Reading 2: International History 1945-2000 H2 (9731) us policy of Containment: Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and Containment

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Reading 2: International History 1945-2000 H2 (9731)
US Policy of Containment: Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and Containment
By the end of 1947 the establishment of two opposing blocs, USA with its Western allies on the one side and the USSR with its Eastern European satellite states was largely in place. Two situations in southern Europe in 1946 and 1947 further accelerated the decline in U.S. -Soviet relations.

In Turkey, the Soviet government sought to control passage of ships through the Dardanelles, the straits that connect the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. When Turkey refused, the Soviet Union threatened to take action. Great Britain backed Turkey.

In Greece, a civil war was being fought between the royalist government supported by Great Britain and Communist insurgents supported by Communist Yugoslavia. The United States considered it Great Britain's problem until in 1947, when London notified Washington it could not long aid Greece or Turkey because of its war-weakened economy. Britain’s predicament was a shock to the US. The Turkish government might accede to Soviet demands if it was unable to obtain military aid. It meant that Greek government too would fall to the insurgents. A package of aid was thus given Greece and Turkey. This was the Marshall plan.

In 1947, Truman declared that it must be “the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by out­side pressure". This policy became known as the Truman Doctrine. The American Congress supported Truman's request for $400 million of aid for Greece and Turkey. The almost two ­century-old U.S. tradition of remaining aloof from European affairs (policy of isolationism) except during wartime was abandoned.

The US Strategy of Containment

The Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan were the first two linchpins of what became the US strategy of containment. With the economy of Europe in shambles, the US now feared that their economic plight would render them vulnerable to the spread of communism.

The Marshall Plan

The Marshall Plan was a key turning point in the development of the two blocs and the origins of the Cold War. It was both a cause and consequence of growing fears and tensions. In June 1947, George Marshall called on European states to draw up a plan for economic assistance to be provided by the United States. Some Historians believe that the primary aim of the Marshall Plan was to enable the American economy to dominate Western Europe as part of a multilateral trading system. Others argue that it was a reaction to growing fears about the spread of communism.

The reality is that all the concerns were mutually reinforcing. Whatever the motivation, Western Europe did not need such large scale aid. Certain countries were in fact well on the road to economic recovery. No doubt, the USA wanted European integration for its own self interest and economic imperialism. However the US did offer something to attract European governments into a voluntary association with it economically.
Aims of the Marshall Plan

  • Resolve the German problem satisfactorily

  • Achieve European economic integration

  • To tie the western zones of Germany into a system of economic cooperation to prevent the revival of German economic power

  • To make it difficult for communists to take control of Western European governments

How the Soviets viewed the Marshall Plan

The Soviets saw the Marshall Plan as an American attempt to undermine their position in Germany and Eastern Europe. Molotov (Russian Foreign Minister) was convinced that the Americans were trying to create an anti-Soviet bloc including the Western zones of Germany. Russia assumed that the Marshall Plan was designed to draw Western and Eastern Europe into the American economic orbit thereby isolating Russia and creating a revived Germany.

Economic Success of the MP

In its first year of operation (1948-1949), the Marshall Plan provided more than $13 billion to European states to rebuild. It helped to revive European economies to some extent. It improved the standard of living of a number of European countries. It enhanced both European and Ameri­can security by preventing communist parties from winning elections throughout West­ern Europe.

However, some Historians felt that the Marshall Plan itself was not anything dramatically new in Washington’s relations with Western Europe. The economic assistance given during the years 1945-47 was, in fact, greater per year than it was during the Marshall plan from 1948 to 1951. But the MP was innovative in its organizational form, and it was given in a few large portions, not in many smaller installments. (Geir Lundestad; 2005 p. 16)
Consequences of the Marshall Plan

The Cold War consequences of the MP were momentous. It reflected the American belief that the economic rebuilding of Western Europe was more important to USA than just cooperation with the Soviets. The Soviet response was to end the commission to form an interim German government. The soviets began to strengthen its hold over Eastern Europe which by February 1948 extended to Czechoslovakia. According one historian, the Soviet response to the MP was essentially defensive.

