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Steve Long is currently a postgraduate student at the University of Birmingham.
November 3, 1956 the Red Army launched “Operation Whirlwind”, an
all-out military offensive consisting of 200,000 ground troops to
crush the ongoing rebellion against communist rule in Hungary. The
following day Soviet soldiers were entering the capital city Budapest,
and by November 7 the revolt had essentially been suppressed. The
American response was limited to government denunciations of Soviet
brutality and the offering of aid and sanctuary to the thousands of
refugees who were flooding daily over the border into neutral Austria.
U.S. inaction contrasted starkly with the activist rhetoric of
pre-eminent Republican figures like John Foster Dulles during the
presidential election campaign of 1952. The Republican foreign policy
platform was based upon reversing the defensive “negative, futile,
and immoral [Democratic] policy of ‘containment.’”[i]
Presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower would insist upon Dulles
to moderate his comments with the qualification that the U.S. would
not militarily intervene in Eastern Europe, but rather hoped for
liberation of the satellites by peaceful means. Yet the prospective
Secretary of State repeatedly asserted that it should be “publicly
known that [the U.S.] wants and expects liberation to occur.”[ii]
Ambiguity and confusion over just how satellite independence could be
achieved without either armed internal revolt or U.S. military
intervention certainly perturbed critics of the Republican campaign.
Four years later and just a matter of days before the Eisenhower
administration was to be given the electoral mandate to continue its
foreign policy into a second term, the events in Hungary appeared to
suggest that its strategy on liberation had failed to resolve such
fundamental questions and was woefully inadequate to deal with the
The Eisenhower administration’s strategy towards Eastern
Europe took its roots from its predecessor, President Harry S.
Truman’s government, despite the election campaign lambasting. In
the context of the early Cold War “covert psychological
operations” had been formally established as a component of U.S.
foreign policy in December 1947 with Truman’s approval of NSC 4-A.[iii]
Under the direction of George Kennan’s action plan to conduct
political and psychological warfare behind the Iron Curtain, NSC 4-A
was then superseded by NSC 10/2, which gave broad definition to covert
operations shall include any covert activities related to: propaganda;
economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage,
anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against
hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance
movements, guerrillas and refugee liberation groups, and support of
indigenous anti-communist elements in threatened countries of the free
overt activity with this covert component, U.S. strategists then
defined policy objectives in NSC 20/4 on November 23, 1948. This first
comprehensive Cold War policy paper stipulated that a principal
American aim was to “encourage and promote the gradual retraction of
undue Russian power and influence from the present perimeter areas
around traditional Russian boundaries and the emergence of the
satellite countries as entities independent of the USSR.”[v]
Therefore, before the shocks to strategists of the ‘loss’
of China to Mao Tse Tung’s communist rule, the Soviet acquirement of
a nuclear capability and the outbreak of the Korean War, the U.S.
government had wedded an overt and covert foreign policy with the
overall goal of checking and rolling back communist power not only in
Eastern Europe, but globally. America’s foreign policy establishment
now had the dilemma of balancing a Soviet nuclear threat against
potentially provocative U.S. covert activities in communist-dominated
regions. However, the determination to counteract these perceived
gains of World Communism led Truman finally to approve NSC 68, in
which the administration assessed that “it is clear that a
substantial and rapid building up of strength in the free world is
necessary to support a firm policy intended to check and to roll back
the Kremlin’s drive for world domination.”[vi]
Supplemented by NSC 10/5, U.S. strategy was now formulated on
the premise that preponderant power through a massive conventional
military build up combined with the development of the hydrogen bomb
would sufficiently deter Soviet reprisals against provocative American
covert activities behind the Iron Curtain. By this logic, America
could take the offensive and intensify its political warfare
operations “when and where appropriate in the light of U.S. and
Soviet capabilities and the risk of war, [thereby contributing] to the
retraction and reduction of Soviet power and influence [….]”[vii]
Despite Truman’s approval of the hypothesis behind American
strategy towards Eastern Europe, differences of opinion existed within
government and would become more exacerbated in the final year of
Democratic office. A clear split was evident in the Strategic Concept
Panel, for instance. Supporters of an aggressive strategy comprising
diverse covert operations against the satellite regimes included the
main drafter of NSC 68, Paul Nitze, as well as Robert Tufts and
Mallory Browne of the Policy Planning Staff (PPS). They were
stridently opposed by Charles Bohlen of the State Department and
George Morgan from the Psychological Strategy Board
(PSB) who argued that the combined diplomatic and political
warfare strategy now in place was woefully inadequate in achieving the
retraction of Soviet domination from the Eastern bloc. Such a strategy
generated unnecessary risks of Soviet reprisal and should consequently
be replaced by a true policy of ‘containment’ predicated on a
defensive posture and coexistence.
