The Cold War and U.S. Diplomacy


John Fitzgerald Kennedy became an important political figure admired by generations of Americans. He was elected as the 35th President during the Cold War; therefore, he had to deal with big problems and crises. Kennedy created a new political doctrine that influenced his decisions and foreign policy. Even though not all his plans and intentions were fulfilled, his presidency was marked by great achievements. Following his “Flexible response” and basing his decisions on it, Kennedy managed to successfully deal with the Cuban Missile Crisis and sign the treaty banning nuclear testing.

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Historical Background

When John Fitzgerald Kennedy became the President of the United States in January 1961, he faced a number of problems created by the existing situation in the world and politics of his predecessor. The confrontation between the USA and the Soviet Union was extremely serious. The fear of nuclear war between the two countries was present during the Cold War, and the situation only worsened due to developments in space technology and the U-2 spy plane incident. The Cuban situation did not look optimistic as well. Castro’s regime ignored and restricted people’s civil rights, removed individuals not supporting communist ideas from the government, controlled American property as well as business, and encouraged anti-American moods.

In 1960, Fresquet, the last liberal in Castro’s regime, was removed; therefore, diplomatic efforts to improve the Cuban situation failed. As a result, Operation Pluto was planned. Eisenhower, Kennedy’s predecessor, agreed to spend $13 million on this operation. The plan was quite simple. The USA wanted to create a small army of exiles consisting of students, workers who previously supported Castro, former military officers, and professionals. They would be given all necessary equipment to land at the Bay of Pigs and capture a secure beachhead. The USA planned to stage a revolution there and overthrow Castro and his government. While planning the invasion, the US government also thought of a credible explanation in case the plan failed so that nobody would know that the USA was the initiator of the rebellion.

“Flexible Response” and Actions Taken by the President and His Administration

Kennedy and his administration changed the national security policy and created a new doctrine called “Flexible response.” It aimed to enhance deterrence by giving the President flexible nuclear options and increase the ability to deal with military crises. Soon Kennedy had a chance to use his doctrine in real life.

On January 28, 1961, Kennedy and his advisors began to think what to do about the Cuban situation. The USA had already taken a range of measures against Castro, including propaganda, sabotage, political, economic, and military actions. Of course, all these measures were taken secretly. Another urgent problem was Operation Pluto. The soldiers were staying in Guatemala continuing their training, but the administration had to decide what to do next. It was obvious that the USA could not take any overt military action against Castro’s regime because it would affect the US position in the international arena. Nevertheless, Kennedy authorized the further development of the plan against Castro and taking actions on the island. However, probably the main intention of the President was to continue to oppose communist penetration of the USA but not the democratic social revolution and economic reform.

During February and March, Kennedy continued to meet with his advisors discussing the plan. Several of them told him about their concerns over the plan. They were worried that the interference of the USA would influence its position in the world. Moreover, they were afraid that if the plan did not succeed, it would only strengthen Castro’s position and deepen the relationship between Cuba and the Soviet Union. In spite of these warnings, the President allowed the intervention making several changes to the plan. In addition, he even planned to strike a few Cuban airfields. However, the second air strike was canceled due to the difficult situation at the UNO on April 17, 1961.

The final goal of the operation was to stage a revolt against Castro and his regime. The first stage of the operation included propaganda. The second one consisted of air attacks from Guatemala. However, at this stage the plan started to fail. The pilots missed their initial targets and made five attacks instead of two. The third stage of the operation was the land invasion. It is important to note that even a few hours before the invasion, the rebels were not completely sure about it. For instance, some pondered how they would receive supplies and weapons once they occupied the beachhead. Others were worried about the situation they would face when they landed. Nevertheless, they landed and started the invasion. The rebellion was not a successful one. The exiles surrendered after seventy-two hours. They failed mainly because they did not get the air support from the USA as it had been promised. As a result, the USA had to face horrible diplomatic and political consequences.

The Consequences of the Doctrine and U.S. Governmental Actions

The consequences for Castro were good. He wholly committed himself to the communist ideology and strengthened his position. The failure of Americans also deepened the relationship between Cuba and the Soviet Union. Consequently, the USSR sent its military personnel and weapons to Cuba to protect it from further attacks. The USSR even installed nuclear missiles in Cuba. Obviously, it was done in order to provoke the USA and shift the balance of power in the West. Kennedy had to decide how to deal with the situation. He had two options. He could either authorize the attack on Cuba or warn Khrushchev about the consequences of such action. Kennedy chose the second option, and it proved to be effective. By October 26, 1962, Soviet ships with nuclear missiles turned back without facing US ships. However, the tension between the countries kept rising. On October 27, 1962, Khrushchev offered Kennedy a deal. According to this proposal, the Soviet Union would send its ships away from Cuba if the US ships containing nuclear missiles left Turkey. Kennedy agreed to do that, but the plan had to remain a secret. On October 30, the Soviet ships with missiles left Cuba.

However, even though nuclear missiles were removed from Cuba, the situation was far from peaceful as not all problems were solved. Cuba still had IL28 plane bombers given by the USSR. Those bombers could potentially carry nuclear weapons. Even though before the Cuban crisis it had been announced that no weapons in Cuba were dangerous for the USA, the White House demanded to remove them, otherwise it would not lift the blockade. However, it was a very difficult task. The problem was that the planes were given to Cuba and belonged to Castro, but not to the USSR. It was obvious that their removal could destroy the relationship between Cuba and the Soviet Union; therefore, Khrushchev suggested a solution. He would remove those planes quietly after the USA lifted the blockade. Kennedy’s administration, however, refused to do so.

To force Khrushchev to take some actions, the USA resumed its reconnaissance flights over Cuba facing the risk of being attacked by Cuban forces. After that, the administration said that the crisis started to worsen and the President would give a speech on the following day to announce the next steps. However, this never happened as the USSR agreed to remove its planes.

The war against Castro’s regime continued in secret. In June 1963, a new operation to defeat Castro was launched. A special commando unit was prepared by the CIA, and a secret navy was formed. In the Cuban mountains, there were also thousands of guerrillas supported by the USA. There were many attempts to kill Castro, but they did not succeed. The peace in the Caribbean was very fragile.

It is also important to note that one of the effects of the Cuban Missile Crisis and Kennedy’s doctrine was the ratification of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in August 1963. The document was signed after eight years of difficult negotiations between the USA, UK, and USSR. It prohibited testing of nuclear weapons on land, underwater, and in space.


To conclude, the policy of John Fitzgerald Kennedy was influenced by his “Flexible response” and had both its advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages for Kennedy was the improvement of his reputation. When he became the President, he had to deal with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy’s doctrine and signing the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty not only positively influenced his reputation but also eased tension existing during the Cold War. However, some disadvantages of Kennedy’s doctrine were also serious. Firstly, Kennedy was so obsessed with preventing the spread of communism and removing nuclear weapons that he failed to notice that any actions taken by the USSR were dangerous for the USA. Secondly, the USA had to remove missiles from Turkey, which Kennedy was unwilling to do but had no other options left. Lastly, communism was not stopped in Cuba. Even though Kennedy won the Cuban Missile Crisis, weakened the relationship between Cuba and the USSR, and succeeded in banning the nuclear weapon tests, he still could not stop the expansion of communism in Cuba.