What Was the Eisenhower Doctrine? Definition and Analysis

Commanding General of U.S. Army Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890 - 1969) firing a German-made combination rifle-shotgun with telescopic sight
Commanding General of U.S. Army Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890 - 1969) firing a German-made combination rifle-shotgun with telescopic sight. FPG / Getty Images

The Eisenhower Doctrine was an official expression of U.S. foreign policy delivered to a joint session of Congress by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on January 5, 1957. Eisenhower’s proposal called for a more proactive economic and military role on the part of the United States in the increasingly tense situation threatening peace in the Middle East at the time.

Under the Eisenhower Doctrine, any Middle Eastern country being threatened by armed aggression from any other country could request and receive economic assistance and/or military assistance from the United States. In a “Special Message to the Congress on the Situation in the Middle East,” Eisenhower tacitly pointed to the Soviet Union as the most likely aggressor in the Middle East by promising the commitment of U.S. forces “to secure and protect the territorial integrity and political independence of such nations, requesting such aid against overt armed aggression from any nation controlled by international communism.”

Key Takeaways: Eisenhower Doctrine

  • Adopted in 1957, the Eisenhower Doctrine was a key aspect of U.S. foreign policy under the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
  • The Eisenhower Doctrine promised U.S. economic and military combat assistance to any Middle Eastern country facing armed aggression.
  • The intent of the Eisenhower Doctrine was to prevent the Soviet Union from spreading communism throughout the Middle East. 

Background

The rapid deterioration of stability in the Middle East during 1956 greatly concerned the Eisenhower administration. In July 1956, as Egypt’s anti-Western leader Gamal Nasser established ever-closer ties to the Soviet Union, both the U.S. and the United Kingdom cut off their support for the construction of the Aswan High Dam on the Nile River. In response, Egypt, aided by the Soviet Union, seized and nationalized the Suez Canal intending to use ship passage fees to fund the dam. In October 1956, armed forces of Israel, Britain, and France invaded Egypt and pushed toward the Suez Canal. When the Soviet Union threatened to join the conflict in support of Nasser, its already delicate relationship with the United States crumbled.

Israeli tanks moving into Gaza in 1956
Israeli Tanks Occupy Gaza During Suez Canal Crisis of 1956. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Though Israel, Britain, and France had withdrawn their troops by early 1957, the Suez Crisis left the Middle East dangerously fragmented. Regarding the crisis as a major escalation of the Cold War on the part of the Soviet Union, Eisenhower feared the Middle East could fall victim to the spread of communism.

In the summer of 1958, the Eisenhower Doctrine was tested when civil strife—rather than Soviet aggression—in Lebanon drove Lebanese president Camille Chamoun to request U.S. assistance. Under the terms of the Eisenhower Doctrine, nearly 15,000 U.S. troops were sent to put down the disturbances. With its actions in Lebanon, the U.S. confirmed its long-term commitment to protecting its interests in the Middle East.

Eisenhower Foreign Policy

President Eisenhower brought what he called a “New Look” to U.S. foreign policy, emphasizing the need to respond to the spread of communism. In that context, Eisenhower’s foreign policy was greatly influenced by his staunch anti-communist Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. To Dulles, all nations were either part of the “Free World” or part of the communist Soviet bloc; there was no middle-ground. Believing that political efforts alone would not stop Soviet expansion, Eisenhower and Dulles adopted a policy known as Massive Retaliation, a scenario in which the U.S would be prepared to use atomic weapons if it or any of its allies were attacked.  

Along with the threat of communist expansion in the region, Eisenhower knew the Middle East held a large percentage of the world’s oil reserves, which were badly needed by the U.S. and its allies. During the 1956 Suez Crisis, Eisenhower had objected to the actions of U.S. allies—Britain and France, thus establishing the U.S. as the lone western military power in the Middle East. This position meant that America’s oil security was more at risk should the Soviet Union succeed in imposing its political will in the region. 

Impact and Legacy of the Eisenhower Doctrine

The Eisenhower Doctrine’s promise of U.S. military intervention in the Middle East was not universally embraced. Both Egypt and Syria, supported by the Soviet Union, strongly objected to it. Most of the Arab nations—fearing Israeli “Zionist imperialism” more than Soviet communism—were at best skeptical of the Eisenhower Doctrine. Egypt continued to accept money and arms from the U.S. until the Six-Day War in 1967. In practice, the Eisenhower Doctrine simply continued the existing U.S. commitment of military support for Greece and Turkey pledged by the Truman Doctrine of 1947.

In the United States, some newspapers objected to the Eisenhower Doctrine, arguing that the cost and the extent of American involvement were left open-ended and vague. While the doctrine itself did not mention any specific funding, Eisenhower told Congress he would seek $200 million (about $1.8 billion in 2019 dollars) for economic and military aid in both 1958 and 1959. Eisenhower contended that his proposal was the only way to address the “power-hungry communists.” Congress voted overwhelmingly to adopt the Eisenhower Doctrine.

In the long run, the Eisenhower Doctrine failed to succeed in containing communism. Indeed, the foreign policies of future presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, and Reagan all embodied similar doctrines. It was not until December 1991 that the Reagan Doctrine, combined with economic and political unrest within the Soviet bloc itself, brought the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

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