It was not only strategic theory that encouraged the
dissenters. In practice many of the covert operations being run
against the Soviet bloc had indeed proved utter failures. The Office
of Policy Coordination (OPC) had been conducting covert psychological
and political warfare operations since 1948 in numerous Eastern bloc
countries including Yugoslavia, Albania, Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria,
Hungary, Poland and Soviet Moldavia. By December 1952, not only could
these operations not boast of a single tangible success in terms of a
liberated communist state, the humiliating exposure of the Polish
increased administrative opposition to the ‘secret’ war.
Political warfare, including paramilitary and guerrilla
operations were supplemented with what would emerge to be an extremely
significant arm of the covert war, the propaganda network. The U.S.
Government’s medium of choice for stirring up unrest in the
satellites through propaganda was the radio. Established in June 1949,
the ostensibly private but in fact Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
funded National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE) launched the émigré
anti-communist broadcasting network Radio Free Europe (RFE). The
avowed purpose of RFE, as it was defined by the official CIA handbook
issued in November 1951, was “to contribute to the liberation of the
nations imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain by maintaining their morale
and stimulating in them a spirit of non-cooperation with the Soviet
Yet some in the government were now questioning how RFE, along with
other radio networks like the official Voice of America (VOA), Radio
in the American Sector (RIAS) and Radio Liberty (RL), could achieve
the objective of liberation through means short of war. The principal
contradiction appeared to be that the U.S. was calling for the
indigenous populations of Eastern Europe to liberate themselves from
the Communist yoke without firing a shot. This propaganda message for
peaceful liberation seemed an unlikely prospect in a totalitarian
system. Furthermore, even the combined covert strategy of
psychological and political warfare appeared to some like Frank
Lindsay of the CIA, writing in October 1952, totally unfeasible to
currently advocated to reduce Soviet power are both inadequate and
ineffective against the Soviet political system. The consolidated
Communist state […] has made virtually impossible the existence of
organized clandestine resistance capable within the foreseeable future
of appreciably weakening the power of the state.[x]
policy papers being drawn up in Washington in 1952 reflected the
strategic divisions within government. NSC 135/3, approved by Truman
on September 24, 1952 represented as much a compromise foreign policy
statement as it did a clear strategy formulation. Policy-makers
permitted the continuation of covert operations in order to induce
“the exploitation of rifts between the USSR and other communist
states thus possibly offering to certain satellite peoples the
prospect of liberation without war.” Yet restraint and uncertainty
due to the danger of Soviet reprisals against either the U.S. or
Eastern bloc populations demanded that psychological and political
agitators “proceed with caution and a careful weighing of the risks
in pressing upon what the Kremlin probably regards as its vital
The signs were also there that disagreement over potential
contradictions within Soviet bloc strategy would continue into the
next administration. At the Princeton conference of 10-11 May 1952
prominent members of the Truman administration as well as academics
and other individuals from private groups met to discuss liberation
strategy. Reflecting divisions within government, opinion split into
two camps over how strategy should proceed. Figures like Allen Dulles
and C. D. Jackson who would become prominent members of Eisenhower’s
government argued for more vigorous policies against the ever-cautious
approach promulgated by Charles Bohlen.
