U.S. global ‘containment’ policies since World War II Essay
The first attempts to rebuild the pre- World War II world during 1945 and 1947 failed. The Americans and the Europeans found themselves in bitter deviations with the Soviet Union on many fronts. In 1947, encouraged by threatened European economic fail and a new evaluation of Stalin’s aims, the United States reversed a century and a half of foreign policy to presume a series of new promises abroad economic, political, and military — under the general policy of “containment.” These commitments integrated a military guarantee to the security of Western Europe that is still in force almost fifty years later, and consequently a similar guarantee to Japan. A sequence of events brought a new consideration of the structure of world power: consolidation of Soviet control over Eastern Europe, the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia, the blockade of Berlin, the triumph of Mao Zedong in China, Communist Party assertiveness all through the world, and Soviet explosion of its own atom bomb in late 1949. In Europe, by 1950, reconstruction with large-scale American aid had finally begun to bear fruit and European leaders had taken the first tentative steps toward unity. A more or less stable world, divided into two great blocs, emerged to have developed.The realist approach crystallized in effect to earlier American trends to exaggerate the role of law and morality in the associations among sovereign states.
Carr, Morgenthau, Niebuhr, Walter Lippmann, Kennan, and Acheson headed the use of realist thought and influence in the early postwar period. Much of their disparagement of idealist tendencies focused on the reckless diplomatic hopes of Woodrow Wilson after 1918 that international relations could go above the messy domain of power politics and alliances. In the end, then, the realists persisted that America’s approach to relations with the outside world should take account of power dynamics if it was to accomplish something in the future. The European democracies recognized that their attempts at accession as an alternative to military resolve proceeding to World War II had made matters far worse. In retrospect, it became observable that the belligerence of Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and imperial Japan could simply have been met by superior military force or not at all.
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The lessons of Munich and Pearl Harbor were interpreted to mean that national interests could simply be defended by military strength, stable vigilance, and commitments to keep victims of aggression in distant places. There was also admiration that meeting aggression at an early stage achieved an economy of means as measured both by costs of warfare as well as human casualties. Standing up to Hitler in the Rhineland and elsewhere in the thirties would have been far more “economical” than the ordeal of World War II. The normal thinking was to secure peace requisite the country to be prepared for war in a way that would confront any likely opponent with the distinctive prospect of defeat.
This general disposition was resistant by a postwar consensus as to the character of the Soviet challenge, seen as instantaneously testing the will and capabilities of the industrial democracies. The Soviet pressure for supremacy in East Europe, disciplined and large communist parties in numerous key war-torn Western European countries, and the Soviet bid for an expansion of its influence to Greece and Turkey clinched the realist disagreement that the East-West rivalry was the central issue of postwar foreign policy. Realists were expectant to provide authoritative control for policymakers, including the warning that a recurrence of earlier patterns of sterile legalism and isolationist extraction from contested geopolitical zones would probable bring about an excruciating third world war in this century.Additionally, the realists offered themselves in a non-aggressive idiom, as a new diversity of peacemaker, and hence with a policy viewpoint that did not obviously threaten the still strong American image of ingenuousness and virtue. To the realists, even those who favored intrusion in the Third World, it was a matter of implementing the posture appropriate for a Hobbesian setting in which the most disparaging forces at large in international life will push apparent as far as they can until they are dissuaded by credible prospects of resistance and pain.
The realists were never explorers or “crazies.” They were mainly as worried concerning “macho” soldiers as they were by what they visualized to be the naiveté of nuclear pacifists and the outmoded romanticism of isolationists. The realist approach on the territory of policy was to confront a prospective aggressor with the view of pain greater than any expected gain, and to believe that an adversary was realistically receptive and was expected to be under such circumstances contained, or in nuclear settings, deterred.This approach to Soviet challenge requisites a western appreciation of the deeper rhythms of revolutionary nationalism, together with the realization that aggression could ensue indirectly by way of Moscow-controlled communist parties or by movements situated as Trojan horses in embattled foreign societies. The containment effort inevitably disposed realists to engage in overseas intervention diplomacy. Such a marriage of intellectual sophistication and power politics peaked throughout the Kennedy-Johnson years when “the best and the brightest” championed the Vietnam War as the embodiment of realist wisdom. For the sake of justice, there were realist defectors, like Ball, Morgenthau, and John Herz, who all along as realists in good standing questioned the practicability of the Vietnam undertaking and were usually opposed on grounds of national interests to U.
S. interventionary diplomacy elsewhere.Shared approaching into the significance of power and the dynamics of the war system in world politics was not constantly accompanied by policy consent. Those moderate realists who wielded the most productive influence in the postwar period were constantly alive to the particular risks of war in the nuclear age, to the hazards of taking on a range of foreign policy commitments that surpassed national capabilities, and to the constraints of public opinion and constitutionalism in a political democratic system.
