An inspiring look at the historic foreign policy triumph of John F. Kennedy’s presidency—the crusade for world peace that consumed his final year in office—by the New York Times bestselling author of The Price of Civilization, Common Wealth, and The End of Poverty
The last great campaign of John F. Kennedy’s life was not the battle for reelection he did not live to wage, but the struggle for a sustainable peace with the Soviet Union. To Move the World recalls the extraordinary days from October 1962 to September 1963, when JFK marshaled the power of oratory and his remarkable political skills to establish more peaceful relations with the Soviet Union and a dramatic slowdown in the proliferation of nuclear arms.
Kennedy and his Soviet counterpart, Nikita Khrushchev, led their nations during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the two superpowers came eyeball to eyeball at the nuclear abyss. This near-death experience shook both leaders deeply. Jeffrey D. Sachs shows how Kennedy emerged from the Missile crisis with the determination and prodigious skills to forge a new and less threatening direction for the world. Together, he and Khrushchev would pull the world away from the nuclear precipice, charting a path for future peacemakers to follow.
During his final year in office, Kennedy gave a series of speeches in which he pushed back against the momentum of the Cold War to persuade the world that peace with the Soviets was possible. The oratorical high point came on June 10, 1963, when Kennedy delivered the most important foreign policy speech of the modern presidency. He argued against the prevailing pessimism that viewed humanity as doomed by forces beyond its control. Mankind, argued Kennedy, could bring a new peace into reality through a bold vision combined with concrete and practical measures.
Achieving the first of those measures in the summer of 1963, the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, required more than just speechmaking, however. Kennedy had to use his great gifts of persuasion on multiple fronts—with fractious allies, hawkish Republican congressmen, dubious members of his own administration, and the American and world public—to persuade a skeptical world that cooperation between the superpowers was realistic and necessary. Sachs shows how Kennedy campaigned for his vision and opened the eyes of the American people and the world to the possibilities of peace.
Featuring the full text of JFK’s speeches from this period, as well as striking photographs, To Move the World gives us a startlingly fresh perspective on Kennedy’s presidency and a model for strong leadership and problem solving in our time.
Praise for To Move the World
“Rife with lessons for the current administration . . . We cannot know how many more steps might have been taken under Kennedy’s leadership, but To Move the World urges us to continue on the journey.”—Chicago Tribune
“The messages in these four speeches seem all too pertinent today.”—Publishers Weekly
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Jeffrey D. Sachs is a world-renowned professor of economics, leader in sustainable development, senior UN advisor, bestselling author, and syndicated columnist whose monthly newspaper columns appear in more than one hundred countries. He is the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Special Advisor to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals, which are designed to reduce extreme poverty, disease, and hunger, a position he also held under former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. Sachs directs the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network on behalf of the secretary-general. He has received many honors around the world, including the Sargent Shriver Award for Equal Justice, India’s Padma Bhushan award, Poland’s Commanders Cross of the Order of Merit, and many honorary degrees. He has twice been named among the hundred most influential leaders in the world by Time magazine.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Sachs / TO MOVE THE WORLD
The Quest for Peace
When John F. Kennedy came to office in January 1961, the world lived in peril of a nuclear war between the two superpowers. The Cold War confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union would eventually consume trillions of dollars and millions of lives in wars fought around the world. At times, humanity seemed to be “gripped by forces we cannot control,” a pessimistic view that Kennedy noted and strenuously argued against in his Peace Speech. And yet the power of those disruptive forces at times was indeed nearly overwhelming, causing events to spin beyond the control even of presidents, Communist Party chairmen, and the countries they led.
The Cold War was in every sense a stepchild of the two world wars. Those wars created the structures of geopolitics, military might, and, perhaps most important of all, the psychological mindsets that determined the course of the Cold War. John Kennedy’s peace strategy would emerge from his intimate understanding of the dynamics that had driven the two wars. The first war he knew as a voracious student of history, especially the history as written by Winston Churchill. The second war he knew firsthand. The years between 1938 and 1945 were a deeply formative period of his adult life—as a student in prewar London while his father was U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom; as a young author grappling with the question of why England had failed for so long to confront Hitler; as a patrol boat captain in the Pacific, where his vessel PT-109 was sunk by a Japanese destroyer; and as part of a grieving family when his elder brother was lost in a daring bombing mission over Germany.1
The overwhelming question facing the world, and facing Kennedy during his presidency, was how to prevent a third world war. The factors that had caused the two wars—geopolitics, arms races, blunders, bluster, miscalculations, fears, and opportunism—continued to operate and to threaten a new conflagration. Yet the context was also fundamentally new and more threatening. The nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 to conclude World War II had ushered in the nuclear age, and had made the stakes incalculably higher. A thermonuclear bomb could now carry far more explosive force than all of the bombs of the Second World War.
