Eisenhower's shield : building foreign militaries, retrenchment, and the New Look
At the outset of the 21st century, United States foreign policy experienced a spasm of strategic over-extension under the administration of George W. Bush, followed by a period of more or less directed retrenchment under Barack Obama, yet America’s long-standing practice of building foreign military capabilities continued largely unchanged under both. The role played by building foreign militaries during more expansive periods of foreign policy “engagement” or “renewal” is not controversial; the role played under a strategy of retrenchment is neither theoretically obvious, nor well-understood. This dissertation seeks to clarify the role played by building foreign militaries under a strategy of retrenchment through the historical examination of a prominent example in modern US history: that of Eisenhower’s New Look. My research suggests Eisenhower viewed the practice of building foreign militaries as a crucial and constructive policy instrument to accomplishing the objectives of the New Look. Through a detailed examination of the two largest and most significant cases of that era, South Korea and NATO, I find that these programs made positive and important material contributions to the overarching goals of retrenchment in a number of ways: in facilitating the pursuit and conclusion of durable diplomatic agreements, in establishing or enhancing local or regional military capabilities as a vital precondition for potential US redeployment, and finally as a crucial lubricant to sustained burden-sharing in continuing to meet longer-term US national interests. Yet building foreign militaries was not in itself sufficient to realize the conditions of durable political order in recipient nations or regions that would make a complete withdrawal of US forces possible. At the same time, American efforts to rebalance its own resources and global commitments sometimes led to the creation of serious military imbalances in developing partners and allies with potentially destabilizing effects. Finally, the rhetorical promise of building foreign militaries almost always exceeded what was realized within a politically salient timeframe, setting the stage for persistent public perceptions of failure.