demands made by Eisenhower and Foster Dulles during the 1952 election
campaign for freedom and independence for the satellite peoples
appeared to gloss over the viability of liberation without violent
confrontation, as when Dulles spoke to the Council on Foreign
relations in October 1952. Liberation would, he explained, “activate
the strains and stresses within the Communist empire so as to
disintegrate it [….] Activation does not mean armed revolt. The
people have no arms and violent revolt would be futile; indeed it
would be worse than futile, it would precipitate massacre.”[xii]
On the one hand Dulles seemed to be agreeing with British
conclusions about liberation. The British Permanent Under-
Secretary’s Department (PUSD) paper titled “Future Policy towards
Soviet Russia” of early 1952 had set out the gradualist approach
towards liberation analogous to the approach Bohlen was pressing for,
because “operations designed to liberate the satellites are
impracticable and would involve unacceptable risks.” Moreover, the
PUSD paper raised concerns over U.S. strategy, fearing that the lack
of clarity and long-term aims in American policy might result in
premature uprisings within Eastern Europe. This would “inevitably
lead to a strengthening of the Soviet hold over the whole of the
Soviet empire and the liquidation of all potential supporters of the
on the other hand, for Dulles as well as for Eisenhower, satellite
liberation was a key foreign policy issue that represented the moral
dilemma raised by the existence of the Communist empire as well as the
clear economic, political and military concerns inherent in the
existence of a powerful enemy, and therefore it went beyond campaign
rhetoric. The preoccupation with liberation would be illustrated by
their continued pursuit of an adequate policy to achieve Eastern
European independence throughout their incumbency.[xiv]
Republican administration that took office in January 1953 included
many strident proponents of an offensive strategy towards Eastern
Europe. As well as the new Secretary of State Foster Dulles, his
brother Allen would be appointed Director of Central Intelligence (DCI).
Other notable Cold Warriors included C.D. Jackson as the President’s
Special Assistant for Psychological Warfare, Frank Wisner, the former
head of OPC and now director of covert operations within the CIA, and
Robert Cutler, Eisenhower’s National Security Adviser. This
composition, combined with the Republican campaign platform, suggested
that a more decisive and unrestrained strategy would soon be adopted.
first step towards establishing policy was the ordering of an
investigation into American “information policies” on January 24,
1953. The study, chaired by William H. Jackson, issued its conclusions
on June 30, yet it still failed to address the inherent contradictions
within existing policy. Although it criticised the previous
administration for failing “to define its specific goals clearly and
precisely” and for promoting “unrealizable goals arousing
excessive hopes in the satellite countries or elsewhere” this did
not lead to an over all rejection of liberation strategy. On the
contrary, it maintained that strategy should continue towards doing
“everything possible to aggravate internal conflicts in the hope
that this will subsequently help to bring about a retraction of
Kremlin control and influence.” The report recommended that the
primary means to this end should be through the ostensibly private
psychological warfare channel of NCFE:
Far greater effort
should be made to utilize private American organizations for the
advancement of US objectives. The gain in dissemination and
credibility through the use of such channels will more than offset the
loss by the Government of some control over the content.[xv]
statement observed explicitly that utilising the state-private network
would lead to governmental loss of command over the implementation of
policy, and that Washington’s diminished control was acceptable.
Furthermore, still unresolved was how, after U.S. broadcasts had
stirred up the desire to be independent within Eastern European
populations, liberation would be achieved without either violent
indigenous revolt or American military intervention.
the dissemination of the Jackson committee’s report several events
seemed to afford significant opportunities for implementing a more
aggressive strategy to liberate the satellites. The first of these was
Stalin’s death on March 5, 1953. Rather than resulting in the
strategists’ decisive execution of policy, the Eisenhower
administration actually became paralysed by bureaucratic division.
Eisenhower himself lamented over the lack of a clear strategy:
since 1946, I know that all the so-called experts have been yapping
about what would happen when Stalin dies and what we as a nation,
should do about it. Well, he’s dead. And you can turn the files of
our government inside out- in vain- looking for any plans laid. We
have no plan. We are not even sure what difference his death makes.[xvi]
fact, the PSB had drawn up Operation Cancellation exactly for this
situation, although, rather fittingly, it did not actually embody a
decisive strategy. The real problem was that implementing an
aggressive policy, even at this unique moment, was unpopular with many
key government members. Operation Cancellation and other offensive
psychological-warfare measures were advocated by C.D. Jackson, Harold
Stassen, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), plus prominent private
advisers like Walt Rostow and George Kennan. Yet policy decision was
blocked by the State Department where, perhaps surprisingly, Foster
Dulles supported by his under-secretary Walter Bedell Smith, along
with Charles Bohlen and Paul Nitze, all urged a cautious response for
fear of aggravating the sensitive situation.
