Minuteman Missile
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Section I — The Cold War and National Armament

Chapter 1:
The Cold War (1945—62) (continued)

Eisenhower and Waging Peace

The Cold War and the directives of NSC 68 led to a significant increase in American military spending. Just over $13 billion was spent on the country's defense in 1950, while only three years later total American defense spending exceeded $50 billion, or nearly forty percent of the federal budget. [21] Much of this increased spending can be attributed to the Korean War; however, many United States policymakers believed that defense spending would continue at this elevated level for the foreseeable future. Their predictions ultimately proved correct, as spending on American forces dipped after the war to approximately $34-$38 billion a year, while military and financial aid delivered to allies in the name of halting communism averaged nearly $12 billion annually throughout the remainder of the decade. This level of Cold War spending became the norm until the height of the costly Vietnam War.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower took office in 1953 with a pledge to lower the cost of waging the Cold War, what he called "waging peace." He feared a prolonged military conflict and a commensurate expansion of the military and federal government might undermine the country's democratic values. President Eisenhower did not dispute NSC 68's basic principles, in particular its contention that Soviet Communism was inherently expansionistic and thus a threat to the United States, but he feared the effects of a broad Cold War fight on America's economy and society. Increased military spending could warp the marketplace, while efforts to combat Communism at home, if not carefully regulated, might ultimately undermine American civil liberties. As Eisenhower stated, his administration was charged with defending "a way of life," not just a territory and "We could lick the whole world if we were willing to adopt the system of Adolph Hitler." [22]

These were hardly idle concerns. During this same period, Senator Joseph McCarthy led the charge against Communism at home, popularly known as the Red Scare, with largely unsubstantiated accusations that Communists had infiltrated the federal government and the State Department in particular. McCarthy's accusations caused a sensation. Following televised Congressional hearings in 1954, where McCarthy accused the Army of harboring Communists, he was censured by the Senate for his actions. The country's rabid anti-Communist hysteria began to slow, though Cold War fears continued to color American political and cultural life for more than a generation. As Eisenhower had feared, anti-Communism, as espoused by McCarthy and others, was distorting American values.

As Commander-in-Chief and as a former Army General, Eisenhower at least exerted greater control over the military. He believed in the conservative (what earlier generations would have called republicanism or classical liberalism, terms that change over time though their meanings remain the same) ideal that democracy and militarism are forever at odds, as he held significant faith in civilian rule. [23] Based on these beliefs he called for a reconsideration of the country's Cold War policies upon taking office. He initiated "Project Solarium"—named for the room of the White House where the project was discussed—which requested three blue-ribbon, top secret panels to separately consider and propose a strategy for America's Cold War policy.

Group A was headed by diplomat and Soviet expert George Kennan. Kennan's group concluded that since the Soviet threat remained strong, the previous administration's containment policy should be continued. They recommended continued expansion of defense spending and military buildup. As reported by Group A, "If we can build up and maintain the strength of the free world during a period of years, Soviet power will deteriorate or relatively decline to a point which no longer constitutes a threat to the security of the United States and to world peace." [24]

Group B was led by Air Force Major General James McCormack, an expert on atomic weapons. The members of McCormack's group proposed drawing a "line of no aggression" around the Communist Bloc and areas necessary to the United States security. [25] Entry or expansion beyond the line would result in an atomic attack on the Soviet Union. Group B's plan offered the advantage of limiting military spending, but featured two major obstacles: where to draw the line, and how to procure Congressional and public support for an atomic war should the Soviets cross the line.

Vice Admiral Richard Conolly headed up Group C in the discussion of the nation's future Cold War policy. His group advocated an aggressive approach to winning the Cold War and reversing Communism, a policy publicly dubbed "roll back." They stated that the United States should "prosecute relentlessly a forward and aggressive political strategy in all fields and by all means: military, economic, diplomatic, covert, and propaganda." [26] Through aggressive means, Communism would be swiftly eradicated and democracy "restored."

President Eisenhower ultimately adopted none of the three options, choosing instead a combination of the first two, which were drafted into National Security Council Paper Number 162 (NSC 162), his administration's Cold War blueprint. NSC 162 advocated extensive reliance on nuclear weapons as the country's primary deterrent to Communist expansionism and aggression. It advocated vigilance against future Communist expansion but not direct roll back unless the United States was in position for victory. The policy focused on keeping America safe, but as importantly, also fiscally secure. No one in 1953 could predict how many years the Cold War would last and the administration felt strongly that it needed a policy that could be sustained for possibly a decade or more. Secretary of the Treasury George Humphrey explained, "if we mean to face this Soviet threat over a long time, we must spend less than we now are spending and do less than we now are doing." [27]

Following Project Solarium and the revision of the document to NSC 162/2, the United States had a new doctrine for winning the Cold War at an affordable cost. NSC 162/2 called for the use of an atomic strike force capable of deterring the Soviets from action. To contain Communism, Eisenhower authorized the expansion of the country's nuclear arsenal and the stage was set for the continued development of nuclear weapons, including what would later be called the Minuteman missile. The number of atomic weapons grew from one thousand in 1953 to more than eighteen thousand by the time President Eisenhower left office in 1961. During this same period, America's military budget dropped from $50 billion in 1953 to an average of $34 billion with savings achieved largely through reductions in troop levels. The increase in the country's nuclear arsenal and the idea that Soviet threats and expansionism would be met with awesome power became known as the policy of "massive retaliation."

