How did the United States attempt to stop the spread of communism and influence international security?

At the close of the Second World War in 1945, Stalin, Churchill and F Roosevelt met in Yalta to discuss how Germany was to be defeated as well as other crucial post-war issues. Stalin agreed to grant Bulgaria, Romania and Poland the right to free elections after the war was over, however when the war ended, this promise was quickly broken and communist governments were promptly installed (Aboukhadijeh, 2012). Stalin’s betrayal shocked the US and the Allies, making them fear that the Soviet Union would attempt to spread communism throughout all of Europe. This marked the end of the alliance between the Soviet Union and the West, and the beginning of a rivalry of a completely different kind, a new rivalry of ideologies. After the Second World War, the United States and the Soviet Union had many disagreements over how best to rebuild Europe. Unsurprisingly, both sides thought their own political and economic system would be better. The United States implemented the Marshall plan to reconstruct and rebuilt Europe, investing around 13 billion USD between 1948 and 1952. Under the Marhsall Plan, trade barriers would be removed and free flow of goods would prevail. It was highly successful in Western Europe, allowing the newly booming economies to successfully halt the spread of communism in Europe (Aboukhadijeh, 2012). At the same time, the Berlin Airlift occurred, providing supplies to West Berlin in response to the Berlin Blockade by the Soviet Union (which aimed at establishing control over the whole city by forcing it to rely on Soviety fuel and food).  Both allegedly were concerned with their security primarily, however this seems contentious. It may have been more about expansionism, especially spreading their own ideologies as a method for combatting the other. The United States implemented various policies to attempt to the spread of communism, chiefly the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. These two policies had the necessary corollary of engaging in warfare in countries that were in danger of being overwhelmed by communism. The opposite is true in the case of the Soviet Union, where the government attempted to win over countries with communist ideals to tackle US ideals of capitalism.

One of the first steps in the US’ attempt to stop the spread of communism was learning about its enemy. This was achieved with the help of an expert on the Soviet Union named Keenan. Keenan drafted an 8000 word telegram which helped the US leaders gain greater insights into the background and mentality of Soviets like Stalin (Aboukhadijeh, 2012). Keenan warned that the USSR “ruthlessly expansionary” whilst being cautious; that left unchecked, they would attempt to expand their regime at any time and in any place (Aboukhadijeh, 2012). Keenan asserted that this cautious nature allowed the US to avoid direct military engagements, and thus a policy of “firm and vigilant containment” would be able to control the Soviet threat. This information and advice was pivotal in subsequent US foreign policy in the administrations of Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy, and then later modified by Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

The Truman Doctrine is a policy of President Harry S Truman announced in 1947. It decrees that communism must be considered a threat to democracy, and states the USA would not intervene in or support countries which freely chose to adopt communism, but that assistance would be granted to countries which requested it (historylearningsite.co.uk 2011). The Truman Doctrine had a clearly strategic bearing to it, according to Truman, it would be “the policy of the United States to support free people who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” Upon England’s request, the US utilized some of the $400 million in their engagement with Greece to prevent the fall of Greece, and then potentially Turkey, to communists (Aboukhadijeh, 2012). The Truman Doctrine had many far reaching repercussions, most importantly, that it drove a wedge between the USSR and US much deeper, creating a polarized world marked by the Iron Curtain whereby nations basically had to choose between the two poles (Aboukhadijeh, 2012).

The formation of the North Atlantic Free Trade Organization was a hugely significant attempt at fighting Communism on a worldwide scale; signed by 12 countries, it meant that in the case of an attack on any member, all other members would take action against the perpetrator. All of the members contributed to the NATO military force, relying on American nuclear weapons to threaten the Soviet Union and thus deter their expansion into Europe. Nuclear weapons were particularly important since the number of troops mobilized by the Warsaw Pact substantially outnumbered those of NATO.

Militarily, the US engaged in warfare with countries threatened by communism. The US became involved in South Korea to prevent the North Koreans from taking over the country. They also got involved in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in order to combat the threat from the Communist North (which was supported by the Soviets).The War dragged on two decades. The US intervened in Latin America during the Cold War in various places; Guatemala, Granada, Cuba and Nicaragua most notably. In the Middle East too, the US became involved in Israel and Egypt (especially to solve the Suez Canal Crisis). Generally, the US provided support and aid to those countries who rejected communism, later seen as unethical since the US government supported regimes in African states like Zimbabwe simply because their governments agreed to subscribe to American ideology and reject Soviet communism.  In terms of international security, the US and its Allies saw military intervention in these areas as pivotal for fighting communism.

References:

Aboukhadijeh, F. 2012 “Containment” [online]. http://www.apstudynotes.org/us-history/topics/containment/. [Accessed: 17 Mar 2013]

Historylearningsite.co.uk 2011. The Truman Doctrine. [online] Available at: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/truman_doctrine.htm [Accessed: 17 Mar 2013].

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