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Foreign policy of the John F. Kennedy administration

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Title: Foreign policy of the John F. Kennedy administration  
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Foreign policy of the John F. Kennedy administration

The foreign policy of the John F. Kennedy administration in 1961–1963 saw diplomatic and military initiatives in Europe, Southeast Asia, Latin America and other regions amid considerable Cold War tensions. Kennedy deployed a new generation of foreign policy experts, dubbed "the best and the brightest".[1] Several of them were from the foreign policy think tanks.[1] Kennedy had been interested in the issues of war and peace since his youth.[2] In his inaugural address Kennedy encapsulated his Cold War stance as following: "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate".[3]

Kennedy's strategy of flexible response, managed by Robert McNamara, was aimed to reduce the possibility of war by miscalculation. Kennedy's administration contributed to the peaceful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis and refrained from further escalation of the 1961 Berlin Crisis. In 1961 Kennedy initiated the creation of Peace Corps, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and Alliance for Progress. On October 7, 1963 he signed the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which was accepted by the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom.

Kennedy was praised for having a less rigid view of the world than his predecessor Dwight Eisenhower and for accepting the world's diversity, as well as for improving United States' standing in the Third World.[2]


  • Soviet Union 1
    • Cuban Missile Crisis 1.1
  • Europe 2
    • United Kingdom 2.1
    • France 2.2
    • East and West Germany 2.3
  • Latin America 3
  • Asia and Middle East 4
    • Israel and Arab states 4.1
    • Laos 4.2
    • Turkey 4.3
    • Vietnam 4.4
  • Africa 5
  • Free trade: Kennedy Round GATT talks 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Soviet Union

Kennedy shaking hands with Nikita Khrushchev, 1961.

On November 29, 1961 American officials declared that the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS) allegedly distributed a distorted, editorialized version of the Kennedy interview, given to Izvestiya employee Alexei Adzhubey. According to U.S. officials, the omissions included Kennedy's charges that the Soviets had violated the Yalta and Potsdam agreements, as well as the moratorium on nuclear tests and Kennedy's claim that the issue of divided Berlin largely stems from the Soviet refusal to agree to German reunification.[4] Adzhubey promised to publish the full text in Izvestiya and Kennedy publicly expressed his appreciation for that.[4]

In January 1961 the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev declared his support for wars of national liberation. This step was interpreted by Kennedy as a direct threat to the "free world".[5] On February 15, 1961 Kennedy asked Soviets to avoid interfering with United Nations pacification of the Congo Crisis. Khrushchev proposed to amend the United Nations Charter by replacing the position of Secretary-General with a three-person executive called the Troyka (Russian: "group of three"). On September 25, 1961 Kennedy addressed the United Nations General Assembly, revealing his commitment to veto the Troyka plan). On February 27, 1961 in his letter to Khrushchev Kennedy offered an early summit meeting. Khrushchev agreed to meet in the Austrian capital Vienna. The subsequent Vienna summit was tainted by the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Khrushchev, however, tended to attribute the responsibility for the invasion not to Kennedy, but to his subordinates.[6]

During his meeting with Khrushchev Kennedy's main goal was to suggest a retraction from the Cold War. Nonetheless Kennedy did not believe it would be feasible to change something in divided Europe or in the Far East and spoke with very general wording. However, he [Kennedy] did take the novel step of emphasizing the importance of Allied access to ‘West Berlin.’ Previous administrations had simply referred to ‘Berlin.’ The evidence suggests that Kennedy essentially accepted the permanent division of Berlin into East and West and implied that an East Berlin border closure would not bring a US response as long as West Berlin was left alone. Since he was already thinking about putting up a wall in Berlin, Khrushchev was encouraged to continue down this path.[7]

The U.S. State Department prepared several papers for Kennedy on how to approach Khrushchev. One of them, titled "Scope Paper", indicated that Khrushchev would "undoubtedly press hard his position on Berlin and a peace treaty with East Germany".[8] In the spring of 1963 Kennedy started to seek a further conciliation with the Soviet Union. In the summer of that year he sought to wind down the confrontational mentality that dominated American–Soviet relations and to replace standard anticommunist rhetoric with a conciliatory one.

