“A Policy of Boldness”

Image: Leffler, Warren K, photographer. John Foster Dulles seated at desk in office, talking on the telephone. Washington D.C, 1958. April 8. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2011660832/.
Why is Dulles so critical of containment? What does he propose as an alternative? What does he believe are the advantages of “boldness”? How can allies help the United States? Why does Dulles believe threatening to use nuclear weapons is a good policy? Does he admit any risks of such a policy?
How does the stalemate in the Korean War (See Truman and MacArthur) influence this article? Is the 1956 uprising in Hungary (See Eisenhower) an example of the liberation of people living under communist rule that the United States should attempt? Does the U.S. State Department show the Voice of America being used in the ways Dulles wants? Is Reagan also a call for liberation? If so, how?

John Foster Dulles served as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Secretary of State from 1953 – 1959. Dulles had decades of foreign policy experience before joining the Eisenhower administration. As a young man he served as an economic advisor during the Paris Peace Proceedings in 1919. (His uncle Robert Lansing was Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State.) An attorney during the interwar years, Dulles specialized in issues of international law, business, and finance. Firmly anti-communist, he supported early U.S. Cold War policies, including the Marshall Plan. As this article shows, however, he was critical of the Truman administration’s implementation of these policies.
Dulles’s call for a “policy of boldness” is significant for two primary reasons. First, the policy became part of the Republican Party’s 1952 platform, which condemned containment as a “negative, futile, and immoral policy” that “abandons countless human beings to a despotism and godless terrorism.” Republicans promised to implement a foreign policy that would free captive people from communism’s grip. Second, Dulles’s recommendations heavily influenced the Eisenhower administration’s so-called New Look, officially known as the Basic National Security Policy. The New Look rejected some of the premises of NSC 68, the foundational security policy of the Truman administration starting in 1950. To reduce the costs of large standing military forces, the United States would rely on its superior nuclear arsenal to deter communist aggression. The New Look was based upon the United States’ existing and projected advantages in the technology of modern warfare, especially airpower, missiles, and nuclear weapons. The New Look also called for intensified psychological warfare programs, expanded intelligence-gathering, and covert operations.

—David Krugler

Source: John Foster Dulles, “A Policy of Boldness,” Life, Vol. 32, no. 20 (May 19, 1952), 146-57.

Soviet Communism confronts our nation with its gravest peril. To meet its long-term strategy of encirclement and strangulation, we have adopted a series of emergency measures which are fantastically costly not only in money but in their warping of our American way of life.

No one would begrudge the cost of what we are doing if, in fact, it was adequate and was ending the peril, and if there was no better way. Actually, our policies are inadequate in scope. They are not ending the peril. There is a better way.

The costs of our present policies are perilously high in money, in freedom and in friendships.

The Administration’s “security policies” would this year cost us, in money, about 60 billion, of which about 99% goes for military purposes and for equipment (which will quickly become obsolete and demand replacement indefinitely). Such gigantic expenditures unbalance our budget and require taxes so heavy that they discourage incentive. They so cheapen the dollar that savings, pensions and Social Security reserves have already lost much of their value.

What is worse, this concentration on military matters is – to use George Washington’s words – “inauspicious to liberty.”1 It leads to encroachments on civil rights and transfers from the civilian to the military decisions which profoundly affect our domestic life and our foreign relations.

We are also rapidly expending our friendships and prestige in the world. Increasing numbers turn away from our policies as too militaristic, too costly, too erratic and too inconclusive for them to follow. Our far-flung, extravagant and surreptitious military projects are frightening many who feel that we are conducting a private feud with Russia, which may endanger them, rather than performing a public service for peace. . . .

Our present negative policies will never end the type of sustained offensive which Soviet Communism is mounting; they will never end the peril nor bring relief from the exertions which devour our economic, political and moral vitals. Ours are treadmill policies which, at best, might perhaps keep us in the same place until we drop exhausted. . . .

Where do we go from here? . . .

Looked at in any impartial way, we are the world’s greatest and strongest power. The only commodity in which we seem deficient is faith. In all material things we have a productivity far exceeding that of Russia: our steel production is about three and one half times that of the Soviet Union, and in aluminum, petroleum and electric power our superiority is even greater. Our people have a standard of education, an inventive talent and a technical skill unmatched by any of the peoples under Soviet rule.

On the Soviet side a dozen people in the Kremlin are attempting to rule 800 million human beings – while trying to conquer more. All except a privileged few work under conditions which sternly deny them the “pursuit of happiness.” Within Russia itself the discontent can be judged by the 15 million prisoners in forced labor camps – more than twice the membership of the Soviet Communist party. Even the leaders are suspicious of each other as each wonders whether the other plots his purge. . . .

The free should not be numbed by the sight of this vast graveyard of human liberties. It is the despots who should feel haunted. They, not we, should fear the future.