indecision was reflected by Eisenhower’s official response to
Stalin’s death, the “Chance for Peace” speech of April 16 before
the American Society of Newspaper Editors, which came almost six weeks
after the event and needed twelve drafts before completion. More
worrying was that Eisenhower’s speech exacerbated bureaucratic
indecision. As has been convincingly illustrated by several
historians, rather than representing a genuine effort to negotiate
with the new Soviet leadership, Chance for Peace was in fact primarily
a propaganda effort.[xvii]
Consequently, Eisenhower rejected pursuing serious diplomatic
negotiations with the new Soviet leadership that might have led to
some accommodations over satellite status, yet he had also endorsed
the State Department’s blocking of the opposite strategy of a covert
offensive. What the eventual strategy following Stalin’s death
ultimately represented was an ineffective compromise between these two
poles. Liberation in the long-term had not been ruled out, and rather
than negotiate with Georgi Malenkov and raise the possibility of
detente, Eisenhower preferred the route of Western integration and
particularly the rearmament of West Germany.[xviii]
Stalin’s death came too soon after the Republicans had taken office
for them to adopt a clear strategy, his demise generated another
opportunity several months later. Unrest broke out behind the Iron
Curtain, first in Czechoslovakia and then more significantly in East
Germany in June 1953, following Malenkov’s conciliatory messages
implying greater satellite independence from Moscow. As riots broke
out in East Berlin RIAS broadcasts fanned the flames of discontent,
influencing the spread of unrest throughout East Germany, as a State
Department official later commented: “It is now pretty clear that [RIAS]
played a major role in spreading demonstrations from East Berlin to
the [Soviet] Zone.”[xix]
But again Washington was divided as how best to respond to events.
Supporters of an offensive policy that included arming the insurgents
or even through U.S. military intervention were blocked. The strategy
finally adopted after the revolt had been crushed involving food
kitchens in West Berlin could in no way promote the government’s
ultimate objective of East European independence.
policy was drawn up a week following the Red Army’s quelling of the
riots, in the form of NSC 158, “United States Objectives and Actions
to Exploit the Unrest in the Satellite States”. Despite the causal
nature of U.S. incitement of satellite dissension and the disastrous
consequences of such a strategy, NSC 158 continued to promote American
backing of passive indigenous resistance to Soviet authority. This was
also in spite of the overwhelming criticism of political warfare that
Foster Dulles was receiving from ambassadors and other senior
diplomats at the State Department.
One such statement to the Secretary of State declared that
“we should never consider that Eastern Europe can be liberated by
political warfare devices no matter how well planned and energetic
they may be.”[xx]
Moscow had clearly demonstrated its desire not to allow the satellite
countries to break away, casting extreme doubt on the feasibility for
peaceful liberation. Perhaps it would take the most extensive review
of U.S. foreign policy since NSC 68, and arguably of the early Cold
to resolve the fundamental contradictions that were generating
inadequate strategy and government indecision.
162/2 “Basic National Security Strategy” was approved by
Eisenhower on October 30, 1953. The time and resources invested in
producing the final, definitive statement of policy were immense.
Studies had begun with Project Solarium in May with Eisenhower
establishing Task Forces A, B and C to investigate three broad
approaches to national security. These ranged from traditional
concepts of containment to more aggressive rollback policies to be
studied in light of the Chief Executive’s desire to cut back on
defence spending and the inevitable Soviet acquirement of the hydrogen
bomb. Again the disparate proposals, especially between Task Force A
chaired by George Kennan and Task Force C chaired by Admiral R. L.
Conolly, reflected the conflict within the administration. The policy
spectrum spanned from a strategy based upon restraint and negotiations
with the Soviet leadership and the objective of peaceful coexistence
to one of an offensive nature incorporating psychological and
political warfare, with the ultimate goal being the destruction of
Soviet power. The key disagreement became whether U.S. covert
operations would provoke Soviet retaliation and therefore general war,
an issue that had massive implications on the appropriate policy to
adopt. Eisenhower and the National Security Council were unable to
resolve the dispute between these two incompatible approaches and this
resulted in the final paper incorporating elements of both.
if NSC 162/2 failed to impose a clear and unified strategy, it did
mark a shift away from aggressive rollback operations in favour of
negotiating with the Soviets. For instance, it acknowledged that the
“detachment of any major European satellite from the Soviet bloc
does not now appear feasible except by Soviet acquiescence or by
This shift was also implied by the recollections of Robert Bowie, then
head of the PPS, of Project Solarium:
think part of [Eisenhower’s] purpose was to make sure that everyone
understood that the basic policy was containment and not roll-back.