Cuban Missile Crisis

Kennedy, signing the authorization of the naval quarantine of Cuba.

After the ill-fated Bay of Pigs Invasion, in late July 1962, the Soviet Union began sending its weaponry and military personnel to Cuba, citing the intents to protect Cuba from further invasions. The Soviet Union planned to allocate in Cuba 49 medium-range ballistic missiles, 32 intermediate-range ballistic missiles, 49 light Il-28 bombers and about 100 tactical nuclear weapons.[9]

After their discovery Kennedy secretly met with the EXCOMM. He postponed a military solution of the crisis strenuously advocated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and decided to impose a naval quarantine on Cuba. On October 22, 1962 Kennedy informed the nation of the crisis, announcing the quarantine and demanding the removal of Soviet missiles.[10]

Kennedy managed to preserve restraint when a Soviet missile unauthorizedly downed a US Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft over Cuba, killing the pilot Rudolf Anderson. On October 27, in a letter to Nikita Khrushchev Kennedy offered a noninvasion pledge for the removal of missiles from Cuba. The next day Kennedy and Khrushchev struck a deal: the Soviet Union agreed to remove the missiles in exchange for the United States' noninvasion pledge and the dismantlement of US PGM-19 Jupiter missiles based in Turkey. By that time, the fifteen Jupiter missiles were considered obsolete and had been supplanted by missile-equipped US Navy Polaris subs.[11] They were removed the next year.

During the crisis Kennedy showed his leadership talents, decision-making abilities and crisis management skills. By early November 1962 Kennedy's handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis was considered by most Americans as a diplomatic success in foreign policy.[12]


United Kingdom

By 1960 the United Kingdom had ceased their work on a national missile system and Eisenhower offered to make the American GAM-87 Skybolt available to the British as soon as it was improved. The United Kingdom accepted the offer as the GAM-87 Skybolt would have ensured it a nuclear deterrent through most of the 1960s. By mid-1962, however, Robert McNamara had deemed the Skybolt project "excessively expensive... with serious technical flaws"[13] and decided to cancel it.

Because of informational mishaps Kennedy was not informed that McNamara's decision would have serious political consequences for Harold Macmillan's government.[14] At a meeting with Macmillan Kennedy attempted to save the situation and offered the United Kingdom the UGM-27 Polaris in lieu of Skybolt.[14] The related agreement dissatisfied French President Charles De Gaulle, who resented American preference toward Great Britain.[14]


Kennedy at a White House dinner in honor of the French Minister of Cultural Affairs André Malraux, 1962.

France was the first country Kennedy visited as President. He arrived to Paris with his wife Jacqueline Kennedy on May 31, 1961. Charles De Gaulle, known for his preference to speak French to foreign guests, greeted Kennedy in English.[15] Jacqueline, who in turn spoke fluent French, intrigued the French press, which called her the "queen".[15]

The French nuclear program was pivotal in De Gaulle's aim of restoring France's international reputation. Kennedy administration had a firm commitment to the nuclear nonproliferation. In a letter to Harold Macmillan Kennedy wrote: "After careful review of the problem, I have to come to the conclusion that it would be undesirable to assist France's efforts to create a nuclear weapons capability".[16] Kennedy was particularly dissatisfied with De Gaulle's intentions to assist West Germany in developing nuclear weapons.

East and West Germany

Kennedy with the Chancellor of West Germany Konrad Adenauer (center) in Bonn, 1963.

