Foreign policy of the John F. Kennedy administration
President of the United States
Assassination and legacy
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". Several of them were from the foreign policy think tanks. Kennedy had been interested in the issues of war and peace since his youth. 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".
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.
- 1 Soviet Union
- 2 Europe
- 3 Latin America
- 4 Asia and Middle East
- 5 Africa
- 6 Free trade: Kennedy Round GATT talks
- 7 References
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 External links
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. Adzhubey promised to publish the full text in Izvestiya and Kennedy publicly expressed his appreciation for that.
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". 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.
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.
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". 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
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.
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.
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. 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.
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" 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. At a meeting with Macmillan, Kennedy attempted to save the situation and offered the United Kingdom the UGM-27 Polaris in lieu of Skybolt. The related agreement dissatisfied French President Charles De Gaulle, who resented American preference toward Great Britain.
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. Jacqueline, who in turn spoke fluent French, intrigued the French press, which called her the "queen".
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". Kennedy was particularly dissatisfied with De Gaulle's intentions to assist West Germany in developing nuclear weapons.
East and West Germany
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".
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 Georgi Bolshakov.
As a result of the Berlin crisis Kennedy's government faced a dramatic increase in the defense budget. 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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
Asia and Middle East
Israel and Arab states
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".
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.
Kennedy extended the first informal security guarantees to Israel in 1962. 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.
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. 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.
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.
Relations between the United States and Iraq became strained following the overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy on July 14, 1958, which resulted in the declaration of a republican government led by Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim. Concerned about the influence of Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) members in Qasim's administration, President Eisenhower had established a Special Committee on Iraq (SCI) in April 1959 to monitor the situation and propose various contingencies for preventing a communist takeover of the country. Qasim undertook numerous repressive measures against the communists throughout 1960, and this—combined with the Kennedy administration's belief that Iraq was not important to the broader Cold War—resulted in the disestablishment of the SCI. However, subsequent events would return Iraq to the attention of American officials.
On June 25, 1961 Qasim mobilized troops along the border between Iraq and Kuwait, declaring the latter nation "an indivisible part of Iraq" and causing a short-lived "Kuwait Crisis". The United Kingdom—which had just granted Kuwait independence on June 19 and whose economy was heavily dependent on Kuwaiti oil supplies—responded on July 1 by dispatching 5,000 troops to the country to deter any Iraqi invasion. At the same time, Kennedy briefly dispatched a U.S. Navy task force to Bahrain, and the U.K. (at the urging of the Kennedy administration) brought the dispute to United Nations Security Council, where the proposed resolution was vetoed by the Soviet Union. The situation was finally resolved in October, when the British troops were withdrawn and replaced by a 4,000-strong Arab League force. The Kennedy administration's initially "low-key" response to the stand-off was motivated by the desire to project an image of the U.S. as "a progressive anti-colonial power trying to work productively with Arab nationalism" as well as the preference of U.S. officials to defer to the U.K. on issues related to the Persian Gulf.
Following Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani's 1958 return to Iraq from exile in the Soviet Union, Qasim had promised to permit autonomous rule in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, but by 1961 Qasim had made no progress towards achieving this goal. In July 1961, following months of violence between feuding Kurdish tribes, Barzani returned to northern Iraq and began retaking territory from his Kurdish rivals. Although Qasim's government did not respond to the escalating violence, the Kurdish Democratic Party sent Qasim a list of demands in August, which included the withdrawal of Iraqi government troops from Kurdish territory and greater political freedom. For the next month, U.S. officials in Iran and Iraq predicted that a war was imminent. Faced with the loss of northern Iraq after non-Barzani Kurds seized control of a key road leading to the Iranian border in early September and ambushed and massacred Iraqi troops on September 10 and September 12, Qasim finally ordered the systematic bombing of Kurdish villages on September 14, which caused Barzani to join the rebellion on September 19. As part of a strategy devised by Alexander Shelepin in July 1961 to distract the U.S. and its allies from the Soviet Union's aggressive posture in Berlin, the Soviet KGB revived its connections with Barzani, providing his troops with money and weapons and encouraging him to revolt, although Barzani had no intention to act as their proxy. By March 1962, Barzani's forces were in firm control of Iraqi Kurdistan, although Barzani refrained from taking major cities out of fear that the Iraqi government would launch reprisals against civilians. The U.S. refused Kurdish requests for assistance, but Qasim nevertheless castigated the Kurds as "American stooges" while absolving the Soviets of any responsibility for the unrest.
