Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November 1, 1957

The New Dimensions of American Foreign Policy

The theme of my remarks today is on the new dimensions of American Foreign Policy. I realize only too well the twin perils of such a title. It either stimulates the hope that one can guide through frontier territory previously unsurveyed and unprospected or it induces the illusion, to use the words of Angel Gabriel in Green Pastures, that "Everything nailed down is comin' loose." So let my first words be cautionary ones: by placing stress on factors of change and flux in the nature and conduct of our foreign policy today, I am not attempting to obscure or bleach out the continuing and fixed elements of policy. For we have daily evidence that all is not change: the overarching necessity for a cohesive coalition within the Atlantic Alliance; the continuing plight of a divided Germany, Korea, and Indo-China; the seeming impossibility of achieving any meaningful international disarmament. But there is always the danger that we live and act too much under the hypnotic spell of the past, that we seek to achieve future success by the pattern books and position papers of earlier victories. It is my strong conviction that there are new contours, new silhouettes, and challenges in new guises which need to be blended into the image we have of our international responsibilities.

By almost any reckoning America has passed through a decade of revolution in her foreign policy. During that time, and especially during the period between the announcement of the Truman Doctrine and the entry into Korea, the United States has taken bold steps which have prevented the Soviet Union from absorbing Western Europe and have lessened the Communist danger in some of the uncommitted areas of the world. The great achievement, however, was in Europe. It both demanded and deserved prior attention. Apart from the common bonds of culture, political heritage, and economic interest, we must always remember that Western Europe has had a capacity equal to the Russian in economic strength and not far different in population and resources. If we consider the Russian economic and scientific threat today as awesome, it staggers the imagination to take the measure of a Russia whose satellites border on the Atlantic rather than on the Elbe. While Europe went through its economic convalescence and while we jointly erected a protective military shield, we also were able to create in NATO an alliance which both symbolized and served the common needs of North America and Western Europe.

In past months, however, even this bedrock structure has swayed under the pressure of new developments in science and weapons and from the cross-pressures created by the sweep of nationalism in other parts of the world. Indeed, there was a period after the Suez adventure of last autumn when NATO seemed to have lost all its thrust and momentum. The Suez episode, joined as it was with the concurrent series of events in Eastern Europe, was and remains especially instructive to those who doubt the new outlines of international diplomacy. For during that crisis not only were France and Great Britain at odds with the United States, but the United States found itself voting in the UN with Russia against its chief European allies. Even Canada adopted a policy independent of the mother Commonwealth country, Great Britain. And, for better or worse, the Arab-Asian nations, whose votes now exceed those of Europe in the General Assembly, effectively demonstrated a political influence of their own. In that crisis, too, there was a deep division of opinion in Great Britain. For France the expedition to Suez appeared a back road by which the Algerian revolt could be ended. And during the weeks after the Egyptian seizure of the Canal there was an ominous and unprecedented breakdown of communications between the European capitols and Washington.

Many are the disillusionments which those tragic weeks have left behind. There is little point at this date trying to assign exact responsibility to each country. We all share some of the guilt: the United States not least of all for the course it pursued diplomatically throughout the fall and for the manner in which it tried to call the Soviet bluff by canceling its assurances regarding the Aswan Dam. What should concern us now is the question of why it was that it was easier to obtain a condemnation of the Suez invasion than it was of the far more brutal Russian intervention in Hungary. Why, too, did Soviet influence rise in the Middle East at the very moment when the Soviet Union was exposing unmistakably its cast-iron grip on Eastern Europe?

To state the question is much easier than to suggest the answers, but let me try to pinpoint a few features of the current international scene which are inherent in the events of the past months and which will be with us in the years immediately ahead.

First, the Suez episode and the events surrounding it illustrate the important impact of the dissolution of the old European empires. New nationalisms have successfully asserted themselves in Asia and Africa, but most of them have a narrow economic base, a small governing elite, and populations increasing in numbers but often stagnant or declining in their standard of living. As nationalism triumphs in the former colonial states, a residue of defensive nationalism is left in France and Great Britain as the paralyzing Algerian War and the ill-fated British attempts at national self-assertion in Jordan and Egypt last year clearly indicate.

However, if the age of armed colonial repression is over, neither can we assume that political independence is more than a prologue to the political and economic health of the new nations. With our own frontier settlement tradition and with a historic faith in democratic values, we all too easily believe that these same advantages can be conferred on the emergent states of Asia and Africa. But there cannot be any such simple transmigration. Americans quite properly must grasp the truth that a capacity for creating an ordered and peaceful society is within the grasp of any people no matter what its stage of economic and social development, instead of accepting the far more compelling evidence showing that free institutions of the Western world are the sophisticated products of a series of historical developments of a unique kind. Therefore it is not enough that we proclaim our anti-colonialism; we must also help these new states to find the means for accelerated economic growth and stable self-rule.

