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In the years 1953-1960 it can be argued that President Eisenhower’s cold war diplomacy was based on confrontation. Confrontational foreign policy, covert operations of the CIA and the aggressive build-up of nuclear arms seemingly confirm this interpretation. However, the equally hostile Soviet build-up of arms and provocative military action within Eastern Europe highlight the unstable international context that characterised Eisenhower’s presidency; whilst his support of improving superpower relations through ‘summit diplomacy’ suggest Eisenhower was more interested in ensuring coexistence than confrontation. Therefore, Eisenhower’s cold war diplomacy was a measured and necessary response to a volatile cold war climate and thus was inevitably based on measured confrontation.

With the election of Eisenhower as US president in 1952, US foreign policy became increasingly confrontational towards the Soviet Union. Eisenhower selected the stringently anti-communist John Foster Dulles as his secretary of state who saw confrontation between east and west as a struggle between good and evil. Dulles had a strong influence on Eisenhower’s foreign policy, advocating the policies of ‘roll back’ and ‘massive retaliation’. In conjunction with Eisenhower’s ‘Domino Theory’ articulated in 1954 and the Eisenhower doctrine of 1957 this would see the US deter any perceived Soviet aggression with the potentially catastrophic use of nuclear ‘brinkmanship’ whilst simultaneously attempting to push back the ‘spread’ of communism to Russia. Therefore, the policy of Eisenhower’s administration can be seen as having a particularly confrontational dimension.

In addition, Eisenhower instructed the CIA to destabilise and encourage the overthrow of suspected communist Governments and thus demonstrates how his cold war diplomacy was based on confrontation. The CIA used covert action against the elected communist government of Iran during the 1953 Iranian coup d’état, the agency later admitting that it was ‘as an act of U.S. foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government’. The CIA took a similar approach during the 1954 Guatemala coup d’état. These covert operations are examples of ‘roll back’ in action; thus the provocative actions of the CIA in what was perceived to be the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence in the third world suggests the confrontational nature of Eisenhower’s cold war diplomacy.

Additionally, the actions of the US during the nuclear arms, especially in the context of ‘massive retaliation’, is indicative of Eisenhower’s aggressive diplomacy. In March 1954 the US had a H-bomb which could be delivered from an aircraft, in combination with the B-52 bomber, which came into service in 1955 on 24 hour alert, this meant the US could deliver a nuclear weapon with 1000 times the destructive capability of the A-bomb on the Soviet Union in only a couple of hours. In addition, the Atlas and Minutemen ICBM’s and Polaris SLBM’s had come into service by 1959, the US could now strike the USSR from grounded nuclear bunkers. The destructive capabilities of America’s nuclear arsenal, in conjunction with nuclear ‘brinkmanship’ and ‘massive retaliation’ is clear evidence that Eisenhower’s presidency was particularly confrontational towards the Soviet Union.

However, it can also be argued that the actions of the USA during the arms race were an attempt to maintain parity with the Soviet Union and thus deter a potential nuclear strike. Despite the rhetoric of ‘peaceful coexistence’ the Soviet Union developed its own H-Bomb by August 1953, developed its intercontinental bomber the ‘Tu20 Bear’ by 1956, started the ‘space race’ by launching the satellite ‘Sputnik’ in October 1956 and developed the first ICBM in May 1957. The leaked Gaither Report in 1957 which indicated a ‘bomber’ and ‘missile’ gap in favour of the USSR and public cries to ‘step-up’ the nuclear arms race add an important dimension to the actions of Eisenhower during the arms race. Therefore by participating in the arms race and thus ensuring the concept of ‘mutually assured destruction’ was possible Eisenhower can be seen as attempting to ensure coexistence between the superpowers.

This argument is given further credit by the aggressive actions of the Soviet Union in Europe during the time frame. The USSR undertook forceful action in East Germany during 1953 to repress popular protest and when Hungary attempted to liberalise its domestic policy, the USSR launched an armed invasion in 1956. In both instances the USA refused to intervene despite the rhetoric of ‘massive retaliation’, and thus it may be argued that Eisenhower was more interested in ensuring ‘co-existence’ rather than ‘confrontation’.

In addition, Eisenhower took great efforts to develop a meaningful dialogue with the USSR and thus avoid confrontation where possible. Eisenhower’s ‘face to face diplomacy’ was particularly successful in dealing with the unpredictable Khrushchev, who following his visit to the USA in 1959 withdrew his ultimatum over Berlin demanding the West to withdraw all occupying forces. In addition, the Geneva Conference in January 1954 allowed the French to withdraw from Vietnam, despite the reservations of Dulles who walked out of the meeting. In addition, the Geneva Summit in July 1955 despite achieving very little in terms of agreement was symbolic of a ‘thawing’ of Superpower relations. Nevertheless the Paris Peace Accords in 1960 abruptly ended when Khrushchev stormed out following revelations of a successful shooting down of a U2 spy plane over Russia. Despite the undercurrent of distrust and suspicion which persisted between the superpowers, Eisenhower took great efforts to improve superpower relations and therefore his Presidency can be seen to be characterised more by coexistence rather than confrontation.

In conclusion, President Eisenhower’s cold war diplomacy was an attempt to ensure coexistence between the superpowers with the use of confrontational diplomacy. Eisenhower’s ‘face to face diplomacy’ achieved a ‘thawing’ in relations between the superpowers, whilst the actions of the Soviets in Eastern Europe showed the rhetoric of ‘massive retaliation’ was more threat than fact. The build-up of arms was in response to both popular opinion and the Soviet nuclear threat. Although the covert operations of the CIA highlights a particularly reckless element of Eisenhower’s policy making. Overall however, the confrontational policy of Eisenhower was measured and an attempt to ensure coexistence through aggressive deterrent.



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