New Political Ideas and Leaders

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Between 1945 and 1950, developments in the COld War had been affected by events in Europe. After 1950, the courses of the Cold War was influenced by other factors, including:

  • events in Asia,
  • the nuclear arms race, and
  • chances in leadership in the United States and USSR, and a move to establish better relations between East and West.

Eisenhower and Dulles in the United States: roll-back, Brinkmanship, and the New Look[edit]

Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected U.S. president in 1952. Nicknamed 'Ike,' he had a distinguished military background having commanded the ALlied armies in Normandy in 1944. After the end of World War Two he served as U.S. Army Chief of Staff and Commander-in-Chief of NATO.

Eisenhower's bacgrkound meant that he was unlikely to be criticised as being 'soft on Communism.' In fact both he and his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, were strongly anti-Communist. Dulles was vociferous in his condemnation of the Soviet System:

Soviet Communism believes that human beings are nothing more than ... superior animals ... and that the best kind of world is that world which is organised as a well manage farm is organised, where certain animals are taken out to pasture, and they are fet and broguht back and milked, and they are given a barn as shelter over their heads ... I do not see how, as long as Soviet COmmunism holds those views ... there can be any permanent reconciliation ... This is an irreconcible conflict.
—U.S. Senate, 83rd Congress, 1st Session, on the nomination of Dulles, 15th of January 1954.

In the 1952 presidential election campaign, DUlles had alaso talked about 'roll-back,' by which he meant liberating countries currently held by the Soviets in Eastern Europe, but in reality this never happened. No attempt was ever made under Eisenhowever to free countries from Soviet control. Although the United States quietly encouraged revellions in Eastern Europe in 1943 and 1956, it did not use these opportunities to extend the U.S. sphere of influence.

Rather than carrying out roll-back, under Eisenhowever the U.S. administration developed a policy of containment it called the 'New Look.' This meant preventing the extension of Soviet Communism outside of the areas where it was already established, in the belief that without any opportunity to expand, the Soviet system would collapse in on itself. Eisenhowever put his containment policy into practise by:

  • Setting up alliances to encircle the Soviet Union, for example, SEATO,
  • Using military power to protect vulnerable areas, for example, Western Berlin,
  • Assisting forces fighting Communism, for example, Diem's government in South Vietnam,
  • Using the CIA (Central Ingelligence Agency) for covert operations more extensively than had been done before,
  • Initiating an increase reliance on nuclear weapons. A national security document in 1953 states 'The U.S. will consider nuclear weapons to be available for use as other munitions.' Conventional weapons would thus play a smaller role in defence, and
  • Brkinmanship. This involved threats of massive retaliation as an instrument containment. it entailed going to the brink and threatening nuclear war to intimidate the aggressor into backing down.

Dulles explained the policy of Brinkmanship in 1952 in an interview in Life Magazine:

You have to take chances for peace, just as you must take chances in war. SOme say that we were brought to the verge of war. Of course we were brought to the verge of war. The ability to get to the verge without getting into the war is the necessary art. If you cannot master it, you inevitably get into wars. If you try to run away from it, if you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost.
—Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, Interview in Life Magazine.

Despite the aggressive nature of Brinkmanship, Eisenhowever was also keenly aware of the dangers of nuclear weapons and prepared to negotiate with the Soviet Union. Thus there were U.S.−Soviet SUmmits in 1955 and 1959.

Krushchev and co-existence[edit]

The fact that U.S.−Soviet summits took place during the 1950s was due not only to Eisenhowever's willingness to negotiate, but also due to the attitudes of the new leadership in the Soviet Union.

Following the death of Josef Stsalin in 1953, and the subsequent removal of Stalin's secret-police chief, Lavrenti Pavlovich Beria, Soviet foreign policy came under the control of George Malenkov who, with Nikita Krushchev and Nicolai Bulganin, formed a collective leadership. Malenkov forumulated the idea of a 'New Course' with the West. This was later picked up by Krushchev who, having won the struggle for leadership, renamed it 'peaceful co-existence.'

This was a move away from the Leninist doctrine of the inevitability of war. 'Peaceful co-existence' meant that capitalism and Communism should accept the continuing existence of one another, rather than using force to destroy each other. Just as the Americans believed that, deprived of opportunities for expansion, Communism would collapse. Krushchev declared that in any case capitalism would die out due to its own inherent weaknesses. Thus there was no need to risk nuclear war.