In July, the Soviets came up with Molotov Plan, a series of bilateral agreements linking the Soviet Union with Eastern European countries. This was the Soviet economic response to the Marshall Plan. It was the forerunner of the COMECON, the Mutual Economic Assistance established in 1949.
The Cold War became entrenched

By 1948, Europe was divided. In Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union exercised growing power and control. The Soviet Union ran East Germany. Soviet-supported Communist leaders consolidated their power in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Rumania. But the Soviet control of Eastern Europe was not complete. Czechoslovakia in early 1948 remained democratic, and in Yugoslavia a communist government under Josip Broz Tito regularly disagreed with Soviet policies. The split between the two countries became public in 1948, and the US began to provide economic and military assistance to Tito’s government to help it maintain independence from Moscow.

In 1948 two events drove the wedge between East and West deeper and finalised the division of Europe that existed until 1989. The first was the communist coup in Czechoslovakia. Governed since World War II by a democratically elected socialist-oriented government, the country in 1948 fell victim to a communist coup. The second event was the Berlin blockade, which began in 1948 as the Soviet Union cut off Western access to the divided city and tried to prevent the Western powers from issuing a new currency in their zones of Germany. The United States responded with the Berlin airlift, during which American military planes supplied all the needs of the residents of Berlin until the blockade was finally lifted in 1949.
The Berlin Crisis

The London Conference on 6 March 1948 discussed zonal policy in Germany, with a view to establishing a West German state. Stalin objected to the currency reforms broached and so the Soviets were excluded from the discussion. The Soviet representative of the Council, Sokolovsky walked out of the meeting.

Stalin used a strategy of both coercion and diplomacy to prevent the formation of a West German state. The initial coercion took the form of restricting the movement of allied personnel entering Berlin by rail and road from 1 April. When the new currency was introduced in the Western zones of Germany, the Soviets closed all surface routes into West Berlin on 24 June.
This could have been a desperate Soviet attempt to prevent the creation of a potentially threatening West German state or a calculated move to drive the West out of Berlin. Stalin could also be trying to reopen talks on the future of Germany as a whole. And if the blockade failed at least it would enhance the prospects of a Soviet-controlled East German state.
The West saw this as intimidation on the part of the Soviets and took it as a form of challenge from the latter. It mounted an airlift to get supplies into the city of Berlin. Stalin then offered to lift the blockade in August 1948 in return for the setup of Council of Foreign Ministers to discuss the future of Germany. He later offered to end the blockade if the establishment of a West German state was postponed. The airlift became a major operation which lasted 324 days. 13,000 tonnes of supplies were airlifted each day.
The Berlin crisis could be seen as a symbolic crisis in a city which came to epitomize Cold War tensions until 1989. The impact of the Berlin Crisis was mainly the militarization of the Cold War and the formation of NATO. It is more plausible to view the crisis as a justification for the Cold War. The crisis has also been interpreted as an example of aggressive Soviet move, designed to control a communist Germany. In truth, it probably stemmed from Soviet fears of a capitalist Germany being used as part of an anti- Soviet bloc.

The United States and eleven other countries in 1949 signed the North Atlantic Treaty, which stated that all signatory states considered "an armed attack against one or more. . . an attack against them all." In 1950, treaty members created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a regional defense alliance to implement the treaty and deter Soviet aggression.21 NATO became a central piece of the United States' containment strategy.

Truman believed that the United States should extend foreign aid to underde­veloped areas of the world to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Communists. This became the basis for American economic assistance to the underdeveloped world. Much of the economic assistance went to a few strategically important states such as Israel and Egypt.
China’s Fall to the Communists

The Truman Administration faced several security challenges in 1949. In China, Mao Zedong and his Chinese Communist Party triumphed over Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang Nationalist Party in the Chinese Civil War. The American public was appalled by this turn of events. Suddenly it seemed that one-fifth of the world population had fallen under communist rule. Just as disturbing was the news of the Soviet explosion of an atomic bomb in 1949. This ended American monopoly on nuclear weapons.

