The Kennedy Administration, dubbed the “New Frontier,” lasted less than three years. The world, the country, and Kennedy changed during that short period. Kennedy had an intimidating foreign adversary in Premier Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union. When they met in Vienna in June 1961, in the wake of the Bay of Pigs fiasco of April 1961, Khrushchev successfully bullied Kennedy, who seemed unprepared to enter into tough negotiations with Khrushchev. Khruschev came away from their summit meeting with an unfavorable impression of the “weak” American president (Schlesinger, pp. 46-51).
In August 1961, the Soviets built the Berlin Wall between the eastern and western parts of that already divided city. Believing that he could further change the dynamics of the Cold War in his favor, he authorized the placement of offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba. When the secretly placed missiles were discovered in October 1962, Kennedy demanded their removal and instituted a naval blockade of Soviet ships heading toward Cuba. The world narrowly avoided nuclear war thanks to the good sense and restraint that both Kennedy and Khrushchev showed in resolving the crisis. While Kennedy's handling of the Cuban missile crisis is often cited as exemplary foreign affairs leadership, recent scholarship shows that luck played a large part in avoiding war. Nevertheless, the successful resolution of the crisis led both Kennedy and Khrushchev to greater mutual respect and an easing of tensions, culminating in a nuclear test ban treaty in 1963. In this domain, Kennedy's leadership in foreign affairs was successful (Schlesinger, pp. 46-51). At the same time, the United States was getting more deeply involved in Vietnam. One of the unanswered questions about Kennedy's presidency is whether he would have avoided the war into which his successor, Lyndon Johnson, led the nation during his own term as president.