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Cold War (1953-1962)

 This article is part of
Cold War series.
 Cold War (1947-1953) and its origins
Cold War (1953-1962)
 Cold War (1962-1991)

Table of contents
1 The Eisenhower administration and "massive retaliation"
2 "Yankee imperialism", de-colonization, covert action, and John Foster Dulles
3 The Cuban Missile Crisis
4 Related topics

The Eisenhower administration and "massive retaliation"

When Dwight Eisenhower entered office in 1953, he was committed to two possibly contradictory goals: maintaining — or even heightening — the national commitment to counter the spread of Soviet influence; and satisfying demands to balance the budget, lower taxes, and curb inflation. The most prominent of the doctrines to emerge out of this goal was "massive retaliation," which Secretary of State John Foster Dulles announced early in 1954. Eschewing the costly, conventional ground forces of the Truman administration, and wielding the vast superiority of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and covert intelligence, Dulles defined this approach as "brinksmanship" in a January 16, 1956 interview with Life: pushing the Soviet Union to the brink of war in order to exact concessions.

In the meantime, however, American attention was being diverted elsewhere in Asia, especially due to domestic influence on foreign policy. The continuing pressure from the "China lobby" or "Asia firsters," who had insisted on active efforts to restore Chiang Kai-shek was still a strong domestic influence on foreign policy. In April 1953, for example, Sen. Robert Taft and other powerful Congressional Republicans suddenly called for the immediate appointments to the top chiefs the Pentagon, particularly with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Omar Bradley in mind. To the so-called "China lobby" and Taft, he was seen as having leanings toward a Europe-first orientation, meaning that he would be a possible barrier to new departures in military policy that they favored. Then, there was the problem was the ever-ubiquitous McCarthyism. But after the mid-term elections in 1954 — and censure by the Senate — the influence of the Wisconsin demagogue ebbed after his witch-hunt against the Army.

Ike, "Operation Solarium" and "more bang for the buck"

Stalin died in early March 1953. Nikita Khrushchev, above, would eventually emerge as the new Soviet leader. Ironically, the U.S. would begin heating up tensions as Khrushchev abandoned Stalin's foreign policies, began urging negotiations in Europe and peace in Korea, and began reigning in Stalin's secret police domestically.

Eisenhower inherited from the Truman administration a military budget of roughly $42 billion, as well as a paper (NSC-141) drafted by Acheson, Harriman, and Lovett calling for an additional $7-9 billion in military spending. With Treasury Secretary George Humphrey leading the way, and reinforced by pressure from Sen. Taft and the cost-cutting mood of the Republican Congress, the target for the new fiscal year (to take effect on July 1, 1954) was reduced to $36 billion. While the Korean armistice was on the verge of producing significant savings in troop deployment and money, the State and Defense Departments were still in an atmosphere of rising expectations for budgetary savings. Humphrey wanted balanced budget and a tax cut in February 1955, and had a savings target of $12 billion (obtaining half of which from cults in military expenditures).

Although unwilling to cut deeply into defense, the president also wanted a balanced budget and smaller allocations for defense. Nothing, not even communism, seemed to obsess Eisenhower as much as his fear that capitalists would ruin their system by spending too much on defense. "Unless we can put things in the hands of people who are starving to death we can never lick Communism", he told his cabinet. Moreover, Ike feared that a bloated military-industrial complex (a term he popularized) "would either drive us to war—or into some form of dictatorial government" and perhaps even force "us to initiate was at the most propitious moment." On one occasion after thwarting the demands of private corporations and Congress for more defense spending, the former commander of the greatest amphibious invasion force in history privately exclaimed, "God help the nation when it has a President who doesn't know as much about the military as I do."

Laying the groundwork for this new approach to defense planning, Eisenhower announced a "radical change" on April 30. He rejected the idea that "we must build up to a maximum attainable strength for some specific date... Defense is not a matter of maximum strength for a single date," but instead a matter for the "long haul," meaning that military expenditures should be sustainable for many years without serious strain. To illustrate such reasoning, one could note how the defense spending was such an extraordinary burden on the Soviet economy. Perhaps a quarter of the actual share of the USSR's economy was devoted to the military sector. Defense in the United States came nowhere close to consuming such a disproportionate share of resources (Americans spent six percent of a much larger GNP).