The Problem of Massive Retaliation

Massive retaliation limited the Eisenhower administration's policy options. The 1954 Dien Bien Phu crisis in Vietnam, for example, demonstrated the limitations of too great a reliance on the nuclear response. Since 1945 the United States had supported France's efforts to defend its colonial presence in Indochina, both militarily and economically, and in 1953, France and the United States adopted the Navarre Plan to prevent the Communist-led Viet Minh takeover of the region. That same year French General Henri Navarre established a military base at Dien Bien Phu in northwestern Vietnam in hopes of luring the Viet Minh into battle. The Viet Minh laid siege on the French and a standoff occurred, with the United States airlifting supplies to the French.

Many of Eisenhower's advisors, including National Security Council (NSC) Chairman Admiral Arthur Radford, believed the only way to save the French was by dropping atomic bombs on their opponents. Eisenhower rejected this suggestion, arguing that nuclear weapons were too destructive to use in a limited conflict, and perhaps too politically damaging to use at all. "You boys must be crazy," he said. "We can't use those awful things against the Asians for the second time in ten years. My God." [28] Without support from either American ground forces or nuclear weapons, the French garrison fell to the Viet Minh on 7 May 1954.

The decision not to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam called into question the administration's policy of massive retaliation and deterrence. Massive retaliation might have been a successful policy for keeping the Cold War in balance and an option for stopping a major Soviet advance into Western Europe— although it was never put to this test—but it did not answer everything. If the administration was not ready to use nuclear weapons in all situations, Eisenhower's strategists reasoned, other options needed to be available to American leaders. Ironically, at an earlier time, Eisenhower had publicly stated that nuclear bombs were like any weapon, and could be "used just exactly as you would a bullet or anything else." [29] In private, however, the president and his top advisors were each beginning to doubt the wisdom and utility of relying solely on the atomic threat. Despite their concerns, Soviet developments would soon prompt the United States to continue and even to expand its nuclear capabilities.


On 4 October 1957 the Soviets launched the world's first satellite, named Sputnik I. The launching shocked much of the world, not only for its scientific importance, but also because of the implications of this technology for American and Free World security. If the Soviets had rockets to launch satellites, many concluded that they would soon be able to develop ICBMs that could reach the United States. The Soviet achievement moreover demonstrated their technological lead in this field over the United States, and began the space race. As American security was predicated on maintaining technological superiority, Sputnik terrified the nation.

President Eisenhower responded by increasing spending on missile development. In January 1958, three months after the Soviets, the United States successfully launched its own satellite, after a number of publicized failures. At this same time, the Pentagon's feasibility studies for intercontinental missiles, including the Minuteman missile, had been completed, and planning was underway for funding and development of this American military response.

Kennedy Administration and the First Minuteman Deployment

By the end of the 1950s, many Americans believed their country needed new Cold War policies. They feared for national security in an age of ballistic missiles, and they also questioned the effectiveness of the Eisenhower administration's policies for halting Communist expansion in the Cold War's periphery—those areas outside of Europe and the United States. Many observers believed the next great Cold War conflicts would occur in just these regions. Congress asked for hearings in 1959 to review the United States position in the space race, and Democrats subsequently campaigned against Republican Cold War policies, charging that they had allowed the Soviets to get ahead of the United States in missile development, creating a missile gap. The "gap" represented the difference between the number of missiles it was believed the Soviets possessed and the number of American missiles. Ironically, a missile gap did not exist. In actuality, the Soviets possessed significantly fewer missiles than most Americans believed and Democrats had claimed. Espionage and photographs from U-2 spy planes proved the deficiencies of Soviet nuclear arms, but the administration could not publicly state this fact without compromising national security and letting the world and the Kremlin know about the American spying capabilities. In the 1960 presidential election, Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Vice President Richard Nixon. Nixon had refused to compromise national security by leading a countercharge that refuted Democratic claims of a missile gap, and a new administration took office. [30]

Kennedy promised to improve American Cold War capabilities, including defense. He supported the Minuteman program and the country's continued development of ICBMs. Kennedy and his administration focused on a new Cold War policy to maximize policy options beyond a massive nuclear retaliation. This new policy became known as "flexible response," and included creation of new Cold War institutions, such as highly trained combat troops known as Green Berets or Special Forces, and even the Peace Corps. Kennedy also advocated vigilance towards the Soviets. His refusal to bend to Soviet pressure contributed to the Berlin Crisis of 1961 (when he activated his military reserves in response to Soviet demands that the West evacuate its military presence in the city, a crisis that culminated in Soviet construction of the Berlin Wall) and the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year, precipitated by Moscow's planned installation of nuclear missiles in Cuba, only ninety miles from the American coast. An American quarantine of Cuba, and a secret agreement to dismantle Jupiter missiles in Turkey in exchange for removal of the Soviet missiles from Cuba, ultimately eased tensions and avoided disaster, though the world stood closer to the brink of nuclear war than arguably at any other time. Each crisis increased nuclear tensions between the superpowers, who wielded destructive power unknown and unimaginable to previous generations. It is in this context that the Minuteman was deployed and played its Cold War role.

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Last Updated: 19-Nov-2003