This raises the second hard truth with which we must come to terms. That is the unprecedented population expansion which is bursting in almost all parts of the uncommitted world, accompanied by a capital starvation among the private and governmental investors of the world.

We are already adding more inhabitants to our globe each year than now constitute the entire population of France. The world population will likely double before the century is out. Unlike many earlier increases, the steepest gains have come in countries which are underdeveloped, where poverty is greatest, where there is little immediate likelihood that productive gains from either agriculture or industry can keep step with the rise in population – in Latin America, East Asia, and in the Middle East. It has not been the increased birth rate so much as the phenomenal reduction in these countries of the death rate, from control of infectious diseases, sanitation improvement, medical progress which has been the chief cause of the rise. And to this our own technical and economic assistance has contributed significantly. In places close to the United States we note this dramatically: in Puerto Rico the death rate has declined 80% in little more than a decade, whereas in Mexico there will be a doubling of population in 25 years as the death rate has declined by 43% in ten years. The population explosion is especially marked in the world's peril points: in places such as Egypt, Algeria, Indonesia.

In counterpoint to this development is the hard fact that economic backwardness is growing in these same areas especially when set against the steady prosperity of most of the West. In the world community of nations it is true to say that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Per capita income in the United States may have climbed to some $2,000 a year for every man, woman, and child – but it is $110 in Egypt, $54 in India, and $25 in Libya. With more prosperity in the world than ever before, there is also more poverty – more particularly since "the revolution of rising expectations" is a part of the story of the nationalisms. For with modern means of communication, the spread of education, and the widened experience of all nations it is impossible to seal off peoples and hope that they will continue to obey customary and established authority and follow old modes of living. For as Stuart Hampshire has pointed out, there is a new "critical restlessness which is becoming part of the 'nature of man'," which "drives him to make critical comparisons with other ways of life and other standards of justice."

The harsh prospect remains, however, that the gap between developed and under-developed countries is growing greater and will continue to do so with advances in productive capacity, scientific know-how, plant investment, consumer demand. While some industrialized countries are enjoying fixed investment today at a rate higher than 20% of their national product, other countries could not now afford an investment of even 5%. Yet an annual growth of 5% is almost essential over a period of years if the underdeveloped states are to achieve real economic progress and growth.

With these enormous problems of "triggering" growth, it was only natural that the possibility of building the Aswan Dam, a multi-purpose structure, held enormous and perhaps exaggerated appeal not only to people in Egypt but also in other Middle Eastern states. Yet the United States did not deliver on this project, it has not made progress in leading towards a Middle Eastern Development Fund, and it has not raised more than verbal hopes about the Jordan River development and other proposals contained in the Johnston Plan. Nor has American business leadership come forward either with money or ideas apart from the oil industry.

For a number of reasons, economic and political, there is a serious capital shortage in all these areas. Private U.S. investment abroad last year did exceed four billion dollars, but one third of this amount was in Canada, another third in oil, and less than 10% can even liberally be described as venture capital in underdeveloped states. Of course, there was some private capital flow from European countries, especially Germany, which may continue to rise, but the gap between the cumulative amount of foreign investment and the amount which could effectively be used is very broad.

From this we derive a third lesson from the events of last year – the greater and subtler maneuverability which the Soviet Union enjoys in the fluid stream of events in the uncommitted areas of the world. For the crisis in the Middle East a simple military response has not been adequate. For military pacts and arms shipments are themselves a new divisive force in area shot through with national rivalries, without historic boundaries and allegiances, without the type of colonial tutelage which has allowed them to build up the skilled classes and political administrators who can pilot the new states through the treacherous tides which run throughout the Middle East and much of East Asia and Africa.

In the highly combustible condition of these countries new opportunities have been opened up for Soviet stratagems. And the Soviet Union has not hesitated to devise skillful – and not very costly – appeals to the underdeveloped countries. It has done so not by open seizure of power, nor by direct conquest, nor border aggression, nor even always through Communist parties. Rather it has negotiated fairly painless arms, technical, and barter agreements, by small economic aid programs, by loan of personnel, by serving – this is particularly important not only in Egypt and Asia – by serving as a counterweight, as in the Middle East, to what many Arabs regard as overzealousness for our interests, and by persuading significant elements in many of these new nations that the attainment of economic growth and persistent development is best secured through an adaptation of Soviet techniques and experience.

