John Foster Dulles | US Secretary of State, Cold War Diplomat (2024)

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Feb. 25, 1888, Washington, D.C.
May 24, 1959, Washington, D.C. (aged 71)
Political Affiliation:
Republican Party
Role In:
Cold War

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John Foster Dulles (born Feb. 25, 1888, Washington, D.C.—died May 24, 1959, Washington, D.C.) was the U.S. secretary of state (1953–59) under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He was the architect of many major elements of U.S. foreign policy in the Cold War with the Soviet Union after World War II.

Early career

Dulles was one of five children of Allen Macy and Edith (Foster) Dulles. His maternal grandfather was John Watson Foster, who served as secretary of state under President Benjamin Harrison. Robert Lansing, Dulles’ uncle by marriage, was secretary of state in the Cabinet of President Woodrow Wilson.

Britannica QuizFacts You Should Know: The Cold War Quiz

Dulles was educated in the public schools of Watertown, N.Y., where his father served as a Presbyterian minister. A brilliant student, he attended Princeton and George Washington universities and the Sorbonne, and in 1911 he entered the New York law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell, specializing in international law. By 1927 he was head of the firm.

But Dulles, who never lost sight of his goal of becoming secretary of state, actually started his diplomatic career in 1907 when, aged 19, he accompanied his grandfather John Foster, then a private citizen representing China, to the second international peace conference at The Hague. At 30 years of age Dulles was named by President Woodrow Wilson as legal counsel to the U.S. delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference, at the end of World War I, and afterward he served as a member of the war reparations commission.

In World War II, Dulles helped prepare the United Nations charter at Dumbarton Oaks, in Washington, D.C., and in 1945 served as a senior adviser at the San Francisco United Nations conference. When it became apparent that a peace treaty with Japan acceptable to the United States could not be concluded with the participation of the Soviet Union, President Harry Truman and his secretary of state, Dean Acheson, decided not to call a peace conference to negotiate the treaty. Instead, they assigned to Dulles the difficult task of personally negotiating and concluding the treaty. Dulles traveled to the capitals of many of the nations involved, and in 1951 the previously agreed to treaty was signed in San Francisco by Japan and 48 other nations. In 1949 Dulles was appointed U.S. senator from New York to fill a vacancy, but he served for only four months before being defeated in the 1950 election.

Secretary of state

Emboldened by his formidable achievements, Dulles viewed his appointment as secretary of state by President Eisenhower, in January 1953, as a mandate to originate foreign policy. “The State Department,” Dulles once told an aide, “can only keep control of foreign policy as long as we have ideas.” A man bent on realizing his ideas, he was an assiduous planner, and, once he enjoyed President Eisenhower’s complete confidence, policy planning flourished during his administration.

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Dulles, fully aware that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) would be effective only for the defense of western Europe, leaving the Middle East, the Far East, and the Pacific islands unprotected, was eager to fill these gaps. He initiated the Manila conference in 1954, which resulted in the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) pact that united eight nations either located in Southeast Asia or with interests there in a neutral defense pact. This treaty was followed in 1955 by the Baghdad Pact, later renamed the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), uniting the so-called northern tier countries of the Middle East—Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan—in a defense organization.

In Europe, Dulles was instrumental in putting into final form the Austrian State Treaty (1955), restoring Austria’s pre-1938 frontiers and forbidding a future union between Germany and Austria, and the Trieste agreement (1954), providing for partition of the free territory between Italy and Yugoslavia.

Three factors determined Dulles’ foreign policy: his profound detestation of Communism, which was in part based on his deep religious faith; his powerful personality, which often insisted on leading rather than following public opinion; and his strong belief, as an international lawyer, in the value of treaties. Of the three, passionate hostility to Communism was the leitmotiv of his policy. Wherever he went, he carried with him Joseph Stalin’s Problems of Leninism and impressed upon his aides the need to study it as a blueprint for conquest similar to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. He seemed to derive personal satisfaction from pushing the Soviet Union to the brink. In fact, in 1956 he wrote in a magazine article that “if you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost.” Once, during the Austrian State Treaty negotiations, he refused to compromise on some minor points, even though the Austrians themselves pleaded with him to do so for fear the Soviets would walk out. Dulles stood his ground, and the Soviets yielded.

