Week 7 Discussion: American Foreign Policy during the Cold War

By 1947, The U.S. had developed a clear policy of containment toward the Soviet Union, striving to prevent the spread of Communism through economic, diplomatic, and military measures. The United States pursued a geopolitical strategic policy (containment) in order to check the expansionist policy of the Soviet Union.it is loosely related to the term cordon sanitaire which was later used to describe the geopolitical containment of the Soviet Union in the 1940’s. The strategy of “containment” is best known as a Cold War foreign policy of the United states and its allies to prevent the spread of communism after the end of World War II. The U.S. diplomat George F. Kennan, wrote an anonymous article in July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs that the United States should pursue a Long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies in the hope that the regime would mellow or collapse. The policy was implemented in the Truman Doctrine of 1947, which guaranteed immediate economic and military aid to Greece and Turkey, and the middle Eastern countries resisting communist aggression (OpenStax. (2019).

The Politics of the Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program, ERP) was the American initiative to aid Europe, in which the United States gave economic support to help rebuild European destroyed economies. It aimed to feed the people, after the end of World War II in order to prevent the spread of Soviet Communism. He secretary of state believed that the stability of European governments depended on the economic stability of the people. Europe needed to rebuild transportation hubs, roads, agriculture, factories, and cities that suffered major losses during the long war. The United States was the only major power that had not suffered damage during the war. It made sense that America step in to help rebuild (OpenStax. (2019).

Marshall saw communism as a threat to European stability. The Soviet Union’s sphere of influence increased during World War II, and tensions between Eastern and Western Europe intensified. The Soviet Union believed that the Marshall Plan was a way to meddle in the internal affairs of European countries. That belief prevented Soviet satellite countries, such as Poland and Czechoslovakia from accepting assistance from the United States. It also caused, at least in part, the Soviet unions’ economy to be significantly outpaced by those of western Europe and the U.S. Marshall earned the Nobel Peace prize in 1953 for his efforts, but the lasting effects of the plan went well into the future (Spalding, Elizabeth Edwards).

The reliance on American aid opened up trading avenue between Europe and the United States. Without American intervention, Europe’s vast network of railroads, highways, and airports would not exist in contemporary society.

In response to the Soviet blockade of land routes into West Berlin, the United States begins a massive airlift of food, water, and medicine to the citizens of the besieged city. For nearly a year, supplies from American planes sustained the over 2 million people in West Berlin.

On June 24, 1948, the Soviet Union blocked all road and rail travel to and from West berlin, which was located within the Soviet Zone of occupation in Germany. The Soviet zone of occupation in Germany. The Soviet action was in response to the refusal of American and British officials to allow Russia more say in the economic future of Germany. The U.S. Government was shocked by the provocative Soviet move, and some in president Harry S. Truman’s administration called for a direct military response. Truman, however, did not want to cause World War III. Instead, he ordered a massive airlift planes took off from bases in England and Western Germany and landed in West Berlin (Spalding, Elizabeth Edwards). It was a daunting logistical task to provide food, clothing, water, medicine, and other necessities of life for the over 2 million fearful citizens of the city. By the time the Soviets ended the blockade, west Germany had become a separate and independent nation and the Russian failure was complete.

The Cold War is one of the major events of the postwar era. Keenan was the U.S. ambassador who warned the U.S. about the Soviet Unions totalitarian regime and that they were not willing to peacefully coexist with the the U.S. He suggested we try our best to contain soviet influence (Openstax 28.2). Keenan’s strategy was to contain Soviet power and communism with system of alliances and foreign aid. He was sure that, when pressured, Stalin would back down and had no true intentions of destroying the United States. Keenan’s ideas became the basis of Marshall Plan. It became clear to some, like Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev, that the Soviet Union could not sustain itself economically or militarily (2009, pg. 469). Though the American economy was doing great after WWII, the European economy was a different story. They were trying to rebuild factories and intrastructure and starvation was rampant. Communism was spreading with the promise of survival and stability. The U.S. passed The Marshall Plan which gave to European nations to rebuild in hopes that they would choose freedom and unity over communism. The Soviet Union refused to accept aid from the Marshall Plan even though it could have used it, regarding it as a form of bribery (Openstax 28.2). The Soviet Unions hatred of the U.S. and democracy soon boiled into the Cold War. Reagan was so concerned for Americans safety that he proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) or “Star Wars,”. This called for the development of a defensive shield to protect the United States from a Soviet missile strike. Unfortunately the science did not exist yet and there was fear that it would violate existing treaties with the Soviet Union anyway.


OpenStax. (2019). U.S. history. OpenStax CNX. Retrieved from https://cnx.org/contents/p7ovulkl@6.18:gMXC1GEM@7/IntroductionLinks to an external site.

Schultz, K. M. (2009). HIST: Volume 1: U.S. History through 1877.  Wadsworth Publishing.

Hi Samantha, I remember this time well as we practiced hiding under our desks in case of a nuclear attack. 

This week I chose to review the Marshall Plan, Containment, and the Berlin Airlift for my discussion of foreign policy and the fear of communism and expansion. 

Containment as a policy was suggested by George Kennan who served the U.S as an ambassador in Moscow. In a very long telegram, he outlined that he did not believe that a peaceful coexistence could be achieved with the Soviet Union and the United States being in such power. He indicated that the Soviet Union was on track to eliminate their enemies and take over and spread communism to weaker countries.  Keenan urged a policy of containment where the United States would provide economic relief and support for countries under siege to become communist.  (Corbett, et. al. 2014)

The Marshall Plan was introduced by George Marshall to help Europe, devastated by the war, rebuild.  Countries that were not unable to sustain themselves and had unstable economies and government were considered at risk for communist occupation.  Unlike the Treaty of Versailles, which was punitive and was a bruise to the Germans, this plan offered Economic relief to any countries in need that would be willing to work with the U.S. and purchase U.S goods and services.  Which in turn, helped build the U.S. economy. (Hein, 2017)      

Both Germany and the city of Berlin found itself divvied into quadrants held by the United States, France, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. The goal was to get the states to unify and develop infrastructure and their own economy.  When they organized to do this and publish the first currency, the Soviet Union responded by blocking off the city and limiting access. The goal was to starve the citizens and leave them with dwindling medical supplies.  United States, France, and Britain knew the citizens were in dire straights and so they flew planes over the cities and dropped supplies to the citizens. This was a very successful campaign and saved the citizens until the Soviets conceded and reopened the routes to the city. (Smith, 2003)

These three initiatives help to avoid outright military conflict with the Soviet Union while trying to support the citizen’s relief to discourage them from communism.  I believe that power needs to have balance and with two large countries with nuclear weapons, seeking economic and global power is a concern.

Corbett, P.S., Janssen, V., Lund V., Pfannestiel, T., Waskiew, S, V., (2014) U.S. History. https://openstax.org/books/us-history/pages/28-2-the-cold-warLinks to an external site.

Hein, D. (2017) The Marshall Plan. Modern Age. 59 (1) Pg. 7-18

 Smith, W. T. (2003). Berlin blockade and airlift. In Encyclopedia of the Central Intelligence Agency. New York: Facts On File. Retrieved October 12, 2020, from online.infobase.com/Auth/Index?aid=239824&itemid=WE52&articleId=166880.

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