The Policy of Containment During the Cold War
During the Cold War, both the US and USSR were afraid of each other’s every move. While the Soviet Union was busy spreading communism, the United States was determined to ensure that it offered every support to ensure that communism would not spread to every country. Emphasis was laid particularly on countries that had great importance to the US. The US hence developed the policy of containment as a strategy against the Soviets. This paper will cover the premises underpinning this policy, how it was manifested throughout the war, and prove its irrelevance to the U.S today.
The containment policy was a method used by the U.S. to curb the spread of communism and also avoid the domino effect. Although the most emphasis was laid on Europe, it was supposed to be worldwide in scope. In a way, the US was also trying to maintain its influence abroad. This was a necessary move given that the U.S.S.R was busy spreading its communist tenets to other neighboring nations such as Eastern Europe, the Republic of China, North Korea, and Vietnam. The policy was put in force after George Kenan’s report to the department of defense in 1946 (Bernstein 17).
In the report, Kenan pointed out that that the Soviet Union had stepped up its war on capitalism and it had top men in capitalist countries under their control. As expected, the US had to come up with a strategy to counter the spread of communism. A strategy had to be developed to ensure that capitalist countries were not converted to communism. So, George Esley and Clark Clifford tried to expand on the report and came up with the idea of preventing the Soviet Union from spreading communism by confining them only to their country.
In its original form, the theory of containment was designed by George Kenan who believed that if left uncontrolled, communism would emerge winners in the antagonistic relationship between communism and capitalism. However, he was keen to point out that the threat by the Soviet Union was not military. Therefore, military approaches would not offer a lasting solution. What the situation called for were economic and ideological approaches which were what the Soviet Union was using. The policy was designed to ensure that the US assumed a case analysis of each country and offer appropriate support to countries giving more priority to those that offered more importance to the United States. To these countries, maximum possible economic and military support would be given to protect the US interests. For instance, industrial strengths like Japan and Germany were to receive more attention as compared to Vietnam or Iran which had no substantial importance to the US. According to Hixson (5), the policy was not an establishment of allegiance to US or USSR as central protagonists. Despite the bipolar world, the policy was aimed at forming independent powers around the world from which American interests would be promoted.
The policy of containment was a policy aimed at employing military, economic and diplomatic strategies to counter and check the spread of communist ideas. By employing this strategy, the United States intended to ensure that their security abroad was guaranteed. Furthermore, it would assist them to maintain their influence on other nations.
The policy of containment was manifested in different ways during the war. Although it was marked by changing approaches over administrations, it is clear that continuity in overarching US strategy was evident in all approaches. It started with President Truman in the year 1947 immediately the second report came from the then U.S.S.R ambassador. He requested the congress in his speech to allocate 400 million dollars to the governments of Greece and Turkey in a bid to fight communism and also protect the free people who didn’t want communism. This way, the Truman doctrine came to. This brought a clash between the capitalists also known as the freemen and the communists characterized by totalitarianism. This is what led to the start of the cold war. President Truman tried to teach the U.S.S.R about ideologies that encouraged freedom such as democracy. President Truman used all means to make sure that there was no communist influence in Western Europe going to the extent of starting NATO, the Marshall Plan, and the European Recovery Plan. They tapped all communication and moves of the U.S.S.R using the C.I.A (Hixson 6).
In Korea, Truman had tried the rollback policy but failed due to the intervention of the Chinese. This made go him back to the policy of containment and he blamed this failure on Gen. Douglas MacArthur who had greatly advocated for the rollback policy. The General refused to associate with Truman’s policy of containment or “No win policy.”
Nixon also embraced the policy of containment. It was known as detente which meant reducing the tension. However, it had the same purpose of barring the U.S.S.R from spreading its communism policy. He tried to go into talks with the U.S.S.R government over nuclear weapons known as strategic arm limitation talks. He also reduced the number of military troops in Vietnam. This policy however became unpopular as the war went on. This policy was later abandoned after the Democrats pushed for the Case Church Amendment which stated that the U.S was not to get involved in Vietnam. Thus Vietnam was taken over by the communist (Bernstein 20).
When Jimmy Carter came to power he tried to emphasize human rights policy but again the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. He had to reuse the containment policy. The end of the cold ended the containment policy since it had served its purpose.
As we have gone through the premises underpinning containment policy and how it was manifested in the course of the war, we see that although this policy was helpful, it does not apply to contemporary society. This is particularly true considering that there were several negative effects associated with it. For instance, through this policy, several lives were ruined; there was the issue of nuclear crisis, the Vietnam War led to the sharp division of American opinion, undemocratic regimes in South America, the Cuban missile crisis et cetera. Considering such serious effects, it would be necessary that the policy is not adopted currently. However, if the policy is improved so that some contagious approaches are removed, it would serve as a good policy that would ensure that American interests are protected.
Bernstein, Barton. The Politics and Policies of the Truman Administration. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1970.
Hixson, George. George F. Kennan: Cold War Iconoclast. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.