Wondering Where The Lions Are: Strategy, Eisenhower, and The Peace of Solarium

Accenture-Strategy-Leadership-575x447DeM Banter:  As mentioned in the ABSTRACT POST, and Chapter 1: in 2007-08 I was fortunate enough to serve as a National Security Affairs Fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.  An outstanding year spent with some of the foremost personalities in National Security on both the Right and the Left sides of the aisle.  While there we were required to present a paper… the DeMarco paper focused on Leadership and National Security Strategy.

As with any work, I look back over the years and the paper to see a ton of wishful thinking.  However, given that the paper was written before the 2008 election it was a bit of a plea to our incoming POTUS (then unknown) to develop a strategy in light of not only the “War on Terror” but to also stare into the next two decades and establish a strategic vision to guide our country.  The paper was relatively short, maybe 50 pages…but not really a blog post.  I will post the chapters over the next few weeks….Abstract  and Chapter 1 are  available at the links above and on to Chapter 2. Please share any thoughts… on the blog, Facebook, twitter… anything. Thank you

Chapter 2
The Peace of Solarium
“Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft”  -Winston Churchill

“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.”  -Aldous Huxley

By J. William DeMarco

Dwight D. Eisenhower campaigned on a basic theme; his administration, unlike the incumbent one, would formulate and pursue a coherent and effective “‘cold war’ national strategy.”14 Eisenhower promised an effective and cost efficient strategy with improved planning and coordination combined with the type of leadership he exercised in World War II. After a victorious campaign Eisenhower is found sitting in the White House solarium room with Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles. Both found much to discuss and even more to execute. After World War II, America literally came through the looking glass. The U.S. found itself adversaries with a wartime ally the Soviet Union. The United Kingdom gave way to the U.S. as the dominant Western hegemon and the global landscape was now defined in terms of democracy and totalitarianism. Further, Eisenhower faced the death of Josef Stalin, an ongoing conflict in Korea, and the rise of Soviet power in Eastern Europe. Not unlike the world America finds itself in today, facing strategic issues requiring careful, thoughtful consideration and strategic planning. The 21st Century enemies are different, harder to define, with no true red or blue lines on the map, but the lessons of yesterday prove useful to today’s leaders.

In World War IV, Norman Podhoretz draws an analogy from the experiences of Presidents George W. Bush to Harry S. Truman. A sound analogy in many respects, but in light of upcoming US elections, it is more apropos to examine a different one. There are similarities between the Truman and Bush administrations but as of January 2009 that is history. What about the future? The analogy worth noting is between America’s next president and Truman’s successor.

After World War II, war-weary Americans eager to return to peacetime pursuits helped shape threat assessment. President Harry S. Truman drastically cut military expenditures in the late 1940s. The president was aware of the potential national security threat posed by the Soviet Union, however he assumed the United States’ preponderant military and economic power would serve as a deterrent to Soviet adventurism.15 Similarly, at the end of the Cold War, American citizens and politicians both sought a “peace dividend,” slashing the budgets of the US military, intelligence services and diplomatic corps throughout the 1990s. Today, American politicians and citizens challenge many of the decisions made in the 1990s through the War on Terror lens, and many ponder the basis for such choices. The President of tomorrow will confront leadership challenges very similar to those of the early Eisenhower administration.

President Eisenhower—Context and Lessons for Today

B3-CO752_CAPTAI_P_20181206171102May 1953—Dwight D. Eisenhower, a war-hero, in the fourth month of his presidency faced a myriad of profound national security issues. U.N. and Communist forces fought the Korean War to a stalemate with an eventual thirty-five thousand Americans killed.16 Armistice negotiations were deadlocked. The United States entangled itself in an arms race with the Soviet Union and had recently detonated the world’s first hydrogen bomb. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization looked to create a European defense community and failed due to French resistance to admitting a re-armed Germany. Guatemala nationalized large tracts of fruit trees belonging to an American company. Further—in Iran a new government, perhaps with communist help, nationalized oil concessions belonging to the British, threatening the flow of oil to world markets. Finally, massive uncertainty filled the vacuum left by the death of Josef Stalin in March. Eisenhower presented his “Chance for Peace” speech, aimed at Soviet leadership only to be shunned by silence from the Kremlin. Further, the President’s recently installed national security staff showed signs of concerns as they looked for vision and policy direction from their new leader.17

Eisenhower’s staff as well as the American public contemplated the President’s intentions. John Foster Dulles campaigned on the U.S. regaining the foreign policy initiative, seeking a free, democratic, unified Germany, and “roll back” communist control of Eastern Europe. Further with no armistice signed in Korea, many Americans encouraged Eisenhower to take a more belligerent stance toward Soviet Power.

