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During the ripening stage of the Cold War in the first half of the 1960s, John Fitzgerald Kennedys foreign policy had been more diplomatic than his predecessor Dwight Eisenhower’s rigid view about the US presence in the world politics. Indeed, the diplomatic essence of the Kennedy Doctrine initially played a crucial role in building up the very premises -“Flexible Response to the International Political Powers”, “Containment of Communism” and “Reversal of Soviet Progress in the West” – of the Kennedy Doctrine. If Kennedy would not have inherited the legacy of the Recession of 1960-61, and also if ‘the Bay of Pigs’ invasion would not have failed, the Kennedy Doctrine had been, possibly, read as an anecdote or sequel to his predecessor Eisenhower’s foreign policy which rigidly was permeated with the president’s confidence in the country’s military strength to suppress any threat in international politics. Though within the first six months of his presidency in the Oval Office, Kennedy recovered from the recession, the increased military expenditure in the following years was the reflection of Kennedy’s policy to deter any possible offensive role of the Soviet Union. In this regard Gaddis (2005) opined that also the failed CIA-backed military coup in Cuba, in spite of Kennedy’s promise to refrain from Cuban Affairs, provoked the president to be bold to pronounce the United States’ defensive stance regarding the Berlin issue and the diplomatic acknowledgement of the Soviet Union’s concern in Germany. (Gaddis, 2005, pp. 112-115).
Outlines of the Kennedy Doctrine and Historical Background
Though the Kennedy Doctrine is often misinterpreted as the elaborations of Eisenhower and Truman’s foreign policy prerogatives to contain Communist expansion around the world at any cost, even by involving into another war, the skeletal difference of JFK’s policy with his predecessor’s was determined by the country’s experience of fighting the recession during its earliest months, of failure of the “Bay of Pigs” and the “Cuban Missile Crisis”. Kennedy promised to pay “any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty” (The Avalon Project, 2008). In his augural speech; nevertheless he was aware of the pressure of a tumultuous economy that was suffering from the fourth great recession in the US history. In one of his Union addresses, Kennedy admitted it: “The present state of our economy is disturbing. We take office in the wake of seven months of recession. Insured unemployment is at the highest peak in our history. In short, the American economy is in trouble” (Sorensen, 2009, p. 98). Unlike his predecessor, Eisenhower, Kennedy took the reign of America at a time when “business bankruptcies had reached the highest level since the 1930s, farm incomes had decreased 25 percent since 1951, and 5.5 million Americans were looking for work” (Miller Center, n.d.).
Failure of the “Bay of Pigs” Invasion: A New Turn in Kennedy’s Foreign Policy
Indeed Kennedy’s perception of the country’s economy along with the failures of his overly enthusiastic but covert military enterprises in Cuba in April 17, 1961 seemed to provoke him to be more diplomatic in confronting Communism around the World. Researchers often tend to characterize the Bay of Pig Invasion as Kennedy Administration’s initial trend to tread down the predecessors’ path to respond to Nikita Khrushchev’s “support for the wars of national liberation” in January, 1961 and the Soviet role in Congo crisis in February, 1961. According to Gaddis (2005), such experience in the “Bay of Pigs” might bring a new twist in Kennedy Foreign Policy (p. 89). This event provoked the president to voice the US positions clearly, less depending on the covert role, in the Berlin Crisis of 1961 as well as in the US relations with the Fareast, the Southeast Asia and Africa. Consequently Kennedy acknowledged the “Soviet Union’s historical concerns about their security in central and eastern Europe” (Kempe, 2011, p. 247); in the meantime, on the national television, he voiced, “We seek peace, but we shall not surrender” (Kempe, 2011, p. 247). This new policy of Kennedy “to remain open to negotiation, not to surrender” was reflected in the subsequent reinforcement of the US military presence in West Berlin with additional 34000 Army and Marine corps and $3.25 billion of military support to the army.
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Effects of the Kennedy Doctrine
The effect of this new stance in Kennedy’s foreign policy on the United States’ relation with the world was profound and it seemed to influence the US foreign policy during the rest of Kennedy’s presidency. For the Soviet leaders, Kennedy’s policy makers’ message was clear; the United States would not play offensive; moreover they would not retreat from their current position. Therefore the only way left for the Soviet leaders to find out a solution, to build up the Berlin Wall, to prevent the massive migration of the Eastern Germans to the West Germany. Thus Kennedy’s foreign policy had been able to prevent further escalation of the Berlin Crisis. Indeed US policy of flexible response was the reflection of Kennedy’s stance, “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate” (The Avalon Project, 2008). This stance also helped Kennedy to seek out a peaceful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis. During the crisis, the United States’ military stance – the US naval blockade of Cuba – was more of diplomatic step to discourage the Soviet from further progress than of an intention to involve into a real war. The flexibility of Kennedy’s response to the crisis assisted him to bargain the withdrawal of Soviet nuclear presence from Cuba with the withdrawal of the American ICBMs from Turkey.
During the Cold War, Kennedy Doctrine pioneered to raise international awareness against the propagation of nuclear weapons and the destructions effects of a nuclear war between the two superpowers of the world. Therefore, the Kennedy Administration successfully prevented a direct nuclear war by creating it as a fear-factor that always discouraged the Soviet leaders to involve into a direct conflict. Such fear-factor of a nuclear war was further prolonged by Kennedy’s initiative to create “Peace Corps, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and Alliance for Progress” (Larres & Lane, 2001, p. 103). While the Peace Corps were raising social awareness of the destructions of a nuclear war between the two superpowers, they also were defending communism from propagating further among the mass populations of the European and the Southeast Asian countries. Again, while the ‘Arms Control and Disarmament Agency’ kept the leaders of the world on the roundtable discussion and prevented a direct nuclear conflict, it provided Kennedy with the scope to give military and diplomatic support to the nations fighting against communism (Gaddis, 2005, pp. 112-115).
In short, Kennedy Doctrine was bold but tactically diplomatic. The advantages that it brought about for the United States were: to allow the US administration to provide both overt and covert military and economic support to the friendly nations in fighting against communism, while preventing a direct war with the Soviet Union. Keeping the Soviet leaders on the discussion table, the effort to implement Arms Control and the subsequent approval of the “Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty” by the superpowers – all of which were, either direct or indirect, results of Kennedy’s foreign policy – helped the US administration to reduce the pressure on the economy. The succeeding presidents Johnson and Richard Nixon’s failure to perceive the diplomatic essence of the Kennedy Doctrine plunged the United States into the bloody Vietnam War, which Kennedy could have avoided in some way or other.
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