Massive retaliatory power

nuclear blastOn January 12, 1954, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles announced in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations that the United States would protect its allies through the “deterrent of massive retaliatory power.” The policy announcement was further evidence of the Eisenhower administration’s decision to rely heavily on the nation’s nuclear arsenal as the primary means of defense against communist aggression.

Dulles claimed that the aim of the Soviet Union was the “bankruptcy” of the United States through overextension of its military power. As History.com notes:

Both strategically and economically, the secretary explained, it was unwise to “permanently commit U.S. land forces to Asia,” to “support permanently other countries,” or to “become permanently committed to military expenditures so vast that they lead to ‘practical bankruptcy.’” Instead, he believed a new policy of “getting maximum protection at a bearable cost” should be developed. Although Dulles did not directly refer to nuclear weapons, it was clear that the new policy he was describing would depend upon the “massive retaliatory power” of such weapons to respond to future communist acts of war.

The Eisenhower administration had two significant objectives in mind at the time, Armscontrolwonk.com notes, (1) Avoiding another long, punishing land war in Asia; and (2) Avoiding budgetary red ink that would result from the maintenance of overly large conventional forces. The Eisenhower administration’s solution? A brief flirtation with the doctrine of massive retaliation.

Eisenhower soon recognized that nuclear weapons were a poor substitute for conventional military capabilities. Yet Eisenhower remained concerned that the rise of the military-industrial complex would bankrupt the country.

It would not be long before the U.S. and USSR would embark on a new nuclear path — that of mutually assured destruction (MAD). MAD, plus Ronald Reagan’s promotion of “Star Wars” missile defense, bankrupted the USSR and led to its collapse.

But it also set the U.S. on the road to bankruptcy. Subsequent U.S. presidents (both Bushes, Clinton and Obama) did not heed Dulles’ warning that it was unwise to “permanently commit U.S. land forces to Asia,” to “support permanently other countries,” or to “become permanently committed to military expenditures so vast that they lead to ‘practical bankruptcy.’”

The U.S. currently has land forces permanently committed to Asia, supports permanently other countries and has become permanently committed to military expenditures so vast they lead to “practical bankruptcy.” And America currently spends more on defense than does China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the UK, India and Germany – the next largest military spenders – combined. And Donald Trump has vowed to spend more.

Also of note, John Dulles’ brother, Allen, was CIA director at the time of John’s speech before the CFR. Just months prior to John’s speech, Allen Dulles’ CIA had instigated Operation Ajax, a coup in Iran to remove the democratically-elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh. The U.S. then had Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi installed as its puppet (which led eventually to the Iran hostage crisis in 25 years later). John Dulles encouraged Eisenhower to approve the plan.

Months after his massive retaliation speech, John F. Dulles lobbied Eisenhower on behalf of United Fruit Company to instigate a military coup by the Guatemalan army through his brother’s CIA against the Guatemalan government under the pretext that the ongoing Guatemalan revolution was becoming “too communist.” John Dulles was a former United Fruit Company lawyer and remained on its payroll at the time, and Allen was on the company’s board of directors.

Following the coup the U.S. installed Carlos Castillo Armas – who had led 480 CIA-trained troops into Guatemala City – as president. He quickly moved to grant himself dictatorial powers, banned political parties and locked up and tortured political opponents. U.S.-backed puppets — dictators, really — ruled Guatemala with a similar iron hand until 1996 and the Guatemalan civil war.

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