Milestones: 1953–1960

The Eisenhower Doctrine, 1957

President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced the Eisenhower Doctrine in January 1957, and Congress approved it in March of the same year. Under the Eisenhower Doctrine, a country could request American economic assistance and/or aid from U.S. military forces if it was being threatened by armed aggression from another state. Eisenhower singled out the Soviet threat in his doctrine by authorizing 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.”

Portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower

Portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Eisenhower Administration’s decision to issue this doctrine was motivated in part by an increase in Arab hostility toward the West, and growing Soviet influence in Egypt and Syria following the Suez Crisis of 1956. The Suez Crisis, which had resulted in military mobilization by Great Britain, France, and Israel—as well as United Nations action—against Egypt, had encouraged pan-Arab sentiment in the Middle East, and elevated the popularity and influence of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. President Eisenhower believed that, as a result of the Suez conflict, a power vacuum had formed in the Middle East due to the loss of prestige of Great Britain and France. Eisenhower feared that this had allowed Nasser to spread his pan-Arab policies and form dangerous alliances with Jordan and Syria, and had opened the Middle East to Soviet influence. Eisenhower wanted this vacuum filled by the United States before the Soviets could step in to fill the void. Because Eisenhower feared that radical nationalism would combine with international communism in the region and threaten Western interests, he was willing to commit to sending U.S. troops to the Middle East under certain circumstances.

The first real test of the Eisenhower Doctrine came in 1958 in Lebanon, where the threat was not armed aggression or a direct Soviet incursion. Lebanon’s President, Camille Chamoun, requested assistance from the United States in order to prevent attacks from Chamoun’s political rivals, some of whom had communist leanings and ties to Syria and Egypt. Eisenhower responded to Chamoun’s request by sending U.S. troops into Lebanon to help maintain order. Although Eisenhower never directly invoked the Eisenhower Doctrine, the American action in Lebanon was meant not only to help Chamoun’s Government against its political opponents, but also to send a signal to the Soviet Union that it would act to protect its interests in the Middle East.