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Foreign Policy During 1960-1964

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 4, 2012

Cuba

The Bay of Pigs

As soon as he took office, Kennedy was plunged into dealing with pressing foreign policy concerns. President Eisenhower had done nothing to resolve the Cold War hostility with the Soviet Union. In 1959, rebel leader Fidel Castro had seized power in Cuba, turning it into a Communist state that he ruled as a military dictator. The presence of a Communist nation and potential Soviet ally only 90 miles from the U.S. coast was of grave concern. Before Eisenhower left office, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had developed a plan to remove Castro from government. Kennedy approved the plan, which called for invading the island at a coral reef known as the Bay of Pigs. The invasion was a disastrous failure, marking the low point of Kennedy’s administration. It strengthened the alliance between the Soviet Union and Cuba and increased the hostility that both nations felt toward the United States.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev met Kennedy for the first time at a European summit, and came away believing that the U.S. president was inexperienced and weak. Khrushchev therefore tested the United States by installing nuclear arms in Cuba. This meant that either Cuba or the Soviets could strike the United States from a very short distance away. It was a clear threat of a nuclear attack.

Kennedy responded by establishing a naval blockade of Cuba. He announced to the American people that the U.S. Navy would turn back all armed Soviet ships headed for the island. Both sides prepared for battle. The Soviet ships approached the blockade, then, to the surprise of the Americans, wheeled around and sailed back toward the USSR. Khrushchev then wrote to Kennedy, offering to dismantle the nuclear base in Cuba if the United States would agree to withdraw its own nuclear missiles from certain sites in Europe./p>

This was the closest that the two nations ever came to launching a nuclear war. Both Kennedy and Khrushchev acknowledged that they could not allow such a war to happen. From then on, the two nations began to try to find common ground and to achieve what later became known as détente, or “peaceful coexistence.” In 1963, the two nations, along with Great Britain, signed the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which ended the testing of nuclear bombs in the atmosphere and underwater.

Berlin

At Potsdam in 1945, the United States and the Allies had agreed to occupy Germany. There were several reasons for the occupation. First, the Allies wanted to purge Germany of Nazism and punish any surviving Nazis. Second, they intended to help the Germans set up a new, democratic government. Third, they would work with the Germans to install a new bureaucracy, including a police force. Fourth, they would work to reestablish society and the German economy, including everything from the school systems to the postal service to the transportation network.

The Soviets occupied the eastern half of Berlin; the western half was divided into American-, British-, and French-occupied zones. Before long, the three Western powers united their zones into one for economic purposes; Stalin’s refusal to go along with their plan effectively made Berlin into two cities.

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