To Republicans in 1952 it seemed that there was something radically wrong with the nation's defense policy. Americans, wearied by the second of two global wars, were finding little relief in the restless peace that followed. Out-of-office politicians, and many voters as well, were beginning to wonder if we hadn't "lost" the Korean War. No one, apparently, had very definite ideas about what should be done. But the voters demanded some kind of action, and when Candidate Eisenhower promised to go to Korea and do "something," the nation responded with a surge of confidence.
In the past several months a great deal has been said on both sides about the policy that has emerged from these promises. Dubbed the "New Look" in a speech by Admiral Arthur Radford last December, it has been hailed by many as a substantial innovation in defense policy. As if to stress the contrast with its Democratic predecessors, Senator Knowland wrote, "the doctrine is a departure from the policy of 'containment' which we have heretofore followed in recent years."
There seems little doubt that the doctrine of instantaneous massive retaliation that Secretary Dulles set forth in January of this year was different. By supplementing local defense with a strengthened atomic arm, the Secretary had said, we would be able to "retaliate by means and at places of our own choosing." At the same time, expensive mass armies could be replaced by more highly mechanized units with increased firepower.
Even Democrats agreed that this was a substantial innovation. Chester Bowles, former ambassador to India, wrote, "the doctrine of 'instant retaliation' ... appears to be a far reaching shift in our foreign policy." But the Democrats were disturbed, and Bowles went on to ask some troubling questions. "If we place our principle reliance in Asia upon a method of retaliation which carries with it what are probably unacceptable risks, and at the same time reduce our capacity for more limited, local responses, as the new policy seems to do, will we not in fact invite, rather than deter local aggression in Asia?... How does the new policy deal with... (Soviet techniques) which do not take the form of external aggression...? Can we afford to put all our eggs into a single military basket?
In a speech from Florida about two weeks ago, Adlai Stevenson also appeared worried about the implication of Dulles' statement. Rash use of the bomb, he feared, could catapult us into the horrors of a world war. Yet if we did not use the bomb, and were not prepared to fight Korea-type actions, we might be forced to lie idle while the communists "nibbled us to death."
The Administration seemed to sense that the "New Look" was perhaps a little too new, and hurried out some qualifying statements through its Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Army and the Navy still had a big part to play in defense, they assured their critics.
The wound which the Pentagon had been trying so hard to heal was opened again by Vice President Nixon in his television reply to Stevenson two Saturdays ago. Referring to Dulles' original statement, Nixon stressed the primacy of the mass atomic strike in the new defense strategy. But on the following Tuesday, fresh outbreaks of criticism prompted what seemed to be a second Administration retreat. At a news conference, Secretary Dulles proceeded to take the guts out of his earlier pronouncement. "In no place did I say we would retaliate instantly," he explained, "although we might indeed retaliate instantly under conditions that call for that." In an article in Foreign Affairs released the same day, Dulles wrote, "the potential of massive attack will always be kept in a state of instant readiness, but our program will retain a wide variety in the means and scope for responding to aggression.
By Wednesday, the President thought the issue important enough to warrant his personal comment. Waiving the rule that forbids direct quotation, the President told reporters, "The 'new look' is just our effort to solve in one field, that of direct military attack, the best--to produce the best results we can for the protection of America, and to call it revolutionary or to act like it is something that just suddenly dropped down on us like a cloud out of the heaven, is just not true."
In the course of some three month, the "New Look" seems to have run full circle. And although the "containment" name calling still goes on, the subsurface differences in defense policy between Administrations would seem immaterial, if they exist at all. In the course of the debate, Admiral Radford, speaking for the Administration, denied that the "New Look" meant dependence "on a single weapon or service." But the military budget for 1955 tells a somewhat different story. More than four billion dollars will be cut from Army and Navy appropriations; spending for the Air Force and atomic weapons will increase. Advocates of the cut argue that cheaper and more effective weapons will prevent any loss in fighting efficiency.
The real problem seems to like at the economic core of the "New Look." Because nothing but a war can test a fighting force, military men themselves are divided on its prospects. With a note of warning, General Matthew Ridgway commented on the "New Look" before a Senate committee last week. "We are steadily reducing Army forces," he said, "a reduction through which our capabilities will be lowered while our responsibilities for meeting the continued enemy threat have yet to be correspondingly lessened." Contested on technical as well as on policy grounds, the Administration's "New Look" in defense faces unsure political future.