But the massive farms that the Presidium held in such low regard played another critical role besides putting food on Soviet tables. The endless expanses they covered provided Russia with its main line of defense. It was these snow-covered fields, stretching thousands of miles, that had defeated Hitler and Napoleon. Like frozen deserts that thawed into impassable bogs, they had protected Moscow from all its Western enemies. Armies could advance over the plains, but invariably their supply lines would grow thin, the winter would set in, and rural Russia would ravage the invaders. The steppe had always afforded Moscow the ultimate victory. Until now. Now, in the nuclear and jet age, distance and climate no longer provided a natural limit to foreign depredations. And to Khrushchev, that seemed precisely what the latest U.S. military doctrine aimed to do.
Khrushchev was unsettled by the rise to power of the Republican Party, after more than two decades of Democratic rule. The Republicans represented the American capitalist class, and their electoral battle cry had been hard-line anticommunism. To the Soviets, the emergence of the rich, Russophobe Republicans signaled the arrival of a more combative and ideological adversary in Washington, personified by John Foster Dulles, the dour and deeply religious secretary of state, a man who dressed and talked like a clergyman and yet managed to make millions during the Great Depression. The USSR, Dulles declared, could never be appeased, because "the Soviets sought not a place in the sun, but the sun itself." His opinion was codified by the National Intelligence Estimate of September 15, 1954, which stated, "Soviet leaders probably envision: (a) the elimination of every world power center capable of competing with the USSR; (b) the spread of communism to all parts of the world; and (c) Soviet domination over all other communist regimes."
With growing alarm, the Soviets watched as Dulles purged the State Department of suspected liberals. Veteran foreign service officers who had accurately predicted Communist gains in Asia were sacked for not displaying "positive loyalty," while foreign allies were warned that they too had better toe the new hard line or be faced with an "agonizing re-appraisal" of U.S. assistance. Dulles's playboy brother Allen, whose hedonism was matched only by his hatred of communism, was put in charge of the Central Intelligence Agency, which rapidly ballooned from an obscure bureaucratic outpost with 350 employees to an aggressive frontline agency with thousands of operatives intent on undermining Soviet power.
John Foster Dulles lurked dangerously behind the kind, grandfatherly facade of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, whom the Soviets knew to be ill with a heart condition and increasingly detached from day-to-day affairs of state. It was the unelected and standoffish lawyer, not the popular war hero, who thus dictated U.S. policy. America's moral duty, Dulles declared, was not merely to stop the spread of communism but to "liberate captive peoples" all over the world. The Eisenhower administration, Dulles pledged, would "roll back" Communist advances in Europe and Asia and send the Soviets packing. What's more, he continued, the United States would no longer bother with small local conflicts like Korea to keep communism in check. Henceforth it would prepare for "total war," a phrase coined by Admiral Arthur Radford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and wage an "instant, tremendous, and devastating" nuclear attack on the Soviet Union itself. Only a doctrine of "massive retaliation" promised "to create sufficient fear in the enemy to deter aggression." The strategy, Dulles noted, "will depend primarily on a great capacity to retaliate instantly by means and at places of our choosing."
To the stunned Soviets, who did not yet have the effective capacity to launch any sort of surprise attack on the United States (as Dulles well knew), the massive retaliation doctrine was perceived as little more than a massive intimidation tactic. "We shall never be the aggressor," Eisenhower had reassured the Russians at a summit meeting in Geneva in 1955, but Khrushchev had no guarantees of that. The only way for Khrushchev to guarantee Soviet security was to develop his own massive retaliation capabilities. But he lagged far behind his American rivals.