To countries with primitive economies and low industrial capacity, the Russian and even the Chinese passage to modernity in a generation's time inspires confidence and excites imitation – even as does Egypt's move in seven years from a seemingly subjected state to the status of at least a strategic power.

Against this the conceptions embraced in such structures as the Baghdad Pact, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, and the framework provided by the Eisenhower Doctrine are very fragile. There are at least three weaknesses in the treaty arrangements in the Middle East: First, they are clumsy tools with which to treat the Soviet stratagems of leap-frogging and subtle infiltration which we have seen in Syria, Yemen, or Egypt – and which in Southeast Asia have been emerging in Indonesia and in the Indian state of Kerala. Second, they tend to heighten and sharpen the rivalries which already exist in the Middle East by their very existence whereas efforts to give the Eisenhower Doctrine concrete application in the Jordanian instance have backfired to create a common anti-Western front in the Middle East. Third, such paper agreements by themselves do not help materially to shape the political direction and social content of the nationalist movements of backward countries.

We must always remember that the Soviet attraction is not grounded on threat alone and that there are tensions in the underdeveloped areas of the world which would exist even if there were no Communist threat. Nor can we be too complacent about the appeal of Marxism even under better circumstances. As the Economist has well put it, "Communism appeals to people full to the brim with incoherent social resentment, and accustomed to authoritarian rule and to a creed which lays down the whole way of life."

What is more, Communism is able to retain in many peoples' minds the glamour of novelty, of breaking fresh ground, and seeming to offer a disciplined, coherent, and irresistible answer to the overwhelming problems of economic management and progress.

Indeed, it is one of Marxism's cruelest ironies that it has gained special force not in advanced industrial societies, but particularly in areas of stagnation, peasant economy, or petrified authoritarianism. It is for this reason that the United States cannot simply stand aside from the crises of the underdeveloped world; we must make resolute efforts to demonstrate that Western techniques and ideas can offer intelligent and intelligible answers to the felt needs of these countries. It is for this reason that I feel the United States must seek to help in the search for solutions to the unresolved and especially abrasive colonial controversies.

To my mind French North Africa will be one of the major touchstones by which Western intentions and practical policies will be judged. To speak of this matter is obviously to touch raw and sensitive nerves, to lay oneself open to the charge of undercutting the essential cords of our Atlantic Alliance, to traffic in matters that are of purely domestic concern in France. I realize the hard difficulties of the North African crisis, how hard will be the emotional wrench for France to loosen its authority over Algeria, how many Frenchmen have a direct stake in the destiny of Algeria and its neighboring countries. Nor do I think that we have any right to believe that the United States also might not act similarly in a parallel situation.

But if there is danger of an excess of self-righteousness on our part, there is also the danger that the slow burning fuse in the Algerian crisis will later explode in an even greater calamity. The ending of direct French rule will obviously expose Algeria to economic weaknesses and there is the fact that Algeria has only a small leadership class of its own. But prolonged paralysis and rigid adherence to a program which offers no timetable of independence will only further deepen the racial and political cleavages which have already cut far.

In my judgment, in a situation where there are no idyllic solutions and where common sense must make the choice, the dangers of Communism only become the greater as a settlement is postponed. This I say because Algeria lies at the heart of any solution for North Africa as a whole and because Algeria is an important ingredient of any secure advance in plans for the economic integration of Europe or Eurafrica. This is an area where we do have two relatively stable and popular governments in Morocco and Tunisia, both of whom are naturally inclined toward Western ways and values and both of whom would like to find a political and economic framework which is interdependent with France. The economic costs and military commitments of France in the Algerian War run high. France is not alone in diverting energies and resources to wars which cannot have a permanent military outcome. On a lesser scale, the British also have made commitments in Cyprus which have detracted from NATO in manpower and in antagonizing other NATO members. In Asia, the unresolved conflict over Kashmir has also drained some of India's economic and military resources which logically would better be applied to the hard battle for economic maturity. The knot is, however, tied hardest in Algeria. The tremors of this revolt echo in every country of NATO as well as throughout Africa.

I do not happen to believe that France's role in the world has passed into the shadows. In fact, France has in recent years and continues today to make impressive contributions to the growth and vitality of a new world system. In the United Nations its representatives have raised challenging opportunities for more effective international assistance on a multi-lateral basis. In French West Africa, the French government has made generous grants of autonomy which provide gradual promise of independence, perhaps within a federal framework. Many sectors of the French economy have made remarkable technical and productive strides in past years. And a significant portion of French political leadership is helping to guide plans for the European Common Market, which will take life over a period of 12-15 years and which is especially well-suited to the demands being made of European industry in such fields as atomic energy and aircraft production.

