7. Too Big to Spank: JFK, Nuclear Hegemony, and the Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1962–1963
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7 Too Big to Spank JFK, Nuclear Hegemony, � the Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1962–1963 ​ “Personally, I am haunted by the feeling that by 1970 . . . there may be ten nuclear powers instead of four, and by 1975, fifteen or twenty,” President John F. Kennedy confessed in March 1963. After becoming president, Kennedy sought but failed to achieve a nonproliferation treaty because of Cold War suspicion, domestic political vulnerability, and a penchant for toughness . By 1962, nuclear proliferation loomed as a powerful symbol of declining superpower hegemony. The nuclear world was no longer bilateral, and that frightened JFK. Both the United States and the Soviet Union had to placate allies who resented the superpowers’ nuclear hegemony. Kennedy worried lest Washington land “on the outside looking in” at Western Europe, leading him to flirt with nuclear sharing to maintain alliance unity. Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev largely resisted U.S. efforts to ally against the Chinese nuclear program because he still wished to heal the rift in the communist world. Still, a nonproliferation agreement seemed a real possibility by late 1962 because, following the Cuban Missile Crisis, both Kennedy and Khrushchev feared the consequences of nuclear anarchy. But resistance from Britain , France, and West Germany impeded a nonproliferation agreement and a comprehensive test ban. In the end, because nonproliferation continued to be subordinated to alliance relationships and Cold War competition, Ken- 182  Too Big to Spank nedy and Khrushchev succeeded only in producing a weak arms control agreement: the Limited Test Ban Treaty.1 European Woes In early May 1962, the Kennedy administration confronted a hostile allied reaction to McNamara’s counterforce strategy. Kennedy grew livid after columnists C. L. Sulzberger and Joseph Alsop wrote pieces condemning U.S. policy toward France as misguided and divisive, especially on nuclear issues. Kennedyand most Washington insiders recognized that Sulzberger’s column actually represented a reply from de Gaulle. The French leader had fed the NewYorkTimes journalist a steadydiet of exclusive interviews since returning to power in 1958, particularly when he wanted to make a point outside official channels. Kennedy’s anger had not dimmed when he hosted a dinner for the French minister for cultural affairs, André Malraux. Confronting Malraux, the president snapped that de Gaulle seemed to prefer a Europe without the United States. The United States felt like “a man carrying a 200-pound sack of potatoes, and other people not carrying a similar load, at least in potatoes, keep telling us how to carry the burden.” Malraux retorted that while the president “was carrying the potatoes, others had their own burdens.”2 After Malraux’s visit, the U.S.-French animosity deepened. Previously behind-the-scenes disputes broke into the public arena. De Gaulle accused the United States of imperious leadership that threatened to turn Europe into a mere protectorate. In his opinion, “it would suffice for Western Europe to know that if war were to start it could rely on [the United States].” Kennedy fired back that Europe could not expect both America’s “military presence and our diplomatic absence.” If a Paris-Bonn axis attempted to dominate European affairs, the United States would have to abandon its NATO commitments .Conversations between Rusk and French ambassador Hervé Alphand failed to smooth over Franco-American divisions, leaving Rusk convinced that de Gaulle was “a devil with horns and a tail.”3 The rift with France constituted the most prominent problem in U.S.European relations. Kennedy still sought to de-emphasize the MLF and replace it with closerconsultations on nuclear strategy.When U.S. officials consulted Bonn, however, they discovered substantial support for a multilateral nuclear force along with a deep suspicion of American attempts to link a nonproliferation clause with a Berlin settlement. Any attempt to revise the U.S. position on the MLF, therefore, risked angering the Germans and driving Bonn closer to Paris. Too Big to Spank  183 Britain’s decision to seek membership in the European Economic Community (EEC, also known as the Common Market) further vexed alliance politics. Because many supporters viewed the customs union as the first stage of Western Europe’s complete political and economic unification, its members looked askance at London’s continuing special relationship with the United States. If Kennedy withdrew his promise to make NATO a nuclear power, critics might claim that the Anglo-Americans had constructed a condominium on nuclear defense issues. Reliable French sources, moreover, indicated that if Britain expected de Gaulle’s approval for its Common Market membership, London...


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Subject Headings

  • Nuclear weapons -- Government policy -- United States -- History.
  • Nuclear arms control -- United States -- History
  • Nuclear nonproliferation -- United States -- History.
  • Nuclear weapons -- Government policy -- Developing countries -- History.
  • Nuclear arms control -- Developing countries -- History.
  • Nuclear nonproliferation -- Developing countries -- History.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Developing countries.
  • Developing countries -- Foreign relations -- United States.
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