Efforts Toward World Peace
In March 1961 President Kennedy initiated the project known as the Peace Corps-a revolutionary idea in foreign assistance. The program enlisted volunteers for service in developing countries all over the globe. Young Americans in particular found the program attractive and put their talents to work as nurses, surveyors, teachers, mechanics, health and sanitation specialists, and farm aides. The Peace Corps, besides promoting grass-roots development abroad, sought to build international understanding, good will, and peace.
The Kennedy years saw also the signing of the limited nuclear test-ban treaty. In August 1961, the very month the Berlin wall went up, the Soviet Union announced that it would resume testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, thus ending the voluntary moratorium on atmospheric testing initiated three years earlier by the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the United States. On September 1 the Soviet Union began a series of nuclear explosions in the atmosphere. Tests such as these produced large amounts of radioactive fallout and aroused worldwide fears of genetic damage to future generations.
Despite the breaking of the moratorium, President Kennedy continued to urge the Soviet Union to sign an agreement providing for international inspection that would assure a ban on all future tests. When this offer was rejected, the United States reluctantly announced that it had no alternative but to resume its own testing in the atmosphere to maintain an effective deterrent capacity. At the same time, the U.S. Government continued to work for an end to the arms race by creating a special Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and by maintaining its endeavor to obtain a test-ban treaty.
These efforts finally bore fruit in July 1963 when the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the United States initialed a treaty outlawing nuclear explosions in outer space. By the end of the year, 107 nations had subscribed to the treaty. The question of underground testing was left to the future, since the Soviet Union continued to reject the kind of on-site inspection that could accurately detect such tests.
Some observers believed that the Soviet government's willingness to accept even a partial test-ban was traceable to the missile crisis in Cuba, which had brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. As a further precaution against the possibility of the outbreak of a nuclear war through accident or misunderstanding, a direct teletype connection-popularly referred to as "the hot line"- was established between the White House in Washington and the Kremlin in Moscow.
These safeguards against accidental war and the contamination of the atmosphere reflected a fresh approach to Soviet-American relations. In a notable speech at Washington's American University in June 1963, President Kennedy proposed a thaw in the cold war.
"We must conduct our affairs in such a way," he said, "that it becomes in the Communists' interest to agree on a genuine peace. Above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war.... To secure these ends, America's weapons are nonprovocative, carefully controlled, designed to deter, and capable of selective use. Our military forces are committed to peace and disciplined in self-restraint.... The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war."America was directing its energies, the President concluded, "not toward a strategy of annihilation but toward a strategy of peace."