Date of Award

Spring 2001

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Kurk Dorsey


When President Dwight Eisenhower took office in January 1953, he was immediately faced with the challenges of the cold war. Throughout his two terms Eisenhower was forced to adapt to political changes within the Soviet Union, the advent of the hydrogen bomb, the development of ICBMs, and the dangers of radioactive fallout. Constantly facing new threats and fears in a rapidly changing technological world, Eisenhower often had to rethink certain security issues and make critical decisions. One tool which Eisenhower used to help him in his decision-making process was civilian committees.

Historian Richard Immerman recently wrote, "Eisenhower unquestionably valued civilian input. But why he did so is less clear."1 This study explains why Eisenhower used civilian committees as part of his decision-making process in national security planning and why he stopped using them. There are three examples of civilian committees which highlight Eisenhower's decision-making process, his devotion to the 'Great Equation,' his strategic thinking, and his response to the rapid changes brought about by scientific and technological advances in weapon development and national security: the Solarium Exercise (1953), the Killian Committee (1955), and the Gaither Committee (1957).2.

My thesis is that using civilian committees was an integral part of Eisenhower's decision-making process as long as he controlled the groups. They brought to the NSC deliberations a "fresh, frequently changing civilian point of view."3 They allowed the president and his national security staff to hear all sides of a debate. They served as educators and often recommended innovative solutions to national security problems. They served without being burdened by political or interservice rivalries. And Eisenhower used them deliberately. When the Gaither Committee did not operate within the rules Eisenhower had come to expect from these committees, he reevaluated the usefulness of such committees and decided against their use. The press leaks and campaigning by Gaither Committee members for the report made it difficult for Eisenhower to use the committee's report as he had intended. He lost control of the process, became suspicious of the service of civilians, and ultimately left office warning the public about the danger of public policy becoming "captive of the scientific-technological elite." 4.

1Immerman, review of The Gaither Committee, Eisenhower, and the Cold War, by David Snead, H-Net Reviews , November 2000, . 2The official name of the Killian Committee, chaired by James Killian, was the Technological Capabilities Panel. The official name of the Gaither Committee, chaired by Rowan Gaither, was The Security Resources Panel. 3Letter Lay to Coller, 7/25/55, EL, WHO OSANSA, NSC Series, Administrative Sub series, Box 4 "Consultants-NSC July 1954--Aug 1956] (4)." 4Eisenhower, "Farewell Address," Public Papers of the President, 1960--61.