U.S. Policymakers Express Optimism

In the light of a deepening ideological rift between the Soviet Union and China, U.S. officials express their belief that Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev will seek closer relations with the United States. Unfortunately, the optimism was somewhat misplaced. Although China and the Soviet Union announced a serious split in mid-July 1963, Khrushchev’s days in office were numbered.

Officials in the U.S. government watched with tremendous interest the developing rift between the Soviet Union and China in the early 1960s. The ideological split centered around the Chinese perception that the Russians were becoming too “soft” in their revolutionary zeal and too accommodating to Western capitalist powers. In mid-1963, Chinese and Soviet representatives met in Moscow to try to mend the damage. U.S. diplomats were convinced that the rift was irreversible. As a consequence, they believed Khrushchev would become much more receptive to better relations with the United States in order to isolate further the communist Chinese. Thus, on July 6, 1963, the New York Times carried several related stories, based on statements from “responsible” figures in the administration of President John F. Kennedy, about the hopes for a meaningful “peaceful coexistence” between the Soviet Union and United States. Khrushchev himself had coined the term “peaceful coexistence” in the late 1950s, indicating that the hope for better U.S.-Soviet relations was not entirely one-sided. Kennedy obviously hoped to build on these feelings to prepare the way for the success of arms control talks with the Soviets scheduled for later in the month. This hope was realized when the Soviet Union and United States signed a treaty banning the aboveground testing of nuclear weapons in August 1963.

Just a few days after the newspaper stories concerning improved U.S.-Soviet relations, the Russians and Chinese officially announced their ideological split. Any benefits the United States hoped would accrue from this development in terms of a closer working relationship with Khrushchev, however, were swept away in 1964 when the Russian leader was removed from power by more hard-line elements of the Soviet government. Almost overnight, talk of “peaceful coexistence” disappeared and the Cold War divisions once again hardened.

Posted in Cold War.

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