Ford Administration (1974–1977), United States National Security Policy

Ford Administration (1974–1977), United States National Security Policy


When Gerald Ford assumed the presidency of the United States upon the 1974 resignation of Richard Nixon, he chose to continue most of Nixon's national security policy. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger remained in office as the principal manager of national security matters while détente with the Soviet Union continued as a chief U.S. goal. The two administrations differed in that Ford never enjoyed Nixon's foreign policy successes. The Ford administration's accomplishments in arms control were overshadowed by the loss of South Vietnam to the Communists as well as doubts about the enforceability of the Vladivostok arms agreement.

A cautious mainstream Republican from Michigan who had served for many years as the minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, the amiable Ford came to the White House at an inauspicious time. Some Americans had lost faith in political leaders, largely as a result of the Watergate scandal, and this change made it difficult for Ford to marshal public support for his policies. With little experience in foreign affairs, Ford relied almost exclusively on Kissinger to pursue Nixon's aims of stability in the Middle East, rapprochement with China, and an easing of tensions with the Soviet Union.

Ford did make a change at the top of the National Security Council (NSC). Kissinger served as both national security adviser and secretary of state. During 1975, strong public and congressional disapproval developed over the accretion of so much power over foreign policy in the hands of one man. Watergate had discredited Nixon's system of a White House-centered system operating largely independently of the various security agencies. Accordingly, as part of a cabinet shakeup on November 3, 1975, Ford replaced Kissinger as national security adviser with Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft, who had been Kissinger's deputy at the NSC. This personnel shift produced little real change as Kissinger continued to dominate as the presidential advisor. Scowcroft acted in a lowkey, low profile capacity while overseeing the flow of interdepartmental proposals and analyses of decisions.

Kissinger had two notable achievements under Ford. He managed to reduce Middle East tensions by persuading Egypt and Israel to rely on negotiations rather than force to settle future disagreements. He also presided over the Vladivostok treaty, signed by Ford and Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev in 1974. This pact, a continuation of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) talks, was designed to serve as a basis for SALT II. It allowed each side to retain 2,400 strategic vehicles. This latter term was defined to include intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) such as the nuclear-powered Polaris, and, for the first time, intercontinental bombers. The land-based ICBMs are anti-missile missiles while the less-accurate SLBMs offer more security and are therefore regarded as a main deterrent force. Both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were permitted to possess a limit of 1,320 multiple, independently targetable, reentry vehicles (MIRVs) on their ICBMs. It is essentially impossible to monitor the number of warheads within any missile without on-site inspections and, for this reason, MIRVs and other forms of multiple warhead systems had been omitted from consideration in the 1972 SALT agreement. Any anti-ballistic missile system is likely to be overwhelmed if the attack against it is from missiles with multiple warheads. On the other hand, a nation can withstand the loss of many retaliatory missiles and still have a formidable second-strike capability if the surviving ones are of the MIRV type.

Vladivostok raised concerns because neither the U.S. nor the Soviet Union possessed 2,400 strategic vehicles. The agreement seemed to many to be more of an arms expansion accord than an arms limitation one. The treaty also did nothing to address the existing inequity in large missiles, a category in which the Soviets were vastly superior.

While Ford faced attacks from Congress and the American public over Vladivostok, Cambodian Communists captured the American merchant ship Mayaguez in May, 1975. Ford sent the marines to rescue the crew, but initial public approval of this forceful act diminished when it was disclosed that the Cambodians had already agreed to release the Americans. Forty-one seamen died in the rescue. In that same month, South Vietnam fell to communist-controlled North Vietnam. Ford's tottering presidency received yet another blow when he stated, in televised debate with 1976 presidential opponent Jimmy Carter, that Eastern Europe was free of Soviet domination. Ford's defeat in the election meant that the Carter administration would negotiate the SALT II agreement.



Boll, Michael M. National Security Planning Roosevelt through Reagan. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1988.

Brodie, Bernard and Fawn M. Brodie. From Crossbow to H-Bomb: The Evolution of the Weapons and Tactics of Warfare. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973.

Carroll, Peter N. It Seemed like Nothing Happened: America in the 1970s. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990.

Crabb, Cecil V. and Kevin V. Mulcahy. American National Security: A Presidential Perspective. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole, 1991.


Ballistic Missiles
Cold War (1972–1989): The Collapse of the Soviet Union
Middle East, Modern U.S. Security Policy and Interventions
National Security Advisor, United States
National Security Strategy, United States
Nixon Administration (1969–1974), United States National Security Policy
NSC (National Security Council)
NSC (National Security Council), History
Nuclear Weapons

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