Realistically the conclusion was that if you tried to intervene you
risked a Third World War.[xxiii]
policy shift in Washington did not translate into the curtailment of
liberation activities, however, as the American and émigré
anti-communist propaganda networks remained untouched after the
completion of NSC 162/2. Additionally, the Operations Coordinating
Board (OCB) draft policy paper OCB 16 “National Operations Plan-USSR
and European Satellites” of November 1953 appeared to suggest that,
at the very least, its author C.D. Jackson did not understand that
basic U.S. policy was now containment and not rollback. In a memo to
Walter Bedell Smith, Robert Cutler wrote of the still classified
document that many aspects in it were “in conflict with policy […]
were unclear as to whether or not they conformed to existing policy
[…] or which seemed to venture into fields where there was no
This confusion was not resolved by NSC 174 “US Policy toward
the Soviet Satellites”, the paper revising government strategy
regarding Eastern Europe. It defined American long-term objectives as
“the eventual fulfilment of the rights of the peoples of the Soviet
satellites to enjoy governments of their own choosing, free of Soviet
domination [….]” Yet NSC 174 perpetuated the unfeasible hope that
U.S. strategy could achieve these objectives without recourse to war
and continued to endorse psychological and political warfare despite
observing that the “chances are negligible at the present time that
any existing satellite communist regime would or could break away from
Moscow under its own power or […] that any anti-Soviet faction could
seize or hold power in a satellite and bring about its detachment from
the Soviet bloc.” Recognition of the dangers of any confrontation
was also articulated:
its efforts to encourage anti-Soviet elements in the satellites and
keep up their hopes, the United States should not encourage premature
action on their part which will bring upon them further terror and
suppression. Continuing and careful attention must be given to the
fine line, which is not stationary, between exhortations to keep up
morale and to maintain passive resistance, and invitations to suicide.[xxv]
still the only realistic way of avoiding U.S. complicity in a bloody
conflict, namely through rejecting a strategy aimed at provoking
peaceful liberation, was once again evaded.
Although the shift in Washington’s strategy became more
pronounced during 1954 and 1955, the conflict of interest between the
desire for peaceful liberation and the threat of Soviet retaliation
remained. By 1954 there was a general acceptance within the government
that World War Three now had to be avoided at all costs due to the
forthcoming parity in nuclear capabilities of the U.S. and the
Soviets, and therefore the only realistic approach to decreasing Cold
War tensions was through negotiations.[xxvi]
A further significant change of outlook had occurred at the State
Department where Foster Dulles had begun to re-evaluate the importance
of achieving satellite independence:
itself would not touch the heart of the problem: Soviet atomic plenty
[…] even if we split the Soviet bloc, in other words, we would still
have to face the terrible problem and threat of an unimpaired nuclear
capability in the USSR itself.[xxvii]
this was still not translated into a coherent and authoritative
strategy as Theodore Streibert, head of the U.S. Information Agency
complained to Walter Bedell Smith in May 1954: “We are now
effectively organized to engage in psychological warfare but we have
no long-term strategic plan.”[xxviii]
On January 31 1955, a revised policy paper superseding NSC
162/2 and NSC 5422/2 was approved by Eisenhower. NSC 5505/1
“Exploitation of Soviet and European Satellite Vulnerabilities”
promoted the U.S. desire for “evolutionary rather than revolutionary
change” in the satellites. In effect this meant that America was now
hoping for modifications in Soviet-satellite relationships, rather
than for the total elimination of communist control over Eastern
European countries. At first glance this represented a more realistic
and obtainable objective, yet the fundamental question still remained
unresolved by strategists of how even evolutionary change could be
achieved short of war. On top of this NSC 5505/1 still did not lay
liberation to rest. As Lucas observes, the paper provided activists
with sufficient loopholes to continue their psychological and
political warfare operations: “Covert operations (including
experimentation with such anti-regime measures as might well be
applicable to substantially changed circumstances) [would] not
necessarily have to conform to the […] principles [elsewhere in
NSC5505/1].” This inconsistency was reflected in Foster Dulles’s
desire not to entirely rule out a policy of liberation.[xxix]
Moreover, Eisenhower was still enamoured with the Volunteer Freedom
Corps (VFC) initiative. VFC had been established in May 1953 in NSC
143/2 as an émigré army that would potentially fight to liberate
their homelands in the place of American soldiers. In August 1955
Eisenhower attempted (and failed) to win the West German
government’s support for VCF to “provide a cadre of trained
personnel to form and control to U.S. advantage any large numbers of
defected Soviet Orbit personnel in the event of war.”[xxx]
Nikita Krushchev’s speech in February 1956 to the Twentieth
Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union calling for
de-Stalinisation and liberalisation once again had policy-makers
scratching their heads and wondering whether an aggressive or more
conciliatory approach would best bring about American objectives in
Eastern Europe. Washington’s endorsement of the wide public
dissemination of Krushchev’s speech through émigré broadcasts into
the satellite region was pursuant to an opportunistic policy hoping to
exploit the situation and provoke unrest in the satellites, rather
than the more gradualist approach generally laid out in NSC 5505/1.