From the President’s position, he was not happy with the crisis-oriented US defense program or the record defense budget he inherited. Eisenhower believed budgeting to meet the year of “maximum danger,” or 1954 when the USSR was projected to achieve nuclear plenty, would bankrupt the country. He sought to develop a balanced, integrated defense posture for the indefinite future, as promised.18

This spring afternoon, four months after his inauguration, Eisenhower sat with his Secretary of State in the Solarium Room watching, as the world turned toward communism. Truman’s strategy for an uncertain future, based on George Kennan’s framework, called for the military containment of Soviet expansion and the exercise of economic and political pressure to eventually defeat communism. An alternative strategy, fathered by Paul H. Nitze, advocated a primarily military strategy to wrest the Soviet satellite nations from communist domination. Secretary Dulles endorsed the Nitze policy as best for the US, to which Eisenhower countered, “It’s the minds and hearts of men that must be won.”

The Eisenhower Administration and the next US Presidential Administration face similar issues. Eisenhower struggled with how to plan for an increasingly uncertain future, over an extended period of time, with extremely high stakes and little consensus on how to deal with the growing strategic threat. The next US President will face the same. Eisenhower long believed that the best way to formulate national policy in a democracy was to gather the best qualified people with opposing views and carefully listen to them debate the issue at hand.19

President Eisenhower—Project Solarium and Strategic Planning

In mid-1953, Eisenhower began a process in response to the issues above. Most interesting—the answers sprang not from the President, as the American public might expect today, but from a process. The exercise, code named Solarium, remained classified for many years. Many pundits assumed Eisenhower replaced the Truman policy of containment with “roll back,” and “brinksmanship,” and simply called it the “New Look” or Massive Retaliation.20 In actuality, this new Republican President adopted something akin to his Democrat predecessor’s policy. The “New Look” or Massive Retaliation, albeit a more forceful brand of containment, was nothing of the approach John Foster Dulles proposed in the 1952 GOP platform of a physical “roll back” of communist forces.21


The Solarium documents were finally declassified in 1985. The declassification revealed George Kennan, the author of the “long telegram,” was deeply involved in the project. Kennan not only provided the Democratic Truman administration with the original intellectual frame work of containment but also mapped out the main thrust of the republican Eisenhower strategy in a true bi-partisan manner.

Solarium brought together three multi-faceted task forces of seven members each, from all branches of the US Government, to examine separately and in detail the most promising approaches being considered at the time by the national security establishment.

Task Force A: Lead by George Kennan–proposed slight modifications to the status quo—
1) Maintain over a sustained period armed forces to provide for the security of the United States and to assist in the defense of vital areas of the free world;
2) To continue to assist in building up the economy, military strength and cohesion of the free world; and
3) Without materially increasing the risk of general war, to continue to exploit the vulnerabilities of the Soviets and their satellites by political, economic, and psychological measures.”

Task Force B: Chaired by Major General James McCormack, proposed a “line in the sand” policy.
1) To complete the line now drawn in the NATO area and Western Pacific so as to form a continuous line around the Soviet bloc beyond which the U.S. will not permit Soviet or satellite military forces to advance without general war;
2) To make clear to the Soviet rulers in an appropriate and unmistakable way that the U.S. has established and determined to carry out this policy; and
3) to reserve freedom of action, in the event of indigenous Communist seizure of power in countries on our side of the line, to take all measures necessary to re-establish a situation compatible with the security interests of the U.S. and its Allies.”22

Task Force C: Lead by Admiral R. L. Connolly; Rollback as promised by GOP—An effort “to force the Soviets to shift their efforts to holding what they already have…”
1) Increase efforts to disturb and weaken the Soviet bloc and to accelerate the consolidation and strengthening of the free world;
2) To create the maximum disruption and popular resistance throughout the Soviet Bloc;
3) The policy is not designed to provoke war… but it involves substantial risk of general war.”23

The teams spent six weeks at the National War College deliberating their strategies. On 16 July 1953, President Eisenhower listened intently to all options, stood, congratulated the participants and stated his conclusions. Eisenhower authorized the Solarium findings as the basis for a new national security policy for consideration by the National Security Council.24 Solarium findings recommended “a U.S. capability for a strong retaliatory offensive, a base for mobilization, and a continental defense;” a “strong, independent, and self-sufficient groupings of nations friendly to the United States centering on Western Europe, on the Far East, and a position of strength in the Middle East.” 25

The findings essentially updated and continued Truman’s policy of political, diplomatic, economic, and if necessary military containment of the USSR. What Eisenhower advanced, through the Solarium Project was the institutionalization of a bi-partisan, well thought out, debated and argued policy of containment. Vetting the strategy as he did, it became the structural elements in the foundation of US Cold War policy from 1953-1991.

