Active between the wars in internationalist organizations, Dulles initially opposed American intervention in World War II. Once American belligerency seemed probable, however, he focused intensely on postwar planning. A prominent Presbyterian, in 1941 he became chairman of the Commission to Study the Bases of a Just and Durable Peace, established by the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, representing 25 million American Protestants. Its blueprint for international reform, finished in 1943, urged the creation of international organizations to facilitate peaceful resolution of disputes among states, economic integration, arms control, and religious, intellectual, and political freedom, objectives all consonant with the 1941 Atlantic Charter.
Dulles also became prominent in Republican politics, advising presidential candidate Governor Thomas E. Dewey on international affairs. Seeking to secure bipartisan political support for his foreign policy, President Harry S. Truman included Dulles in virtually all major international meetings, beginning with the 1945 San Francisco Conference that drafted the final United Nations Charter. Briefly appointed Republican senator for New York in 1948–1949, Dulles strongly supported creation of the North Atlantic Security Organization (NATO). He also supported European integration as a means of strengthening the continent's economies and militaries, a policy advocated by his friend, Frenchman Jean Monnet.
By the late 1940s Dulles had become a dedicated anti-communist. When Chinese communists won control of the mainland in 1949, he advocated American backing for Jiang Jieshi's Guomindang (Nationalist) regime on Taiwan. In June 1950, when the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea) invaded the Republic of Korea (ROK, South Korea), Dulles urged U.S. intervention and the extension of protection to Taiwan. As a foreign affairs advisor to the Republican presidential campaign in 1952, Dulles argued that the Truman administration had been timorous in merely containing Soviet communism when it should have moved to roll back Soviet influence in Eastern Europe.
Named secretary of state by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953, Dulles deferred to the president's leadership, although the two men were very different in style. A supporter of Eisenhower's New Look defense policy of heavy reliance on nuclear weapons, Dulles rhetorically threatened to wreak "massive retaliation" against American enemies, tactics nicknamed "brinkmanship." In practice, however, he was often more cautious. Although Dulles's bellicose anti-communist rhetoric alarmed many European leaders, his policies proved pragmatic, effectively respecting established Soviet interests in Europe. When discontented East Berlin workers triggered an uprising in the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) in 1953 and again when Hungarians rebelled against Soviet rule in 1956, Dulles and Eisenhower welcomed refugees but offered no other support.
Dulles and Eisenhower ended the Korean War in 1953, pressuring both sides to accept an armistice, and established a series of alliances around Asia, supplementing the 1951 United States–Japan Security Treaty and Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS) Pact with bilateral security treaties with South Korea and Taiwan and with the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). When possible, Eisenhower avoided direct major military interventions, preferring to rely on covert operations orchestrated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), headed by Dulles's younger brother Allen. The CIA played key roles in coups that overthrew Left-leaning governments in Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954.
In Indochina in 1954, Dulles and Eisenhower withstood pressure from U.S. military leaders and, after Britain had declined to assist, refused to authorize air strikes to rescue French troops surrounded by insurgent Viet Minh forces at Dien Bien Phu. Dulles attended the 1954 Geneva Conference but would not sign the resulting accords that partitioned Vietnam but called for countrywide elections within two years, a contest that Viet Minh leader Ho Chi Minh was widely expected to win. Instead, Dulles and Eisenhower broke the accords and provided economic aid to the non-communist Republic of Vietnam (ROV, South Vietnam), seeking to build it up to ensure its independence.
Dulles and Eisenhower considered strengthening America's West European allies as their first priority. In March 1953, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin died, and new Soviet leaders advanced suggestions for German reunification and neutralization. Distrust on both sides made such proposals ultimately fruitless, although the former World War II allies agreed on a peace treaty with Austria that left that state neutral throughout the Cold War. Seeking to reinforce NATO, Eisenhower and Dulles backed proposals for a multinational European Defense Community (EDC), a plan that France vetoed in 1954.
Dulles's relations with Britain and France, whose imperialism he deplored, reached their nadir in 1956. In 1953 Egyptian nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power. Initially, he sought military and economic aid from the United States, but the Israeli lobby prevented such aid. He then obtained arms from the Soviet bloc. This, in turn, led Dulles in 1956 to rescind an earlier American pledge to provide Nasser with funding for his Aswan Dam project, whereupon Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, co-owned by the British and French governments. While openly joining Dulles in negotiations with Egypt, Britain and France covertly agreed with Israel on war against Egypt to regain the canal, mounting an invasion in early November 1956 just before the U.S. presidential election. Dulles and Eisenhower strenuously pressured all three powers to withdraw, which they eventually did, but the episode soured Anglo-American relations. Although Dulles hoped to align the United States with nationalist forces around the world, the open growth of Soviet interest in the Middle East brought the announcement the following spring of the Eisenhower Doctrine whereby the United States claimed the right to intervene militarily against indigenous or external communist threats in the region. This provoked significant anti-Americanism throughout the world.
The emergence of Nikita Khrushchev as top Soviet leader in the mid-1950s seemed to promise a relaxation of Soviet-American tensions, as Khrushchev openly repudiated Stalinist tactics and called for peaceful coexistence between communist and noncommunist nations. Eisenhower hoped to conclude substantive disarmament agreements with Khrushchev. In practice, however, Khrushchev was often far from accommodating. The USSR's success in launching the first space satellite ( Sputnik) in 1957, Soviet possession of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, and Khrushchev's seeming readiness from late 1958 onward to provoke an international crisis over Berlin all alarmed American leaders, including the ailing Dulles, diagnosed in 1957 with cancer.
Although American nation-building efforts in both Taiwan and South Vietnam enjoyed apparent success, during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis (1958) Dulles was notably more cautious about gratuitously challenging either communist China or possibly, by extension, the Soviets. When his cancer worsened, he resigned as secretary on 15 April 1959. Dulles died in Washington, D.C., on 24 May 1959.
Hoopes, Townsend. The Devil and John Foster Dulles. Boston: Little, Brown, 1973.; Immerman, Richard H. John Foster Dulles: Piety, Pragmatism, and Power in U.S. Foreign Policy. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1999.; Marks, Frederick W., III. Power and Peace: The Diplomacy of John Foster Dulles. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1993.; Toulouse, Mark G. The Transformation of John Foster Dulles: From Prophet of Realism to Priest of Nationalism. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1985.