Yet NSC 5602/1 of March 15, 1956 repeated the policy of
“evolutionary change in the Soviet system.” The inconsistencies in
approach became more evident as it emerged that the State Department
viewed the new strategy of “evolutionary change” as simply a shift
in policy that still pursued the ultimate aim of satellite liberation.
In such a way, the U.S. should “undermine the regime by exposing the
people to Free World influences.”[xxxi]
The final strategy paper before the momentous events of October 1956
continued to emphasise a gradualist policy, including “encouragement
of evolutionary change resulting in the weakening of Soviet controls
and the attainment of national independence by the countries
concerned, even though there may be no immediate change in their
internal political structure.”[xxxii]
As events unfolded in Eastern Europe in October 1956, U.S.
strategists were still unsure how to respond. While émigré radio
networks continued to broadcast, Washington eyed events with caution.
As it emerged that Wladyslaw Gomulka had achieved a modicum of
independence for Poland the administration began to feel that its
gradualist strategy was being vindicated. Unfortunately, the
inadequacies and inconsistencies of this strategy were about to be
exposed as unrest spread from Poland to Hungary.
The demonstrations that erupted in Budapest on October 22 were
largely motivated by the popular desire for independence following the
concessions achieved by Gomulka’s Polish Government. Imre Nagy’s
more strident demands for independence and particularly his
declaration of Hungary’s intention to leave the Warsaw Pact were the
salient reasons for provoking the deadly Soviet reprisals of early
November. Eisenhower immediately rejected any notion of military
intervention behind the Iron Curtain for fear of exacerbating an
already deteriorating situation, and chose to focus on the unfolding
Suez crisis. Following the abortive revolution, the administration’s
chief concern was whether U.S. propaganda had played a part in
inciting the rioters, and not over strategy. The reports made at the
time generally vindicated organisations like RFE for a negligible role
in provoking the revolt, including Allen Dulles’s review of émigré
broadcasts and the independent study commissioning London University
Professor Hugh Seton-Watson. Historians tend to concur that even if
many of the rioters had believed the U.S. would intervene once a
revolt had begun, America had “fairly clean hands in the Hungarian
the fact that the U.S. was not chiefly responsible for either inciting
the revolution, nor for provoking the Soviet response, does not alter
the evidence that government strategy was woefully misguided and
inadequate to deal with the crisis. Inconsistent and contradictory,
U.S. public support for liberation had recently been tamed after years
of ardent rhetoric, yet the different fates of Poland and Hungary
illustrated the fine line that existed between “evolution” and
“revolution”. Strategists had never managed to resolve the
inherent contradictions in calling for peaceful change in a
totalitarian state despite the years of debate in the Truman and
Eisenhower administrations, and these inconsistencies were played out
to bloody effect in Hungary. Washington’s paralysis as events in
both satellites unfolded also illustrated a failure to learn from the
East German uprising of three years before, and government strategy
only ultimately changed because of the brutality of the Soviet
invasion, not through American initiative. U.S. policy endorsed what
had been acknowledged for at least two years in the administration,
that they were not willing to risk general war with the Soviet Union
over strategically-marginal interests like Eastern Europe. This had a
further knock-on effect of essentially formalising Eastern Europe as a
Soviet sphere of influence. Consequently, the Cold War would now be
taken to the Developing World where neither superpower could lay claim
to absolute control of regions. Clearly the risks of provocative
covert warfare were too great to be undertaken in areas viewed as
vital to either side’s national interests.