This, of course, was a reaction to Truman-Acheson policies and NSC-68. Prepared by the Departments of State and Defense in late 1949 following the first test of a Soviet atomic device), the report assumed that by 1954 the Soviets would likely be capable of launching a devastating nuclear attack on the U.S., which would neutralize American nuclear superiority. In such a hypothetical event, the Soviets could take advantage of their superiority in conventional forces. Thus, NSC-68 called for the U.S. to redress the balance in conventional capabilities. Hence, the report recommend, among other goals, the rapid build-up of conventional forces, a large increase in taxes, and "sacrifice" by the public.

On May 8th his first year in office, Eisenhower and his top advisors tackled this problem in "Operation Solarium" — the White House sunroom where the president conducted secret discussions. Although it was untraditional to ask military men to consider factors outside their professional discipline, the president instructed the group to strike a proper balance between his goals to cut government spending and an ideal military posture.

The group weighed three policy options for the next year's military budget: the Truman-Acheson approach of containment and reliance on conventional forces; threatening to respond to limited Soviet "aggression" in one location with nuclear weapons; and serious "liberation" based on a thoroughgoing economic response to the Soviet political-military-ideological challenge to Western hegemony, propaganda campaigns, and psychological warfare. The third option was strongly rejected.

Eisenhower and the group (consisting of Allen Dulles, Bedell Smith, C.D. Jackson, and Robert Cutler) instead opted for a combination of the first two, one that confirmed the validity of containment, but with reliance on the American air-nuclear deterrent. This was geared toward avoid costly and unpopular ground was wars. In addition, nuclear weapons were to play a larger role in containing the increasing numbers of insurgencies in the Third World. The question of relative capabilities was the crucial factor. Viewing international relations from a realist perspective, relative capabilities are the central element of the international system: units within the system that fail to adjust to threats and opportunities arising changing capabilities will not survive.

Where Harry Truman viewed the atomic bomb as an instrument of terror and a weapon of last resort, Dwight Eisenhower viewed it as an integral part of American defense, and, in effect, a weapon of first resort. Ike increased the number of nuclear warheads from 1,000 in 1953 to 18,000 by early 1961. Despite overwhelming U.S. superiority, one additional nuclear weapon was produced each day. The administration also exploited new technology. In 1955 Eight-engine B-52 bomber, the first true jet bomber designed to carry nuclear weapons, was developed.

Moreover, by wielding the nation's huge nuclear superiority, the new Eisenhower-Dulles approach was a cheaper form of containment geared toward offering Americans "more bang for the buck." However, rather than a rejection of the Truman-Acheson containment, Eisenhower and Dulles decided on a policy resting on the impact of nuclear weapons on regional balances, and the role of nuclear weaponry in strategic thinking and military doctrines. Perhaps most influentially, the Eisenhower-Dulles approach adjusted American policy to the emergence of new nations in the Third World.

The Eisenhower-Dulles foreign policy was not a rejection of the Truman-Acheson containment as formulated by NSC-68, but a reformulation based on the impact of nuclear weapons on regional balances, the role of nuclear weaponry in strategic thinking, and the emergence of new nations in the Third World.

"Yankee imperialism", de-colonization, covert action, and John Foster Dulles

A committed Marxist and Vietnamese nationalist,
Ho Chi Minh was never willing to compromise on dreams for a united, independent Vietnam.

Perhaps most importantly, the Eisenhower-Dulles approach adjusted American policy to the impact of de-colonization. Between 1947-1949, the focus was war-torn Europe. The NATO alliance integrated Western Europe into the system of mutual defense pacts, thus providing safeguards against subversion or neutrality in the bloc. In addition, the Marshal Plan rebuilt a functioning Western economic system, thwarting the electoral appeal of the radical left. For Europe, economic aid ended the dollar shortage and stimulated private investment for postwar reconstruction. For the United States, the plan spared it from a crisis of over-production and maintained demand for American exports.

Communist activities, of course, were not the root of the difficulties of Western Europe, but rather the root was the disruptive effects of the war on the economic, political, and social structure of Europe. In addition, the combined effects of two great European wars would also weaken the political and/or economic domination of Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East by Western powers. With the newly emerging nations of Africa and Asia entering the fold in the two decades after 1945, the world was becoming far more pluralistic.

