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Eisenhower Doctrine: Definition

Instructor: Erin Carroll

Erin has taught English and History. She has a bachelor's degree in History, and a master's degree in International Relations

In this lesson, you will learn about the Eisenhower Doctrine. You'll find out why President Eisenhower issued this policy, what the policy actually said, and what issues his administration was trying to address with the policy. The lesson will also briefly discuss the effectiveness of the Eisenhower Doctrine.

Overview of the Eisenhower Doctrine

Have you ever wondered how the U.S. got involved in the Middle East, whether it's fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or sending aid to Pakistan? America's involvement and relationships with Middle Eastern countries dates back to the Cold War and the development of the Eisenhower Doctrine.

By 1956, the U.S. was in the midst of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. President Eisenhower was trying to determine a way for the U.S. to demonstrate strength and turn back the threat of communism. While implementing the Truman Doctrine of 1947, the U.S. pledged huge amounts of economic and military aid to Europe, but had no specific policy for other regions, like Asia or the Middle East.

History of the Doctrine

The Suez Canal

In 1956, a major foreign policy issue emerged during the Suez Crisis of 1956. The Suez Canal in Egypt links the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean and is of huge strategic and economic importance. Beginning in 1875, when the Egyptian government sold its shares of the controlling company to Great Britain to solve a debt crisis, a British company both operated and profited from the canal.

During the 1950's, Gamal Abdel Nasser, President of Egypt, took steps to strengthen Egypt, and make it an example of Arab nationalism in the region. In 1956, he announced his intent to nationalize the Suez Canal. This meant that the canal would be fully controlled by Egypt and not by a British company. Unhappy with this announcement, Britain and its allies, France and Israel, joined forces to invade Egypt.

The U.S. was troubled by this invasion and issued an ultimatum: the three nations had to withdraw from Egypt or face serious consequences. The U.S. was also worried that the Soviet Union would use the crisis as a reason to intervene and take control of Egypt or other nearby Arab states. In the face of U.S. threats, the three countries withdrew. France and Britain were embarrassed and lost respect in a region where the two nations had held control and influence for decades.

The failed invasion of Egypt left a power vacuum in the Middle East. Eisenhower's administration worried who would fill that vacuum. Would countries follow the nationalist path of Egypt, or would they turn to the U.S.S.R. for support?

Purpose of the Doctrine

In response to the Suez Crisis, President Eisenhower introduced his doctrine in January 1957. The Eisenhower Doctrine hoped to protect the Middle East from the influence of the U.S.S.R., while also containing the rise of Arab nationalism. It stated that any country threatened with undue pressure from the U.S.S.R. could receive aid from the U.S. The purpose of the aid was 'To secure and protect the territorial integrity and political independence of such nations requesting such aid against overt armed aggression from any nation controlled by international communism'.

The U.S. wanted to assure its Arab allies like Iraq that they could still depend on the West. Rather than joining the U.S.S.R., or turning to Nasser and Arab nationalism as a solution, Middle Eastern nations were encouraged to remain in the U.S. sphere of influence.

Communist Threat

The Eisenhower Doctrine attempted to address the overarching threat of a worldwide communist takeover. The U.S. was worried that the U.S.S.R. would fill the place of France and Britain in the region and influence weaker Middle Eastern nations. Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the rationale behind the Doctrine, Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, warned that if the U.S.S.R. gained control of the Middle East, especially the region's oil, it could easily move eastward and threaten countries in Asia.

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