Nixon’s Vietnamization policy


Richard Nixon’s regime in the United States participated immensely in global politics. The administration was keen to gain global dominance on issues such as military performance, war, diplomacy and humanitarian concerns. During Nixon’s rule, the United States established itself as a superpower with a strong military and a high level of intelligence network. Besides, the country had competent government officials such as Henry Kissinger who championed for ideologies that were applied both within and outside the United States. One of the memorable events that defined Nixon’s involvement in international matters is the Vietnam case when the US troops intervened to restore peace in the country. The events that took place during the war earned the US a lot of accolade and criticism. “Vietnamization” is a concept that was introduced to explain the war that took place during the Richard Nixon administration (Wagner 29). The concept was also developed based on the policy established by Nixon’s regime to end the Vietnam War. The government employed different tactical approaches including training and expanding the forces of South Vietnam during the war. The soldiers were also assigned combat roles to minimize the number of U.S troops that participated in the war. The paper herein evaluates the success of Nixon’s Vietnamization policy.

As a tactical intervention, Viet Cong used a strategy dubbed “Tet Offensive,” which reinforced the regulations by the United States’ foreign military assistance organizations that were involved in the war. The situation increased the people’s mistrust in the U.S government. The U.S offensive worsened after the My Lai massacre was revealed to the citizens in 1968 and the Cambodia Invasion of 1970 (Willbanks 182).

The name “Vietnamization” gained its popularity when Melvin Laird, Vietnam’s Secretary of Defense, gave his remarks on the strengthening of the country’s Army. Mr. Laird foresaw a situation where the American troops could be weakened (De-Americanization) and their domestic army would gain power (Vietnamization). The-then American President, Richard Nixon, liked the word and adopted it as a description of the state of war and the policies that were instituted to control the situation (Wagner 314).

During the Nixon administration, there was an ideological conflict between communism and cooperation with other nations. As the Vietnamization policy gained popularity, the United States was losing grip of its identity as a communist territory and becoming a cooperative world order. At this time, Henry Kissinger was the Chief adviser to the Nixon administration on international issues (Dudley, 147). Kissinger worked on government orders to negotiate diplomatic policies with Anatoly Dobrynin, a Soviet Statesman.

Henry Kissinger played an important role to shape America’s diplomatic relations with other countries. As the regime’s top advisor and secretary of state, Kissinger became a key decision-maker in U.S strategic policy (Wagner 214). For instance, he downplayed other policies such as that of “massive retaliation” by John Foster Dulles. Kissinger advocated for flexible response by the government. His popularity influenced his appointment to the position of assistant for national security affairs by President Nixon.

Through his position, Kissinger engineered the Cambodia bombing in 1969. He then became the central mind behind the Vietnamization policy which advocated for the withdrawal of U.S soldiers from South Vietnam. He also introduced a plan to replace the troops with forces from Vietnam. After thorough negotiations that took several months, Kissinger managed to secure a cease-fire agreement that successfully initiated the withdrawal of U.S troops from the war. Most of the success of his efforts is ascribed to the plan he outlined to find a permanent solution to the peace settlement between the warring groups in Vietnam.

The role of Kissinger in American politics was beyond the Vietnamization policy. His efforts that did not involve Vietnam directly contributed to positive relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. For instance, through Kissinger, the United States developed warmer relations with China and the Middle East (Hearden 329). The good diplomatic atmosphere created an environment for discussions on the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks in 1969. Kissinger also contributed to the development of a pro-Pakistani policy associated with an end to the India-Pakistan war with the help of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT).

In as much as Kissinger was an individual that relied on his judgment and experience to assist other countries to maintain peace, his foundation was built on the Vietnamization policy that took him through a learning curve that gave him the ability to resolve conflicts (Wagner 56). Though Vietnam became stable afterward, the question remains whether Nixon’s policy of Vietnamization contributed to global peace.

Nixon’s success in the policy can be viewed from two perspectives. One school of thought that believes that the Vietnamization policy was successful is based on the fact that calmness was attained among the warring countries, and the arms race reduced significantly. Another school of thought that believes that the policy was not successful is built on the premise that the resolutions that resulted from the policy are not sustainable. Groups opposed to the success of Nixon’s policy argue that Vietnamization was an expression of the United States’ lack of concern for the welfare of countries that are in need of military support (Willbanks 77). In fact, the decision to withdraw the troops was viewed negatively as it was predicted to worsen the situation. During the time, Vietnam was vulnerable to internal feuds and political struggles between the opposing sides. The presence of the U.S troops was, therefore, an important aspect as it provided a temporal situation to the wavy nature of political organization.

After the withdrawal of the U.S forces from South Vietnam, weaknesses were observed in the organization and stability of the command structure of South Vietnam. The challenges signaled the deficiency of proper management and operational motivation, which also indicated the heavy dependence of the Vietnamese army on U.S input. The withdrawal by the U.S was met with a lot of criticism from other countries that staged protests across the country (Wagner 183). A treaty that was signed in Paris gave the United States sixty days to withdraw its remaining troops from the battleground. After a month, Laird declared the success of the policy and the Vietnam army became independent.

Laird’s pronunciation of the success of the Vietnamization policy does not satisfy the curiosity of political scientists on whether the policy played a role to stabilize the country. Individuaks opposed to the policy claim that the declaration by Liard on the success of Vietnamization and the Paris treaty of 1973 ended the war (Hearden 322). On the other hand, the pro-Vietnamization policy defends Nixon’s approach because Kissinger reduced destruction and the polarization between groups through the regulation of weapons.

The possession of weapons does not bring stability; rather, it intensifies the fighting. The role played by Kissinger through his negotiations to regulate the use of weapons created an environment for negotiations between the warring parties (Campbell & Richard 155). Besides, the Vietnamization policy reduced foreign influence in the internal affairs of Vietnam. The dependency on the U.S troops made the Vietnam administrative system weak and less self-sustainable. In fact, peace is attained when there is political and military stability, which cannot be achieved in the long-run when the country is subject to foreign powers. For this reason, the withdrawal of the U.S troops from the country, a decision that was enhanced by Nixon’s policy, propelled Vietnam to develop sustainable systems that restored peace.

The aftermath of the Vietnam War revealed the diplomatic challenges that exist among various nations. The input of Richard Nixon’s government was critical to the stability of Vietnam’s government. In as much as critics argue that the decision to withdraw the U.S army was inappropriate; Nixon’s policy was both important and successful as it recognized the principle of state sovereignty. In fact, every government should be allowed to resolve the internal issues that arise in their territories. A third party should intervene as an arbiter, not as an authoritative figure. The success of the Vietnamization policy can be attributed to the fact that after the departure of the U.S forces, discussions were held and peace restored in the country.

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  1. Campbell, Karlyn K, and Richard M. Nixon. The Great Silent Majority: Nixon’s 1969 Speech on Vietnamization. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2014. Print.
  2. Hearden, Patrick J. The Tragedy of Vietnam. New York: Pearson Longman, 2008. Print.
  3. Dudley, William. The Vietnam War: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego, Calif: Greenhaven Press, 1998. Print.
  4. Willbanks, James H. Abandoning Vietnam: How America Left and South Vietnam Lost Its War. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004. Print.
  5. Wagner, Heather L. Henry Kissinger: Ending the Vietnam War. New York: Chelsea House, 2007. Print.
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