But most of these horizons – as well the vista of a Saharan development – will be darkened if there is not a tolerable peace in Algeria. Painful and complex as any accommodation of this dispute must be, I am strongly persuaded that this bad debt must be cancelled soon if the Western partners are to have the resilient strength to meet the new challenges which are being set in the competition with Russia and its orbit, which in recent days has encompassed the heavens as well as large parts of the earth.

I should like to stress three of these present challenges – in foreign assistance, in the scientific and military race, and to the conduct of our foreign policy itself.

In all of these areas we must react imaginatively and not woodenly. Nor is there any single answer – more money, or government reorganization, better propaganda, a single "crash" effort, a new Secretary of State, all of which might be highly desirable.

I am convinced that in the vital tests facing us we do have room for maneuver ourselves and that what must be done can be done. Naturally, if our leaders see their role as limited to proposing no more than the mood of the moment requires, if we consider our national policies to be only exercises in public accountancy; if we hold to a static image of the world balance which takes no account of nationalist pulsations in all parts of the world including Eastern Europe; if we mistake assertions of collective will for the substance of collective security and moral pronouncements for moral authority – then, of course, the erosion in our position will be unabated.

In years hence we may, therefore be thankful to Sputnik for having awakened us from the years the locusts have eaten. Sputnik has, I believe, roused many Americans to reconsider and bring up to date their appraisal of Soviet capacity. Too often in the past when we have received periodic hints of Soviet achievement to come, we have quickly returned to the comforting mental grooves with their fixed illusion about the preordained superiority of our military and scientific capabilities. This time we perhaps recognize that the Russians are training more scientists and technologists than the whole [missing] they concentrate their energies and of the West put together; they concentrate their talents and energies more effectively on first objectives with less wasteful dispersion of skilled manpower; they appear to possess a marked lead in important phases of missile development and technology; their ballistic missiles are able – or soon will be – to strike any designated target anywhere in the world.

These advances are taking place against a background of basic progress in economic capacity as well. Their annual rate of growth is more than twice ours – at a conservative 7% – and Russia will again be able to double her industrial output in no more than 12 years. She is able to generate a level of internal savings and investment higher percentage-wise than the United States. And a far smaller percentage of her basic resources are devoted to items which are not essential indices of national strength – private automobiles, dishwashers, and the like.

This is not to say that the Soviet economy is a flawless mechanism with perfectly smooth performance. With its successes Russia will have to take more account of rising consumer pressures and needs domestically and in the satellites. Soviet agriculture is still very inflexible in meeting the changing requirements of mechanization and consumption. And in the near future, Russia will have a shallower manpower pool as she feels the effects of the wartime birth drought. It would, however, be fanciful to assume that these are inevitably lethal weaknesses. The Soviet economy has made difficult adjustments in the past – harsh as the human price has been.

Also significant is the fact that Russia seems now to possess a special fund of knowledge, which cannot be measured as exactly as economic ratios or military inventories. With their satellites Russia may become a vendor of new information, while the value of our own nuclear and atomic information has depreciated in value and prestige.

It seems to me essential therefore that we reevaluate dispassionately but closely the nature of our own educational effort. This is in part a domestic problem – creating incentives for advanced scientific study and training, providing public programs which pay special regard for the person of talent and unusual gifts, making certain that every person of ability finds opportunity to gain the education he seeks. This requires too a review of our military personnel programs – giving more searching attention to the type of inducements of professional incentives outlined in the Cordiner Report; making certain that the pools of fundamental scientific inquiry are not dried up either from economy restrictions or from an unfavorable climate of research. Beyond this the Executive and Congress must make certain – and give public reassurance – that sterile rivalries and arbitrarily contrived budgetary ceilings do not destroy the forward thrust of our weapons and missiles programs.

But the same type of review must take place within the Western alliance, where there is equal danger of false economies, redundant military programs, archaic secrecies, excessive scientific isolationisms, and national prestige programs which detract from common strength. For if NATO is to have real meaning in the changing context of weapons developments and is to have a flexible strategy in response to developments in the Soviet Union, it is clear that some barriers of information will have to fall and that a greater mutual exchange of knowledge and personnel will have to occur. In this Congress will have a special responsibility, because there are serious legislative barriers to such a condition.

