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Richard Nixon’s Diplomacy During the Cold War Essay

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Updated: Jun 16th, 2020


This essay focuses on the doctrine of President Richard Nixon during the Cold War and its effects on United States’ diplomacy in the years that followed. Several American presidents played a significant role during the growth and decline of the Cold War. However, President Nixon’s term of leadership in the late 1960s and early 1970s formed the center stage for the Cold War. The reason is that many historians have documented him as an iconic figure in the transformation and redirection of the war to meet the United States’ economic and political interests (Jordan & Taylor, 2011).

The term ‘Cold War’ refers to the persistent state of military and political anxiety that was experienced by countries in the Eastern Bloc, including Russia and Warsaw pact allies; and the Western Bloc countries such as the United States, Japan and NATO member states. At the beginning of the war, China had close ties with Russia but it distanced itself from the resultant misunderstanding concerning the Marxism allegiance. Many historical scholars disagree on the exact period when the Cold War started and ended. However, the most commonly cited period is between 1946 and 1991.

Situational Summary

According to Hogan, the term ‘cold’ was derived from the fact that the war was indirect and without any physical confrontations between the two opposing sides apart from some isolated cases such as in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Korea (Hogan, 1994). The Cold War temporarily divided the Second World War alliances against the Nazi Germany, leaving the United States and Russia as the world’s superpowers.

The two differed on paramount economic and political ideologies characterized by capitalism, communism, liberal democracy and totalitarianism. In mid 1960s, there was a historical turn of events in relation to the Cold War when Richard Nixon failed to secure both the presidency and governorship seats in the 1964 elections. Nixon took a recess to think about the country’s international relationships which formed part of his primary interest in foreign policy making. He agreed with Chinese capitalists that the United States needed to reconcile with China. However, critics in both camps doubted the possibility of a Sino-Soviet split, which was supposed to lead to a strong and favorable Sino-American relationship (Luthi, 2008).

Richard Nixon knew that forming close diplomatic ties with China would yield positive results and strengthen United States’ position in war. This meant that if China ceased to be a threat, the United States would be able to reinforce and consolidate a single military force against Russia, which was compelled to station more than 50,000 troops along the Chinese border to counter any external threat from the West.

Nixon took over the presidency at the end of the 1960 decade when his country was seeking a way out of the warring Vietnam. Despite the imminent foreign policy problem in Vietnam, the President and his national security advisor Henry Kissinger chose to manage the United States’ relationships with China and Russia. They presumed that strengthening the relationship with the two Asian countries would provide a solution to the Vietnam crisis. Consequently, the United States pursued several protocols to ensure that China became their ally. The most recognizable one was the diplomatic doctrine envisioned and pioneered by President Nixon (Sutter, 2010).

Analysis of the Diplomatic Doctrine

After Nixon’s win in the 1969 presidential elections, many political analysts believed that his tough anti-communism ideologies would hamper the country’s foreign policy toward China. However, the newly elected President realized that his earlier support for anti-communism policies would impede the United States-China relationship. Moreover, China had the potential to be a strong ally against the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. For that reason, he had to establish a good working relationship with China to serve the immediate and future interests of the United States. In addition, he knew that a good relationship with China would help in ending the war in Vietnam (Thies, 2013).

At the peak of the Cold War, President Nixon faced a challenging situation that required a viable decision that could shift power in favor of the United States. The earlier events of the Sino-Soviet split slightly predicted the shift of power in support of the United States. Consequently, the President concluded that a firm relationship with China during the war would make his country the only superpower. His first move to accomplish this was in 1971 after the end of the Cultural Revolution in China.

The revolution was in form of a sociopolitical movement whose main aim was to replace capitalism with communism under the leadership of Mao Zedong, the leader of the Communist Party of China at the time (Clark, 2008). President Nixon sent his senior national security advisor to China who was accepted by the Chinese officials. Through the visit, the United States wanted to capitalize on the delicate China-Taiwan dispute at the time. Consequently, Taiwan became the focal point of both China and the United States.