Due to several waves of African and Asian de-colonization following the Second World War, a world that had been dominated for over a century by Western imperialist powers was now transformed into a pluralistic world of de-colonized African, Middle Eastern, and Asian nations and of surging resistance to "Yankee imperialism" in Latin America. Amid postwar de-colonization, the Soviet Union relished in its role as the leader of the "anti-imperialist" camp, winning great favor in the Third World for being a stauncher opponent of colonialism than many independent nations in Africa and Asia. And it did not go unnoticed in the Third World that the so-called "free world" consisted by and large of North Atlantic imperialist powers.

In another exercise of the new "rollback" polices, acting on the doctrines of Dulles, Eisenhower thwarted Soviet intervention wielding U.S. nuclear superiority and used the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to overthrow unfriendly governments. As mentioned, the Eisenhower-Dulles approach did not create, but heighten, the use of covert means, specifically the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), to overthrow unfriendly governments in the Third World. And this pattern, of course, predates containment. By 1900 the United States had burgeoned into a power which combined the interesting characteristic of being conservative ideologically and expansive economically. Such a combination would not be encouraging to revolution. Interventions against rebellions in Cuba and the Philippines were followed by Theodore Roosevelt's pronouncement that the United States would act as a policeman to prevent upheavals in the Caribbean area. A decade later Woodrow Wilson rationalized the use of economic and military force against Mexico with an ideological justification that employed the traditional American liberal rhetoric.

In the Arab world, the focus was pan-Arab nationalism. And the roots of the ongoing U.S. "war on terrorism" and 2003 "Operation Iraqi Freedom" can be traced through the 1950s. Since the region contained the world's largest oil reserves, the U.S. was concerned about the stability and friendliness of the Arab regimes in the area, which the health of the U.S. economy grew to depend. U.S. companies had already invested heavily in the region.

"Defense pacts" in the Third World

Nikita Khrushchev, the dynamic, reformist leader of the Soviet Union, was a committed Marxist-Leninist focused on broadening Moscow's policy by establishing new relations with India and other key non-aligned, noncommunist states in the Third World. The Soviet premier boosted his nation's power by developing a hydrogen bomb and, in 1957, by launching the first earth satellite. To stabilize his European position, the Soviet premier created the Warsaw Pact in 1955 (to counter West German rearmament) and built the Berlin Wall in 1961.

The Korean War marked a shift in the focal point of the Cold War, from postwar Europe to East Asia. After this point, proxy battles in the Third World would become an ever-important arena of superpower competition. In such an international setting, the Soviet Union relished in its role as the leader of the anti-imperialist camp.

Eisenhower's Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was the dominant figure in the nation's foreign policy in the 1950s. A patrician, visceral anticommunist closely tied to the nation's financial establishment, Dulles was obsessed with communism's challenge to U.S. corporate power in the Third World. He denounced the "containment" of the Truman administration and espoused an active program of "liberation," which would lead to a "rollback" of communism. Dulles intensified the efforts to "integrate" the entire noncommunist Third World into a system of mutual defense pacts, traversing almost 500,000 miles in foreign travels to cement new alliances that were modeled after NATO (though far weaker). The emphasis on pacts was a logical culmination of Truman-Acheson containment, which called for strong alliance systems directed by the U.S. and collective security pacts. Dulles initiated the Manila Conference in 1954, which resulted in the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) pact that united eight nations either located in Southeast Asia or with interests there in a neutral defense pact. This treaty was followed in 1955 by the Baghdad Pact, later renamed the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), uniting the so-called northern tier countries of the Middle East—Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan—in a defense organization.

Latin America

Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán (1951-1954) was the democratically-elected, reformist president of Guatemala. Overthrown in a CIA-led coup, he was replaced by a brutal dictatorship - one of the bloodiest in the region.

In Latin America, populist and nationalist governments were targeted. The CIA would overthrow other governments suspected of turning procommunist, such as Guatemala in 1954, another multiparty democratizing government. In 1958 the U.S. sent troops into Lebanon to maintain its pro-U.S. regime, and between 1954 and 1961 the administration dispatched economic aid and 695 military advisers to South Vietnam. Between 1954 and 1961 the Eisenhower dispatched economic aid and 695 military advisers to South Vietnam, which would later be absorbed by its communist counterpart amid one of history's greatest popular-based insurrections against a corrupt client state. Vietnam remains one of the world's five remaining Communist states. In 1958 the U.S. sent troops into Lebanon to maintain its pro-U.S. regime. As an aside, Lebanon's government is a close ally of Syria, touted as a target for another "pre-emptive U.S. attack").