The second range of new responsibilities lie in the area of foreign assistance. Here old concepts of "foreign aid" must be put to the test. Not all the lessons of the economic recovery of Europe apply to other sectors of the world. Nor are we concerned only with relief, with a distribution of charity to the less fortunate, with the purchase of tenuous friendships through the granting of gifts, or with the bidding for "privilege" of aiding a country against the bids of the Soviet Union. At its simplest, so long as the loss of large areas of Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia would adversely affect our security, the status of their economies must necessarily be of concern to us. To some extent we can seek a new emphasis in concert with close allies such as Canada and Germany, whose economies can now absorb more international spending and investment.

A leading example of a common problem in which the United States must take the lead but in which the help of others can be sought is the appeal which India is now making for a foreign loan, the importance of which I consider absolutely critical in the ability to maintain this most important of all uncommitted states – and others like India – outside the zone of Communist control and influence.

But a new emphasis is needed generally for the underdeveloped areas of the world, a program which would act as "seed" capital to private capital from this country and Europe and which can generate a sufficient rate of growth. Irrigation and power projects, communications and harbor improvements are the type of help which many countries must have to move forward. The faint beginnings of such a program is contained in the International Development Fund which the Senate launched this year in the Mutual Security Act, but its authority must be broadened and capitalization increased if it is to have the necessary continuity, durability, and reliability.

We can explore further also the possibilities of using our vast and costly agricultural surpluses as means of capital investment abroad. The United Nations has reported significant success with pilot projects of this nature. When possible, these programs call for the use of our surplus agricultural products to go to underdeveloped nations who may be suffering from a shortage of those products, but who can as a result of our loan devote the human and material resources which would otherwise be devoted to feeding their population to the building of roads, dams, and other capital improvements. In this fashion, our political liability becomes their capital asset, without further burdening the American taxpayer. This approach is limited by our obligations to other allies who also have surpluses – such as Canada – and by the difficulties of applying the right techniques, but it deserves our every effort.

A further feature of our aid program which requires study is the legislation governing the granting of assistance and loans to countries such as Poland after her revolution of last October and as other Eastern European countries might become in the future. As our legislation is written today – and particularly because of the Battle Act of 1951 – it is nearly impossible to give assistance to any country unless there can be a showing that it is not under "Communist domination" – hence a "free" state. The experience with the Polish loan was that it came too late and probably in too small an amount to have the maximum impact – and this was caused very largely by the legislative hurdles and restrictions which first had to be cleared. Since the experiences in Hungary proved conclusively what many had always suspected – that "Liberation" was more a policy of bluff than real intention, it is all the more necessary that we have a flexible set of tools by which we can aid states – short of force – who are passing from under total Soviet domination but who are not able to become completely free states. It is quite conceivable that other states may come into this limbo in the future; at the very least our laws should be flexible enough so that we could grant aid in instances where the President felt it to be clearly in our national interest.

But all of these suggestions – and others – have no meaning if our national leadership does not show sufficient nerve, resolve, and courage. At most periods of our history, our national prestige and effective influence has been measurable by the strength of will, the capacity for judgment, and the articulation of policies at the pinnacle – and that is the Presidency. If initiative falters there, if the public is not honestly informed, if all executive action is merely reflex action, then foreign policy by its very nature cannot but fail in its large objectives.

Too often in recent times, we have tended to equate a sound policy with its gadgetry and form. But no amount of reorganizations in the administration, no end of ambassadorial changes, and newly contrived verbal policies can substitute for the confidence that our leadership in the White House and State Department means what it says and is willing to act on its words. Congress has many faults, but I cannot think of many instances in history where it has failed to act when clearly confronted with a challenge to national security and strength by the President. This has been true regardless of what party controlled the Congress.

In the last few sessions of Congress, there has been a relaxation of purpose in both defense and foreign aid, but in both fields the executive has either been behind Congress or but a faltering half step ahead. In the realm of foreign policy this is a unique – and dangerous state of affairs.

Far more than the cut and thrust of debate and controversy we must guard against the suppression of dangers and the evasion of issues which the nation must meet anyway in the long run. In our foreign policy there are altogether too many false harmonies and weak compromises which only obscure the permanent realities of our time. It is always hard –and never painless – to break with settled conceptions, tested techniques, and inherited thinking. This has been true of all periods of time and in all realms of human activity. But in this perilous phase of international politics, let us recall the answer which Galileo gave to the well-intentioned but brittle minds who argued in his day for the status quo "Eppur si muove" — "But the Earth does move." And so it does in our time.


Speech source: Papers of John F. Kennedy. Pre-Presidential Papers. Senate Files. Series 12. Speeches and the Press. Box 898, Folder: "Howard Crawley Memorial Lecture, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1 November".