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Defense Policy in the Nixon-Ford Years 1T h e Nixon-Ford Administrations spanned eight of the more demanding years in the recent history of the United States. America entered the 1970s after a decade of increased consciousness-raising in both domestic and foreign affairs: the 1960s became synonymous with protest against inequities at home and ineptitude abroad. By the time President Nixon entered office in 1969, the United States was a victim of political paralysis. Trying to rebuild our national defense amidst this turmoil seemed to require the labors of both Hercules and Sisyphus, and demanded the most adroit of political skills. As Secretary of Defense during the first Nixon Administration after nine terms in the House of Representatives, I was on the frontline of efforts to reassess and strengthen the national security policy of the United States after nearly a decade of idealistic promises and grim realities. This essay provides an opportunity to reflect on this reassessment and strengthening process, and to note some of the most important dimensions of our programs in the first Nixon and second Nixon-Ford terms. While my direct experience as Secretary of Defense covers only the years of 1969 to 1973, and as counsellor to the President from 1973to 1974, I will make certain generalizations for the 19741977period as well. The following topics, each of which will be examined in terms of basic principles, are of central importance for understanding the defense policies of the Nixon-Ford years: (1) objectives, premises, doctrines, and defense programs; (2) strategic forces and arms control; (3)NATO forces; and (4)U.S. security assistance programs under the Nixon Doctrine. I will conclude with five general lessons for American national security policy that I believe can The author would like to thank the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Public Policy Project on National Defense for its support in preparing this essay, and in particular Robert J. Pranger, director of international programs at AEI, and Roger P. Labrie, research associate in defense and foreign policy at AEI. Randy Poole, a student at Cornell University, also assisted in preparing this article. Appreciation is also extended to William J. Baroody, Jr., president of AEI; and Daniel Z. Henkin, former assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, for reviewing the manuscript. The views expressed in this essay are, of course, my own. Melvin R. Laird is senior counsellor for national and international affairs at the Reader’s Digest Association and chairman of the Public Policy Project on National Defense at the American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C. He served as Secretary of Defense from 1969 to 1973. [nternntional Securify, Fall 1985 (Vol. 10, No. 2) 01985by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 5 lnternational Security I 6 be derived from our experience in reassessing and strengthening American defense policy in the Nixon-Ford years. The Objectives, Premises, Doctrines, and Defense Programs of the Nixon and Ford Years The first Nixon term opened in 1969 with Vietnam our primary national obsession. Both Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon campaigned in 1968 on a theme of getting American forces out of Indochina as soon as possible. President Nixon moved to fulfill his pledge with all deliberate speed in the face of a national controversy over whether he was too hawkish and gradualist in his methods for achieving this withdrawal. While there were significant upheavals during the first Nixon term as far as the objective of withdrawal was concerned-most notably in the Cambodian incursion in 1970by the beginning of the second term in 1973, U.S. troop strength in Vietnam had been sharply reduced and a truce had been negotiated that would allow remaining American forces to withdraw during a so-called ”decent interval” that lasted until April 1975. During the period from 1969until 1977-the Nixon and Ford years-certain aspects of American defense policy remained much as they were before 1969, while other dimensions of security planning shifted rather dramatically. It was the aim of Nixon policy during the American withdrawal from Vietnam to maintain as much continuity with the past as possible in order not to give the impression of an American “retreat” from...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4804
Print ISSN
0162-2889
Pages
pp. 5-26
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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