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Missile Gap


MISSILE GAP, the presumed strategic disparity between the Soviet Union and the United States believed to have been created by the USSR's technological achievements in the late 1950s.

Beginning in late 1957, media observers claimed that the Soviet Union's successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile and the launch of the Sputnik space satellites had created a "missile gap." The missile gap became an important political issue, with critics charging that President Dwight D. Eisenhower had allowed the Soviets to gain a dangerous military advantage over the United States by refusing to spend enough money on missile programs. Building on these claims, John F. Kennedy won the presidential election of 1960 by calling for bold action to restore American prestige that had been tarnished in the wake of the missile gap.

Despite dire warnings that the missile gap would pose a threat to citizens in the United States and to U.S. interests abroad, the missile gap was a myth. Eisenhower had explained that there was no gap, but many doubted the president's claims. Concerns over the missile gap did not recede until after October 1961, when members of the Kennedy administration declared that the United States possessed overwhelming military strength.


Divine, Robert A. The Sputnik Challenge: Eisenhower's Response to the Soviet Satellite. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

McDougall, Walter A. The Heavens and the Earth. New York: Basic Books, 1985.

Roman, Peter J. Eisenhower and the Missile Gap. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997.

Christopher A.Preble

See alsoArms Race and Disarmament ; Cold War .

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