But Dulles could be equally intransigent with the allies of the United States. His insistence upon the establishment of the European Defense Community (EDC) threatened to polarize the free world, when in 1953 he announced that failure to ratify EDC by France would result in an “agonizing reappraisal” of the United States’ relations with France. That expression, and Dulles’ announcement in a Paris speech that the United States would react with “massive nuclear retaliation” to any Soviet aggression, found a permanent place in the vocabulary of U.S. foreign policy. It can also be argued that Dulles’ brusque rejection in July 1956 of the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s request for aid in building the Aswān Dam was the beginning of the end of the influence that the U.S. had exerted in the Middle East. In a complete reversal of his former pro-Egyptian policy, Dulles claimed that Nasser was “nothing but a tin-horn Hitler.” Although Dulles later conceded that his refusal could have been more subtle, he never wavered in his belief that Nasser, who had already purchased arms from the Soviet bloc, was bound to turn decisively against the U.S. because he felt that he had the Soviet Union on his side.


Dulles’ detractors in the U.S. and abroad viewed him as harsh, inflexible, and a tactician, rather than an architect of international diplomacy. But President Eisenhower ignored all criticisms. He said of his secretary of state, “He is one of the truly great men of our time.” Whatever their opinion of the man and his policies, many leading statesmen of the non-Communist nations have credited his firmness with having checkmated Communist Cold War strategy. Seriously ill with cancer, Dulles resigned his Cabinet position on April 15, 1959. Shortly before he died in the following month, he was awarded the Medal of Freedom.

Edward Weintal
John Foster Dulles | US Secretary of State, Cold War Diplomat (2024)


What was the significance of John Foster Dulles in the Cold War? ›

After Eisenhower won the 1952 presidential election, he chose Dulles as Secretary of State. Throughout his tenure, Dulles favored a strategy of massive retaliation in response to Soviet aggression and concentrated on building and strengthening Cold War alliances, most prominently the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Who was John Foster Dulles Quizlet? ›

John Foster Dulles served as U.S. Secretary of State under Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953 to 1959. He was a significant figure in the early Cold War era, advocating an aggressive stance against Communism throughout the world.

What was under John Foster Dulles's policy of massive retaliation announced in 1954? ›

The strategy that emerged from those considerations became known as “massive retaliation,” following a speech made by U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles in January 1954, when he declared that in the future a U.S. response to aggression would be “at places and with means of our own choosing.” That doctrine was ...

What was Eisenhower and Dulles' strategy for fighting the Cold War? ›

Eisenhower's secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, initiated a “New Look” for the Cold War containment strategy, calling for a greater reliance on nuclear weapons against U.S. enemies in wartime, and promoted the doctrine of “massive retaliation,” threatening a severe response to any Soviet aggression.

Is John Foster Dulles related to Allen Dulles? ›

Between his stints of government service, Dulles was a corporate lawyer and partner at Sullivan & Cromwell. His older brother, John Foster Dulles, was the Secretary of State during the Eisenhower administration and is the namesake of Dulles International Airport.

Where did John Foster Dulles live? ›

What was the new look in Cold War policy identified with Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles proclaimed a US commitment to? ›

The policy emphasised reliance on strategic nuclear weapons as well as a reorganisation of conventional forces in an effort to deter potential threats, both conventional and nuclear, from the Eastern Bloc of nations headed by the Soviet Union.

Who was someone important from the Cold War? ›

Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet politician and once leader of the Soviet Union, faced off with both Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy during the Cold War. He was one of the most famous rivals of the United States and played a role in several long-lasting foreign relations events during the 1950s and 1960s.