why, as the Bruce-Lovett report asked late in 1956, had this not been
clearly and universally understood before the Hungarian Revolution?[xxxiv]
Ultimately the liberation strategy that had for so long sought to
expose dissatisfaction within the satellites resulted in Hungarian
bloodshed. The more aggressive strategies being proposed within
Eisenhower’s administration would have necessitated military
intervention and general war between the superpowers. These strategic
flaws had long been recognised, but the policies had never been
significantly altered to accommodate this. Only after Hungary, as
Moscow reversed its liberalisation programs and once again tightened
its grip on the satellites, did policy change. Although NCFE would
continue to operate under closer bureaucratic supervision, liberation
was unambiguously dead as a concept, much to the chagrin of activists
like C.D. Jackson. The government now aligned itself with Soviet
policy and adopted a genuinely gradualist strategy based on peaceful
coexistence through economic and cultural contact between East and
West and economic competition over the Developing World. In such a way
it was hoped that the U.S. might still diminish Soviet influence
implications derived from the lack of strategic insight within the
administration. The failure to assimilate views on liberation
reflected the wider divisions within government over all the main
components of the New Look. Such was the ambiguity and confusion over
the “massive retaliation” doctrine that U.S. policy was largely
based on bluff and inaction, while simultaneously heightening Cold War
tensions. Strategic paralysis set in during many of the other key
tests for Eisenhower’s administration, including the offshore Taiwan
crises and Suez. While not resorting prematurely to war was
commendable, the failure to produce a feasible alternative policy was
not. The U.S. never resorted to war largely because liberation and
massive retaliation were strategies based on the desire to win wars
without fighting them, not because of particularly skilful crisis-management.[xxxv]
The missed opportunity to negotiate with the Soviet leadership, both in Eastern Europe and more generally over Cold War issues, was perhaps the most significant failing. John Foster Dulles, in particular, viewed the Soviets with total suspicion, and his president was also more taken to winning over world opinion than talking seriously with Moscow. It was the overwhelming dominance of a Cold War ideological mindset that blocked more activist, yet conciliatory moves. Instead, as with disarmament, America set the pace for an arms race and concentrated on propaganda victories rather than weapons treaties. Although Eisenhower’s government avoided general war with the Soviet Union, this tendency to preserve strategic inadequacies resulted in inactive policies that still ultimately did more to increase Cold War animosities than to reduce them. Although Hungary illustrated these strategic shortcomings, they had existed all along.
[i] W. Scott Lucas, Freedom’s War: The US Crusade against the Soviet Union 1945-56 (Manchester, 1999), 163.
[ii] Richard H. Immerman (Editor), John Foster Dulles and the Diplomacy of the Cold War (Princeton, New Jersey, 1990), 4.
[iii] NSC 4-A, December 17, 1947, in Michael Warner (Editor), CIA Cold War Records: The CIA Under Harry Truman (Washington, DC, 1994), 174-75.
[iv] NSC 10/2, June 18, 1948, in Warner, CIA Cold War Records, 213-16.
[v] NSC 20/4 “U.S. Objectives with Respect to the USSR to Counter Soviet Threats to U.S. Security”, November 23, 1948, in Foreign Relations of the United States, volume 1 (Washington, Government Printing Office, Department of State, 1948), 663-69. Foreign Relations of the United States will be referred to as FRUS from now on.
[vi] NSC 68 “United States Objectives and Programs for National Security”, finalised April 14, 1950 (though not approved by Truman until after the outbreak of the Korean War), in FRUS, 1950, volume 1, 237-92.
[vii] NSC 10/5 “Scope and Pace of Covert Operations”, October 23, 1951, in Warner, CIA Cold War Records, 437-39.
[viii] In December 1952 Polish radio revealed the complete penetration of the Freedom and Independence Movement (abbreviated in Polish to WIN) by internal communist security forces. For several years OPC had been supplying and funding what they believed to be a genuine indigenous resistance movement and only became aware of the full extent of the fiasco with the radio broadcasts.
[ix] Walter L. Hixson, Parting the Curtain: Propaganda, Culture, and the Cold War, 1945-1961 (London, 1997), 61.