The more militant realists were more willing to ideological understandings of conflict that made it hard to shift away from failed policies. They leaned to lessen diplomacy to military prowess and were uncomfortable concerning subordinating their broad goals to the requirements at home of democratic support and legitimate procedures. Throughout the postwar world there has been a dependable tug-of-war between modest and militant realists, a rhythm of to-and-fro that appeared to be guided by whether a given carriage was regarded as thriving or disappointing in relation to the overall protection of national interests.
Realists were also cognizant of the significance of centralized international economic management and Keynesian fiscal policies if a recurrence of world wide depression was to be evaded. The thirties fixed the image of a challenge to capitalism as stoutly on the postwar leadership in the United States as fascism had confront the stability of political democracy. Global planning for trade, currency exchange, and capital flows was estimated essential to the overall conception of security in the postwar world.And finally, the realist understanding opened the way after 1945 for Americans to take benefit of opportunities for U.
S. economic and diplomatic development. The collapse of the colonial order and the reduction of the economies of Western Europe and Japan gave the United States an unexpected prospect to fill a geo-economics vacuum. The Marshall Plan, foreign aid programs, and international financial institutions were ingenious instruments of expansion that were intrinsically beneficial in their effects.
Incidentally, they bolstered containment and were reliable with the geopolitical master plan of meeting the Soviet challenge at an early adequate stage so as to evade the need to fight a third world war.The Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the containment strategy appeared to signify a revolution in the United States’ peacetime relations with the rest of the world in 1947. America’s involvement in world affairs would not be intervallic but continuous, not merely economic but political and military, not focused on the Monroe Doctrine in Latin America and the Open Door policy in East Asia but on the ideological, socioeconomic, and geopolitical crosscurrents of the Old World from which the United States had constantly shrunk except in times of global divergence.Under tremendous financial pressure, the British government proclaimed its withdrawal from Greece and Turkey; exchange shortages also required the French and Italians to consider cutbacks in raw material and grain purchases overseas. As the financial crunch was accompanied by socioeconomic turmoil and by decisions to eliminate the communists from the governing associations of Belgium, France, and Italy, American officials worried that the type of civil conflict beleaguering Greece might spread somewhere else. The military aid to Greece and Turkey embodied in the Truman Doctrine and the economic aid envisioned in the Marshall Plan were efforts to overcome communist insurgencies, strengthen noncommunist governments, and forestall communist political victories that might take additional countries within the Soviet orbit, an area already enlarged by the defeat of Nazi armies and by the Russian occupation of much of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. The formation of the Cominform in September 1947, the bitter Soviet attacks on the Marshall Plan, and the resultant strikes and protests gave credibility to American apprehensions.
At the same time that American officials were calling for assist to Greece and Turkey and encouraging a European Recovery Program (ERP), they launched a host of other ideas that constituted part of the containment strategy. Most significant were the changes in American policy toward the western zones of Germany. After the ineffective discussions at the Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers in the spring of 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall determined that the western powers had to revitalize coal production in the Ruhr, boost industrial output in the British and American zones, take on currency reform, allocate to the Germans themselves more control over economic production, and set up political institutions of self-government in Germany. The overall goals were to win the devotion of the German people and to prevent the possibility of a future Soviet-German alignment. These objectives put an end to any serious American attempt to bring about a four-power accord on Germany. In the summer of 1947, the Americans and British raised the permitted level of German industrial production and determined that the western zones of Germany should participate in the ERP.
Marshall and his advisers ruled out the possibility not only of reparations from current production but also of Soviet participation in any international scheme to control the Ruhr. These attitudes put in to the failure of the London four-power conference in November-December 1947, formed the context for exclusively western agreements and initiatives on the future of the western zones of Germany, and ended in the Berlin crisis of June 1948.Containment realists’ recovered power over the policy process, ending the Vietnam War, defeating George McGovern, and taking a temporary lull in international relations all through Nixon’s first presidential term.Marxists and world-orderists proffer ways of understanding the global scene that might add to our capability to understand the world. There are numerous variations of perspective beneath the rubrics of Marxism as well as world-orderism, but they cumulatively provide as signposts to recognize useful directions of thought not effectively treated by the realist school. Most Marxists have argued that the pretext of the Cold War was the pretense behind which militarism, neocolonialism, and interventionary diplomacy has often veiled and that realism by itself often lends the mask an integrity that protracts public support. Beyond this, recent Left objections to the policies of the past forty years have called consideration to the cultural consequences of preparing for nuclear war what E.P.
