The Long Entanglement: NATO's First Fifty Years

By Lawrence S. Kaplan | Go to book overview

4
The Impact of Sputnik on NATO

"The impact of Sputnik on NATO" was written initially for a conference in Paris in 1991 and published in Rélations Internationales (Autumn, 1992). The English version was presented at a NASA conference at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, in October 1997.

If ever there was a Pax Americana it should have been found in the decade of the 1950s. The vast power of America that was harnessed in World War II blossomed between 1950 and 1960. Not only was the United States truly the only superpower, it enjoyed a prosperity never before achieved in its history. Yet the Cold War with the Soviet Union and its allies cast a shadow on the 1950s that extended from the beginning to the end of the decade. Communism was not only a dangerous ideology threatening American values but also a tool of Russian imperialism threatening American security. The decade opened with the Korean conflict and closed with the fallout from Sputnik.

Historians a generation later have noted that the nation misjudged both events: the invasion of North Korea was not a Soviet experiment to be repeated in a divided Germany; and the launching of an earth satellite was not a harbinger of Soviet technological or military superiority. But even the middle years of the decade appeared fraught with danger. The fall of French Indochina might have set in motion the fall of all South Asia to communism, and the Suez crisis of 1956 might have opened all the Middle East to Soviet control. As it was, the decade's end marked the advent of a dan-

-65-

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