The NSC-68 Report of USA :1950

In 1950, the NSC-68 report of the Defense Department reviewed American security policy. It was a classified report written in 1950 and issued by the United States National Security Council in 1950 during the presidency of Harry Truman. The document was inspired by George Kennan and his "long telegram" in 1946. It called for a massive American rearmament. Perhaphs more than any other document of the period, NSC-68 can claim to be the bible of American national security policy…”

The document outlined the National Security Strategy of the United States and analyzed the capabilities of the Soviet Union and of the United States of America from military, economic, political, and psychological standpoints.

The report argued that the Soviet Union had a systematic strategy aimed at the spread of Communism across the entire world. It recommended that USA adopt a policy of containment to stop the further spread of Communism. The Soviet Union intended to become the single dominant world power and remake international society through Communist expansion of Soviet authority. NSC-68 would shape the US government actions for the next 20 years. In a way the Report caused Cold War to be entrenched. Hence it has been labeled as the "blueprint" for the Cold War.

NSC-68 called for a massive buildup of and an increase in funding for the armed forces in an effort to contain the Soviets. NSC-68 outlined a drastic foreign policy shift from defensive to active containment and advocated aggressive military preparedness.

Criticism of NSC 68

NSC 68's rhetoric was not in touch with reality. It painted the Kremlin (Moscow) as being driven solely for world conquest. It disregarded evidence that did not fit that image. In fact many of the American top officials themselves (in the Truman administration) did not agree with it. For example, Kennan, although "father" of the containment policy, too disagreed with the document.

President Truman himself did not believe in the view of the NSC 68. Long after the Soviets had detonated an atomic device Truman had sought to cut military spending. However he was to change his mind.

On June 25, 1950 North Korean forces moved across the 38th parallel in their attempt to unify the two Koreas. The Korean War had begun. In light of this, NSC 68 took on new importance. "Korea . . . created the stimulus which made action" (Princeton Seminars, October 10, 1950, reel 2, track 2, p. 15, Acheson Papers, Truman Library, Independence, Missouri).

Truman officially signed NSC 68 on September 30, 1950, but by then the massive rearmament program was already being implemented. In subsequent months and years, "[t]he new ideology . . . dominated the national security discourse. Indeed, national security concerns became the common currency of most policy makers, the arbiter of most values, the key to America's new identity" (Hogan, A Cross of Iron, pp. 311-13).
The Korean War

At the end of World War II, Korea had been divided into two zones to facilitate Japanese surrender, the northern one occupied by the Soviets and the southern one by the Americans. This division remained until North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950, initiating the Korean War. It is now clear that Moscow had given its consent to the attack. North Korea as dependent on the Soviet Union for weapons, receiving substantial supplies in April-May 1950. The North Koran leader Kim Il Sung was dependent on Moscow to a great extent. In fact he contacted Stalin numerous times to request his consent to an invasion in the South, a consent that was finally given in the spring of 1950. Mao too had consented to the invasion.

Invasion : June-September 1950
In the pre-dawn hours of June 25, 1950, North Korea sent an invasion force across the 38th parallel into South Korea. The Northern forces rapidly advanced southward against the ill-equipped defenders, taking the Southern capital Seoul three days after the invasion began. The United Nations condemned North Korea's attack.
Counter Attack : September-October 1950
U.N. forces, under the command of U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, landed near Seoul on September 15, 1950. U.N. forces overwhelmed the Northern troops in South Korea. Seoul was taken by U.N. forces on September 26. U.N. forces moved north of the 38th parallel, capturing the Northern capital Pyongyang on October 19. This violated the US objective to return to the situation that had existed before the war. As fighting neared the Chinese border, China entered the war, sending massive forces across the Yalu River. U.N. forces, largely American, retreated once again in bitter fighting and then slowly recovered and fought their way back to the 38th parallel.