[x] Peter Grose, Operation Rollback: America’s Secret War Behind the Iron Curtain (Boston and New York, 2000), 188.
[xi] Gregory Mitrovich, Undermining the Kremlin: America’s Strategy to Subvert the Soviet Bloc, 1947-1956 (Ithaca and London, 2000), 98.
[xii] Lucas, Freedom’s War, 165.
[xiii] Richard J. Aldrich, The Hidden Hand: Britain, America and Cold War Secret Intelligence (London, 2001), 324-25.
[xiv] Several historians have suggested that Eisenhower and Dulles were never serious about liberation and utilised aggressive campaign rhetoric chiefly to attract votes from Americans of East European descent. See, for instance, John Lewis Gaddis, Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy (Oxford and New York, 1982), 128, H.W. Brands, Cold Warriors: Eisenhower’s Generation and American Foreign Policy (New York, 1988), 10-13 and Grose, Operation Rollback, 204.
[xv] Mitrovich, Undermining the Kremlin, 125, Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 67, Lucas, Freedom’s War, 219.
[xvi] Mitrovich, Undermining the Kremlin, 126.
[xvii] For instance see Hixson, Parting the Curtain, Lucas, Freedom’s War and “The Myth of Leadership: Dwight Eisenhower and the Quest for Liberation”, in Constantine Pagedas and Thomas Otte (Editors), Personalities, War and Diplomacy (1997), Mitrovich, Undermining the Kremlin, and Kenneth A. Osgood, “Form Before Substance: Eisenhower’s Commitment to Psychological Warfare and Negotiations with the Enemy”, in Diplomatic History 24, (Summer 2000). This thesis is that Chance for Peace offered negotiations only at the price of unacceptable conditions to the Soviets and was therefore intended to generate a Soviet rejection in order to win over world opinion to the U.S.. Previously, historians had regarded this and other gestures like the “Atoms for Peace” and “Open Skies” speeches as genuine attempts to initiate talks with the Soviet Union. See particularly Stephen E. Ambrose, Eisenhower: The President, Volume Two 1952-1969, (London and Sydney, 1984).
[xviii] Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 93.
[xix] Ibid., 75.
[xx] Grose, Operation Rollback, 216.
[xxi] See Mitrovich, Undermining the Kremlin, 134.
[xxii] NSC 162/2 “Statement of Policy by the National Security Council on Basic National Security Policy”, October 30, 1953, in The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition Volume 1 (New York, 1971), 412-429.
[xxiii] Aldrich, The Hidden Hand, 335.
[xxiv] Mitrovich, Undermining the Kremlin, 153.
[xxv] Ibid., 154-55, Lucas, Freedom’s War, 191.
[xxvi] See NSC 5422 “Tentative Guidelines under NSC 162/2 for FY 1956”, 14 June 1954, which concluded that “the strategic use by both sides of nuclear weapons would bring such extensive destruction as to threaten the survival of Western civilization and the Soviet regime.” Mitrovich, Undermining the Kremlin, 159.
[xxvii] Ibid., 164.
[xxviii] Lucas, Freedom’s War, 213.
[xxix] Ibid., 236, 237.
[xxx] Aldrich, The Hidden Hand, 337.
[xxxi] Hixson, Parting the Curtain, 101, 108.
[xxxii] Mitrovich, Undermining the Kremlin, 172.
[xxxiii] Aldrich, The Hidden Hand, 340.
[xxxiv] The report investigating CIA and clandestine anti-communist operations is still classified, but was noted in detail in Robert F. Kennedy’s personal files: “The supporters of the 1948 decision to launch this government on a positive (psychological and political warfare) program could not possibly have foreseen the ramifications of the operations which have resulted from it [….] Should not someone, somewhere, in an authoritative position in our government, on a continuing basis, be counting the immediate costs of disappointments, […] calculating the impacts on our international position, and keeping in mind the long range wisdom of activities which have entailed our virtual abandonment of the international “golden rule,” and which, if successful to the degree claimed for them, are responsible in a great measure for stirring up the turmoil and raising the doubts about us that exist in many countries of the world today? What of the effects on our present alliances? What will happen tomorrow?” Grose, Operation Rollback, 219.
[xxxv] See Ambrose, Eisenhower: The President, 626.