Eisenhower’s Republican presidency (1953-61) is often presented in text-books as marking a radical break in foreign policy between the Democratic administrations of Truman (1945-53) and Kennedy (1961-3). Under the trigger-happy Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, notorious for his spine-chilling phrases—‘massive retaliation’ and ‘brinkmanship’—the United States is portrayed as being led to the brink of nuclear war in defence of some obscure, peripheral area in Asia. The reality is quite different. Eisenhower and Dulles continued to apply the containment policy, though with a change of emphasis and style. What made the difference to the Eisenhower administration was the experience of the Korean War. The frustrations caused by fighting an unwinnable war in Korea cast a long shadow over United States foreign policy in the 1950s.
During the election campaign of 1952 Dulles spoke out against the ‘negative, futile and immoral policy of containment which abandons countless human beings to a despotism and godless terrorism’. 1 Both Eisenhower and Dulles promised a policy of ‘liberation’ of the people in Eastern Europe. Reacting against the Korean War experience, the Republican administration promised a ‘New Look’ defence policy that emphasised