Development to the Cold War to 1968

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Development to the Cold War to 1968

  • Policy of containment, domino theory and the emergence of peaceful co-existence

Policy of Containment
What is the policy of containment?

(Based on the domino theory) “Containment was a United States policy using military, economic, and diplomatic strategies to stall the spread of communism, enhance America’s security and influence abroad, and prevent a domino effect”


Why?-Ideological tensions

The policy of containment was a manifestation of the rivalry between the two polarised ideologies of Capitalism and Communism. The adoption of the policy was an attempt to halt the spread of communism to non communist nations without provoking direct military action against the Soviet Union, in the hope that the Soviet Union’s communist regime would eventually collapse. The domino theory reinforced this idea of the fear of communism.

Why?-Geopolitical reasons

The basis for US policy in the Cold War era is outlined with considerable clarity in the internal record of planning. With unprecedented economic and military pre-eminence, the US prepared to become the first truly global power. During the war, US planners developed the concept of a “Grand Area”, a region understood to be “strategically necessary for world control”, subordinated to the needs of the American economy. Thus, the emergence of Communism was a threat to America’s superiority. Hence, the Truman and Eisenhower administration brought out the policy of containment in response to national security as America defined security in terms of correlations of power. The policy of containment was devised after the US realised that Soviet domination of Eastern Europe could prevent or limit access to crucial raw materials. The Soviet/Communist domination of the “preponderant” resources of Europe and Asia would force the United States to alter its political and economic system.

Furthermore, the task of American policymakers, the CIA advised, was to keep “the still widely dispersed power resources of Europe and Asia from being drawn together into a single Soviet power structure with a uniformly communist social organization”

The attempt to contain communism was stimulated through military and economic means.


  • America was to maintain strong enough military forces to resist any Soviet attack. This notion is explored through massive retaliation where America’s aim was to be so far ahead of the Soviets in terms of nuclear weapons. This was cheaper than conventional weapons and Eisenhower believed this was ideal because you got “more bang for your buck.” Moreover America was to maintain military parity

  • NATO 1949 -this saw the US enter into its first formal military alliance since its treaty with France in 1778. The treaty was based upon regional alliances that had been created among various western European states in 1947 and 48. The US had established atomic assault bases close to the Soviet Union. During the 1950s agreement was reached to station medium range Thor missiles in Britain and Jupiter missiles in Italy and Turkey. These missiles could easily reach the Soviet Union.

  • The policy of containment acted as a catalyst to many wars fought by the US during the Cold War era.

  • Eg. Korea: The USA saw the invasion of South Korea as a Soviet plot to extend their sphere of influence into Asia. As a result the civil war became a global ideological conflictProxy war. The Korean War confirmed US commitment to the policy of containment in Asia

  • America’s aim was also to keep Russia diplomatically isolated


  • Through assisting countries economically to halt the spread of communism e.g. providing resources

  • This is essentially the Marshall Plan in practice.

  • E.g. The Berlin Blockade/ airlift Where the western sectors of both Germany and Berlin retained a capitalist economic system and prospered from US financial aid organized under the Marshall Plan.

  • This economic assistance is also later seen in the Nixon doctrine.

The Domino Theory
What is the domino theory?

The domino theory began to merge, the idea that if a country fell into the Soviets sphere of influence its neighbours would follow and the surrounding areas would fall to communism like a row of dominoes

  • Lowe 2002.

The theory was originally applied to Eastern European states but then applied to Asia.

The domino theory was emerged as the United States attended the Geneva Conference and saw that North Vietnam was being handed over to communist part of the country. It was popularised in 1954 by Eisenhower.

Example: Vietnam China becoming communist ultimately set the scene for intervention in Vietnam. Both the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations believed that the fall of the weak South Vietnamese state would set off a domino effect through which neighbouring countries would face successful challenges for power by their communist parties supported by an aggressive Chinese regime.

The failure in Vietnam brought about the realisation by the US that the domino theory, seen as Soviet communist expansionism, did not reflect reality and was in fact Cold War propaganda.

Due to this theory the US redoubled efforts to consolidate a worldwide anti-communist alliance-

NATO was established to support armed resistance to communist forces in Western Europe

SEATO (South East Asian Treaty Organisation) formed between the US, Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Thailand and the Philippines. It was established to support armed resistance to communist forces in Asia and the Pacific and also the US signed ANZUS treaty with Australia and New Zealand.

