In my blog post today about Joan Hoff’s Nixon Reconsidered, I will talk about detente. Detente literally means a “relaxing or easing of tensions between nations” (page 183). Under President Richard Nixon, detente included agreements with the Soviet Union on arms control and trade, and also the linkage together of different issues so that the United States could encourage the Soviets to do what the U.S. wanted in exchange for the Soviets receiving certain benefits and arms-control concessions.
I have three items on detente.
1. On page 183, Hoff states that Nixon aimed “to seek sufficiency rather than superiority” in arms-control deals (Hoff’s words). The United States would not try to be superior to the U.S.S.R. by having more weapons, in short, but the United States would take care to have enough weapons to do the job of protecting itself and of being able to retaliate if the U.S.S.R. attacked it (and the threat of retaliation would hopefully discourage the U.S.S.R. from attacking in the first place). I’ve read that Ronald Reagan criticized detente because it was the United States negotiating itself into a position of being number-two behind the Soviet Union. I wonder if Reagan there was expressing his problems with the “sufficiency rather than superiority” aspect of detente.
2. As I said in my post here, the concept of linkage seems to me to be common sense: the U.S. tells the Soviets that it will agree to something that the Soviets want, if the Soviets agree to do something that the U.S. wants. That sounds to me like negotiation! But the linkage of different issues in U.S. negotiations with the Soviets was actually pretty controversial. In my post here, I discussed and linked to a YouTube video of a 1988 Presidential debate among the Democratic primary candidates, and also the Republican ones. In the Republican debate, Alexander Haig was criticizing Ronald Reagan’s arms-control negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev (which George Bush was defending) because they did not seem to have any linkage. Meanwhile, other Republican candidates were critical of the U.S. dealing with the Soviet Union when the Soviets still had a poor human rights record and were helping to export Communism to other countries. These Republican candidates may or may not have supported linkage, as Al Haig did, but they probably agreed that the U.S. should not just think about arms control when it was deliberating on how to deal with the Soviet Union, for the U.S. should also consider such issues as human rights and curbing Soviet interventionism.
Hoff herself does not seem to think that linkage worked. She notes that Henry Kissinger was a major proponent of linkage, and I’m noticing a trend in Hoff’s book that, in her eyes, most of what Henry Kissinger said and did was bad. But what are her specific objections to linkage? On page 158, Hoff states: “First and foremost, it never worked with respect to the Soviet Union in negotiations with Vietnam or the SALT I talks, and it made Nixinger policy look indifferent to Third World concerns, except insofar as they could be linked to relationships between major powers.” For Hoff (as I understand her), linkage did not enable the U.S. to get the Soviets to do everything that the U.S. wanted in the areas of Vietnam and SALT I, and, on some of the occasions when the Soviets did do what the U.S. wanted, it wasn’t because of some convoluted linkage, but rather for other reasons. I also want to say that Hoff’s discussion of linkage and the Third World stood out to me because Nixon himself in some of his foreign policy books criticizes treating the Third World primarily as a battleground for the Cold War. But Hoff’s contention appears to be that Nixon as President did precisely that.
I may not be grasping the totality of the concept of linkage, or Hoff’s arguments against it. See the wikipedia article on linkage. Something that the wikipedia article says (for what it’s worth) is that “The Nixon-Kissinger approach did not link foreign and domestic arenas.” That would mean that human rights was not a part of linkage, at least not for Nixon and Kissinger—-that the U.S. did not grant the Soviets advantages in (say) trade in exchange for an improved human rights record. Still, Nixon in his memoirs does argue that the U.S. used its relationship with the Soviet Union to encourage it to allow Soviet Jews to leave the U.S.S.R.
3. On pages 203-207, Hoff talks about the decline of detente. Certain arms control agreements were slow in coming, and there was also concern that some of the arms control agreements already negotiated were disadvantageous to the U.S. The Jackson-Vanik amendment to the Trade Reform Bill was challenging trade with the Soviet Union. And a grain deal with the U.S.S.R. was resulting in an increase in domestic grain prices. Later, President Jimmy Carter would emphasize human rights, specifically the provision about human rights of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and that was “a bone of contention between the United States and the Soviet Union” (page 207).