President Eisenhower—Leadership:

Eisenhower succeeded due in large part to his leadership—he understood the value of being challenged by his advisors on even his most basic assumptions regarding the nature of the new “cold” war. He understood the benefits of disagreement and sought to institutionalize such debate in an inclusive, intentional and integrated fashion.26

Eisenhower’s Solarium processes extended into the NSC and his Oval Office practice that could mitigate risks, but could not remove them. He set the basic lines for the implementing of the containment strategy. The programs and policies were not without flaws. Like those before and after him, the policies rested on fallible judgments regarding external conditions; the conduct of allies, opponents, and others; and the impact of U.S. actions, which could well prove mistaken. 27 Further, the New Look did not lead directly to the demise of the Soviet Union. The USSR collapse and the peaceful resolution of the Cold War was ultimately due to the bankruptcy of the system and recognition by leaders that reality and the necessity for basic reform. Containment, nevertheless, provided the indispensable external context for producing that outcome.28

The original concept of the containment strategy belongs to the Truman administration. Yet effective containment depended on the ability of the U.S. to adapt the concept to radically changing conditions and to implement it—indefinitely. Eisenhower’s strategy reshaped the implementation to one compatible with the new context and sustainable for the long term. Recognizing his critical contribution does not degrade that of either his predecessor or successor. It does, however, illustrate Eisenhower possessed the key elements required in implementing strategy, mentioned in chapter one, organizational capacity, political skill, and contextual intelligence. Ideas are merely campaign promises without the leadership ability to implement.

As Eisenhower left office; America’s world position was preeminent; the country had achieved something close to “peace with strength,” notwithstanding perceived threats in Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam. In that same month Dwight D Eisenhower handed to John F Kennedy an elaborate, sophisticated system for national security management and strategy.

Eisenhower was elected on a never-implemented “roll back” or “policy of boldness” toward Moscow platform. Solarium proved to be a gathering of bi-partisan giants to include George Kennan, who had served primarily in Democratic administrations. The power of the project suspended the GOP’s original concept of “roll back” as the members were enlightened by the debate and discussion. Kennan later remarked that President Eisenhower took command of the Solarium process, demonstrating “his intellectual ascendancy over every man in the room.”

No president before or after Eisenhower received such a systematic and focused briefing on the threats facing the nation’s security and the possible strategies for coping with them.29 Further, there is no evidence that such high-level strategy meetings occur today even in light of this “Long War.” In December of 2003, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz did preside over a secret “Solarium II” meeting to develop a grand strategy. The President did not chair the meeting and participants revealed to the Washington Post that Wolfowitz read unrelated briefing papers during presentations. As such Solarium II came to no hard conclusions.30 At a Stanford University presentation, General Richard B. Myers stated, “I can count on one hand the number of times we met in the White House to discuss long term strategy.”31 Efforts of grand strategy demand presidential leadership and vision combined with focused teams of giants as witnessed during the original Solarium gathering.

Over half a century later, the policies and processes of President Eisenhower take on a new and very wise aura. The concept of a “meeting of the minds” in a Solarium type atmosphere ended when Eisenhower left office. Perhaps it was President Kennedy’s youth or perhaps it was politically motivated—Democrats not wanting anything that was originally Republican–but at this point America would be wise to re-investigate the systems of President Eisenhower, most specifically starting with a Project Solarium type debate and reinvigorating our National Strategy process.

14 Robert Bowie and Richard H. Immerman, Waging Peace, How Eisenhower Shaped an Enduring Cold War Strategy, Eisenhower Address in San Francisco, (Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York, 1998) 79.

15 Christopher Preble, The Uses of Threat Assessment in Historical Perspective: Perception, Misperception, and Political Will, (The Cato Institute, Washington DC), 2

16 36,940, incl. 3275 non-combat (FAS): on line, internet, 6 January 2008, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL32492.pdf.

17 Robert Divine, Eisenhower and the Cold War, (Oxford Press, Oxford New York, 1981) 26-29.

18 Norman A. Graebner, The National Security, It’s Theory and Practice 1945-1960 (Oxford University Press, Oxford New York, 1986) 142.

19 The Eisenhower Memorial Commission, Project Solarium, on line, internet, 4 November 2007, http://www.eisenhowermemorial.org/stories/Project-Solarium.htm.

20 William Pickett, George F. Kennan and the Origins of Eisenhower’s New Look, An Oral History of Project Solarium, (Princeton Institution for International and Regional Studies, Princeton University 2004) 2.

21 Ibid.

22 Bowie, Waging Peace, Cutler memorandum for the record, May 9, 1953; FR, 1952-54, 2:399-400, 412, 126.

23 Bowie, Waging Peace, 286 footnote 10.

24 Pickett, George F. Kennan and the Origins of Eisenhower’s New Look, 3.

25 Pickett, George F. Kennan and the Origins of Eisenhower’s New Look, 4.

26 Bowie, Waging Peace 256.

27 Bowie, Waging Peace: 256, footnote 31.

28 Bowie, Waging Peace; 256.
29 Bowie, Waging Peace 127.

30 Michael Hirsh, “9/11 and Counting, Four Years In, No Clear Plan,” Washington Post, Sunday, September 11, 2005; B01

31 Richard B. Myers, former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1 Oct 2001-30 Sep 2005, quoted at The Hoover Institution’s Spring Retreat Dinner Speech, Stanford University, CA, 28 Apr 2008

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