Eisenhower's presidency was dominated by the Cold War, the prolonged confrontation with the Soviet Union which had begun during Truman's term of office. When Joseph Stalin died, Eisenhower sought to extend an olive branch to the new Soviet regime in his "Chance for Peace speech", but continued turmoil in Moscow prevented a meaningful response and the Cold War deepened.
In 1953 Eisenhower opened relations with Spain under Fascist leader Francisco Franco. Despite its undemocratic nature, Spain's strategic position in light of the Cold War and Anti-Communist position led Eisenhower to build a trade and military alliance with the Spanish through the Pact of Madrid, ultimately bringing an end to Spain's isolation after World War II, and bringing about the Spanish Miracle.
During his campaign, Eisenhower had promised to end the stalemated Korean War. This promise was fulfilled on 27 July 1953 by the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement. Defense treaties with South Korea and the Republic of China (Formosa/Taiwan) were signed, and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) alliance in an effort to halt the spread of Communism in Asia was formed.
Eisenhower, while accepting the doctrine of containment, sought to counter the Soviet Union through more active means as detailed in the State Department memorandum NSC-68. His covert action policy was laid out in NSC 162/2. Working with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, developed the tactic of covert action, used the Central Intelligence Agency—directed by Allen Welsh Dulles to interfere with suspected Communist governments abroad. An early use of covert action was against the elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammed Mosaddeq. The Shah of Iran and pro-monarchy forces ejected him from power in the complex 1953 Iranian coup d'état (Operation Ajax). The CIA also supported the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état by the military that overthrew the Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, in Operation PBSUCCESS.
Covert action continued throughout Eisenhower's administration. In the newly independent but chaotic Republic of Congo, the Soviet Union and the KGB had intervened in favor of popularly elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Anti-Communism had become an issue and the U.S. and CIA gave weapons and covert support to pro-Western and Democratic CIA assets Joseph Kasavubu and his subordinate, Colonel Joseph Mobutu. The initial struggle came to a close in December 1960, after Kasavubu and Mobutu overthrew Lumumba and proceeded to turn the country (later known as Zaire) into an autocracy which was unstable long after the end of Eisenhower's term.
Eisenhower also increased U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia, a process which had begun under his predecessor Truman. In 1954, he sent Dulles to Geneva as a delegate to the Geneva Conference, which ended the First Indochina War and temporarily partitioned Vietnam into a Communist northern half (under Ho Chi Minh) and a non-Communist southern half (under Ngo Dinh Diem). Neither the United States government nor Ngo Dinh Diem's State of Vietnam signed anything at the 1954 Geneva Conference. With respect to the question of reunification, the non-communist Vietnamese delegation objected strenuously to any division of Vietnam, but lost out when the French accepted the proposal of Viet Minh delegate Pham Van Dong, who proposed that Vietnam eventually be united by elections under the supervision of "local commissions". The United States countered with what became known as the "American Plan", with the support of South Vietnam and the United Kingdom. It provided for unification elections under the supervision of the United Nations, but was rejected by the Soviet delegation. In February 1955, Eisenhower dispatched the first American soldiers to Vietnam as military advisors to Diem's army. After Diem announced the formation of the Republic of Vietnam (RVN, commonly known as South Vietnam) in October, Eisenhower immediately recognized the new state and offered military, economic, and technical assistance.
In 1956, Eisenhower warned the UK and France not to use force to regain control of the Suez Canal, which Egypt had nationalized in violation of the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement of 1954. Regardless the UK, France and Israel invaded Egypt to seize the canal. He used the economic power of the U.S. to force his European allies to back down and withdraw from Egypt. It marked the end of British and French dominance in the Middle East and opened the way for greater American involvement in the region. However, Nixon wrote in his memoirs that Eisenhower later described Suez as the greatest foreign policy mistake he made during his time in office. It made the Egyptian dictator Colonel Nasser a hero throughout the Arab world, and led directly to the fall of the pro-western government in Iraq. The Suez Crisis was widely seen as a huge betrayal in the UK, and ensured no British help for the Americans in Vietnam.
When the Hungarian Revolution occurred in November 1956, he refused to use military force against the Soviet repression.
During his second term he became increasingly involved in Middle Eastern affairs, sending troops to Lebanon in 1958, and promoting the creation of the Baghdad Pact between Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan, and Iran, as well as Britain.
Under Eisenhower's presidency the U.S. developed as a global nuclear power. When Russia also developed their nuclear weapons, fears of mutual annihilation in a Third World War intensified. On October 30, 1953, Eisenhower approved the security policy document NSC 162/2, which emphasized nuclear weapons above all other defense means. Nuclear weapons were seen as the most economically feasible means to deter the Soviet Union from military action against what then was called the "Free World." Throughout his presidency, Eisenhower insisted on having plans to initiate, fight, and win a nuclear war against the Soviets, although he hoped he would never feel forced to use them. With the 1957 Soviet launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, America became vulnerable to a surprise nuclear attack by this new indefensible weapon.
Americans were astonished when the first space satellite--"Sputnik"-- gave the Soviets the lead in space, and Eisenhower came under heavy criticism. The administration responded to this crisis with many strategic initiatives, including the creation of NASA in 1958 and a speeding up of the American space program. Eisenhower started NASA's human spaceflight program and funded visionary projects such as Saturn and the F-1 rocket engine which were necessary for success in the subsequent administrations' effort to win the Space Race.
Eisenhower hoped that after the death of Stalin in 1953, it would be possible to come to an agreement with subsequent Russian leaders to halt the nuclear arms race. However his efforts to reach a disarmament agreement throughout his presidency aimed mainly to gain military and diplomatic advantage over the Soviets. He never agreed to any proposal unless he thought it would yield such advantage to the U.S. Several attempts at convening a summit conference were made.
The final attempt failed in 1960 when Nikita Khrushchev withdrew following the May 1 downing of an American U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union. The U-2 flight had been authorized to gain photo intelligence before the scheduled East–West Paris summit conference between President Dwight Eisenhower, Nikita Khrushchev, Harold Macmillan and Charles de Gaulle.
The Eisenhower Administration, thinking the pilot had died in the crash, authorized the release of a cover story claiming that the plane was a "weather research aircraft" which had unintentionally strayed into Soviet airspace after the pilot had radioed "difficulties with his oxygen equipment" while flying over Turkey. Further, Eisenhower said that his administration had not been spying on the Soviet Union; when the Soviets produced the pilot, Captain Francis Gary Powers, the Americans were caught misleading the public, and the incident resulted in international embarrassment for United States prestige. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a lengthy inquiry into the U-2 incident. During the Paris Summit in 1960, President Eisenhower accused Khrushchev "of sabotaging this meeting, on which so much of the hopes of the world have rested". Later, Eisenhower stated it had all been ruined because of that "stupid U-2 business".
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