixon says that it could “penetrate the most sophisticated Soviet air defenses of the 1970s” (page 184), and thus it would have required the Soviets to spend more money on their air defense systems. Now that the Soviets don’t have to worry about the B-1 bomber, Nixon argues, they can spend more on “more threatening offensive strategic systems aimed at the United States” (page 184).
It’s not always the case that Nixon believes that more is better, however. While Nixon thinks that the United States’ naval inferiority to the U.S.S.R. is not good, he does state on page 212 that “The United States does not have to match the Soviet Union ship for ship; we have major seafaring allies and they do not.” Nixon does not think that we can always count on our allies, though, for Western Europe did not back the U.S. up in defending Israel, out of fear that this would jeopardize the supply of oil that Western Europe received from the Persian Gulf.
2. On page 224, Nixon says the following about El Salvador:
“In tiny El Salvador leftist guerrillas have mounted a crushing offensive against the country’s economy. The leader of the largest leftist group, Rafael Celente, has declared, ‘If we can stop the crop collection, we can vanquish the capitalist enemy more thoroughly than with a hundred bombs.’ Coffee accounts for nearly 70 percent of El Salvador’s income. Calente’s followers recently occupied seven of the largest coffee plants and forced the mill owners to agree to a crippling 100 percent wage increase, throwing the economy into a tailspin. ‘The idea isn’t to bargain and concede,’ Celente says. ‘The idea is to upset and destroy.’ The guerrillas have also been kidnapping business executives; by late 1979 they had collected nearly $50 million in ransom payments. As a result, most American companies have evacuated their non-Salvadorean managers. Tourism, construction, and industry have all been crippled by the guerrillas, who have been placing themselves in a position to take over if the economy breaks down.”
Not long ago, I watched two movies about El Salvador. The first was Romero, which was about Archbishop Oscar Romero, a priest who started out as rather conservative and apolitical, yet went on to become a champion for the poor and an opponent of right-wing death squads in El Salvador. The other movie was Oliver Stone’s Salvador. Actor Tony Plana played in both movies. In Romero, he was a priest who was a friend of Romero and was sympathetic to the revolutionary cause. In Salvador, he was a right-winger.
One scene that I remember from Romero is when Harold Gould’s character, who is rather right-wing, says that companies bringing capital to El Salvador would be better for the country, since it would create jobs. He supported the government of El Salvador, while opposing the revolutionaries. The question that one could ask, however, is this: Why was there still a lot of grinding poverty in El Salvador, if foreign companies were bringing capital into the country and stimulating the economy? Nixon would probably answer that it was because the leftist revolutionaries were scaring businesses off. Those who have more of a leftist perspective, by contrast, might point to corporate exploitation of the Third World: businesses come into a country, take people’s land, employ people at slave wages, and make loads of money, while the workers in the country remain in poverty.
I should note that it wasn’t just leftist revolutionaries who disrupted countries’ economies. One criticism of the Nicaraguan contras, the anti-Communists whom the U.S. backed, was that a number of them were seeking to disrupt the economy of Nicaragua in their attempt to overthrow the Sandinistas.
3. In my post here, I was commenting on Nixon’s argument in his memoirs that U.S. trade with the Soviet Union could encourage it to become more liberal on human rights, whereas isolating the Soviet Union could have negative consequences. I referred to the right-wing argument that U.S. trade with the Soviet Union could provide the U.S.S.R. with resources to further develop her own military.
It turns out that Nixon in The Real War has a similar concern. On page 225, he states:
“Whether directly or indirectly, trade with the Soviets strengthens them militarily. Even trade in nonstrategic items frees resources for them to use in other ways.”
Nixon is still for trading with the Soviets, but in a carrot-and-stick manner: the U.S. trades with the Soviets as a reward for the Soviets acting according to certain conditions. Nixon is also for the U.S. trading with Eastern Europe and China, on a tentative basis. In the case of Eastern Europe, Nixon argues that these countries do not particularly like their Soviet captors, yet they depend on the U.S.S.R. economically. Nixon wonders: Suppose that the U.S. were to step in and lessen that dependence.