Kennedy called Berlin "the great testing place of Western courage and will". On August 13, 1961 the East Germans, backed by Moscow, suddenly erected a temporary barbed wire barricade and then a concrete barrier, dividing Berlin. Kennedy noted that "it seems particularly stupid to risk killing millions of Americans... because Germans want Germany to be reunified".[17]

Two months later, a US-Soviet war nearly occurred as US and Soviet tanks faced off across Checkpoint Charlie. The crisis was defused largely through a backchannel communication the Kennedy administration had set up with Soviet spy

  • John F. Kennedy and Vietnamese coup
  • Video of Kennedy's trip to Mexico in 1962 and Costa Rica in 1963

External links

  1. ^ a b Hastedt, Glenn (2004). Encyclopedia of American foreign policy. Infobase Publishing. p. 275.  
  2. ^ a b c "John F. Kennedy - Foreign affairs". President Profiles. Retrieved 2011-02-18. 
  3. ^ "Inaugural Address of John F. Kennedy". American Rhetoric. January 20, 1961. Retrieved 2011-02-19. 
  4. ^ a b Stewart Hensley (November 29, 1961). "Tass Distorts Version of Kennedy Interview". The Altus Times. Retrieved 2011-02-18. 
  5. ^ Larres, Klaus; Ann Lane (2001). The Cold War: the essential readings. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 103.  
  6. ^ The Cold War: the essential readings, p. 104
  7. ^ Kempe, Frederick (2011). Berlin, 1961. Penguin Group (USA). p. 247.  
  8. ^ Goduti, Philip (2009). Kennedy's kitchen cabinet and the pursuit of peace. McFarland. p. 50.  
  9. ^ Giglio, James; Stephen G. Rabe (2003). Debating the Kennedy presidency. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 39.  
  10. ^ Kenney, Charles (2000), John F. Kennedy: The Presidential Portfolio, pp. 184-186, ISBN 1-891620-36-3
  11. ^ Kenney, Charles (2000), John F. Kennedy: The Presidential Portfolio, pp. 184-186, ISBN 1-891620-36-3
  12. ^ Brinkley, Douglas; Richard T. Griffiths (1999). John F. Kennedy and Europe. LSU Press. p. 288.  
  13. ^ Pagedas, Constantine (2000). Anglo-American strategic relations and the French problem, 1960-1963: a troubled partnership. Routledge. p. 184.  
  14. ^ a b c Siracusa, Joseph (2004). The Kennedy years. Infobase Publishing. p. 53.  
  15. ^ a b McElrath, Jessica (2008). The Everything John F. Kennedy Book: Relive the History, Romance, and Tragedy of Americas Camelot. Everything Books. p. 166.  
  16. ^ John F. Kennedy and Europe, p. 324
  17. ^ Paterson, Thomas; J. Garry Clifford; Shane J. Maddock; Deborah Kisatsky; Kenneth Hagan (2009). American foreign relations: a history. Since 1895, Volume 2. Cengage Learning. p. 332.  
  18. ^ Kempe, Frederick (2011). Berlin, 1961. Penguin Group (USA). pp. 478–479.  
  19. ^ a b Anglo-American strategic relations and the French problem, 1960-1963: a troubled partnership, p. 189
  20. ^ a b Debating the Kennedy presidency, p. 27
  21. ^ John F. Kennedy: "Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, Zionists of America Convention, Statler Hilton Hotel, New York, NY," August 26, 1960
  22. ^ Shannon, Vaughn P. (2003). Balancing Act: US Foreign Policy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., p. 55
  23. ^ Walt, Stephen M. (1987). The Origins of Alliances, Cornell University Press, pp. 95-96
  24. ^ Walt, Stephen M. (1987). The Origins of Alliances, Cornell University Press, pp. 95-96
  25. ^ Druks, Herbert (2005). John F. Kennedy and Israel. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 65.  
  26. ^ John F. Kennedy and Europe, p. 119
  27. ^ American foreign relations: a history. Since 1895, Volume 2, p. 344
  28. ^ a b American foreign relations: a history. Since 1895, Volume 2, p. 345
  29. ^ American foreign relations: a history. Since 1895, Volume 2, p. 348
  30. ^ a b The Everything John F. Kennedy Book: Relive the History, Romance, and Tragedy of Americas Camelot, p. 226
  31. ^ Schlesinger, Arthur (2002). A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 559–560.  
  32. ^ a b A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, pp. 569-570
  33. ^ Schlesinger, Arthur (2007). Journals: 1952-2000. The Penguin Press. p. 181.  