When MacArthur violated the principle of civilian control of the military by attempting to orchestrate public support for bombing China and permitting an invasion of the mainland by Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalist Chinese forces, Truman charged him with insubordination and relieved him of his duties, replacing him with General Matthew Ridgeway.

Truce talks began in July 1951. The two sides finally reached an agreement in July 1953, during the first term of Dwight Eisenhower, Truman's successor.


Armistice: January 1951-July 1953

Truce talks began on July 10, 1951. By the time the armistice was signed in 1953, U.N. casualties were estimated at more than 550,000. North Korean and Chinese casualties were believed to be around 1.5 million. As part of the cease-fire, both sides agreed to withdraw 2 kilometers along the final battleground and establish a demilitarized zone along the armistice line - a zone that still exists today. (

Results of the Korean War

Clearly there was to be limitations on US anti-communist involvement in Asia. Nuclear weapons would not be used in Korea. The Korean War resulted in a deterioration of the relations between China and USA. US policy towards China became even harsher than towards the Soviet Union. Trade and virtually all contact were severed. The US was to increase its economic and military aid to Taiwan to prevent a communist takeover from mainland China.

Eisenhower and Containment

The growth of U.S.-Soviet tensions and the frustrations of the Korean War played a significant role in the 1952 presidential election, in which former General Dwight Eisenhower emerged victorious.

The Republicans, especially Eisenhower's Secretary of State John Foster Dulles condemned Truman's containment policy as immoral, arguing that it "condemned half the world" to live under communism. Dulles called for the "rollback of communism, “ "liberation" of Eastern Europe and China, and the implementation of a policy of massive retaliation under which the United States would employ nuclear weapons a Soviet Union if the Soviets attempted to expand territories under their control.
Eisenhower's intent was to counter and contain the Soviet Union. Thus, during the 1950s, Eisenhower and Dulles created alliances additional to NATO to contain the Soviet Union. Eventually, the U.S. alliance system included the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization, the Central Treaty Organization, the Australia-New Zealand-United States (ANZUS) pact and bilateral security agreements with Japan and Taiwan.26 U.S. policy generally supported the UN, but the UN could do little because it was tied up by proce­dures that allowed any of the five permanent members of the Security Council to veto any action with which they disagreed.
The U.S.-Soviet relations were to vacillate (swing) throughout Eisenhower’s Presidency. Dur­ing the first three years, U.S.-Soviet tension eased substantially because an armistice ended fighting in Korea. In 1955, Eisenhower and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev met at a summit meeting in Geneva to improve relations between the two superpowers. This was the first meeting between leaders of the two countries since 1945. The meeting was friendly but it accomplished little.
In 1956, however, the "Spirit of Geneva" vanished when Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary to quell an anti-communist uprising there. At the same time, British, French, and Israel forces invaded Egypt. The United States found itself in a difficult situation, unable to help a revolution in Hungary that it condoned, yet critical of its own allies for initiating an invasion that it opposed. Tensions escalated further in 1957 when the Soviet Union launched the world's first earth satellite, Sputnik, and threatened to use its missiles if it had to.
The Soviet Union in 1958 also increased pressure on Berlin in the first of several Berlin crises. West Berlin, deep within and surrounded by Soviet troops in Soviet-occupied East Germany, was vulnerable to Soviet pressure as had been the situation during the Ber1in blockade. Khrushchev next issued an ultimatum that he intended to sign a peace treaty with communist East Germany, thereby formalizing the division of Germany into two states. East-West tension escalated as confrontational rhetoric increased and armed forces were placed on high alert. However, with the specter of nuclear weapons in the back­ground, tension dissipated with careful diplomacy. Indeed, East-West relations improved so much that, in 1959. Khrushchev visited the United States.
Improved relations were short-lived. In 1960, an American U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union just before Eisenhower and Khrushchev held a summit meet­ing in Paris. The summit collapsed, rhetoric escalated, and tension remained high throughout the remaining months of Eisenhower's presidency. During this period, nuclear weapons and deterrence played major roles in U.S strategy. The theory behind deterrence was that if a potential enemy intended to attack but knew he would in turn be attacked, he would not attack. As the United States and the Soviet Union developed large nuclear arsenals during the 1950s and 1960s, a new version of deterrence developed mutual assured destruction (MAD). The theory underlying MAD was that both the United States and the Soviet Union were deterred from launching a nuclear attack because each knew that if they attacked first, their enemy would still have enough nuclear weapons remaining to destroy the attacker as a functioning society.
American Foreign Policy Principles

