The Foreign Policy of Lyndon B. Johnson: The United States and the World, 1963-1969

By Jonathan Colman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Two Adversaries: The Soviet Union and the
People’s Republic of China

The Cold War rivalry between East and West had emerged in earnest by around 1947, with Washington’s enunciation of the ‘Truman Doctrine’ pledging economic and military support for allies facing a communistinspired uprising. By the time President Johnson entered office in 1963, a mixture of crises such as that over Berlin, and more relaxed periods, had come to characterise the Soviet–American relationship. In particular, the experience of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 led both sides to reflect especially hard on the value of less adversarial policies. As was evident in relation to Vietnam, Johnson was very much a supporter of the Cold War consensus that the chief international aim of the United States was to inhibit the spread of communism, but he did recognise that in the nuclear age the superpowers bore a special responsibility to the world.1 Despite the Vietnam War, the failure to initiate arms control talks and the fact that Johnson focused on the relationship with the Soviet Union only sporadically, his Presidency proved to be a constructive period for the Soviet– American relationship, as was shown by a range of accords.2

The relationship with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) saw less tangible progress. China had become communist when Mao Zedong secured power in 1949 after years of civil war in which Washington had supported the Nationalists. The so-called ‘loss’ of China was seen as a profound setback for American Cold War interests. The US government refused to extend diplomatic recognition to the regime in Beijing, instead backing the Chinese Nationalist government based on the island of Taiwan (the Republic of China). The PRC’s intervention in the Korean War in 1950, American resistance to the PRC’s representation in the UN and periodic crises between the PRC and Taiwan over the islands of Quemoy and Matsu perpetuated the strain. For many observers, the 1962 border war with India confirmed the image of the PRC’s belligerence, as did its efforts to develop a nuclear bomb. Although the PRC and the Soviet Union had been allies,

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