JFK Global Leadership

JFK, Realist or Liberalist?, and His Global Leadership.

“A story behind the success end of Cuban Missile Crisis

Building trust and mutual friendship is not as easy as what it sounds. For some countries to attain confidence from a leaders of a former foe is hard and even meet dead-end. However, this situation does not mean that building a trust is impossible. Nevertheless, it still requires an integrated effort and a clear-mindedness from each party to achieve it. The United States (U.S.) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) experienced the same thing during the Cold War, 1947 1991. As mirror images developed among both countries, a dispute arose from the subtle way to the most rugged manner, when conflict resolution seemingly would require an exceptional persistent effort. It happened because leaders of one country treated its opponent in a way that led the opponent to perceive its action as hostile, therein creating a vicious circle of misperception1. Cuban missile crisis was one of the examples fluctuation of U.S and USSR relationship as an integral part of their enduring rivalries in the name of state sovereignty. However, by the persevering effort of John Fitzgerald Kennedy leadership (who was the President during the crisis), the possible World War III which may errupted from the crisis could be diminished. Kennedy profoundly contributed in developing sufficient military power while at the same time laying a foundation of diplomacy to mark the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Besides the complexities of causative factor that draw Cuban crisis, it is always tempted to find out on which side was Kennedy stood, realist or liberalist, in order to attain lesson learned from his global leadership.

After World War II, the United States economy grew fast and brought prosperity as well as opportunity to most of its people, while at the same time raised the so-called American Dreams, the belief, and ethos which firstly disclosed by James Truslow Adams, an American writer, and historian. American Dreams emphasize that life should be better, richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement2. In line with its growing economy and its experience during World War II, the U.S also expand its capability regarding military power. History recorded that a few months before the crisis, Kennedy administration had requested and then authorized by Senate, Public Law 87-436 and Public Law 87-531 about procurement of R.S. 70 Weapon System and Long-Range Manned Aircraft to reinforce air capability3. At this point, Kennedy realizes how vulnerable the U.S to survive in an uncertain environment. On the other hand, Kennedy was also aware that the need to form a collective security in the absence of superpower country is crucial to maintain peace after the World War II. Therefore U.S as the only democratic survivor from World War II has to determine and take initiatives in established path to prevent a repeat of what happened in the World War II. This decision truly was a heavy burden for Kennedy, but world condition at that time left him no choice. At his speech during U.N General Assembly meeting in September 1961, Kennedy expressed his optimistic liberalist notion that every man, woman, and child should lives without concern of a nuclear accident or miscalculation of which pursued by madness as well as greed for the power. Therefore nuclear weapons must be abolished before they abolish humanity.

Diplomacy should not only use when friction occurs between two countries, but also use as a preventive act far from the future predictive problems. Diplomacy required insight of historical and comprehensive understanding of the situation that is currently growing. The use of diplomacy in the aftermath of conflict may not be as effective as when it used before the conflict arises. Because it would be very hard to set the table for two parties who already involve in a bloody conflict where each side has already suffered. During the time of crisis Kennedy fully realize that nuclear war will not have benefit for both the U.S and USSR, he believed that almost anything was better than a nuclear war. Mimi Alford, his 19-years-old intern-turned paramour in her 2012 memoir, later admit Kennedy opinion that: “I’d rather my children be red than dead.”4 Based on this understanding he then insists on pursuing a diplomatic effort with Nikita Khrushchev by persuading him to remove missiles from Cuba while agree to ban a nuclear test. Kennedy efforts patiently laid diplomatic ground between the U.S and USSR, even though his decision outraged most of his General’s who doubted his ability to lead the U.S after Dwight Eisenhower, ultimately brought the end of Cuban crisis as his most notable achievement5. Another evidence that implied from Kennedy decision as liberalist as well as a true global leader was when he pushed the Pentagon to replace Eisenhower’s strategy of “massive retaliation” with what he called “flexible response”, a policy of calibrated force6. This alteration marked the way he uses foreign policy as a means to achieve collective gains rather than played a zero-sum game because he knew how much does the cost of the conflict.

In addition, the global leadership value embraced by Kennedy can be clearly seen to the people who against his value. As a prudent leader, he was still adopting moral values of humanity, hence understand that decision to conduct a nuclear attack against USSR would cause collateral damage as well as create a humanitarian crisis. He understood that in a particular situation pursuing a moral value at national interest could bring his country at risk but he tried to be an optimist in what he believed. On the other hand, many of his realist General who embrace consequentialism evaluating Kennedy decision as a part of self-righteous or messianic foreign policy that may jeopardize national interest of the U.S.7. For instance, his Joint Chief of Chairman at Pentagon, General Lyman Lemnitzer said that Kennedy was the president who had no military experience at all. Moreover, Lemnitzer equates Kennedy with a sort of a patrol-boat skipper in World War II8. General Lauris Norstad (NATO Commander), General Curtis Le May (Air Force Chief of Staff), and General Thomas Power were openly opposed Kennedy directives to reduce their authority to decide when to go to nuclear war. Thomas Power famous opposing words reflected during interviewed by the author of Rand Study that: “why are you so concerned with saving their lives?, the whole idea is to kill the bastard”9. This conversation and debates that involved personal emotion shown by his General skepticism prove that Kennedy was not only a pure liberalist but also a true global leader.

In conclusion, Cuban missile crisis was the moment that may change the face of the world today, if it was not handled with clear-mindedness and full of consideration. Kennedy as the second youngest President of the United States had convinced the world that diplomacy could be more efficient than nuclear bomb if addressed in a proper manner and profound discretion. As Sun Tzu said that: “the supreme art of war is to
subdue the enemy without fighting”10, Kennedy has undoubtedly won the highest price against his own General on the competition of how to use the best strategy to win the war, despite the fact that they were taught to mastered it. He was the true liberalist who contribute for people in developing sufficient military power, but at the same time he also a global leader who working hard tailored diplomacy to end the Cuban Missile Crisis toward peace for the mankind. Kennedy also promotes optimistic notion that every man, woman, and child have the right to live under a free nuclear accident. He also challenges his fear about defending the U.S interest, besides he promote peace under the skepticism and consequentialism of his General. It has been fifty-four years since the Cuban missile crisis, but Kennedy legacy will remain exist in international upheaval toward everlasting peace to the world at large.



1. Sen, Amartya. Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny. New York: Norton, 2006.

2. Cullen, Jim. The American Dream. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. 

3. Davies, Nicolas. The Record of U.S Military Budget. 2015

4. Alford, Mimi. Once Upon A Secret. New York: New York Times, 2012. 

5.Dallek, Robert. JFK vs. the Military. Boston: The Atlantik, 2016.

6.Taylor, Maxwell. The Uncertain Trumpet. Harper & Brothers, 1960. 

7. Dallek, Robert. JFK vs. the Military. Boston: The Atlantik, 2016. 

8.May, Ernest R, and Philip Zelikow. The Kennedy Tapes; inside the White House during Cuban missile crisis. Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1997.

9. Dallek, Robert. JFK vs. the Military. Boston: The Atlantik, 2016.

10. Tzu, Sun. The Art of War. Shamballa Publication, 2005. 


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