A different cold war? European settlement of 1963 and afterward



The expectation of ongoing pressure against the Soviet Union and potential allies elsewhere in world made up the thrust of early US planning for the Cold War, and were emblematic of Containment. They led the US to assume leadership of NATO in Western Europe, and to worldwide US engagements, including in Vietnam.  But the US and NATO during the 1950s could not agree on a defense strategy; Eisenhower’s plan by 1957 and 1958 was for the US to reduce its European presence in favor of national control of nuclear weapons, including by West Germany. That prospect frightened the Soviets, and more than anything else led to Khrushchev’s ultimatum on Berlin in November 1958. Kennedy, with some collaboration from Khrushchev, constructed a settlement by 1963 that would keep US forces in western Europe; keep US nuclear weapons under US control, hence prevent Germans from having them; and maintain the political status quo in central Europe.  A self-enforcing European peace could be achieved only because the Soviet goal of regional hegemony had been thwarted. But Kennedy and Khrushchev both left the scene, following which the accomplishment was poorly understood, a pattern oddly continued by most Cold War observers – including Morgenthau and Kissinger. Had it been better understood, it might have changed US policy toward less intervention in the Third World. Eisenhower left office in January 1961 with the US on the brink of showdown in central Africa, Cuba, and Laos. We got a pre-vision of a different strategy in Kennedy’s policy shifts in all of these, and in withdrawal underway of forces from Vietnam.  Meanwhile, DeGaulle offered a multi-dimensional case for neutrality in southeast Asia. A less ideological, more “realist” view would have led the US to stay “offshore,” to avoid confrontation where superpower interests were only marginally involved, and otherwise to encourage neutralist solutions.  The Cold War might have faded away; but that was not to be. Containment, as practiced, and resumed after 1963, prolonged the Cold War. Kennedy and DeGaulle were effective realists, while Eisenhower, Kissinger, and often Acheson, were not. The 1963 European settlement should have been updated during the decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but it was not. A consequence, in part, was the Ukraine war of 2022.

Keywords. Containment; European settlement 1963; Cold War; Realism; Hegemony in Europe; Nuclear weapons policy; MC-48; NATO history; Berlin crisis; Vietnam War;  Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; Domino Theory; Neutralism; Multi-lateral Force (MLF) arrangements; Dwight Eisenhower; John Kennedy; Dean Acheson; Henry Kissinger; Nikita Khrushchev; Charles DeGaulle; Konrad Adenauer; Harold Macmillan; Walter Lippmann; Hans Morgenthau; John Mearsheimer; Marc Trachtenberg; Kissinger’s Diplomacy; Skybolt missile; Polaris missile; Ukraine War; Congolese neutrality; Laotian neutrality.

JEL. M14.


Containment; European settlement 1963; Cold War; Realism; Hegemony in Europe; Nuclear weapons policy; MC-48; NATO history; Berlin crisis; Vietnam War; Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; Domino Theory; Neutralism; Multi-lateral Force (MLF) arrangements; Dwi

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1453/jest.v9i1.2302


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