Kennedy’s worldview on these issues was shaped above all by the influence and model of Winston Churchill, England’s great author-politician-warrior-statesman, whose masterly history of the first war, The World Crisis, described a tragic era of war through miscalculation;2 whose warnings about Hitler in the 1930s had gone unheeded until almost too late; whose leadership as prime minister between 1940 and 1945 enabled the United Kingdom to survive and eventually triumph over Hitler; whose warnings in 1946, just after World War II ended, alerted the West to the ris- ing threat of Soviet power; and whose calls during the 1940s and 1950s for a negotiated settlement with the Soviet Union did much to influence Kennedy’s peace strategy as president.3 Kennedy’s lifelong fascination with, learning from, and urge to emulate Winston Churchill has been recounted by many biographers.
The greatest problem facing Kennedy (and indeed the world) in drawing lessons from the two world wars was that the les- sons were highly complex, subtle, and even seemingly contradictory. World War I seemed to be a lesson about self-fulfilling crises, where the fear of war itself led to an arms race, while the arms race in turn led to a world primed for war. These lessons seemed to call for restraint in the arms race and avoidance of a self-fulfilling rush to war, and so even as Hitler rearmed Germany in the 1930s, in contravention of the Treaty of Versailles that had ended World War I, Britain avoided provocations that could spiral out of control. Most famously, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain argued that it would be better to accede to Ger- man demands on border adjustments with Czechoslovakia, and so “appeased” Hitler in the name of peace at the Munich conference in 1938, a disastrous mistake that fueled Hitler’s drive to war.4
If World War I seemed to argue against arms races and self-fulfilling prophecies of war, the lead-up to World War II, by contrast, seemed to argue for meeting strength with strength, and avoiding the temptation of “appeasement.” For Kennedy, the debate over appeasement was more than intellectual; it was intensely personal. John Kennedy watched closely as his father, Joe, strongly defended appeasement, indeed declaring that Chamberlain had no choice when he acceded to Hitler’s outrageous demands at the 1938 Munich conference, as Hitler would have defeated the United Kingdom in battle. When war finally broke out, the proponents of appeasement were humiliated and Joe Kennedy’s vast political ambitions were destroyed.5 The younger Kennedy would soon implicitly come down on Churchill’s side, writing in his first book, Why England Slept, that Britain had dangerously delayed rearming under the illusion that appeasing Hitler would keep it safe and out of war.6
As president, Kennedy would battle with these powerful and conflicting dynamics. Should he restrain the arms race in order to avoid a self-feeding race to war with the Soviet Union? Or should he strengthen U.S. arms in order to negotiate from strength? Should he make concessions to the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev to acknowledge Soviet interests? Or should he hold the line to avoid the appearance and reality of appeasement? Kennedy would remain a student of history, and of Churchill, whom he most admired, trying to apply the complex lessons of the past to the urgent challenges of the present.
The Nuclear Arms Race
The problems of distrust between the Soviet Union and the United States were profound, pervasive, and persistent, and that distrust spurred the arms race. The two sides were of course rivals and competitors. And each side lied to the other, repeatedly and persistently. These were not grounds for easy trust. Nor was the historical context. Just a few years earlier, Hitler had cheated relentlessly, thereby winning significant concessions. Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler at Munich hung over the Cold War era: Don’t trust the other side. Better to arm to the teeth.
Even though there were enormous gains to be had by both the United States and the Soviet Union if they could agree on the postwar order in Europe, politicians on both sides found it nearly impossible to take any steps that required trust. If they did, they opened themselves up to extraordinarily harsh attacks by hardliners on their own side who denied that the other side would abide by any agreements. A U.S. politician who urged agreement with the Soviet Union risked immediate subjection to the cries of “Munich” and “appeasement,” powerful political charges and ones Kennedy was especially eager to avoid.
The two sides were trapped by two closely related problems: the prisoner’s dilemma and the security dilemma. The prisoner’s dilemma holds that in the absence of long-term trust or binding agreements, the logic of inter-state rivalry will push both sides to arm. Should the United States arm or disarm? If the Soviet Union arms, the United States has no choice but to arm as well in order to avoid being the weaker side. If the Soviet Union disarms, then the United States gains military and political advantage by arming while the Soviet Union is weak. Therefore, arming is a “dominant” strategy: the best move no matter what the other side does. Since the logic is the same for the other side, both sides end up continually increasing their arms, even though a binding agreement to disarm would be mutually beneficial.7
The security dilemma, propounded by Robert Jervis, a leading political theorist, is a corollary of the prisoner’s dilemma.8 The security dilemma holds that a defensive action by one side will often be viewed by the other side as an offensive action. Thus, if the United States builds its nuclear arsenal to stave off a Soviet conventional land invasion of Europe, the Soviet Union will view the U.S. nuclear buildup as preparation for a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union rather than as a defensive measure. And if the Soviet Union tries to catch up with the U.S. nuclear arsenal, that will be viewed as an offensive action by the United States. U.S. hardliners would argue that the Soviet Union is trying to neutralize the U.S. nuclear deterrent so that the Soviet Union can launch a conventional attack.
