Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Cold War

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

After assuming command, Dwight D. Eisenhower led the United States through the Cold War. In this lesson, explore Eisenhower's New Look policy, his interactions with the Soviet Union, containment in third world nations, domestic policy, and Eisenhower's farewell address. Updated: 09/12/2021

Eisenhower Assumes Command

With his resounding victory in the election of 1952, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was thrust to the forefront of the Cold War. He was successful in bringing about an armistice to end the Korean War, but the international and domestic fear of communism continuously expanded. During his presidency, many believed Eisenhower took a seemingly nonchalant attitude toward the Cold War. However, Eisenhower was more than active in containing communism and attempting to protect international freedom from communist subversion. The Eisenhower Doctrine, which called for aid to be appropriated to help assist nations facing outside aggression, addressed the growing crisis of the Cold War throughout the 1950s.

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  • 0:06 Eisenhower Assumes Command
  • 0:46 Meaning of the New Look
  • 2:00 Eisenhower and the…
  • 2:59 Containment in Third…
  • 4:30 Domestic Policy and…
  • 5:49 Lesson Summary
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Meaning of the New Look

The substance behind Eisenhower's strategy, also known as the New Look policy, was a potent mixture of pragmatism and toughness. Eisenhower wanted to reduce the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union by limiting the rhetoric and threats of each nation. He hoped that this rapprochement, or establishment of cordial relations, would cool tensions. Additionally, Eisenhower wanted to ensure that the American economy remained stable during a period of arms development. Therefore, he reduced ground forces and relied more on nuclear weaponry and air power. This would protect the economy, while giving the United States the power to retaliate with quick and devastating power against communist aggression.

Yet, even though he wanted to cool tensions through moderation, the New Look backed the policy of containment, which was a United States policy to prevent the spread of communism, coupled with liberation and negotiation. Eisenhower also supported the strategy of brinkmanship, which was developed by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and called for escalating tensions so that the opponent, in this case the Soviet Union, falters. It's rather like a game of chicken, where two cars drive head on toward one another. The first one that swerves to avoid the collision is the loser. Brinkmanship is understood in the same context; the first nation to back down militarily is considered the loser.

Eisenhower and the Soviet Union

In 1953, the climate of the Cold War took a drastic, yet somewhat favorable, turn with the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. In his place came a more moderate leader named Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev promoted the notion of peace between the United States and the Soviet Union and also came to the United States to promote this diplomatic accord.

Eisenhower was willing to work with Khrushchev as was evident by both leaders tempering their nuclear testing. Yet, a lingering suspicion of the Soviet Union and its communist base caused him to heighten security in different areas throughout the world. A prominent example of this suspicion was the U2 spy plane incident, which occurred when the Soviet Union shot down an American spy plane, causing a rift between the two nations in 1960. To promote security, Eisenhower expanded the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and he created the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) to bond several Middle Eastern countries together. Pro-democratic radio waves also hit the air as Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberation were launched as a propaganda effort against the Soviet Union.

Containment in Third World Nations

President Harry Truman warned of communists expanding into developing third-world nations during his presidency. His fear was realized during the Eisenhower years as areas in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East became part of the Cold War. Eisenhower decided to use the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to combat suspected communist activity in several nations.

For example, the Suez Canal in Egypt, located in the northeast corner of Africa, became a hotspot of activity. This was because of the canal's importance in linking the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. In 1954, Eisenhower supported Gamal Abdel Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal. However, after Nasser seemingly aligned with the Soviet Union in 1957, Eisenhower quickly established pro-democratic governments in Jordan and Lebanon. Both of these nations sit just to the east of Egypt, which makes them great locations to monitor Egypt and the Suez Canal.

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