This prompted Henry Kissinger to propose that the United States was willing to relinquish the ownership of the island on a politically determined timescale. In return, the United States wanted China to negotiate with North Vietnam to arrive at a ceasefire. This would give President Nixon a chance to withdraw the American forces from Vietnam without showing any signs of surrender. Additionally, the President and his advisor believed that the cooperation with China would weaken Russia’s position in the Cold War.

They founded a realistic triangular relationship that would push Russia to the bottom position in the war. To ensure that their dream matured, they provided China with Russia’s military intelligence. It seemed like a well-calculated plan that favored the United States in not only the Cold War, but also in future diplomatic expeditions (Scott, Jones, & Furmanski, 2004). The country dedicated its time and resources to ensure that the proposed plans succeeded. Finally, the United States and China had a series of confrontations and negotiations, with each side seeking to benefit from the relationship (Roskin & Berry, 2010).

Analysis of the Effects of the Diplomatic Doctrine

President Nixon’s diplomatic plans with China led to the development of new ideas. In 1972, the peaceful cooperation between the United States and China captivated the President, making him to visit China. The visit led to the accreditation of the Asian state as a democracy. The two governments signed the Shanghai communique pact that proposed several responsibilities and benefits for both nations. The first responsibility highlighted in the pact was the simultaneous opening of cooperation offices in each other’s capital city (Sharp, 2012).

The two countries agreed to the proposition but differed on the particular administrative cities to set up the offices. Particularly, the United States insisted on establishing its offices in Beijing, the capital city of China, but the latter insisted that the former had earlier positioned its offices in Taiwan. In this regard, establishing another office in Beijing would go against the treaty because the United States would have two offices, one in China and another in Taiwan. The issue became complicated because Taiwan was China’s enemy at the time of the agreement. In 1972, the Watergate Scandal hampered President Nixon’s effort to find a solution to the problem in China.

The scandal led to the resignation of Nixon as the President of the United States and delayed the process of China’s recognition as an independent state. Many Chinese leaders felt disappointed by the relationship with the United States when Nixon resigned. However, they maintained and increased their rivalry against the communist Russia. Moreover, the cooperation between China and the United States led to the inclusion of China in the United Nations (UN) and the subsequent removal of Taiwan from the UN (Nixon, 2013).


President Nixon’s doctrine resulted in the struggle to compel China to be an American ally through Nixon’s doctrine. However, the real objective of the doctrine surfaced after President Nixon resigned following the Watergate Scandal. The legal part of the deal was set up by 1979 when Jimmy Carter replaced Nixon as President. Some of the advantages of the doctrine were the recognition of China as an independent country and the strong alliance with the United States. Additionally, the United States also got more influence than Russia, which was its main challenger in its quest to be the superpower. However, the doctrine had some disadvantages such as exposing China to a possible military attack by Russia and extending the Cold War.


Clark, P. (2008).The Chinese Cultural Revolution: a history.New York: Cambridge University Press. Web.

Hogan, M.J.(1994). The end of the Cold War: its meaning and implications. Cambridge : Cambridge Univ. Press. Web.

Jordan, A. A., & Taylor, W. J. (2011). American national security: Policy and process (6th ed.). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. Web.

Luthi, L.M. (2008).The Sino-Soviet split: Cold War in the communist world. Princeton : Princeton University Press. Web.

Nixon, R. M. (2013). The real war (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Warner Books. Web.

Roskin, M., & Berry, N. O. (2010). IR: The new world of international relations (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. Web.

Scott, G. M., Jones, R. J., & Furmanski, L. S. (Eds.). (2004). 21 debated issues in world politics (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson education, Inc. Web.

Sharp, P. (2012). American diplomacy. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. Web.

Sutter, R. G. (2010). Chinese foreign relations: Power and policy since the Cold War. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. Web.

Thies, C. G. (2013). The roles of bipolarity: A role theoretic understanding of the effects of ideas and material factors on the Cold War. International Studies Perspectives, 14(3), 269-288. Web.

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