What other factors encouraged a change in international relations?[edit]

It was not just Eisenhowever and Khrushchev who were keen to avoid a nuclear war. Other world leaders, such as WInston Churchill, also supported the idea of more communication between East and West in order to avoid a nuclear holocaust.

Economic factors also played a role in pushing the two superpowers into a friendlier relationship. In the USSR, approximately one third of the economy was directed towards the military, while consumer goods were scarce and living standards very low. The economy of the United States was in much better shape than that of the Soviet Union, but 12 per cent of the GNP was still spent on the military. If improved relations could lea to a decrease in military spending, this would be good news for the economies of both countries.

Also, by 1954 the Korean War had ended, removing a major source of conclict between the United States and the Soviet Union.

East−West relations in the 1950s[edit]

An example of improved U.S.−Soviet relations after 1953 was agreement over Austria. In April 1955, the Soviet Union proposed a formal peace treaty with Austria. The Austrian State Treaty ended the four-power occupation of Austria and created an independent and neutral country. Following on from this, the Geneva Summit took place in July 1955. This was the first meeting of the heads of government of the major powers since 1945. However, a little substance was achieved at this meeting and proposals concerning the arms race and the issue of Germany got nowhere. The table below shows the proposals and responses made by the United States and the Soviet Union at this time:

Soviet Proposals: US.Reaction:
  • Mutual disbandment of NATO and the Warsaw Pact
  • Withdrawal of all foreign troops from Europe followed by the drawing up of a European Security Treaty
  • Free elections to be carried out for a reunified German government |

Hostile. These ideas were unacceptable to the West European governments, and no agreement was reached on any of these proposals.

U.S. Proposals Soviet Reaction
  • An 'Open Skies' proposal. This meant each side would exchange plans of military installations and allow aerial surveillance of each other's installations. |

Hostile. The Soviets did not not even bother to make a formal reply. They dismissed it as 'nothing more than a bold espionage plot' and Khrushchev said it would be 'like seeing into our bedrooms.' However, the United States went ahead and used the U-2 reconnaissance plane.

Was the Geneva Summit a failure?[edit]

Despite the failure to achieve any concrete progress on Germany or disarmament, the Geneva Summit nevertheless was a breakthrough, in that discussions were carried out in an atmosphere of cordiality. The Summit also led to better relations in terms of trade exhibitions, exchanging of certain scientific information and cultural exchanges. Thus the phrase 'spirit of Geneva' was given to the events surrounding 1955.

Why did East−West tension increase again after 1955?[edit]

In February 1956, Khrushchev gave his de-Stalinisation speech, which led to challenges to Soviet rule throughout the Eastern block. At the time as Khrushchev faced problems in Hungary, the West was involved in the Suez Crisis. Both of these crises helped to dissipate the good feeling achieved at Geneva. The Suex Crisis also raised fears of growing Soviet influence in the Middle East, and this led to the Eisenhower Doctrine in January 1957.

The technology race[edit]

In addition to this mounting tension between East and West, the Americans now became increasingly worried about a Soviet threat against the United States. On the 4th of October 1957 the Soviets launched the world's first artificial satellite − Sputnik − 'travelling companion,' to be followed a month later by Sputnik II. This sent the Americans into a state of panic as they became convinced of Soviet superiority in missile technology. This impression was reinforced by Khrushchev, who made the most of the situation:

The Sputniks prove that socialism has won the competition between socialist and capitalist countries ... that the economy, science, culture and the creative genius of the people in all spheres of life develop better and faster under socialism.
—Nikita Khrushchev

Khrushchev used every opportunity to insist that he could wipe out any American or European city:

He would even specify how many missiles and warheads each target might require. But he also tried to be nice about it: at one point, while bullying an American visitor, Hubert Humphrey [a senator from Minnesota, who later became vice-president], he paused to ask where his guest was from. When Humphrey pointed out Minneapolis on the map, Khrushchev circled it with a big blue pencil. That's so I don't forget to order them a spare the city when the rockets fly,' he explained amiably.
—As reported in John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War, (Penguin 2005), p.70

The missile gap[edit]

The U.S. Congress and the media promoted the idea of a 'missile gap.' This scenario was confirmed by the Gaither Report − the findings of a top-secret investigating committee. The report recommended:

  • a vast icnrease in offensive defence power, especially missile development,
  • a build-up of conventional forces capable of fighting a limited war, and
  • a massive building programme of fallout shelters to protect U.S. citisens from nuclear attack.