The U.S.-Soviet Rivalry
There was another benefit to the Peace Corps. It was a way to show the benefits of freedom to developing countries and keep them from turning to communism. This was especially important to Kennedy since the arms race with the Soviets was at the forefront of his concerns. When he was running for office, a U.S. patrol plane had been shot down by Russia while flying over the Barents Sea. Two crew members survived and were taken into Soviet custody. For six months, Eisenhower made negligible headway in securing their release. However, a few days after Kennedy became president, the men were released.
Kennedy trained his focus on the arms race between the Soviets and the United States. During his campaign he had argued that America should increase its development of missile technology to catch up with the Soviet Union, but in February 1961 McNamara announced that there was no missile gap, and in fact, the U.S. was far more armed than the Soviets.
When and why did the Cold War begin?
The Cold War began after World War II when the Soviet Union set up communist governments in Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. The United States set out to limit the expansion of the Soviets' communist influence. It led to an arms race, but the two superpowers never went to war directly. They did, however, take opposing sides in strategic conflicts, including the Middle East.
Kennedy sought to rein in the arms race. He was afraid that other countries would obtain nuclear weapons if nuclear testing was not banned, and he put his efforts into negotiating a test ban treaty to end the nuclear buildup. A temporary suspension on nuclear testing already in place had begun in November 1958, but Kennedy hoped for a more permanent agreement. The Soviets, on the other hand, saw it differently. The United States was already a stronger nuclear power, and the test ban treaty would benefit only the Americans.
“[W]e propose to complete the revolution of the Americas, to build a hemisphere where all men can hope for a suitable standard of living, and all can live out their lives in dignity and in freedom…. Our Alliance for Progress is an alliance of free governments, and it must work to eliminate tyranny from a hemisphere in which it has no rightful place.”
Without a permanent agreement with the Soviets, Kennedy began to feel intense pressure from military personnel and U.S. allies for the renewal of testing. By the end of March 1961, Kennedy increased the defense budget. Additionally, he authorized a threatening show of military force. He ordered ten new Polaris submarines to supplement the nineteen already in operation and commissioned missiles with longer range. Kennedy also increased his arsenal of Minutemen ballistic missiles to 600, hoping it would serve as a deterrent to the Soviets; he did not want to have to use the weapons.