The Nixon Doctrine as History and Portent
EARL C. RAVENAL
This paper examines large-scale change in foreign policy. It is a retrospective evaluation of the largest element in the foreign policy of President Richard M. Nixon and his assistant for national security affairs and later secretary of state, Henry M. Kissinger: the shift to a balance-of-power policy. This move represented the end of one era of American foreign policy-making and provided the impetus for the succeeding one--an era in which we still operate, a decade and a half later. In the broadest terms (the level of this inquiry), Nixon and Kissinger moved American foreign policy from rigid bipolar confrontation to the more fluid diplomacy of a multipolar balance of power. And they changed the correlative object of our foreign policy (again in the broadest terms) from a bipolar international system, clustered around opposing alliances, to a multipolar system. (The definitions of both the foreign policy and the objective international system are subject to appropriate qualifications, as we will see below.) In the process, they actually helped to move the international system from its prior state to the new objective state they envisioned.
Although I will have to explicate and defend these assertions, and give some account of my definitional criteria for foreign policies and international systems, my primary purpose is not to describe what Nixon and Kissinger did, or to narrate a sequence of events. Rather, I will try to explain why they attempted--and largely, though inchoately, fragilely, and temporarily, succeeded--in doing these things. In this inquiry, then, we have a chance to study the causative and motivational structure and process of large-scale foreign policy change and, more generally, the phenomenon and dynamics of foreign policy choice.
So much ink and blood and acid have been spilled in the fifteen years that