The Suez Crisis

The American offensive in the Third World was very effective in the short-run, but failed to install pro-U.S. regimes that would be enduring and stable. But some setbacks were evident even in the 1950s. In particular, the first strain among the NATO alliance shattered the concept of the West as a united monolith. Less effective in dealing with the nationalist government in Egypt, in 1956 Eisenhower had to force Britain and France to retreat from a badly planned invasion with Israel intended to seize the Suez Canal from Egypt, a sign that the interest of the United States in the Middle East was much more than its strong support of Israel. The Eisenhower administration opposed French and British imperial adventurism in the region due to sheer prudence, out of fear that Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser's bold standoff with the region's old colonial powers would inspire greater pro-Soviet sentiment in the region. In yet another example of how foreign interventionism of the Eisenhower administration resonates to this day, the United States in 2003 deposed the Iraqi regime, which was inspired by Nasser's secular pan-Arab nationalism and populist social policies.

Thus, the Suez stalemate was a turning point heralding an ever-growing rift between the Atlantic Cold War allies over U.S. hegemony, which was becoming far less of a united monolith than it was in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. The West Europeans, with the exclusion of the British until 1971, also developed their own nuclear forces as well as an economy Common Market to be less dependent on Washington. Such rifts mirror changes in global economics. American economic competitiveness faltered in the face of the challenges of Japan and West Germany, which have recovered rapidly from the wartime decimation of the industrial bases. The late nineteenth- and twentieth-century successor to Great Britain as the "workshop of the world," the United States now finds its competitive edge dulled in the international markets while at the same time faced with intensified foreign competition at home.

Threats in both blocs

The 1950s left the pro-Soviet bloc in a precarious position. In 1956, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary which was in a state of revolution. While this revolution was not anti-communist, it was anti-Soviet. Other events left the Soviet Government with little popular or international support at a period when the Soviet strategies of international institutions and peace projects were popular. Sino-Soviet relations were deteriorating. In reality, the Communist was never a monolith. Now, this was becoming more and more obvious.

Leading up to the Sino-Soviet Split, the new, dynamic and reformist Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, was broadening Moscow's policy by establishing new relations with India and other key non-aligned, noncommunist states in the Third World. Nikita Khrushchev increased Soviet power by developing a hydrogen bomb and, in 1957, by launching the first earth satellite. To stabilize his European position, Khrushchev created the Warsaw Pact in 1955 (to counter West German rearmament) and built the Berlin Wall in 1961 (to stop the Germans from leaving the communist East).

In the short-run, however, the Berlin Wall was a propaganda setback. And the Soviets garnered a huge victory when Khrushchev formed an alliance with Cuba after Fidel Castro's successful revolution in 1959. Also to the annoyance of the United States the revolution lives on to this day 90 miles from the shore of the greatest hegemonic power in world history.

Oil, Iran, "Communist influence", and the Dulles brothers

Mohammed Mossadegh dreamed of using his country's oil wealth to relive the abject poverty from which his country suffered. Instead, the United States would get into Iranian oil fields. CIA documents finally made public in 2000 acknowledge that Mossadegh was overthrown in a CIA-led coup.

The United States also reacted with alarm as it watched developments in Iran, which had been in a state of instability since 1951. Through the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), the British had a monopoly on transporting pumping, refining, oil in most of Iran. The company paid production royalties to the government of the Shah — placed on the throne by the British in 1941. But the royalties and salaries to Iranian employees were quite small, considering that the company's earnings were ten times greater than its expenses. Meanwhile Iran suffered from abject poverty and half of all newborns died upon birth.

Iranian nationalists demanded a higher share of the company's earnings. In response, the AIOC replied that it had binding agreement with the Shaw until 1993, and collaborated with domestic political forces to draft a report opposing nationalization. In February 1951, the Iranian prime minister, suspected of being involved with the report — was assassinated and replaced by nationalist Mohammed Mossadegh. Later that year the new prime minister nationalized his nation's British-owned oil wells. Thus, the United States reacted with alarm as it watched Mossadegh, the nationalist prime minister of Iran, begin to resist the neocolonial presence of Western corporations in his nation. As the Iranians moved toward seizing the reserves, the Truman administration tried to mediate. Interestingly enough, since the turn of the century the United States had been trying to get into the Iranian oil fields only to be constantly repulsed by the British. Now the breakthrough occurred by the grace of the shah and under the guidance of State Department official Herbert Hoover, Jr, who had gained a great deal of experience in the complexities of the international oil problem as a private businessman.