In December 1961, Qasim's government passed Public Law 80, which restricted the British- and American-owned Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC)'s concessionary holding to those areas in which oil was actually being produced, effectively expropriating 99.5% of the IPC concession. U.S. officials were alarmed by the expropriation as well as the recent Soviet veto of an Egyptian-sponsored UN resolution requesting the admittance of Kuwait as UN member state, which they believed to be connected. Senior National Security Council adviser Robert Komer worried that if the IPC ceased production in response, Qasim might "grab Kuwait" (thus achieving a "stranglehold" on Middle Eastern oil production) or "throw himself into Russian arms". At the same time, Komer made note of widespread rumors that a nationalist coup against Qasim could be imminent, and had the potential to "get Iraq back on [a] more neutral keel". Following Komer's advice, on December 30 Kennedy's National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy sent the President a cable from the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, John Jernegan, which argued that the U.S. was "in grave danger [of] being drawn into [a] costly and politically disastrous situation over Kuwait". Bundy also requested Kennedy's permission to "press State" to consider measures to resolve the situation with Iraq, adding that cooperation with the British was desirable "if possible, but our own interests, oil and other, are very directly involved."
In April 1962, the State Department issued new guidelines on Iraq that were intended to increase American influence in the country. Around the same time, Kennedy instructed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)—under the direction of Archie Roosevelt, Jr.—to begin making preparations for a military coup against Qasim. On June 2, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hashim Jawad ordered Jernegan to leave the country, stating that Iraq was also withdrawing its ambassador from Washington in retaliation for the U.S. accepting the credentials of a new Kuwaiti ambassador on June 1, which Iraq had repeatedly warned would result in a downgrading of diplomatic relations. Despite the Iraqi warnings, senior U.S. officials were stunned by the downgrade; Kennedy had not been informed of the likely consequences of accepting the Kuwaiti ambassador. By the end of 1962, a series of major defeats at the hands of Kurdish rebels had severely damaged both the Iraqi army's morale and Qasim's popular support. From September 1962 through February 1963, Qasim repeatedly blamed the "criminal activities" of the U.S. for the battlefield successes of the Kurds, but the State Department rejected requests from the U.S. Chargé d'Affaires in Baghdad, Roy Melbourne, to publicly respond to Qasim's allegations out of fear that doing so would jeopardize the remaining U.S. presence in Iraq. On February 5, 1963 Secretary of State Dean Rusk informed the U.S. embassy in Iraq that the State Department was "considering carefully whether on balance U.S. interests would be served [at] this particular juncture by abandoning [its] policy of avoiding public reaction to Qasim's charges", with the reluctance stemming from the desire to avoid compromising the CIA's "significant intelligence collecting operations": On February 7, State Department executive secretary William Brubeck informed Bundy that Iraq had become "one of the more useful spots for acquiring technical information on Soviet military and industrial equipment and on Soviet methods of operation in nonaligned areas." The CIA had earlier penetrated a top-secret Iraqi-Soviet surface-to-air missile project. With access to an "intelligence bonanza" hanging in the balance, U.S. officials were showing "great reluctance about aggravating Qasim."
