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22/4/2015

The Geopolitics of Richard Nixon | The Diplomat

Image Credit: Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

The Geopolitics of Richard Nixon


In two important books, the former president foresaw the end of the Cold War, the rebalance, and
much besides.
By Francis P. Sempa
April 22, 2015

RichardNixonwasoneoftheworldsforemostvisionariesofglobalgeopolitics.Between1980and1994,theformerAmerican
presidentwrotesixvolumesoninternationalrelations,allofwhichdemonstratedhisknowledgeofhistory,graspofinternational
politicalrealities,andinsightintofuturetrendsininternationalpolitics.ThemostinsightfulofthosebookswereTheRealWar
(1980)andBeyondPeace(1994).InTheRealWar,NixonexaminedthegeopoliticalfoundationsoftheColdWarand
recommendedpoliciesthatoverthenextelevenyearsledtothedefeatandbreakupoftheSovietUnion.InBeyondPeace,he
foresawtheU.S.pivottoAsiaandtheimportanceofthestrugglewithinIslamto21stcenturyglobalpolitics.
WhenNixonwroteTheRealWar,theSovietUnionwasonthegeopoliticaloffensiveinthewakeofAmericasdefeatin
IndochinaandtherisetopowerofPresidentJimmyCarter,whoinhisfirstmajorforeignpolicyaddresstoldAmericansthatthey
hadaninordinatefearofcommunism.SovietproxiesgainedpowerinNicaragua,Grenada,Angola,MozambiqueandSouth
Yemen.TheSovietsinvadedAfghanistantopropupatotteringfriendlyregime.TheUnitedStateslostakeyallyinIranasthe
ShahfellandwasreplacedbyafundamentalistIslamicregimethatheldhostageU.S.embassystaffersandpromotedaglobal
Islamicrevolution.ThestrategicnuclearbalancewasshiftingintheSovietsfavorduetoanemergingfirststrikecapabilitythat
threatenedtounderminetheU.S.strategyofextendeddeterrence.
NixoncalledforaU.S.responsetotheSovietchallengethatwouldintegratelongtermandshorttermmeasures,andwould
encompasseconomic,military,diplomaticandpoliticalpower.EchoingthegreatBritishgeopoliticaltheoristSirHalford
Mackinder,NixonviewedtheSovietUnionastheworldsdominantlandpowersituatedinthecenteroftheEurasianheartland,
andcalledtheUnitedStatesanislandcountrythatreliedprimarilyonseapowertoprojectitsinfluencearoundtheworld.The
SovietscouldprojectpowerinalldirectionstowardEurope,theMiddleEast,andtheFarEast,whiletheUnitedStatesneededto
supportalliesinkeyregionsabuttingtheSovietheartland.
EchoingtheAmericangeopoliticaltheoristJamesBurnham,NixondescribedtheU.S.SovietconflictasWorldWarIIIthat
beganevenbeforetheendofWorldWarII,andwasthefirsttrulyglobalwar.Nocorneroftheearth,hewrote,isbeyondits
reach.TheUnitedStatesandtheSovietUnionhavebothbecomeglobalpowers,andwhateveraffectsthebalancebetweenus
anywhereaffectsthatbalanceeverywhere.Theconflictiswagedonalllevelsoflifeandsociety,Nixoncontinued.Military
power,economicpower,willpower,thestrengthofanationsgalvanizingideasandtheclarityofitssenseofpurposeeachof
theseisvitaltotheoutcome.
ThemostinsightfulpartofTheRealWarwasNixonspolicyrecommendationsthathadaremarkablesimilaritytothepolicies
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22/4/2015