By the beginning of the 1960s, the world was divided into two hostile camps. This East-West conflict pitted one group of states called the First World, led by the United States against a second group of states, the Second World, led by the Soviet Union.

The two superpowers and their allies were not only confrontational to each other but sought to increase their influence in and control over a third group of states, the Third World which consisted primarily of African, Middle Eastern, and Asian states that were former colonies of European powers. Most of the Third World countries were economically underdeveloped and poverty stricken. Many adopted a nonaligned policy, i.e. to be part of the Nonaligned Movement. They were not allied to either of the two superpowers although they received economic and military assistance from any state who offered it. Latin American states were considered as part of the Third World by the US, although most of them were its allies and were within the American sphere of influence.
Containment remained the basis of the U.S. foreign policy, implemented via a combination of the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, NATO, the worldwide American alliance system, U.S. conventional and nuclear armed forces deployed at forward positions around the world, and other U.S. economic and military assistance programs.
For the US, the containment policy fit well with American foreign policy concepts of pragmatism and moralism. The American public during this period viewed communism as morally wrong, a dangerous, godless and dictatorial philosophy. They felt that the US had to adopt pragmatic policies and even support authoritarian governments to contain communism. Many Americans accepted the need to discard isolationism and unilateralism as principles of foreign policy. Some Americans called for their return, but most agreed that if the United States and the West were to counter the Soviet Union and communism successfully, involvement and multilateralism were necessary.
By the early 1960s, although the competing themes, isolationism versus involvement and idealism versus realism, remained prominent in American foreign policy, and a new set of competing themes, unilateralism versus multilateralism, had appeared. Americans generally accepted the need for involvement over isolationism, and realism generated in American foreign policies. In fact the conflict the United States and the Soviet Union was often regarded as a struggle between good and evil that could be decided by military force. Americans saw idealism and realism as opposite sides of the same coin. The American leaders felt that the Soviet threat could only be met by multilateral policies. Multilateralism had now become the key element of American foreign policy. Even so, supporters of unilateralism remained vocal and influential.

Daniel S. Papp, Lock K. Johnson, John E. Endicott. American Foreign Policy. (Longman: 2005)

John W. Young and John Kent. International Relations since 1945 (OUP:2004)

Geir Lundestad. East, West, North, South. Major Developments in International Relations Since 1945. (London: 2005)

A Level Questions

2006 (June): How far do you agree that neither the USA nor the USSR intended to cause the Cold War?

Or: to what extent did the USA attempt to ‘roll back’ communism, rather than merely contain it, in the period 1950 to 1985?
2004 : ‘More a series of separate regional conflicts than a single global war.’ How far do you agree with this view of the Cold War in the period 1950-80?
Or: Analyse the view that US military intervention in Vietnam was ‘more a necessity than a tragic error.
2003: ‘The Marshall Plan caused the division of Europe and thus the Cold War.’ Discuss this assertion.
2003: ‘The Cold War became truly global only after 1962.’ How far does your study of the Cold War in the period 1950-80 support this view?
Or: How far do you agree that the motives of the two superpowers in intervening in the various Arab-Israeli conflicts of the period 1956-1989 were essentially the same?
2002: How far has the historical debate about the origins of the Cold War changed since the collapse of the USSR in 1991?
2002: ‘The globalization of the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s is clear evidence that both the USA and the USSR had expansionist ambitions.’ Discuss.
Or : Analyse the impact of the Cuban revolution on American policy towards Cuba in the period to 1962.
CW Reading 2_07

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