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The Cold War (1945–1963)


Eisenhower and the Cold War: 1954–1960

Summary Eisenhower and the Cold War: 1954–1960


1953CIA-backed coup in Iran
1954CIA-backed coup in GuatemalaDien Bien Phu falls to pro-Communist forcesGeneva Conference splits Vietnam into two countriesSEATO is founded
1955Warsaw Pact is signed
1956Suez crisis eruptsUSSR puts down Hungarian RevolutionEisenhower is reelected
1957Eisenhower Doctrine is announcedUSSR launches Sputnik I
1958Congress passes National Defense Education Act
1960U-2 incident embarrasses U.S. government
1961Eisenhower gives farewell address

Key People

Dwight D. Eisenhower - 34th U.S. president; authorized CIA-sponsored coups abroad; committed federal funds to fighting Communists in Vietnam; resolved Suez crisis
John Foster Dulles - Secretary of state who helped devise Eisenhower’s New Look foreign policy, which emphasized massive retaliation with nuclear weapons; also advocated use of nuclear weapons against Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam
Allen Dulles - CIA director (and brother of John Foster Dulles) who sponsored coups in Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954 to install pro-American governments
Nikita Khrushchev - Soviet premier who took power upon Stalin’s death; seen by many observers as a moderate who might reduce Cold War tensions
Ho Chi Minh - Leader of mid-1950s pro-Communist revolution in French Indochina (Vietnam) against corrupt Ngo Dinh Diem regime in Saigon
Gamal Abdel Nasser - Egyptian nationalist president who seized British-controlled Suez Canal when economic aid negotiations among Egypt, Great Britain, and the United States dissolved in 1956
Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi - Pro-American ruler who was returned to power in Iran following CIA-sponsored coup in 1953

Eisenhower’s “New Look”

In addition to his desire to halt the advance of “creeping socialism” in U.S. domestic policy, Eisenhower also wanted to “roll back” the advances of Communism abroad. After taking office in 1953, he devised a new foreign policy tactic to contain the Soviet Union and even win back territory that had already been lost. Devised primarily by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, this so-called New Look at foreign policy proposed the use of nuclear weapons and new technology rather than ground troops and conventional bombs, all in an effort to threaten “massive retaliation” against the USSR for Communist advances abroad.

In addition to intimidating the Soviet Union, this emphasis on new and cheaper weapons would also drastically reduce military spending, which had escalated rapidly during the Truman years. As a result, Eisenhower managed to stabilize defense spending, keeping it at roughly half the congressional budget during most of his eight years in office.

The Limits of Massive Retaliation

The doctrine of massive retaliation proved to be dangerously flawed, however, because it effectively left Eisenhower without any options other than nuclear war to combat Soviet aggression. This dilemma surfaced in 1956, for instance, when the Soviet Union brutally crushed a popular democratic uprising in Hungary. Despite Hungary’s request for American recognition and military assistance, Eisenhower’s hands were tied because he knew that the USSR would stop at nothing to maintain control of Eastern Europe. He could not risk turning the Cold War into a nuclear war over the interests of a small nation such as Hungary.

Covert Operations

As an alternative, Eisenhower employed the CIA to tackle the specter of Communism in developing countries outside the Soviet Union’s immediate sphere of influence. Newly appointed CIA director Allen Dulles (the secretary of state’s brother) took enormous liberties in conducting a variety of covert operations. Thousands of CIA operatives were assigned to Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East and attempted to launch coups, assassinate heads of state, arm anti-Communist revolutionaries, spread propaganda, and support despotic pro-American regimes. Eisenhower began to favor using the CIA instead of the military because covert operations didn’t attract as much attention and cost much less money.

Iran and Guatemala

A CIA-sponsored coup in Iran in 1953, however, did attract attention and heavy criticism from liberals both at home and in the international community. Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers authorized the coup in Iran when the Iranian government seized control of the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Afraid that the popular, nationalist, Soviet-friendly prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, would then cut off oil exports to the United States, CIA operatives convinced military leaders to overthrow Mossadegh and restore Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi as head of state in 1953. Pahlavi returned control of Anglo-Iranian Oil to the British and then signed agreements to supply the United States with almost half of all the oil drilled in Iran.

The following year, a similar coup in Guatemala over agricultural land rights also drew international criticism and severely damaged U.S.–Latin American relations.

The Cold War (1945–1963): Popular pages