Convinced that Iran was developing Communist ties, the Eisenhower administration used the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), joining forces with Iran's military leaders to overthrow Iran's government. To replace Mossadegh, the U.S. favored elevating the young Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, from his position as that of a constitutional monarch to that of an absolute ruler. In return, the Shah allowed U.S. companies to share in the development of his nation's reserves.

The U.S. provided guns, trucks, armored cars, and radio communications in the CIA-assisted 1953 coup, which subjected Iranians to over a generation of rule by the Shah's state of terror and secret police. In addition, oil profits were divided between the Shah's regime and the a new international consortium; in turn the British were awarded 40% of the country's oil revenues, five U.S. firms (Gulf, Socony Vacuum, Standard Oil of California, Standard Oil of New Jersey, and Texaco) won another 40%, and the rest went to Royal Dutch Shell and French Petroleum.

Popular anger in Iran, seething and repressed for a generation, eventually culminated in the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which led to a hostage crisis. Secretary of State Madeline Albright apologized in 2000 for the '53 CIA role, stating (perhaps the obvious): " is easy to see now why so many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs."

Soviet "influence" and the problem of rising nationalisms in the Third World

Republicans won elections with a platform promising to firm up the containment policy vis-ŕ-vis the Soviet Union. But the Kremlin was not really the source of the growing number of international crises, but rather the rampaging nationalisms, social reformism, and anti-imperialist moods in the Middle East, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. Above, Colombian demonstrators protesting U.S. foreign policy attack Vice President Richard Nixon's car in Bogotá in 1958.

Dulles, along with most U.S. foreign policy-makers of the era, failed to distinguish indigenous Third World social revolutionaries and nationalists from Soviet influence. Ironically the Dulles before the publication of his April 1950 War or Peace — the Dulles of War, Peace, and Change (1939) — could do so. In 1938 had called Mao Zedong, for instance, an "agrarian reformer," and during World War II he had deemed Mao's followers "the so called 'Red Army faction.'" But he no longer recognized the indigenous roots of the Chinese Communist Party by 1950. In War or Peace, a melodramatic polemic denouncing the "containment" of the Truman administration, and espousing an active program of "liberation," he writes: "Thus the 450,000,000 people in China gave fallen under leadership that is violently anti American, and takes its inspiration and guidance from Moscow... Soviet Communist leadership has won a victory in China which surpassed what Japan was seeking and we risked war to avert."

Behind the scenes, Dulles could explain his policies by giving hard-headed geopolitical reasons. But publicly, he used the moral and religious reasons that he believed Americans preferred to hear, even though he was often laughed at by observers at home and overseas for mouthing platitudes.

Two of the leading figures of the interwar and early Cold War period who viewed international relations from a realist perspective, diplomat George Kennan and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, were troubled by Dulles' moralism and the crude way he analyzed Soviet behavior. Kennan rejected the point that the Soviets even had a world design after Stalin’s death, being far more concerned with maintaining control of their own bloc. But the underlying assumptions of a monolithic world communism directed from the Kremlin of the Truman-Acheson containment after NSC-68 were essentially compatible with those of the Eisenhower-Dulles foreign policy. The assumptions of Paul Nitze's National Security Council policy paper were as follows: "What is new, what makes the continuing crisis, is the polarization of power which inescapably confronts the slave society with the free… the Soviet Union, unlike previous aspirants to hegemony, is animated by a new fanatic faith, antithetical to our own, and seeks to impose its absolute authority… [in] the Soviet Union and second in the area now under [its] control… In the minds of the Soviet leaders, however, achievement of this design requires the dynamic extension of their authority... To that end Soviet efforts are now directed toward the domination of the Eurasian land mass."

The Cuban Missile Crisis

For details see the main article Cuban Missile Crisis.

President John F. Kennedy inherited a growing nuclear superiority from the Eisenhower era of "massive retaliation." But this encouraged the Soviet Union to place missiles in Cuba. Kennedy, backed by superior military force, induced the Soviets to retreat in return for promises not to invade Cuba (as he had in 1962 when CIA-backed Cuban exiles were thwarted at the Bay of Pigs). After this brush with nuclear war, the two leaders banned nuclear tests in the air and underwater after 1962. The Soviets were also forced to begin a huge military buildup.

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