As we stop fretting and start thinking, the first problem to tackle is the strictly military one. It comes in the form of a paradox: for we must seek a military formula more effective than any devised to date – that we may no longer be so overridingly preoccupied with purely military necessity.

The dimensions of the problem are plain: at least 3,000,000 Soviet soldiers regularly under arms, another 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 in the Chinese Red armies. These forces, poised in a central area could strike with massive power east, south or west at any one of more than 20 nations along the 20,000-mile boundary which runs from near Alaska down by Japan, through East Asia and South Asia, along the Middle and Near East to Europe and up through Central Europe to the North Cape. . . .

Those who think only of Western Europe and of making it “impregnable” – without regard to the Near, Middle and Far East and Africa – are just as blind as those who think only of the United States and of making it “impregnable.” Policies that do not defend freedom in Asia are fatally defective.

How do we defend it? Obviously, we cannot build a 20,000-mile Maginot Line2 or match the Red armies, man for man, gun for gun and tank for tank at any particular time or place their general staff selects. To attempt that would mean real strength nowhere and bankruptcy everywhere.

There is one solution and only one: that is for the free world to develop the will and organize the means to retaliate instantly against open aggression by Red armies, so that, if it occurred anywhere, we could and would strike back where it hurts, by means of our choosing.

The principle involved is as simple as that of our municipal police forces. We do not station armed guards at every house to stop aggressors – that would be economic suicide – but we deter potential aggressors by making it probable that if they aggress, they will lose in punishment more than they can gain by aggression. . . .

Today atomic energy, coupled with strategic air and sea power, provides the community of free nations with vast new possibilities of organizing a community power to stop open aggression before it starts and reduce, to the vanishing point, the risk of general war. So far these weapons are merely part of national arsenals for use in fighting general war when it has come. If that catastrophe occurs, it will be because we have allowed these new and awesome forces to become the ordinary killing tools of the soldier when, in the hands of the statesmen, they could serve as effective political weapons in defense of the peace. . . .

. . . New methods of defense are needed to save the free nations from the dilemma, which present policies impose, of choosing between murder from without or suicide from within.

That is the enlightened and effective way to proceed. It is a way that we can afford to live with, and until there is effective international disarmament, it is the way we cannot afford to live without.

Once the free world has established a military defense, it can undertake what has been too long delayed – a political offense. . . .

. . . We should be dynamic, we should use ideas as weapons; and these ideas should conform to moral principles. . . .

. . . [L]iberation from the yoke of Moscow will not occur for a very long time, and courage in neighboring lands will not be sustained, unless the United States makes it publicly known that it wants and expects liberation to occur. The mere statement of that wish and expectation would change, in an electrifying way, the mood of the captive peoples. It would put heavy new burdens on the jailers and create new opportunities for liberation.

Here are some specific acts which we could take:

1) We could make it clear, on the highest authority of the President and the Congress, that U.S. policy seeks as one of its peaceful goals the eventual restoration of genuine independence in the nations of Europe and Asia now dominated by Moscow, and that we will not be a party to any “deal” confirming the rule of Soviet despotism over the alien people which it now dominates.

2) We could welcome the creation in the free world of political “task forces” to develop a freedom program for each of the captive nations. Each group would be made up of those who are proved patriots, who have practical resourcefulness and who command confidence and respect at home and abroad.

3) We could stimulate the escape from behind the Iron Curtain3 of those who can help to develop these programs.

4) The activities of the Voice of America and such private committees as those for Free Europe and Free Asia could be coordinated with these freedom programs. The agencies would be far more effective if given concrete jobs to do.

5) We could coordinate our economic, commercial and cultural relations with the freedom programs, cutting off or licensing intercourse as seemed most effective from time to time.

6) We could end diplomatic relations with present governments which are in fact only puppets of Moscow, if and when that would promote the freedom programs.

7) We could seek to bring other free nations to unite with us in proclaiming, in a great new Declaration of Independence, our policies toward the captive nations.

We do not want a series of bloody uprisings and reprisals . . . But we can know, for history proves, that the spirit of patriotism burns unquenched in Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Chinese and others, and we can be confident that within two, five or 10 years substantial parts of the present captive world can peacefully regain national independence. That will mark the beginning of the end of Soviet despotism’s attempt at world conquest. . . .

  1. 1. The quote is from George Washington’s 1796 farewell address.
  2. 2. The Maginot Line, a series of fortifications, was built by France at great expense after World War I to protect the nation from a German attack. The failure of the Maginot Line to prevent a German conquest during World War II made it a metaphor for costly, ineffective military measures.
  3. 3. Popularized by Winston Churchill in a 1946 speech, the phrase “iron curtain” refers to the border between democratic and communist nations in Europe.
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