Shifts That Have Taken Place in American Term Paper

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¶ … shifts that have taken place in American foreign policy since the end of the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War can be rightfully seen as a pivotal moment in the history of the 20th century. The human loss could only be estimated, as there were too many unknown events that influenced the final outcome of the victim count, as "over 57, 000 Americans- and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese- died. Total American expenses have been calculated at over a trillion dollars." (Rothney and Findley, 1986, 300) However important is the human factor, aside from the tragedies of the Vietnamese and American peoples who engaged their troops on the battlefield, there is the aspect of the dramatic political shift that the war and its outcome provoked.

A brief perspective on the events will enable a clear underlining of the important turn international politics in the Cold War took. This will prove useful for the proper understanding of the events that followed Vietnam. From the confrontational attitude that characterized the period culminating in the war in Indochina, Henry Kissinger's new diplomacy offered an alternative, the detente period, which advocated for the first time the existence of more than two centers of power and thus encouraged cooperation and a rearrangement of foreign policies that ultimately led to the end of the Cold War.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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The American foreign policy was not influenced by the events taking place in Indochina from their very inception. Thus, the French rule of the area only involved the Americans tangentially. However, by 1954, the U.S. saw the communist side represented by Ho Chi Minh as a live creation of the U.S.S.R. And therefore changed its attitude, with Kennedy's strategy of "winning hearts and minds" of the locals in order to fight the communist insurgency in the Geneva established South Vietnam. Once the President Kennedy's assassination, a new myth emerged in the conscience of the American people. They came to consider the intervention in fight between the North and South Vietnam as being essential, "a cornerstone of the free world, a place to stand up to the Soviet Union and China. Before it became an American nightmare, Vietnam was an American fantasy- and the mightiest nation on earth was prepared to invest powerful energies in making the fantasy a reality." (Rothney and Findley, 1986, 303) the Nixon administration was the one responsible of destroying this ideal and withdrawing the practically defeated U.S. troops. In the end, South Vietnam gave in to communist pressures.

From a political perspective, the war was a representative image of the situation that marked the evolution of military actions at the time. Indeed, it was the practical example of the cohabitation of geopolitical and geostrategic terms. Tower points out that "the war in Indochina was but a violent manifestation of the policy of containment and balance of power that guided society American relations throughout the 1950s and 1960s." He also addresses the issue of net theoretical concepts, which have defined the era, among which containment, limited war (in terms of weapons used and geography covered), and gradualism (the speed at which the fighting is escalating or de-escalating). (Tower, 1976, 242-244)

Taking this perspective into consideration, the withdrawal of the American troops and the subsequent management of the foreign policy was indeed an endeavor.

Therefore, "since the end of the Vietnam war, international relations have been marked by an exploration of the possibilities and limits of diminished tensions-detente- in a multi-polar world. The most important figure of this new approach was Henry Kissinger, who "had a coherent world view shaped by the European tradition of diplomatic real politic."(Rothney and Findley, 1986, 303) He was the proponent of the traditional way of the balance of power. The existence of two influential communist powers determined the Americans to try to benefit from their differences in what came to be known as a "triangular diplomacy," balancing Russia and China, while exploring their differences to the best advantage of the American state. (Kissinger, 1994) His diplomatic initiatives were based on the fact that "Kissinger did not see the world's future as the triumph of American right over communist wrong." (Rothney and Findley, 1986, 305)

The general guidelines of Kissinger's foreign policy included a wider perspective on the international affairs. These events and especially the failure of the American administration to successfully resolve the situation in Vietnam, along with the following events that made the front pages of every major newspaper, made it clear for the Americans that the world was no longer bipolar and that other important poles of power were thus emerging. These included Western Europe and Japan. Thus, Kissinger's strategy envisaged exactly this change and he engaged the foreign policy apparatus in "the reversal of Chinese-American relations."(Rothney and Findley, 1986, 305) This included secret negotiations, informal meetings, and other televised events.

The reaction to this sudden change in policy was the reorientation of the Russian attitude towards the world and especially towards the U.S. In these circumstances, the U.S. could improve on its diplomatic success, which was indirectly acknowledged by the warm welcome of President Nixon in 1972 at Moscow, soon after his visit to Beijing.

The detente was also stimulated by the acceptance of the U.S.S.R. As a nuclear equal, a title that gave it the assurance needed to start the collaboration with the Americans. Even so, the U.S.S.R. was experiencing serious internal distress, provoked by the emerging flaws in the socialist economic system. On the other hand, despite its international supremacy, the U.S. was going through deep internal turmoil, especially due to the economic disarray that made the government take fiscal measures that resulted in the finishing of the Bretton Woods Agreements. This action proved that, on the one hand, the U.S. continued to be the strongest actor on the international scene, but, on the other hand, "the need to do so suggested that American power was no longer what it had been in 1944." (Rothney and Findley, 1986, 308) Therefore, the two main factors involved in the Cold War had, by 1972, the time of SALT I, concluded to the limitation of their own power and their weaknesses. This was, thus, the formal acknowledgement of the "realities of a multi-polar world" and the need for cooperation.

The Carter Administration drew similar guidelines for the foreign policy chapter. However, it failed in its attempt to maintain the momentum of the diplomatic successes of the detente. Jimmy Carter followed the series of the treaties on the limitation of strategic arms with SALT II, though the respective document failed ratification by the Congress. From the U.S.S.R.'s perspective, this was seen as a hostile attitude and therefore the Russians did not limit their influence in third world countries that culminated in the Afghan military intervention in 1979. In response, as most political advisers at the White House considered the Russians to be aggressive in terms of American interests advocated a return to a bipolar confrontation.

The Reagan administration, the representative of the republicans, refused the detente promoted by Kissinger, and took a different perspective on international relations with Russia. Thus, his initiatives included "a record military buildup, which included preparations for the militarization of space" in an attempt to destroy "the empire of evil." (Kissinger, 1994) Moreover, he followed on the actions involving small third world countries with interventions in the Middle East Lebanon, and Latin America. The crushing of the revolution in Grenada is a worthy example of the directions followed by the American diplomacy in its attempt to "restore democracy and put an end to Marxist-Leninist threat." (Rothney and Findley, 1986, 311) Therefore, the first Reagan mandate considered the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. As the most important element in its foreign policy and al actions subscribed this goal.

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