Henry Kissinger: Setting the Record Straight (Part 3)


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Madman Strategy

Why would anyone think Kissinger was capable of committing such heinous crimes? Perhaps one reason for this belief has to do with the Madman Theory.

William Burr is Senior Analyst at the National Security Archive and Jeffrey Kimball is professor emeritus, Miami University, and author of Nixon’s Vietnam War and The Vietnam War Files. They wrote:

President Richard Nixon and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger believed they could compel “the other side” to back down during crises in the Middle East and Vietnam by “push[ing] so many chips into the pot” that Nixon would seem ‘crazy’ enough to “go much further….

The purpose of the strategy was to “make “the other side … thinks we might be ‘crazy’ and might really go much further” – Nixon’s Madman Theory notion of intimidating adversaries such as North Vietnam and the Soviet Union to bend them to Washington’s will in diplomatic negotiations.”

Burr and Kimball continue:

With Madman diplomacy, Nixon and Kissinger strove to end the Vietnam War on the most favorable terms possible in the shortest period of time practicable, an effort that culminated in a secret global nuclear alert in October of that year [1969]. Nixon’s Nuclear Specter provides the most comprehensive account to date of the origins, inception, policy context, and execution of “JCS Readiness Test” – the equivalent of a worldwide nuclear alert that was intended to signal Washington’s anger at Moscow’s support of North Vietnam and to jar the Soviet leadership into using their leverage to induce Hanoi to make diplomatic concessions. Carried out between 13 and 30 October 1969, it involved military operations around the world, the continental United States, Western Europe, the Middle East, the Atlantic, Pacific, and the Sea of Japan. The operations included strategic bombers, tactical air, and a variety of naval operations, from movements of aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines to the shadowing of Soviet merchant ships heading toward Haiphong.

Nixon and Kissinger’s strategy involved stoking fear in Soviet leadership by being perceived as mad. They wanted to appear unrestricted in their use of force in order to get their enemies to the bargaining table.

We have a number of declassified documents that reveal the truth around Kissinger’s actions. Nixon wrote a memorandum to Kissinger in March of 1969 saying, “we must worry the Soviets about the possibility that we are losing our patience and may get out of control.”

How can the madman strategy follow along ethical lines? If bombings were surgical and ethical they wouldn’t seem mad or strike fear in anyone, right?

Needless to say, this strategy was a failure.

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