Thompson has recognized as a commitment to exterminismand to the rending effects on the basics of political democracy arising from making national security the eternal centerpiece of peacetime concerns.World-orderists, in contradiction of the Marxist Left, stress the global structural dangers of present trends and the significance of building a capability at the global level both to recognize human values and to congregate the functional challenges of interdependence and the abused global commons. World-orderists desire to support a belief that the world can be combined around a sense of human uniqueness and global interests.
They rely upon compassionate cultural developments and social movements to build the communal basis for developing a foreign policy that is both more expectant and more receptive to the particular challenges of this era.In the end, the majority world-orderists are ready to recognize that the realist school presided productively over the composite dynamics of economic and political reconstruction in the years subsequent World War II. And, further, that realism has managed to stay post-1945 tensions from disintegrating into open warfare without a repetition of the conciliation diplomacy of the thirties. In this regard, realism has offered robust principles for the political democracies of the moderate West in the specific setting of this stage of global history.This stage now appears to be drawing to a close, being archaic by the new complexities of global interdependence and by the decentering of political and economic power in international relations, as well as by the weakening of Soviet expansionary zeal.
In this altered setting of the late eighties, realism seems less acceptable as a broad account of international relations, though it retains a vital utility because of its focus on relations of power and wealth and its negation to be blinded by sentimental considerations in evaluating the play of forces that comprise international relations.This usefulness has been established once more by the realist debate that has sprung up around Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, which causes the crucial question about whether America faces initial imperial decline and can acclimatize to such a prospect by a discreet reassessment of the relation between capabilities and commitments acclimatizing by cutting down commitments rather than by stretching capabilities beyond their true limits. Once more the reasonable realists, of whom Kennedy is an exceptional example, are looking for to direct American policy on a positive course. And once more the militant realists persist that the country’s capabilities can be improved and shaped so as to maintain imperial ascendancy for the United States.Realism is as well wanted in the period ahead to make sure that the instructive lessons of the postwar world are not elapsed.
The vivacity of realism offers several protection against those who would reassert American exceptionalism as a source for an aggressive overseas support of our way of life or who are level toward new expressions of fatalism, possibly this time in the figure of a calamitous struggle to manage space militarily. The realist understanding of international politics does continue to put in to a positive sense of America’s place in the world. The divergent claim argued here is a restricted one namely, that several variants of Marxism and world-orderism proffer additional insights that are more required than they were earlier when the realist understanding takes in practically the full range of constructive policy debate. Nothing is more unsure than the future, but the complication and weakness of international life makes it seem improbable that the next numerous decades will be as subjugated by the description of superpower rivalry and geopolitics as have the last numerous decades.Realism must not be demoted to the historical past, particularly if it’s central interpretations of statecraft can be set off by the less statist forms of political considerate advocated by some world-order theorists who begin with the world and its frequent problems as their essential units of analysis.References:Bonner, Raymond, Weakness and Deceit: U.S.
Policy and El Salvador. New York (New York Times Books) 1984.Deibel, Terry, and John Lewis Gaddis, eds., Containment: Concept and Policy. Washington, D.C. (National Defense University Press) 1986.
E. P. Thompson “Notes on Exterminism, the Last Stage of Civilisation,” New Left Review 121 (May-June 1980): 3-31Gaddis, “How the Cold War Might End,” Atlantic Monthly, November 1987, pp. 88-100.John Bagguley, “The World War and the Cold War,” in David Horowitz, ed.
, Containment and Revolution (Boston, 1967), pp. 76-124.Mary Kaldor and Richard Falk, eds., Dealignment: A New Foreign Policy Perspective (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987).Mendlovitz and R. B.
J. Walker, eds., Towards a Just World Peace (London: Butterworths, 1987)Michael Joseph Smith, Realist Thought from Weber to Kissinger (Louisiana State University Press, 1986).R. B.J.
Walker, One World/Many Worlds (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1988).R. J. Lifton and Richard Falk, Indefensible Weapons: The Political and Psychological Case against Nuclearism (New York: Basic Books, 1983).
Saul H. Mendlovitz, ed., On the Creation of a Just World Order (New York: Free Press, 1975)T. C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (Harvard University Press, 1966).
 (Michael Joseph Smith, 1986, 86-102) (T. C. Schelling, 1966, 45-61) (Mary Kaldor and Richard Falk, 1987, 24) (Deibel, Terry, and John Lewis Gaddis, eds., 1986, 73) (Bonner, Raymond, 1984, 64) (John Bagguley, 1967, pp. 76-124) (Gaddis, 1987, pp. 88-100) (R. J. Lifton and Richard Falk, 1983, 87-92) (E.
P. Thompson, 1980, 3-31) (Saul H. Mendlovitz, 1975, 46-49) (Mendlovitz and R. B. J. Walker, 1987, 52-59) (R.
B.J. Walker, 1988, 31-32)