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Beyond Brinkmanship: Eisenhower, Nuclear War Fighting, and Korea, 1953-1968


Michael Gordon Jackson is lecturer of political science at Brown University and other colleges and universities in the New England region. He has published articles in International Journal of Politics and Ethics and White House Studies.


This article examines the question of how serious President Eisenhower was in contemplating the use of nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula and Chinese mainland. To do this, it surveys Eisenhower's thinking and policies about the issue from 1953 to 1968 in regard to maintaining the security of South Korea. In contrast to many in the literature who argue that Eisenhower would have been very reluctant to authorize their use or who downplay the significance of his many statements about the use of nuclear weapons, it maintains that the president was much more willing to use nuclear compellent force than many have supposed. In regard to Eisenhower's reputation, this article adopts a post-revisionist stance that questions the consensus in the literature that he viewed them as instruments of deterrence, not war fighting. It also suggests that more research should be initiated to investigate the relationship between presidents’ national security policies, commitments, and the option of nuclear compellence.