Date of Award

Spring 5-2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


War and Society

First Advisor

Dr. Charissa Threat

Second Advisor

Dr. Matteo Jarquin

Third Advisor

Dr. Kyle Longely


In 1969, President Richard Nixon inherited a much different Cold War than that which existed in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Writ large, the project of ‘containing’ communism appeared to be falling apart. The Soviet Union was ascendant in Eurasia, the Vietnam War was continuing to grind down American power projection, and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was emerging as a potential partner on the world stage. Despite the uncertainty of the situation, both President Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger saw these circumstances as an opportunity to reshape the global balance of power. Key to this plan was a diplomatic ‘opening’ to the PRC, which would engender a tripolar balance of power to counter the Soviet Union’s grip on Asia. Yet, the major obstacle in the way of this plan was the ongoing American recognition of the Nationalist Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan and the existing defense treaty Washington and Taipei.

For decades, Peking was adamant that Washington needed to forswear all support for Taipei as a precondition for full diplomatic ties between the United States and PRC. Unfortunately, such a formula appeared to give Communist China a path to reunify Taiwan with the Mainland through military action. To maintain peace in East Asia and to protect American credibility, the United States could not afford to allow the PRC to use force to settle its dispute with Taiwan. This thesis argues that the Nixon Administration sought to use diplomacy with the PRC and its security ties with the ROC to ensure a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan Strait crisis during the US opening of Communist China. In doing so, the US side aimed to find a balance between a diplomatic partnership with Peking and a defense relationship with Taipei. This challenges conventional views about the Nixon Administration’s willingness to unilaterally abandon its commitments to Taiwan in order to open the People’s Republic of China. This thesis further contends that the roots of the modern American approach of ‘strategic ambiguity’ towards the ROC has its roots in the policies which the Administration perused from 1969-1974.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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