Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Securing the Middle East: The Eisenhower Doctrine of 1957

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Securing the Middle East: The Eisenhower Doctrine of 1957

Article excerpt

The Eisenhower Doctrine of 1957 consisted of a major commitment by the United States to the security and stability of the Middle East. A declaration that the United States would use economic aid, military aid, and armed forces to stop the spread of communism in the region, the doctrine signaled a new level of American resolve that reflected Washington's increasing power in international affairs, growing alarm with Soviet capabilities to expand into the Third World, and rising concern with the decline of the strength of allied states. This article examines the origins and formulation of the Eisenhower Doctrine, its reception by the states of the Middle East, and its application in three situations that arose in 1957-58.

The Eisenhower Doctrine was bred in a decade of mounting American involvement in the Middle East. In the years following World War II, U.S. security experts had come to consider the Middle East vital for security, political, and economic reasons, and they monitored both the declining capabilities of Britain, the traditional protector of Western interests in the region, and the rising interest in the region of the Soviet Union, America's nemesis in the Cold War. Since 1950, the United States had become progressively more committed to the stability and security of the Middle East, evident in such initiatives as the Tripartite Declaration of 1950, the restoration of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi to the throne of Iran in 1953, the Baghdad Pact of 1955, the Alpha peace plan of 1955, and various measures to sustain Western access to the oil of the region. (1)

The Eisenhower Doctrine originated in the Suez-Sinai War of 1956-57. In that conflict, Britain and France colluded with Israel to attack Egypt in October 1956 in a bid to unseat the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser, whose policies had become intolerable to the colluding powers. Eisenhower believed that the use of force against Egypt would undermine Western interests throughout the Third World, however, so he used a variety of political and economic levers to compel the attacking powers to desist. Before they complied, the Soviet Union threatened to intervene in the fighting on Egypt's behalf, briefly raising the specter of world war. The global crisis eased only after the colluding forces halted their attacks. (2)

The outcome of the war set the stage for the Eisenhower Doctrine. Nasser survived the onslaught and in the process gained prestige in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Britain and France were discredited in those same communities as outdated and ineffectual colonialists. The Soviet Union tried to exploit its wartime blustering to win favor among Arab leaders, raising in U.S. minds a fear that Moscow would make a bold new effort to gain political influence in the Middle East. The pro-Western rulers of the Middle East seemed vulnerable to Nasserist and Soviet influence. U.S. officials resolved, in short, to fill the vacuum of power in the Middle East before the Soviets did. (3)

These political dynamics convinced Eisenhower that he must accept new responsibilities for the security of the Middle East. Given the collapse of British prestige and the rise of Soviet interest, he decided to establish a new mechanism for U.S. intervention to stabilize the region against Soviet threats or internal turmoil or revolution. "We have no intention of standing idly by," the president declared in December 1956, "to see the southern flank of NATO completely collapse through Communist penetration and success in the Mid East." Secretary of State John Foster Dulles told allied leaders that "we intend to make our presence more strongly felt in the Middle East." Thus the Eisenhower Doctrine was born. (4)

In conceiving of the doctrine, Eisenhower consciously dismissed alternative schemes to stabilize the Middle East. He rejected a suggestion from Soviet Foreign Minister Dmitri Shepilov that the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, and France jointly negotiate an Arab-Israeli peace treaty, pledge noninterference in Middle East states, curtail arms supply to the region, and evacuate their military bases and abolish security pacts there; Eisenhower reasoned that such a step would undermine Western influence in the region and betray those Middle East states that had resisted Soviet power. …

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