- Eisenhower and the Cold War Arms Race: “Open Skies” and the Military-Industrial Complex by Helen Bury
Some people have all the luck. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of them. His running mate and vice president, Richard M. Nixon, was later tarnished by the Vietnam War and forced to resign because of the Watergate scandal. Plenty of things like those happened on Eisenhower’s watch. He almost got the country into a war in Vietnam at the time of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. He undertook to overthrow legitimate governments with covert Central Intelligence Agency operations across the globe. Eisenhower engaged in so many crises that his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, coined the term “brinkmanship” to denote the art of getting into a crisis and then getting out of it. Eisenhower pre-delegated authority to field commanders to unleash nuclear weapons. On his watch the United States innovated the hydrogen bomb and began a nuclear buildup that ended with thousands of launch systems and tens of thousands of nuclear warheads.
Eisenhower over the past forty years has been reevaluated by historians and often found better than originally thought. Despite Eisenhower’s brinkmanship, one school of thought considers him a peacemaker. Several of Eisenhower’s speeches or diplomatic maneuvers have served his reputation well over the years. His 1961 farewell speech warning about the military-industrial complex is by far the greatest, but Eisenhower also gets good press for his “atoms for peace” speech of 1953 and—the subject of this book—his “Open Skies” initiative of 1955.
In Eisenhower and the Cold War Arms Race, Helen Bury provides us with the latest examination of Open Skies, a diplomatic maneuver at the 1955 U.S.-Soviet summit in Geneva, where Eisenhower sought to convince the Soviet Union to adopt, as a major confidence-building measure, a scheme that would permit both sides to conduct legal aerial photography of the other for intelligence purposes. Clear intelligence on the USSR would have enabled Eisenhower to calibrate U.S. military budgets finely and might have avoided some of the dangerous crises that later arose. Nikita Khrushchev, afraid the United States might discover how weak the Soviet Union actually was, rejected the proposal.
That much is familiar. What is extraordinary in Bury’s book is her argument that Eisenhower the peacemaker kept on the case. She contends that Eisenhower made [End Page 142] repeated attempts to induce Soviet leaders to accept what they had spurned. That is an intriguing proposition. I would like to believe it, but I fall short of doing so for two reasons.
First, the Open Skies Eisenhower exists in tandem with the brinkmanship president. A proposal for a nuclear test ban as well as one for General and Complete Disarmament foundered on the issue of inspections (i.e., verification)—and by no means was the Soviet Union the only rejectionist. Eisenhower would not have been able to sell limited on-site inspections to John McCone at the Atomic Energy Commission or Curtis LeMay at the Strategic Air Command any more than he could to the Soviet Union.
Bury seems to treat Open Skies as if it existed by itself. But the fact is that Eisenhower adopted massive nuclear buildups in response to several successive intelligence gaps regarding missiles and bombers. He pre-delegated authority to use nuclear weapons, creating a “Strangelovian” dilemma. He cooperated in giving the U.S. Navy a bigger share of the nuclear pie by providing it with ballistic-missile submarines and nuclear-armed aircraft carriers. And he integrated and coordinated all the targeting plans for those forces in the Single Integrated Operations Plan (SIOP). Constructing the Open Skies Eisenhower requires that one deal with these military programs and show that they did not conflict with the president’s arms control efforts. That argument is absent here.
The second reason for my skepticism is evidence. Bury marshals and carefully deploys the evidence on the Geneva summit proposal for Open Skies. I kept waiting for the material that...