After reaching a secret agreement with Barzani to work together against Qasim in January, the anti-imperialist and anti-communist Iraqi Ba'ath Party overthrew and executed Qasim in a violent coup on February 8, 1963. While there have been persistent rumors that the CIA orchestrated the coup, declassified documents and the testimony of former CIA officers indicate there was no direct American involvement, although the CIA was actively seeking to find a suitable replacement for Qasim within the Iraqi military and had been informed of an earlier Ba'athist coup plot. Qasim's former deputy Abdul Salam Arif (who was not a Ba'athist) was given the largely ceremonial title of President, while prominent Ba'athist general Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr was named Prime Minister. The most powerful leader of the new government was the secretary of the Iraqi Ba'ath Party, Ali Salih al-Sa'di, who controlled the militant National Guard and organized a massacre of hundreds—if not thousands—of suspected communists and other dissidents in the days following the coup. The Kennedy administration viewed the prospect of an Iraqi shift in the Cold War with cautious optimism. However, U.S. officials were worried that a renewal of conflict with the Kurds could threaten the Iraqi government's survival. While Barzani had released 1,500 Arab prisoners of war as a gesture of good faith, Iraqi Foreign Minister Talib Shabib told Melbourne on March 3 that the government was unwilling to consider any concessions beyond cultural autonomy and was prepared to use anti-Barzani Kurds and Arab tribes in northern Iraq to co-opt the Kurds' guerrilla methods. On May 4, Melbourne delivered a message warning Shabib of the U.S. government's "serious apprehensions at [the] trend of events" and urging Iraqi officials to make "serious counter-proposals". Nevertheless, on May 22 al-Bakr bluntly told Melbourne he "could not permit this Kurdish challenge to Iraqi sovereignty to continue [for] much longer." The fighting resumed on June 10, when the Iraqi government—which had amassed 45,000 troops in Iraqi Kurdistan—arrested members of the Kurdish negotiating delegation and declared martial law throughout northern Iraq. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union actively worked to undermine the Ba'athist government, suspending military shipments to Iraq in May, convincing its ally Mongolia to sponsor charges of genocide against Iraq at the UN General Assembly from July to September, and sponsoring a failed coup attempt on July 3. The Kennedy administration responded by urging Arab allies of the U.S. to oppose the genocide charge at the UN and by approving a $55 million arms deal for Iraq. Because, in the words of State Department official James Spain, the "policy of the nationalist Arabs who dominate the Baghdad government does in fact come close to genocide"—as well as a desire to eliminate the Soviets' "Kurdish Card"—the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Robert Strong, informed al-Bakr of a Barzani peace proposal delivered to the U.S. consul in Tabriz (and offered to convey a response) on August 25. While a Barzani-initiated ceasefire would have allowed the government to claim victory, al-Bakr "expressed astonishment" over American contacts with the Kurds, asking why the message had not been delivered through the Soviets.
The Ba'athist government collapsed in November 1963 over the question of unification with Syria (where a rival branch of the Ba'ath Party had seized power in March) and the extremist and uncontrollable behavior of al-Sa'di's National Guard. President Arif, with the overwhelming support of the Iraqi military, purged Ba'athists from the government and ordered the National Guard to stand down; although al-Bakr had conspired with Arif to remove al-Sa'di, on January 5, 1964, Arif removed al-Bakr from his new position as Vice President, fearful of allowing the Ba'ath Party to retain a foothold inside his government. On November 21, 1963, the Kennedy administration determined that because Arif remained the Iraqi head of state, diplomatic relations with Iraq would continue unimpeded.
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.
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.
When Kennedy came to power, the American–Turkish relations were solidly based on the containment doctrine. In April 1961 Kennedy asked for a review of the PGM-19 Jupiter deployment in Turkey. The response, drafted in June by George McGhee, indicated that cancellation of the deployment might be seen as a sign of weakness in the aftermath of Nikita Khrushchev's hard-line position at the Vienna summit.
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. 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. 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".
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 By May, 1963 Kennedy intended to pull the military out of Vietnam. 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.
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.
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". Touré also expressed his satisfaction about the "firmness with which the United States struggles against racial discrimination".
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.
Free trade: Kennedy Round GATT talks
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.
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