The Kennedy Round is a name of the fourth round of GATT talks. It was ensured in 1962, when Kennedy won congressional approval for U.S. participation in that round of GATT talks. Kennedy's negotiations were the most fruitful GATT round after 1951 and led to a considerable expansion in world trade.

Free trade: Kennedy Round GATT talks

On October 2, 1962 Kennedy signed United Nations bond issue bill to ensure American assistance in financing United Nations peacekeeping operations in the Republic of the Congo and elsewhere. Around this time, the Kennedy Administration was making private attempts to convince Moise Tshombe to reunite the breakaway State of Katanga that he led with the Congo, in advance of U.N. intervention.[33]

It was believed that through what Kennedy team termed as middle-class revolution the Third World nations would grow to economic and political maturity. By the spring of 1962 in particular American aid made its way to Guinea. On his return from Washington to Conakry, Guinean leader Ahmed Sékou Touré reported to his people that he and Guinean delegation found in Kennedy "a man quite open to African problems and determined to promote the American contribution to their happy solution".[32] Touré also expressed his satisfaction about the "firmness with which the United States struggles against racial discrimination".[32]

Kennedy's approach to African affairs contrasted sharply with that of his predecessor, Eisenhower. Particularly, in naming young appointees to several embassies, such as William Attwood to Guinea and William P. Mahoney to Ghana, Kennedy broke with Eisenhower's pattern. Other appointees included scholar John Badeau (to Egypt), liberal Democrats with government experience Philip Kaiser, John Ferguson and James Loeb (to Senegal, Mauritania, Morocco and Guinea). The Kennedy administration believed that the British African colonies would soon achieve independence. Under Kennedy a civil rights activist Mennen Williams was tasked with management of the African affairs. According to Nigerian diplomat Samuel Ibe, "with Kennedy there were sparks"; the Prime Minister of Sudan Ibrahim Abboud, cherishing a hunting rifle Kennedy gave him, expressed the wish to go out on safari with Kennedy.[31]

Kennedy, his wife and Côte d'Ivoire President Félix Houphouët-Boigny with his wife at a state dinner in the White House, 1962.


By the end of 1961 the American advisers in Vietnam numbered 3,205, but at the time of Kennedy's assassination that number reached 16,700[28] By May, 1963 Kennedy intended to pull the military out of Vietnam.[30] This decision was influenced particularly by Ngo Dinh Nhu's interview to Washington Post, where he noted that there were too many military advisers in his country.[30]

In January, 1961 Kennedy assigned 28.4 million dollars to the enlargement of the South Vietnamese army and 12.7 million dollars to enhance the civil guard.[27] In October of the same year Kennedy dispatched Maxwell Taylor and Walt Rostow to South Vietnam to study the situation there. They recommended sending 8,000 troops, but Kennedy authorized only a much smaller increase in the American advisers.[28] In 1961 the subject of Vietnam was raised at the meeting of Kennedy and Charles de Gaulle in Paris. De Gaulle warned that Southeast Asia would quickly become a "bottomless military and political quagmire".[29]


When Kennedy came to power, the Nikita Khrushchev's hard-line position at the Vienna summit.[26]


Kennedy was prepared to accept the neutrality of Laos as a solution. In April, 1961 the Soviet Union endorsed Kennedy's appeal for the cease fire in Laos. Eventually an agreement was signed in July 1962, proclaiming Laos neutral.

As Pathet Lao received Soviet support, Kennedy ordered the United States Seventh Fleet to move into the South China Sea and drew marines with helicopters into Thailand. He also instructed the American military advisers in Laos to wear military uniforms instead of the civilian clothes as a symbol of American resolve. Nonetheless Kennedy believed that if both superpowers could convince their respective allies to move toward neutrality in Laos, that country might provide a pattern for settlement of future Third World conflicts.


