At a news conference, President Nixon says he feels the prospects for peace have “significantly improved” since he took office. He cited the greater political stability of the Saigon government and the improvement in the South Vietnamese armed forces as proof.
With these remarks, Nixon was trying to set the stage for a major announcement he would make at the Midway conference in June. While conferring with South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu, Nixon announced that the United States would be pursuing a three-pronged strategy to end the war. Efforts would be increased to improve the combat capability of the South Vietnamese armed forces so that they could assume responsibility for the war against the North Vietnamese—Nixon described this effort as “Vietnamization.” As the South Vietnamese became more capable, U.S. forces would be withdrawn from South Vietnam. At the same time, U.S. negotiators would continue to try to reach a negotiated settlement to the war with the communists at the Paris peace talks.
This announcement represented a significant change in the nature of the U.S. commitment to the war, as the United States would be withdrawing troops from the war for the first time. The first U.S. soldiers were withdrawn in the fall of 1969 and the withdrawals continued periodically through 1972. At the same time, the United States increased the advisory effort and provided massive amounts of new equipment and weapons to the South Vietnamese as well. When the North Vietnamese launched a massive invasion in the spring of 1972, the South Vietnamese wavered, but eventually rallied with U.S. support and prevailed over the North Vietnamese. Nixon proclaimed that the South Vietnamese victory validated his strategy. In fact, a peace agreement was finalized in January 1973, but the fighting continued anyway. The U.S. did not deliver the aid it had promised in the case of continued attacks—the South Vietnamese held out for two years but they succumbed to the North Vietnamese in April 1975.