Madman theory

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The madman theory was an important part of Richard Nixon's foreign policy

The madman theory was a feature of Richard Nixon's foreign policy. He and his administration tried to make the leaders of hostile Communist Bloc nations think Nixon was irrational and volatile. According to the theory, those leaders would then avoid provoking the United States, fearing an unpredictable American response.

Nixon's Chief of Staff, H. R. Haldeman, wrote that Nixon had confided to him:

I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I've reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We'll just slip the word to them that, "for God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can't restrain him when he's angry—and he has his hand on the nuclear button" and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.[1]

In October 1969, the Nixon administration indicated to the Soviet Union that "the madman was loose" when the United States military was ordered to full global war readiness alert (unbeknownst to the majority of the American population), and bombers armed with thermonuclear weapons flew patterns near the Soviet border for three consecutive days.[2]

The administration employed the "madman strategy" to force the North Vietnamese government to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War.[3] Along the same lines, American diplomats, especially Henry Kissinger, portrayed the 1970 incursion into Cambodia as a symptom of Nixon's supposed instability.[4]

In 1517, Machiavelli had argued that sometimes it is "a very wise thing to simulate madness" (Discourses on Livy, book 3, chapter 2). In Nixon's Vietnam War, Kimball argues that Nixon arrived at the strategy independently, as a result of practical experience and observation of Dwight D. Eisenhower's handling of the Korean War.[5]

The Madman strategy was also used by Vladimir Putin.[6][7]


  1. ^ Haldeman, H. R. (1978). The Ends of Power. Times Books. p. 122. 
  2. ^ Carroll, James (2005-06-14). "Nixon's madman strategy". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2007-04-01. 
  3. ^ Robert D. Schulzinger (2002). U.S. Diplomacy Since 1900. Oxford University Press US. p. 303. ISBN 9780195142211. 
  4. ^ Michael S. Sherry. In the Shadow of War. Yale University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-300-07263-5. Page 312.
  5. ^ David A. Welch (2005). Painful Choices. Princeton University Press. p. 154. ISBN 9780691123400. 
  6. ^ Putin is 'Playing the Madman' to Trick the West
  7. ^ Richard Nixon’s madman theory enjoys a Russian revival


See also[edit]