As a result of the absence of trust, and the harsh logic of both the prisoner’s dilemma and the security dilemma, both sides continued to amass nuclear weapons to the point of massive overkill. And as the arsenals continued to expand, each side feared that the other was actually building up for a surprise first-strike attack. The United States indeed contemplated launching a preventive nuclear war, worried that it would be unable to defend itself in the future. Jervis recalled the words of the German statesman Otto von Bismarck, who called a preventive war “committing suicide from fear of death.”9
The nuclear arms race accelerated as the United States and the Soviet Union expanded their arsenals, and as the United Kingdom and France became nuclear powers (in 1952 and 1960, respectively) with their own independent arsenals. By 1960, the United States had nuclear warheads positioned in several countries around the world.10 The Soviet Union felt itself very much surrounded indeed, and increasingly unsure of whether these U.S. nuclear weapons were really under U.S. control.
Of course it wasn’t just the international situation that prompted the arms buildup on each side. It was also domestic politics. The military-industrial complex gained power within each government as time went on. In the United States, each branch of the military demanded its own nuclear arsenal, so that competition among the U.S. Army, Air Force, and Navy also drove up military budgets and the numbers of nuclear warheads and delivery systems. The same was true on the Soviet side, where there was far less constraint than in the United States on the political power of the military-industrial complex.
To the Brink
When Kennedy assumed office, he took to heart Churchill’s belief that political leaders must work actively to solve vexing international problems. He was intent on pursuing arms control, but was also a staunch Cold Warrior, partly out of conviction and partly out of political expediency, in order to protect himself from power- ful hardline anti-communists. Kennedy believed that he could untangle the dangerous conflicts with the Soviet Union. And, as Churchill urged, Kennedy would aim to solve these problems from a position of U.S. military strength and without relinquishing vital Western interests.
The tough and conciliatory sides of Kennedy’s negotiating strategy were mutually reinforcing. Churchill had long emphasized the essential role of negotiating with one’s adversary: “To jaw-jaw,” he said, “is always better than to war-war.”11 Churchill had called negotiation through strength his “double-barreled strategy,” and famously declared, “I do not hold that we should rearm in order to fight. I hold that we should rearm in order to parley.”12 In 1938, it had not been just a weakness of political will but also one of military preparedness that had led Chamberlain to appease Hitler at Munich.
Kennedy would refer to Churchill’s double-barreled approach in his campaign address in Seattle in September 1960:
It is an unfortunate fact that we can secure peace only by preparing for war. Winston Churchill said in 1949, “We arm to parley.” We can convince Mr. Khrushchev to bargain seriously at the conference table if he respects our strength.13
Kennedy had no doubt either of the enormous potential gains of cooperation with the Soviet Union, or of the grave risks if the United States cooperated (for instance, through arms control) while the Soviet Union reneged on its side of the deal. Cheating by the Soviet Union would threaten not only U.S. security, but also Kennedy’s hold on power domestically. Kennedy would repeatedly urge cooperation but remain alert that any move toward cooperation, however modest, could trigger political charges from the right that he was an appeaser.
The burdens on Kennedy were greater as a Democrat, since Republicans regularly assailed the Democratic Party for being “soft on communism.” Kennedy therefore aimed to assure all sides—the U.S. public, America’s allies, and of course the Soviet Union—that he would vigorously resist Soviet aggression and defend Western interests while he sought greater cooperation with the Soviet Union. He would aim, at the core, to pursue a tit-for-tat strategy (a way to break out of the prisoner’s dilemma by reciprocating cooperation from the other side), promising to join the Soviet Union in arms control, but also declaring repeatedly his readiness to revert to an arms race if the Soviet Union did not keep its promises. The tit-for-tat strategy of incremental cooperation was mapped out a year after Kennedy came to office by one of America’s leading sociologists, Amitai Etzioni, whose remarkable book The Hard Way to Peace spelled out a psychological approach to forging peace.14 Etzioni believed that confidence building was crucial, since in his view psychological rather than political or military factors were the decisive drivers of the Cold War. He propounded a notion of “psychological gradualism” to reduce fear, build trust, and initiate a phased process of reciprocated concessions. Eventually suspicion and fear would be “reduced to a level where fruitful negotiations are possible.”15 In many ways, Kennedy’s peace initiative in 1963 would pursue this approach.
Kennedy first signaled both aspects of his approach in his inaugural address on January 20, 1961.16 First came his robust, full-throated commitment to the defense of liberty:
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
But equally stirring was his commitment to pursue the mutual gains of cooperation:
So let us begin anew—remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate . . .
Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms—and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.
Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.
Kennedy’s emphasis on “precise proposals” was not incidental. Following Churchill once again, Kennedy believed that miscalculation with the Soviet Union would best be avoided through clear, detailed, and principled negotiating positions. Yet here too the ideal and the practical would collide. Negotiations are filled with feints, bluffs, and intermediate positions, and these inevitably raise the risk of miscalculation.
Kennedy was sincere in his inaugural address when he said, “So let us begin anew.” As a senator and as a presidential candidate he himself had helped to spur the arms race by opportunistically hammering away at Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration for allowing a “missile gap” to emerge, claiming in 1958 that there was every indication “t...
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