Following the outburst of the North Yemen Civil War Kennedy, fearing that it would lead to a larger conflict between Egypt and Saudi Arabia (which might involve the United States as Saudi ally), decided to recognize the revolutionary regime. Kennedy hoped that it could stabilize the situation in Yemen. Kennedy still tried to persuade Nasser to pull his troops out.

In the summer of 1960 the U.S. embassy in Tel-Aviv learned that Israel was assisted by France in the construction of what U.S. intelligence called "a significant atomic installation" in Dimona.[25] Although David Ben-Gurion had publicly assured the United States that Israel did not plan to develop nuclear weapons, Kennedy tried unsuccessfully to persuade Israel to permit some qualified expert (either American or from some other friendly nation) to visit Dimona. In 1962 the United States sent to Israel the MIM-23 Hawk missiles. Nonetheless Kennedy wished to work more closely with the modernizing forces of the Arab world. In June 1962 Nasser wrote Kennedy a letter, noting that though Egypt and the United States had differences, they could still cooperate.

Kennedy extended the first informal security guarantees to Israel in 1962.[23] Beginning in 1963, Kennedy allowed the sale to Israel of advanced US weaponry (the MIM-23 Hawk), as well as to provide diplomatic support for Israeli policies which were opposed by Arab neighbours, such as its water project on the Jordan River.[24]

Subsequently as president, Kennedy initiated the creation of security ties with Israel, and he is credited as the founder of the US-Israeli military alliance (which would be continued under subsequent presidents). Kennedy ended the arms embargo that the Eisenhower and Truman administrations had enforced on Israel. Describing the protection of Israel as a moral and national commitment, he was the first to introduce the concept of a 'special relationship' (as he described it to Golda Meir) between the US and Israel.[22]

Kennedy firmly believed in the U.S. commitment to Israeli security, but his Middle Eastern policy saw ambitious Pan-Arabic initiatives of Gamal Abdel Nasser. In 1960, Kennedy stated: "Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and the home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom".[21]

Israel and Arab states

Kennedy's Asian initiatives particularly targeted India because it followed a noncommunist model of economic development and was a member of the Nonaligned Movement.

Asia and Middle East

His 1962 trip to Mexico evoked an enthusiastic response to his Alliance for Progress vision. In that year Mexican President Adolfo López Mateos told Kennedy that for the sake of improvement of the Mexican–American relations the Chamizal dispute should be solved. The U.S. and Mexican joint efforts in that field ultimately produced the Chamizal Convention.

Kennedy's Latin American program was tasked to the Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson. Kennedy initially supported Latin America's democratic left, but his attitude towards this group cooled down toward the end of his presidency. Kennedy's main achievements regarding Latin America were the Kennedy Doctrine and the Alliance for Progress. Although the latter achieved far less than the Kennedy had hoped, its ideals gave Kennedy an unusual degree of popularity in Latin America.[2]

Latin America

Kennedy ordered 500 military men to travel on trucks through East Germany to West Berlin to insure that the West preserved the land-link to the city. In late October 1961, a dispute over the right of one U.S. diplomat to cross the East Berlin flared into conflict. Soviet and American tanks faced one another at Checkpoint Charlie, but Kennedy through an intermediary offered Khrushchev a conciliatory formula and both superpowers withdrew their tanks.[20]

On June 26, 1963 Kennedy arrived in West Berlin and visited Checkpoint Charlie. On that day he delivered his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in front of 150,000 West Germans. In remarks to his aides on Berlin Wall Kennedy noted that the wall "is a hell of a lot better than a war".[20]

As a result of the Berlin crisis Kennedy's government faced a dramatic increase in the defense budget.[19] The negative balance of payments with the European allies had aggravated American fiscal problems. At the end of 1961 Robert McNamara concluded an arrangement with West Germany whereby the latter was to annually purchase some American military hardware. However this only partially alleviated the payments issue.[19]


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