I read Richard Nixon’s 1999: Victory Without War. The book is entitled 1999, but it was actually published in 1988. Come to think of it, I remember Dan Quayle referring to it as the 1988 Republican Vice-Presidential candidate in his debate with Senator Lloyd Bentsen (the “You’re no Jack Kennedy” debate).
I have four items.
1. Nixon discusses the end of detente, his system of negotiations and easing of tensions with the Soviet Union. Nixon is against a number of arguments from hardliners and doves, and he apparently regards detente as a middle ground between those two extremes. Because detente entails the U.S. talking with the Soviets, it allows the U.S. to have influence over what the U.S.S.R. does, whether that concerns Soviet expansionism or arms control. When the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. have a fairly easygoing relationship, Nixon argues, the U.S.S.R. is more likely to treat its own citizens well rather than abusing them, whereas isolating the U.S.S.R. is counterproductive. Nixon also notes that, during his practice of detente as President, the Soviets did not make significant gains in terms of taking over other countries.
Nixon traces the end of detente to America’s loss of the Vietnam War. Essentially, he argues that this loss demoralized the U.S. from taking a tough stand in protecting its own interests, and thus the U.S. accepted any agreement the Kremlin wanted. There wasn’t any more tough negotiation, in which the U.S. does what the Soviets want in one area, if the Soviets do what the U.S. wants in another area. Meanwhile, the U.S. was cutting its defense budget and hindering U.S. assistance to South Vietnam, even as the U.S.S.R. “increased its military aid to North Vietnam” (page 58). But Nixon also notes an example of a hardline stance shattering the effectiveness of detente. Because the U.S. Congress deprived the U.S.S.R. of Most Favored Nation Trade status, until the U.S.S.R. permitted more Soviet Jews to leave, the U.S. could no longer use trade as a “carrot” to encourage the U.S.S.R. to do what it wanted. Nixon summarizes the demise of detente on page 58:
“When Congress refused to grant the Soviet Union most-favored nation status, it took away the carrot. When it cut the defense budget and hamstrung the President’s ability to react to Soviet aggression, it left the United States with a weak stick. Those actions sent the wrong message to the Kremlin. They in effect telegraphed Moscow that it could pursue its aggressive policies at little or no cost.”
Joan Hoff in Nixon Reconsidered narrates the end of detente a bit differently, for she depicts it as a matter of increased hostility between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, rather than the U.S. letting the U.S.S.R. walk all over it. Like Nixon, however, she acknowledges the significance of the undermining of MFN with the Soviet Union in the end of detente. See here.
Nixon argued that America’s loss of the Vietnam War contributed to the end of detente, and I should note that Nixon more than once discusses what he considers to be the negative consequences of the U.S. losing the Vietnam War. According to Nixon on page 106, for example, American loss of the Vietnam War allowed the Soviets to “threaten sea lanes vital to Japan” from harbors of Vietnam.
2. What does Nixon in the book 1999 think about President Ronald Reagan’s policies regarding the Soviet Union? He’s mixed. He likes Reagan’s policy of assisting anti-communist forces in other countries, yet he laments that Reagan’s bellicose rhetoric has encouraged many Western Europeans to fear nuclear weapons rather than Communism. Nixon supports the Strategic Defense Initiative, yet he thinks that Reagan is over-optimistic about its effectiveness, and that it should protect American weapons sites rather than the entire country (since the weapons sites give the U.S. strike capability). Nixon does not support trying to surpass the Soviet Union in nuclear capability, since that leads to an arms race, and yet he is critical of nuclear disarmament, as he sees nuclear weapons as a way to safeguard the peace and to discourage the Soviets from getting out of hand. Nixon is critical of Reagan’s agreement to remove a number of warheads from Western Europe, as the Soviets remove even more warheads, for he contends that this leaves Western Europe vulnerable to Soviet conventional forces.
3. Did Nixon envision the end of the Cold War? Again, he’s rather mixed. He doesn’t appear to envision it ending, and he argues that Mikhail Gorbachev is still a Communist dedicated to Soviet expansionism, so he contends that the U.S. should be on-guard. At the same time, he seems to acknowledge that the Cold War takes an economic toll on the Soviet Union, and he also argues that the Soviet hold on Eastern Europe is not particularly strong. He says that, even in times when the U.S.S.R. sent in forces to squash anti-Communist revolts in Eastern Europe (in the 1950’s and late 1960’s), it had to send a large number of forces to accomplish its goal.
4. A lot of these issues are not directly relevant today, since there is no longer a Soviet Union. At the same time, I wonder if some of Nixon’s insights can still be pertinent to today’s world: how the U.S. interacts with Russia or China, for example. I really don’t know. Putin does not seem to have imperial ambitions (as far as I can see, and I’m open to correction on this), at least not as the Communist Soviet Union did, yet he does like to flex his muscle on the world stage. Missile defense is still a discussed issue, since Putin does not like for Eastern Europe to have a missile defense system, feeling that this make Russia vulnerable (or so I have read). I would have to know more about the world before I could discuss the possible relevance of Nixon’s insights to today!