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  • Kennedy, Johnson and the Nonaligned World by Robert B. Rakove
  • Philip A. Goduti Jr.
Robert B. Rakove Kennedy, Johnson and the Nonaligned World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. 291 pp. $95.00.

Robert B. Rakove successfully contributes to the historiography of the years under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson with his book Kennedy, Johnson and the Nonaligned World. Rakove contends that after President Dwight Eisenhower nearly ignored Third World countries that did not choose sides in the Cold War, Kennedy embarked on a strategic initiative to embrace this so-called nonaligned world. In Rakove’s view, Kennedy believed the Cold War would be decided “on the battlefields of the Third World” (p. xxi). However, after Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson chose a different strategy, which led to a breakdown of Kennedy’s efforts and alienation of the Third World.

Rakove uses a great deal of source material. He makes his case not only through the major events but also with the words and actions of the personalities who affected history. The study is thoroughly researched with an original and insightful argument and would serve a course that explores the role of Third World countries in the Cold War. The question of how presidents set priorities for relations with the Third World at those crucial times in history is particularly interesting to consider, and Rakove sheds new light on Kennedy’s initiative to find creative ways to battle the Cold War.

Rakove devotes the first chapter to Eisenhower’s policy in the Third World, saying that Eisenhower’s actions in the region were “hawkish” and that he “mistook Third World nationalism for communism” (p. 2). However, Eisenhower toward the end of his second term used economic aid, particularly in Egypt and India, to foster better relations. Rakove writes that Eisenhower used the nonaligned countries as a “proving ground for Western models of modernization” (p. 25) and that this late diplomacy in the region laid the roots for Kennedy’s initiatives.

After the first chapter on Eisenhower the book focuses on various aspects of Kennedy’s and Johnson’s policies toward Third World countries by committing a chapter each to such issues as the rationale for engagement, conferences, crises in the regions and decolonization of European empires. This approach is very effective and gives the reader a good sense of Kennedy’s and Johnson’s strategies for answering these specific questions.

Rakove assesses Kennedy’s approach to the Third World not only by looking at the president’s own perspective but also by exploring the views of his advisers. In the first chapter on the Kennedy administration, Rakove argues that two schools of thought emerged on the rationale for engaging Third World countries: pragmatists [End Page 271] and liberals. Pragmatists expressed support for engagement, which they believed would have a positive effect on the balance of power in the world. Liberals did not disagree with the political shift in the world but wanted to approach the nonaligned states with a “broadly felt sense of American mission” (p. 29).

Rakove considers various people in the Kennedy White House, including Johnson, McGeorge Bundy, Robert Komer, Walt Rostow, Chester Bowles, Adlai Stevenson, Gerhard Mennen Williams, Dean Rusk, and George Ball. His analyses of these individuals are rooted in their memoranda, speeches, and discussions with one another. He does an effective job at demonstrating how the various advisers saw the nonaligned countries, showing that these “New Frontiersmen” were not guided by a single conception of how to approach the developing world. Rakove brings the reader into the back and forth among policymakers, which adds to the layers of his analysis. He pays particular attention to the work of Komer and the role he played in framing foreign policy for both Kennedy and Johnson. The two presidents’ advisers wanted to disassociate the administration from the approach used by Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles, but they were torn on how to move forward.

The book brings into sharp focus the travails Kennedy endured with U.S. allies. The decolonization of the Third World was a slippery slope for Kennedy. Rakove contends that Britain and France were concerned about U.S. support for the Third...


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pp. 271-273
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