The United States and the Counterrevolutionary Alliance in the 1960s

Friday, January 4, 2019: 3:30 PM
Chicago Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Mark Lawrence, University of Texas at Austin
As John F. Kennedy campaigned for the presidency in 1960, he stressed the need to wage the Cold War more creatively in the Third World. Historians have highlighted two of Kennedy’s key innovations: expanded use of U.S. aid and expertise to build more robust nations and the development of counterinsurgency capabilities to help those nations defend themselves. But Kennedy and his aides also spoke of their desire to build strong international partnerships and to strengthen regional organizations as a way to bolster Western resistance to communist expansion and to counter the networks developing among radical nations hostile to the United States.

Kennedy achieved meager results during his presidency, but the idea of counterrevolutionary combinations gained greater traction as the 1960s advanced. Pivotal was the further radicalization of anti-Western regimes and the interrelated trend toward rightwing coups, most notably in Latin America but also in parts of Africa and Southeast Asia. U.S. leaders found mounting enthusiasm for counterrevolutionary activism among those authoritarian regimes, a trend that gave the idea of anticommunist networks a decidedly more rightwing flavor than Kennedy and his fellow development-minded liberals had imagined in 1961.

This paper will examine U.S. efforts in the late 1960s and early 1970s to work with two rightwing governments – those of Brazil and Indonesia – to develop regional anticommunist networks, a process that culminated in 1969 with the promulgation of the Nixon Doctrine. Under that approach to the Third World, President Richard Nixon proposed U.S. support for sympathetic regimes that could manage U.S. interests without direct U.S. military commitments. The essential idea, I will argue, had suffused U.S. policy over the previous decade but took distinctive shape under the pressures of the Vietnam War and growing pessimism about U.S. geopolitical influence as the 60s gave way to the 70s.

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