The Middle East
The Middle East is a place today where local rivalries are intense, where the vital interests of the United States and the Soviet Union are both involved. Quite obviously, the primary responsibility for achieving a peaceful settlement in the Middle East rests on the nations there themselves. But in this region in particular, it is imperative that the two major powers conduct themselves so as to strengthen the forces of peace rather than to strengthen the forces of war.
Address to the United Nations
October 23, 1970
Vietnam is our most anguishing problem. It is not, however, the most dangerous. That grim distinction must go to the situation in the Middle East, with its vastly greater potential for drawing Soviet policy and our own into a collision that could prove uncontrollable.
There are three distinct and serious aspects of the Middle East problem, each by itself difficult enough to resolve. They cannot, however, be treated in isolation. They have become enmeshed, and each tends to exacerbate and make more intractable the others. The Middle East crisis must be recognized as the product of these three dimensions:
- The Arab-Israeli conflict, which for more than twenty years has festered when it has not burned. It is the core problem of the Middle East crisis, and its intensity today is undiminished.
- Intra-Arab differences, which focus primarily on whether a negotiated settlement of the Israeli conflict is acceptable or whether force is the only solution. There are also differences over how Arab nations should be governed, which have led more than once to civil conflict. And there are rivalries growing out of disagreement about the relation of Arab states to each other in the quest for unity in the Arab world.
- The conflict between the interests of the Soviet Union and the United States, each of which is now more deeply than ever engaged in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Events surrounding the hostilities in Jordan in September showed how fragile are the barriers to direct great power confrontation in the Middle East.
America's interest in the Middle East-and the world's interest- is that the global structure of peace not be allowed to break down there. But this objective has to be pursued in a situation in rapid flux:
The relationship between Middle East countries and outside powers has changed. The system of outside control that characterized the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries is gone; the peoples of the Near East have achieved national independence. There is a continuing search for a new balance between the strong nationalisms of the area and outside forces.
The character of the outside influences has changed. The nations of the Middle East must now come to terms on various levels with the technological, capital, political and military presence of the United States; with a new projection of Soviet power, and with a new Europe establishing economic association through the Common Market with a number of nations in the area.
The relationship among the outside powers has changed. With lines between the U.S. and the Soviet Union firmly drawn in Europe, their contest has spilled over to the south where no such lines exist and where local conflict and rapid change draw them into new competition. This takes place against a background of changes in their own global strategic relationship and changes in their respective national postures toward global involvement.