Nixon’s policy toward the U.S.S.R. is known as detente and was strongly influenced by the pressing need to end the conflict in Vietnam, which had been lingering for years and through several of his predecessors’ administrations. With his national security adviser Henry Kissinger, Nixon helped formulate a truce-like foreign policy with the Soviet Union. Detente involved historic meetings in Moscow with Soviet leaders like General Secretary Brezhnev: the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). Central to SALT was the issue of nuclear arms. Serving at the height of the Cold War, Nixon helped ease tensions between the two superpowers and thus set the stage for a global balance of power. His foreign policy was predicated on maintaining stability and balance rather than achieving strategic objectives.
In fact, Nixon’s SALT left a legacy for future presidents. When Carter assumed office in 1977 he built on Nixon’s work by organizing SALT II: the second phase of the detente policy. Like Nixon Carter sought truce but more openly suggested nuclear arms reduction and anti-proliferation. Carter’s SALT II was in many ways less successful than Nixon’s because of widespread belief that the Soviets would not fulfill their end of the bargain. Moreover, Carter dealt with more significant challenges than Nixon did during his tenure as President. During the Carter administration, the U.S.S.R. invaded Afghanistan. Carter was forced to respond and he responded aggressively using a variety of tactics including an announcement of the Carter Doctrine. The Carter Doctrine asserted America’s right to protect U.S.-held oil interests in the Persian Gulf in light of the Soviet encroachment in the region. Basically Carter’s foreign policy became more complicated as the Soviets beefed up their relationships with the leaders of oil-holding countries throughout the Middle East as well as the Central Asian oil regions under Moscow’s control. Carter pursued peace in the midst of escalating tensions and increased Soviet aggressions abroad.
President Reagan stepped away from Nixon and Carter’s disarmament deals and instead moved toward nuclear proliferation with the Soviet Union. Although Reagan undid much of Nixon and Carter’s work with nuclear disarmament, he is widely credited with helping dismantle the Soviet Union. Therefore, Reagan’s foreign policy toward the U.S.S.R. is more ironic than any other American president. Reagan also proposed the highly controversial Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which was an elaborate system of military technologies designed to protect the United States against a potential nuclear attack. The SDI was lambasted and mocked, and never went into effect. The mere mentioning of the SDI was enough to stir fears that the Cold War would escalate, drawing the United States and Russia into a World War. Yet it soon became apparent that the Soviet Union was weakening under its own faulty domestic policies. When a progressive Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, the fall of the Soviet Union was immanent and inevitable.
After the fall of the Soviet Union under Reagan’s watch, his Vice President Bush inherited the problem of dealing with a fragmented Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Bush Sr.’s foreign policy toward Moscow was largely passive, arguably much more passive than any of his predecessors were because the Cold War was over and the threat of nuclear war temporarily set aside. Moreover, the dissolution of the Soviet Union was still taking place and Bush Sr. watched while new nation-states emerged out of the Soviet Bloc. However, Bush Sr. negotiated nuclear disarmament treaties with Gorbachev and his successor Boris Yeltsin and willingly recognized the independence of many formerly Soviet republics.
Relations with Russia again grew tense under President Clinton largely because of the conflicts that arose in the Balkans. The Soviet Union had been a blanket republic encompassing countless tribal, ethnic, cultural, and religious groups. When the U.S.S.R. was dissolved, former Soviet Republics clamored for independence. However, the geo-political boundaries were all but arbitrary and not based on their ethnic characters. In some cases, whole ethnic groups were marginalized and persecuted as minorities under their new leaders. Russia’s policy toward the Balkan region was self-serving and thus overlooked many of the humanitarian crises taking place in Eastern Europe. President Clinton’s foreign policy toward Russia, therefore, sought to balance humanitarian ideals with regional stability. In particular, Clinton responded aggressively to Slobodan Milosevic, a Serbian dictator who conducted widespread progroms of ethnic cleansing in Serbia. The Clinton-led UN-sponsored invasion of Yugoslavia irked Russia and damped foreign relations with Moscow.
Since Clinton left office and Bush Jr. assumed the position of President, relations with Russia have only partially thawed. A former member of the Soviet secret service KGB, President Putin has been a vocal opponent of many U.S. foreign policy decisions. His overbearing domestic policy has all but stopped short democracy in Russia and tensions in the Balkans continue to be a point of disagreement between Bush’s and Putin’s administrations. Bush Jr.’s foreign policy toward Russia is therefore not dissimilar from that of his father: careful waiting, watching, and preparedness. Neither Bush Sr. Nor Jr. developed any cohesive plan or policy toward Russia. Rather, both dealt with Moscow on a case-by-case basis.
Bill Clinton’s War in Yugoslavia.” Retrieved Feb 27, 2008 at http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Yugoslavia/BillClintonsWar_Yugo.html
George Bush Sr. On Foreign Policy.” On the Issues. Retrieved Feb 27, 2008 at http://www.ontheissues.org/Celeb/George_Bush_Sr__Foreign_Policy.htm
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