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“Staying in [but] in a different way”: The Nixon Doctrine and the Conservative Function of Reform, 1969-1970

  • LA200 15 Devonshire Place Toronto, ON (map)

Join us for this event with Matthieu Vallieres, PhD candidate, Department of History, University of Toronto, sponsored by the Graham Center’s Graduate Research Forum.

Announced in July 1969, the Nixon Doctrine represented President Richard Nixon’s response to the challenges posed to American power by the Vietnam War. The doctrine promised to uphold America’s treaty commitments but to shift whatever combat roles were required to Asian nations themselves, which the United States would support by providing military and economic assistance as well as a nuclear shield to prevent great power interference (if those fit with America’s treaty commitments). This was intended to limit America’s engagement in Vietnam and reform its role in the world more generally. It was, Nixon told his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, a mean of “staying in [but] in a different way.” This paper combines original research with the growing body of historical scholarship in the so-called “emotional turn” to explore the desire of “staying in[ but] in a different way.” It argues that the doctrine reflected two of Nixon’s fundamental conservative “emotional beliefs”: that American involvement in the world was indispensable to the quelling of revolutionary disorder (and therefore to a properly functioning international order); and that imposing a “do-it-yourself” approach like “Vietnamization” on the South Vietnamese would strengthen their character because “[p]eople have to struggle a bit” in order to find the will to survive. By focusing on beliefs and desires, this paper uncovers dynamics that influenced the policymaking process that have perhaps not been fully appreciated in the existing literature on this familiar but often overlooked piece of national security policy. In short, while Nixon and Kissinger are traditionally portrayed as realists par excellence willingly accepting limits to American power, the conservative function of the Nixon Doctrine shows that they fit quite comfortably in the postwar trajectory of American foreign policy.

Date: Thursday, November 5, 1-3pm.

Location: Larkin 200, Trinity College.