John F. Kennedy: The Promise Revisited

By Paul Harper; Joann P. Krieg | Go to book overview

3
Defense Policy as a Form of Arms Control: Nuclear Force Posture and Strategy under John F. Kennedy

Bernard J. Firestone

John F. Kennedy, after having pledged to "get the country moving again," became president of the United States in 1961. Among his principal concerns was the nation's defense posture, which during his presidential campaign had served as a convenient target for charges that the nation had fallen behind its communist opponent. This chapter examines the Kennedy administration in terms of its contribution to U.S. strategic doctrine and nuclear force posture development. The argument made here is that Kennedy's was the first Cold War administration to fashion military strategy by deliberately integrating into a single policy both the fundamental conflict and complementarity of interests in relations between the United States and Soviet Union. Thus, while the Kennedy administration inherited and even embraced many of the defense policies and programs of the Eisenhower administration, for example, the nuclear triad and deterrence, it also broke new intellectual and strategic ground, particularly in the area of arms control.

In contrast to Dwight D. Eisenhower, who entered office on the crest of a huge political mandate, John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency after scoring only a modest triumph over Vice-President Richard M. Nixon, his Republican opponent. To be sure, Congress remained in the hands of Kennedy's former Democratic colleagues, but power in both houses was still vested in the hands of Southern Democratic congressmen and senators whose political outlook was substantially more conservative than that of the new president and his advisers. This combination of a modest election victory and a relatively weak position in Congress compelled Kennedy to move gingerly on most issues, including defense. In the area of arms control, in particular, the president was, in the words of George F. Kennan, "very sensitive to the strong anti-communist feelings . . . in a large portion of Congress." Kennedy wanted to move toward a more stable

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