Eisenhower Administration (1953–1961), United States National Security Policy

Eisenhower Administration (1953–1961), United States National Security Policy


To President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the national security of the United States could best be maintained by an interventionist international policy. Under the guidance of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, his administration abandoned the Cold War policy of containment that had been adopted by President Harry S. Truman in favor of a two-pronged approach to the communist menace. The U.S. would respond militarily to overt communist aggression while advocating active measures to promote the liberation of countries that had converted to communism. This new policy required a strong military and Eisenhower accordingly increased the production of nuclear weapons as a cost-effective way to meet his administration's goals.

Eisenhower won the presidency in 1952 partly because of his record as one of the military heroes of World War II. As president, he sought to maintain America's global presence as the main deterrence to communist expansion, but he regarded military outlays as unproductive. To Eisenhower, every raw material and skill that served the military did so at the expense of the domestic economy. To meet the needs of a steadily growing population, he sought to devote as few resources as possible to the military. This cost cutting led him to emphasize nuclear weapons because they offered more bang for the buck, in both literal and psychological terms.

Popularly thought to have delegated foreign policy strategy to Dulles, Eisenhower in fact controlled its formulation through the mechanism of the National Security Council (NSC). He created the NSC Planning Board to carry out the strategic planning function, while the Operations Coordinating Board coordinated plans for translating approved national strategy into agency operations. Dulles commanded day-to-day NSC operations and served as foreign policy spokesman for the administration. In time, Dulles became the sole intellectual wellspring of foreign policy conception at the expense of the policy planning staff. The creation of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) was his effort at reducing communist dangers in the region.

Upon entering office in 1953, Eisenhower immediately had to confront the stalemated Korean War. His administration informed China that further delays in the truce negotiations would enlarge the scale of the war and that a resumption of full-scale fighting might include the American use of nuclear weapons. The Chinese signed an armistice in July 1953. Conflict with China would dominate much of Eisenhower's presidency as the communists periodically tested American intentions before retreating before military threats.

While the Eisenhower administration generally used propaganda and forms of psychological warfare to peacefully weaken communist influence, it occasionally resorted to violence. The pledge to liberate countries from communism meant that limited means would be used to achieve U.S. aims as long as no danger existed of provoking a Soviet-U.S. war. In 1953, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) helped stage a coup in oil-rich Iran to replace nationalist and Cold War-neutral Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh with the American-allied Shah of Iran. In 1954, the CIA staged another coup to get rid of Guatemalan President Jacabo Arbenz Guzman, a land reformer who had communists among his supporters but lacked any particular ideological ties to the Soviet Union. The involvement of the American government in both operations quickly became widely known.

In order to head off congressional efforts to study the CIA's covert operations following these two coups, Eisenhower commissioned World War II hero Lt. Gen James Doolittle to study the subject. The 1954 Doolittle Report provided an early justification for covert action against communists by stating that no rules applied when faced with an implacable enemy set upon world domination by whatever means and whatever cost. In 1955, the NSC issued NSC-5412/2 to spell out the goals of covert operations. Such activities were to be designed to create and exploit troublesome problems for communism; discredit the prestige and ideology of communism; counter any communist threat to achieve dominant power in a free world country; reduce communist control over any areas of the world; create a positive image of the U.S.; and develop underground resistance to communism.

Eisenhower left office in 1961. His intelligence-related legacy is a mixed one. In 1975, a Senate committee headed by Frank Church charged that the exposure of covert actions in foreign nations damaged the ability of the U.S. to exercise moral and ethical leadership throughout the world. While the Eisenhower administration succeeded in reducing communist influence in the 1950s, the use of covert operations may have caused damage to the long-term national security interests of the United States.



Boll, Michael M. National Security Planning Roosevelt through Reagan. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1988.

Crabb, Cecil V. and Kevin V. Mulcahy. American National Security: A Presidential Perspective. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole, 1991.

Lord, Carnes. The Presidency and the Management of National Security. New York: The Free Press, 1988.


ADFGX Cipher
CIA (United States Central Intelligence Agency)
Cold War (1950–1972)
Korean War
National Security Strategy, United States
NSC (National Security Council)
NSC (National Security Council), History
Nuclear Weapons
President of the United States (Executive Command and Control of Intelligence Agencies)
Truman Administration (1945–1953), United States National Security Policy

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