Peaceful Co-existence
What is peaceful co-existence?

The policy arose as a temptation to reduce hostility between the two superpowers, particularly in light of the possibility of nuclear war. The Soviet theory of peaceful coexistence asserted that the United States and USSR, and their respective political ideologies, could co-exist together rather than fighting one another, and Khrushchev tried to demonstrate his commitment to peaceful coexistence by attending international peace conferences, such as the Geneva Summit, and by travelling internationally.


  • In 1953 Joseph Stalin died and was replaced as Soviet leader by Nikita Khrushchev – softening in the Soviet attitude

  • In 1960 Khrushchev spoke of the possibilities of ‘peaceful co-existence’ – the challenge, he argued, was to avoid confrontation between the “groups of countries in which the two systems reign supreme” – “You do not like communism. We do not like capitalism. There is only one way out – peaceful coexistence”

  • After denouncing Stalin, Khrushchev realized he needed to maintain the military power of the USSR, improve its agricultural system, increase its manufacturing, supply with more consumer goods, maintain a balance between the satellite states and also balance US- Soviet relations while holding together the world wide communist movement. Thus a period of peace was needed.

  • Khrushchev was aware that the Soviet Union needed time to rebuild to effectively challenge the US, and the looming threat of Nuclear holocaust and the doctrine of ‘mutually assured destruction’ made it clear that a compromise had to be made

  • The fact that the arms race was picking up made Khrushchev realise if the Soviets wanted to have any chance of competing with the US and hold face in their own country they had to have period where they could successfully “compete” without threat of war

  • The USA liked the move away from nuclear war and realised they could now change their foreign policy to a less openly hostile version and concentrate on pressing domestic issues

  • Peaceful co-existence was also announced because the Soviets wanted a military equivalent of NATO- which was the Warsaw Pact (1955).
     Although it was stressed by all that the Warsaw Treaty was based on total equality of each nation and mutual non-interference in one another's internal affairs, the Pact quickly became a powerful political tool for the Soviet Union to hold sway over its allies and harness the powers of their combined military.


  • Times when confrontation flared e.g. Cuban Missile Crisis

  • Signs of cooperation when confrontation was avoided e.g. when USSR did not get involved in Vietnam War (even though they backed North Vietnam)

  • It increased tensions around the globe as Khrushchev matched the US in taking economic and political competition to South East Asia, Africa and Latin America.

  • However it did also improve relations as the hostile relationship between the superpowers had eased down. They had started to communicate with/understand each other seen through Khrushchev’s Camp David visit and also numerous summit meetings.

  • The de-Stalinisation policy lead to a weakened soviet bloc in Eastern Europe seen as Hungary withdraws from the Warsaw Pact. However Khrushchev was still willing to be ruthless for Russian security

  • Continuation of space race.

Peaceful coexistence led to a number of summit meetings:




Geneva Summit


  • Between Khrushchev and Eisenhower

  • Significant points of disagreement; the USA rejected Khrushchev’s proposal to disband both NATO and the Warsaw pact, while the Soviet Union dismissed Eisenhower’s suggestion that both sides allow aerial reconnaissance of military installations.

  • However, both sides agreed to the reunification of Austria.

Paris Summit


  • Between Khrushchev and Eisenhower

  • Discussed Berlin, East Germany and peaceful coexistence

  • Meeting disrupted by U2 crisis – U2 crisis contributed to Khrushchev’s downfall – he wanted to trust the USA, but Soviet hawks criticised his friendship towards Eisenhower

Vienna Summit


  • Between Kennedy and Khrushchev

  • Little agreement

  • Kennedy recovering from Bay of Pigs – Khrushchev fearful that US aid to poor countries would stop the spread of communism

  • Khrushchev demanded a favourable solution to the Berlin situation

Nuclear Test Ban Treaty


  • Kennedy and Khrushchev

  • Banned nuclear testing in space, in the atmosphere and underwater

  • Led to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – limited nuclear weapons to those countries that already had them

  • Ironically, as the two superpowers built up their stores of nuclear weapons, peaceful coexistence became more possible – as long as they knew they could impose damage on the other the relationship could remain stable

Moscow Summit


  • Between Nixon and Brezhnev

  • Strategic Arms Limitation Talks

  • Both sides signed the SALT I Agreement

  • Both sides also agreed to avoid military confrontation and work towards peaceful coexistence

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