8. Hunting for Easter Eggs: LBJ, NATO, and Nonproliferation, 1963–1965
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8 Hunting for Easter Eggs LBJ, NATO, � Nonproliferation, 1963–1965 Lyndon B. Johnson told one Soviet official that when it came to arms control, Moscow and Washington “were like children hunting for Easter eggs.” But the president often forgot that other “children” also needed to join the hunt. By late 1963 when LBJ entered the Oval Office, the superpowers had lost leverage over their respective alliances and the UN General Assembly. Newly decolonized nations increasingly challenged northern dominance over them. In this changing world system, nuclear weapons remained an important symbol of international status.Washington feared the uncontrolled proliferation of weapons within NATO, even as French president Charles de Gaulle questioned the U.S. commitment to Europe and threatened to split the alliance. The MLF prospectively blunted both threats. But the U.S. proposal and the British variant, the Atlantic Nuclear Force (ANF), provoked Moscow’s vigorous opposition. As long as a NATO nuclear force remained a possibility, a U.S.-Soviet nonproliferation agreement proved impossible. Yet such a pact offered the best hope of containing the spread of nuclear weapons in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Unwilling to commit to a strategy, LBJ allowed U.S. nonproliferation efforts to languish during the first phase of his presidency . Neither Chinese acquisition of nuclear weapons in October 1964 nor the recommendations of a presidential task force on proliferation prompted 218  Hunting for Easter Eggs decisiveness. The Easter eggs remained hidden, and they risked being rotten when finally uncovered.1 Enter LBJ The world public had greeted the LTBT with great acclaim, and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists had pushed back the Doomsday Clock to twelve minutes to midnight. But even before its ratification, in October 1963, hopes for progress on nonproliferation had faded. In the Kennedy administration’s last days, Moscow and Washington sought further agreements as they anxiously monitored Beijing’s progress toward a nuclear capability. But a nonproliferation treaty required consideration of both allied and nonaligned powers’ security needs as well as their cooperation in its enforcement. From the perspective of the non-nuclear powers, a nonproliferation agreement appeared grossly imbalanced—they pledged not to acquire weapons that had come to symbolize major power status, while the superpowers conceded nothing and gained international legitimacy for their large nuclear arsenals. The U.S. proposal for a NATO multilateral nuclear force also complicated negotiations. Khrushchev wanted a nonproliferation treaty and even toyed with signing an agreement that did not explicitly ban the MLF as long as the United States pledged not to place nuclear weapons under Bonn’s “direct command.” But after Poland’s leader Władsław Gomułka protested vigorously , Khrushchev hesitated, and Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko reaffirmed Moscow’s opposition to the MLF. Yet Gromyko hinted to U.S. officials that Moscow might sign a treaty if Washington promised to drop the MLF at some future date. With Bonn demanding access to nuclear weapons as proof of U.S. faith in NATO, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations faced the Hobson’s choice of either scuttling progress on nonproliferation or undercutting the Western alliance. In fall 1963, Kennedy pushed forward with preliminary negotiations and technical talks on the feasibility of mixedmanned vessels. But he viewed the MLF as only symbolic reassurance that the United States remained firm in its alliance commitments. Britain, conversely , opposed the NATO force as a needless contrivance. Washington’s unwillingness to abandon the scheme paralyzed the nonproliferation talks. Gromyko lamented in October 1967 that the present state of disarmament negotiations “could not be worse.” Verbal support for a Latin American denuclearized zone emerged as President Kennedy’s last token gesture in favor of nonproliferation.2 WithKennedy’sassassination,LyndonB.Johnsonassumedthepresidency. Hunting for Easter Eggs  219 Johnson came to the office after twenty-three years in Congress representing Texas. As majority leader of the Senate from 1955 to 1960, this master legislator had amassed considerable power and influence. In 1960, his decision to be Kennedy’s running mate surprised everyone, including the newly minted presidential nominee. After nearly three years of tedium as vice president, Johnson faced the daunting task of replacing a martyred leader. He rushed to assure the American people of his commitment to Kennedy’s domestic and foreign policies. Part of this process included persuading Kennedy’s national security team, Dean Rusk, McGeorge Bundy, and Robert McNamara, to remain in the administration. He professed inexperience in foreign affairs and claimed: “I need your help more than Jack Kennedy did.” Johnson also admitted...



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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