The Presidency of Richard Nixon

From 1969 to 1974, Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the United States. He spearheaded the campaign to achieve energy self-sufficiency in the United States and enact several groundbreaking environmental policies in domestic matters. He strengthened American ties with China and the Soviet Union in international affairs, and he terminated the US engagement in the Vietnam War. Despite his accomplishments, Richard Nixon is remembered for his involvement in the Watergate scandal.

In this article, learn about Nixon’s policies and a summary of his participation in the Watergate controversy.

Improved relations with China

In 1949, communists gained control of mainland China, forcing nationalists to flee to Taiwan. The US recognized Taiwan, often known as the Republic of China, as China’s only government, ignoring the People’s Republic of China (PRC). When Richard Nixon became President, he intended to improve relations with the People’s Republic of China. Richard Nixon became the first US president to visit the People’s Republic of China in 1972, following a series of diplomatic overtures. The week-long visit, which took place from February 21 to February 28, was hailed as a prudent and strategic triumph. Nixon’s visit marked the end of a 25-year period in which the two countries had no official relations or contact. It was a turning point in world politics, marking a crucial step toward normalizing China-US ties, and it ushers a new era of Sino-American relations. This visit also gave the US more clout with the Soviet Union, worried about a Sino-American alliance against them.

Reduced tension between the Soviet Union and the United States

To lessen the escalating tensions between the US and the Soviet Union, Nixon had intensive talks with Leonid Brezhnev, the Communist Party’s General Secretary. As a result of these talks, commerce between the two countries has risen. The two nations also signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks Agreement (SALT I) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABMT). SALT I, signed on May 26, 1972, set a limit on the number of strategic ballistic missile launchers. New submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers could only be installed after an equal number of older intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launchers were decommissioned. All of these measures contributed to reducing the possibility of nuclear war between the world’s two superpowers. Furthermore, improved US ties with China and the Soviet Union resulted in the two countries diminishing their diplomatic support for North Vietnam and requesting that it negotiate a cease-fire.

Ended United States’ involvement in Vietnam War

Nixon campaigned on the promise that the “new leadership” would “end the conflict (Vietnam War) and bring peace to the Pacific.” Around 300 American soldiers were dying in Vietnam every week when he took office. Furthermore, there were widespread anti-war rallies in the United States. Nixon used a strategy known as “Vietnamization” to deal with the problem. It entailed the substitution of Vietnamese forces for American forces. He then started removing American soldiers from the country. Richard Nixon made a significant concession to North Vietnam on May 8, 1972, when he announced that the United States would accept a cease-fire as a condition for removing its troops from South Vietnam. 

This resulted in negotiations progressing in the months that followed. Finally, on January 27, 1973, North Vietnam, South Vietnam, the United States, and the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG), which represented indigenous South Vietnamese revolutionaries, signed the Paris Peace Accords. The United States withdrew all of its soldiers from the Vietnam War due to the Paris Peace Treaty. However, when North Vietnam captured South Vietnam in 1975, the treaty’s stipulations were quickly disregarded without any action from the US. As a result, the Vietnam War may be regarded a significant defeat for the US.

Initialized the drive for energy self-sufficiency

On October 6, 1973, the Yom Kippur War began when an Arab alliance led by Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. Israel won the war with the help of the United States. However, as a result, members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries imposed an embargo and halted oil exports to the United States. Nixon responded by enacting many policies, including oil rationing and lowering highway speed limits. More notably, Nixon implemented his “Project Independence,” a massive initiative to achieve energy self-sufficiency within seven years by 1980.

This was to be accomplished by a national commitment to energy conservation and the development of alternative energy sources. Between 1973 and 1976, federal funding in energy research and development “more than quadrupled in actual terms.” Nixon’s concentration on energy produced long-term advantages for the United States regarding conservation measures, expanded research, and increased domestic production of all energy sources, even though his ambition was not achieved.

Enforced groundbreaking environmental measures

On January 1, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA produced a formal statement of national environmental policies and goals for the first time and measures for federal agencies to enforce those policies and objectives. It also formed the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Furthermore, the NEPA makes it essential to compile a complete statement of environmental consequences for crucial government activities that potentially influence the environment. NEPA had a significant impact, and more than 100 countries worldwide have passed national environmental regulations based on it.

Apart from NEPA, Nixon’s presidency saw the passage of the Clean Air Act or CAA of 1970 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. The CAA is widely recognized as the most critical air pollution control legislation in American history. It enabled the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement laws to protect people from dangerous air pollution. The Marine Mammal Protection Act was the first law to protect marine animals. It permitted the government to enact steps to prevent marine animal deaths, develop criteria for public displays of marine animals such as dolphins, and control the import and export of marine animals, among other things.

Space Program

The United States won the race to put humans on the moon after a nearly decade-long national effort with the mission of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969. During their moonwalk, Nixon talked with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, describing the interaction as “the most momentous phone call ever made from the White House.” Nixon, on the other hand, was unwilling to maintain NASA’s high funding levels throughout the 1960s, and he rejected NASA Administrator Thomas O. Paine’s ambitious plans for the establishment of a permanent lunar base by the end of the 1970s and the launch of a human-crewed mission to Mars in the 1980s. Nixon approved a five-year NASA-Soviet space cooperation initiative on May 24, 1972, culminating in the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project, a combined flight of an American Apollo and a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft in 1975.

The Watergate Scandal

Despite his accomplishments, the Watergate Scandal will forever mar Richard Nixon’s reputation. Five robbers were arrested on June 17, 1972, for stealing into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) offices. The Watergate Scandal was named after these offices located in Washington, DC’s Watergate Complex. The FBI discovered that the burglary was linked to the Committee for the President’s Re-Election (CRP), Nixon’s official campaign group for the presidential election. Numerous abuses of power by officials of the Nixon administration surfaced as the inquiry progressed. These included wiretapping political opponents’ offices and employing government organizations like the FBI, CIA, and IRS as political weapons.

Furthermore, Nixon sought to conceal the controversy by enlisting the help of federal authorities to derail the probe. With the possibility of impeachment looming, Richard Nixon resigned as President on August 9, 1974. Gerald Ford, his successor, pardoned him on September 8, 1974.