The Geopolitics of Richard Nixon | The Diplomat

pursuedbytheReaganandGeorgeH.W.BushadministrationsthatresultedintherelativelypeacefulbreakupoftheSoviet
Empire.
First,NixonrecommendedasignificantbuildupofU.S.nuclearandconventionalforcesandtheneedtomaintainclearcutnaval
superiorityvisvistheSoviets.Second,heemphasizedthattheU.S.shouldcontinuetonurtureitsstrategicrelationshipwith
ChinaasacounterweighttoSovietlandpowerinAsia.Third,NixoncalledforthereinvigorationoftheNixonDoctrineto
providemilitary,economicandpoliticalassistanttoalliessituatedinkeyareasoftheglobe.Fourth,headvocatedprovidingU.S.
assistancetogovernmentsundersiegebySovietproxiesintheThirdWorld,foreshadowingtheReaganDoctrine.Nixonurged
policymakerstorecognizetheimportantdifferencesbetweenauthoritarianandtotalitarianregimes,echoingthesentimentsof
ReagansU.N.AmbassadorJeaneKirkpatrick.Fifth,headvocatedwagingamoreaggressivepropagandawaragainsttheSoviets.
Sixth,headvocatedsupportingliberationmovementsinsidetheSovietsphereorasheputit,Weshoulddeclarethathenceforth
wewillconsiderourselvesasfreetoforageontheSovietsideastheyhavebeentoforageonours.Seventh,Nixonurgedthe
U.S.anditsalliestoexploitSovieteconomicandpoliticalvulnerabilities.Finally,hebelievedthattheUnitedStatescouldachieve
victorywithoutwarbycombiningalloftheabovewithskillfuldiplomacyandnegotiationspreciselywhatReagandidinthe
finalyearsofhispresidency,andwhatPresidentGeorgeH.W.BushdidinsuccessfullymanagingtheendoftheColdWar.
BeyondPeacewasNixonslastbook,writtenin1994shortlybeforehisdeath.Itwasforwardlookinginaworldnolonger
dominatedbytheU.S.Sovietrivalry.AttheoutsetofthebookhewarnedAmericansthattheendoftheColdWardidnotmean
theendofconflictorthebeginningsofpermanentpeace.Theworld,heremindedreaders,isnotablankcanvasonwhichwecan
paintourvision.
Russia,warnedNixon,remainsvulnerabletoextremenationalistsandreactionariesintentonreversingfreemarketand
democraticreformsandmaintainsthecapacitytoonceagainbecomeathreateningpower,whileAsiaisthreatenedwithconflict
basedoncompetinginterestsandtraditionalrivalries.ThePersianGulfandthebroaderMiddleEast,henoted,remainedrife
withconflictbasedinpartonreligiousandethnichatreds.RuthlessandaggressivedictatorshementionedSaddamHussein,
KimIlSung,andMuammarQaddafistillposedthreatstotheirneighboringcountries.
Morespecifically,NixonpredictedthataRussiathatrevertedtoauthoritarianismwouldlikelyseektoextenditspowerand
influenceoverUkraineandothercountriesinEasternEuropepreciselywhathashappenedunderPutin.Hecalledfora
reinvigoratedNATOasinsuranceagainstarenewedthreatfromtheEastintheeventthatextremeRussiannationalistscometo
power.
China,Nixonwrote,willbecomeaneconomicandmilitarysuperpowerinthenextcentury.Heanticipatedthattheinevitable
riseofChinawouldresultinadelicatebalancingactamongJapan,Russia,ChinaandtheUnitedStatesthatwilldeterminethe
PacificRimsfuture.TheU.S.mustplayastrongbalancingroleinAsia,hewrote,fortodootherwisecouldtriggervolcanic
regionalinstability.Clearly,Nixon,thepresidentwhoforgedtheU.S.strategicrelationshipwithChinaintheearly1970s,
envisionedtheU.S.pivottotheAsiaPacificinthe21stcentury.
Finally,inBeyondPeace,NixoncalleduponU.S.leaderstotakeasophisticatedapproachtotheMuslimworld.TheU.S.he
wrote,mustlearntoviewtheMuslimworldnotasaunified,radicalgeopoliticalforcebentonconfrontingtheWestbutratheras
adiverseculturalandethnicgroupingboundedbyafaithinIslamandalegacyofpoliticalturbulence.TheMuslimworld,he
noted,sitsastridekeyareasoftheglobesuchasthePersianGulf,theStraitofHormuz,theSuezCanal,andtheStraitofMalacca.
HeexpressedconcernthatthroughouttheMuslimworld...therearerapidlygrowingfundamentalistmovements...whosefirst
loyaltyistotheextremeMuslimfundamentalistreligionwithitsrootsinIran.ThemajorlongtermthreatintheMuslimworld,
wroteNixon,isIran.TheU.S.mustnotonlycontainIransinfluence,hecontinued,butalsobepreparedtoassistethnicand
religiousfactionsinIranthatopposetheTehranregime.
WeareinaclashofcivilizationswithaportionoftheMuslimworld,Nixonexplained.FundamentalistIslam,hecontinued,is
astrongfaith.Itsappealisreligious,notsecular.Itappealstothesoul,notthebody.SecularWesternvalues,hefurtherwarned,
cannotcompetewiththisfaith.Nixonbelieved,however,thatifthepeoplesoftheIslamicworldareabletocharttheirown
destiny,insteadofsubmittingtotheruleoffundamentalistregimeslikeIransthatseektoturnbacktheclocktothetwelfth
century,thenIslamicextremismwillnottriumph.
Inthesetwogreatgeopoliticalworks,RichardNixonchartedapathtovictoryintheColdWarandforesawtheworldthatwould
emergefromtheendofthatconflict.
FrancisP.SempaistheauthorofGeopolitics:FromtheColdWartothe21stCentury(TransactionBooks)andAmericasGlobal
Role:EssaysandReviewsonNationalSecurity,GeopoliticsandWar(UniversityPressofAmerica).Heisalsoacontributor
toPopulationDeclineandtheRemakingofGreatPowerPolitics(PotomacBooks).Hehaswrittenonhistoricalandforeign
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The Geopolitics of Richard Nixon | The Diplomat

policytopicsforJointForceQuarterly,AmericanDiplomacy,theUniversityBookman,TheClaremontReviewofBooks,The
Diplomat,StrategicReview,theWashingtonTimesandotherpublications.Heisanattorney,anadjunctprofessorofpolitical
scienceatWilkesUniversity,andacontributingeditortoAmericanDiplomacy.

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