What was Dulles approach to war? ›

Dulles claimed that by moving to the brink of atomic war, he ended the Korean War and avoided a larger conflict. From that point on, Dulles was associated with the concepts of “massive retaliation” and “brinksmanship,” a supposedly reckless combination of atomic saber rattling and eyeball-to-eyeball standoffs.

What is the Dulles policy of massive retaliation? ›

Dulles's speech in 1954 spawned the phrase and concept of massive retaliation, which would back up any conventional defense against conventional attacks with a possible massive retaliatory attack involving nuclear weapons.

Who was the US president during Cold War policy of massive retaliation? ›

The Eisenhower Administration developed the concept of massive retaliation during the Cold War. President Eisenhower believed in continuing the containment policy of President Truman's administration, which committed the U.S. to stopping and containing the spread of communism in the world.

What was the significance of massive retaliation in the Cold War? ›

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 speech was a reflection of two of the main tenets of foreign policy under Eisenhower and Dulles.

What was Dulles' new look? ›

The main elements of the New Look were: (1) maintaining the vitality of the U.S. economy while still building sufficient strength to prosecute the Cold War; (2) relying on nuclear weapons to deter Communist aggression or, if necessary, to fight a war; (3) using the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to carry out secret ...

How did Eisenhower deal with the Cold War quizlet? ›

How did Eisenhower deal with Cold War crises during his administration? maintaining the energy of the U.S. economy while still building strong strength to prosecute the Cold War and relying on nuclear weapons scare other countries or to fight a war.

What is Dulles named for? ›

The airport, which opened in 1962, is named after John Foster Dulles, an influential United States Secretary of State during the Cold War who briefly represented New York in the United States Senate.

When was Dulles fired? ›

An industrialist and an engineer by training, he replaced veteran spymaster Allen Dulles as director of central intelligence in November 1961, after John F. Kennedy had forced Dulles out following the CIA's bungled operation to oust Fidel Castro by invading Cuba's Bay of Pigs.

Who were the brothers who ran the CIA? ›

It is doubtful if ever before two brothers Have served in such delicate positions as do John Foster Dulles, the secretary of state, and Allen W. Dulles, head of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Why was Dulles built? ›

Built in 1962 to accommodate up to six million passengers a year, Washington Dulles International Airport was one of the most modern airports in the world.

Who was the CIA director during Eisenhower's presidency? ›

Dulles (born April 7, 1893, Watertown, New York, U.S.—died January 29, 1969, Washington, D.C.) was a U.S. diplomat and intelligence expert, who was director (1953–61) of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) during its early period of growth. Born: April 7, 1893, Watertown, New York, U.S.

What is Eisenhower known for? ›

Eisenhower planned and supervised two of the most consequential military campaigns of World War II: Operation Torch in the North Africa campaign in 1942–1943 and the invasion of Normandy in 1944. Eisenhower was born in Denison, Texas, and raised in Abilene, Kansas.

Why was brinkmanship important in the Cold War? ›

Brinkmanship was an effective tactic during the Cold War because neither side of the conflict could contemplate mutual assured destruction in a nuclear war. The nuclear deterrence of both sides threatened massive destruction on each other.

What was the main significance of the Cold War? ›

The Cold War shook the foundation of the world, as it was the first time that large-scale nuclear warfare became a truly realistic threat.

What is the most significant legacy of the Cold War? ›

The Cold War had a profound impact on the global nuclear arms situation. In the decades since the end of the Cold War, the number of nuclear weapons in the world has decreased significantly.

Why was the Cold War espionage important? ›

During this time, Cold War espionage (i.e., spying) was a widely used tool to gain insider knowledge of enemy plans, forces and defenses, technical capabilities, the buildup of nuclear weapon technology, and to prevent the assimilation of power of the other side.


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