Q: There is a significant transition in leadership in '53. You have Truman
making a pretty strong statement in his parting address about the dangers of
nuclear warfare. And then you have a new president coming in who seems to be
almost cavalier in comparison. He institutes a new defense policy, the "New
Look". What does he try to accomplish with that?
JLG: Well, I think it's fair to say that the Eisenhower-Dulles team had
developed a critique of the Truman Administration's strategy during the 1952
campaign. The ideas here really originate with [John Foster] Dulles. The idea
is that one should use the nuclear capability, the nuclear superiority that we
had; make overt and direct threats; be prepared to use atomic bombs and later
thermonuclear weapons, if necessary and, as Dulles said at one point, to break
down this psychological taboo that distinguishes nuclear weapons from other
weapons; that we ought to just treat them as being like any other weapon, make
them normal instruments in the arsenal.
Eisenhower had some qualms about this strategy, and it's evident from the
correspondence between Eisenhower the candidate and Dulles, his adviser in the
1952 campaign. But on becoming president and facing the situation of how to
end the Korean War and how to keep the war from breaking out again once the
ceasefire is originated, Eisenhower in effect buys into the Dulles strategy.
There are some fairly explicit public statements made about the possibility of
using nuclear weapons in Korea if a ceasefire is not arranged, and then even
more explicit statements about the possibility of using them if the ceasefire
should be violated. And the fact that the ceasefire occurs, and the fact that
it is not violated, I think, caused Eisenhower and Dulles to believe that this
strategy worked, that it had paid off. And so they make it a general strategy
of, in effect, cutting back on the amount of spending for non-nuclear weapons
and relying more heavily on the nuclear deterrents to protect American global
Q: And it may have been a misunderstanding. There's also a very
significant change in the Kremlin at around the same time, with new leadership
presumably no longer willing to pursue Stalin's policies in Korea.
JLG: Well, yes. I think the Eisenhower-Dulles attitude that nuclear threats had
paid off in the Korean War was indeed a misunderstanding, because there is no
evidence from the Soviet or the Chinese side that that was the case. The
Chinese in particular had claimed even not to have been aware of the nuclear
threats that were being conveyed somewhat directly while the Korean War was on.
And it is quite clear from Soviet sources that the decisive event in bringing
the Korean War to the close was the death of Stalin in March of 1953. So I
think it was a misapprehension on Eisenhower and Dulles' part that these
threats had worked as efficiently as they thought they had in the Korean War.
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