In the Early Cold War from 1947-50, the Truman Doctrine in U. S. foreign policy was focused first on Western Europe and then secondarily on Asia, especially after the Communist revolution in China in 1949. North Korea did invade the South in 1950, with the backing of China and the Soviets, but the U. S. defeated this attempt and restored the status quo, which has lasted up to the present. With National Security Council Memorandum (NSC) 68 in 1950, the U. S. began to plan for waging Cold War on a global scale.
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The Truman Doctrine of containing the Soviet Union was actually in place right at the end of World War II, even before George Kennan wrote his famous Long Telegram in 1946 or containment was expanded to the global level by National Security Council (NSC) Memorandum 68 in 1950. The Cold War between the U. S. and the Soviet Union was already in the making even before the hot war ended, as the Soviet Red Army rolled over the Russian border into Eastern Europe, finally capturing Berlin. Immediately after Japan surrendered, the U. S. raced to move in an army of occupation under Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and also hurried troops into China and Korea, where the U. S. proposed dividing the country at the 38th Parallel. In Japan the U. S. completely rebuffed Soviet requests for an occupation zone, since even in 1945 the Soviets and Western allies were already clashing over occupation policies in Germany. That country was formally divided into East and West in 1949, just like Korea was divided along North and South lines in 1948. Although the Soviets tried to prevent the unification of the West German zones into one country with the Berlin Blockade in 1948-49, the Truman administration supplied the city by air, and also agreed to a formal military alliance between the U. S. and the Western European states—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO. From that point to the end of the Cold War forty years later, Europe remained divided and the Western states were under the American nuclear umbrella, as was Japan. In addition, through the Marshall Plan and similar programs from 1947 onward, the U. S. provided massive economic assistance to rebuild Japan and Western Europe. In both Europe and Asia, the lines where the Russian and Western armies met in 1945 basically became the lines of division in the Cold War for the next four decades, and this situation simply became the new normal in international affairs. After NSC 68, the Cold War entered a global phase that Kennan opposed, particularly when it involved intervention in areas that he regarded as peripheral, such as Vietnam.
At Potsdam in July 1945, Harry Truman and Secretary of State James Byrnes were openly excited by the successful test of the atomic bomb and the possibility that it would be used to coerce and restrain the Soviets. In fact, the conference had been delayed until July in hopes that the test would be successful. Even before he departed for Germany, Truman stated very bluntly that he intended to use the atomic bomb to intimidate the Russians when he said that “ I’ll have a hammer on those boys” (Alperovitz, 1995, p. 30). Prime Minister Churchill was also very excited when he learned that the test had been successful in New Mexico and expected that Britain and the U. S. would be able to dominate the Soviets diplomatically. Byrnes, who had always had presidential ambitions and still resented that Truman had been selected as vice president in 1944 rather than himself, was a great enthusiast for atomic diplomacy, and thought that the bomb might “ put us into a position to dictate our own terms at the end of the war” (Alperovitz, p. 32). From the American and British viewpoint, the threat of the atomic bomb was necessary to restrain the Soviets, although this turned out to be a serious miscalculation. Stalin ordered work on the Russian atomic bomb speeded up, and one was tested successfully in 1949, so the American monopoly on these weapons lasted only four years. Throughout the Cold War, it became clear that no matter which weapons the U. S. developed, the Soviets would match them, such as testing a hydrogen bomb in 1953, just one year after America.
In the earliest phase of the Cold War, the U. S. preferred to concentrate its resources on reviving the industrial regions of Western Europe and Japan. George Kennan, the creator of the containment doctrine, was not interested in supporting the Chinese Nationalists compared to the economic revival of these more vital industrial areas. Kennan was well aware that the main problem in Western Europe was war-weariness and economic insecurity, and the U. S. would have to take the lead in reviving these countries or the “ Russians certainly will” (Kennan 1946). In this case, though, the threat was not so much military as economic, since “ would communism is like a malignant parasite which feeds only on diseased tissue” (Kennan 1946). If Western Europe revived and was protected by an American security umbrella, the dangers of communism and Soviet expansion would fade there, and to accomplish this Kennan strongly advised that the U. S. work with moderate socialist and social democratic parties there, since the Soviets hated and feared those far more than outright reactionaries or fascists. The Truman Doctrine of March 1947 warned the Soviet Union about encroachments against Greece and Turkey, and affirmed that “ totalitarian regimes imposed on free peoples, by direct or indirect aggression, undermine the foundations of international peace and hence the security of the United States” (Offner 2011).
After being defeated in 1949, the Nationalists fled to Taiwan, an island that lies 180 kilometers off the southeastern coast of mainland China, waiting for a chance to counterattack and take control of mainland China again. For a time in 1949-50, the U. S. even considered recognizing Mao’s regime as the legitimate government of China, but this changed with the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 (Roy 2003). Six months before this, the National Security Council again revised and expanded its Cold War strategy, as outlined the NSC 68 of January 1950. Contrary to Kennan’s limited, realist policy of containment, this document called for an all-out effort against global communism, including a large expansion in the military budget, more economic assistance for U. S. allies, construction of the hydrogen bomb, and for rollback of communism around the periphery of the Soviet Union. Most of these recommendations were not actually implemented until the beginning of the Korean War in June 1950, however. NSC 68 called for all methods short of war to contain and roll back communism, as well as for policies to strengthen the economy of the U. S. and its allies, and a more thoroughgoing campaign against internal subversion and sabotage. It also asserted that if the U. S. finished work on the H-bomb before the Soviets, it would be used “ to bring increased pressure on the USSR” (NSC 68). Even so, it also reaffirmed that the U. S. would not go to war except against a clear cut act of aggression, which is how the Truman administration regarded the North Korean attack on South Korea. The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 and the Chinese support of North Korea “ reversed Truman’s gradual disengagement during the late 1940s and recommitted American support” to the Nationalists (Dobson and Marsh, 2006, p. 34). The US Seventh Fleet was dispatched to protect Taiwan from mainland China’s threat, and has been there ever since.
As a result of NSC 68, the U. S. did become more deeply involved in Indochina and also began to use the Central Intelligence agency to subvert and overthrow leftist and nationalist governments that it opposed. This happened in Iran in 1953 and Guatemala the next year, in the Congo in 1960, and most unsuccessfully, against the regime of Fidel Castro in Cuba after 1959. At times, of course, the friendly authoritarian regimes simply failed and no amount of American support could prop them up. South Vietnam was the most dramatic American failure of the Cold War, where not even 555, 000 ground troops, massive bombing with everything in the arsenal short of nuclear weapons—more tonnage dropped on Indochina than during the entire Second World War—and unlimited economic aid, were able to salvage the client regime. Kennan had always been opposed to intervention in Vietnam and most other Third World countries, since he believed that Western Europe and Japan were the most important allies by far, and that for the most part the former European colonies were peripheral to U. S. interests during the Cold War. He also thought that the military, political and economic costs of a global containment strategy were more than the U. S. could bear, and in this he was proven correct.
Alperovitz, G. (1995). “ Hiroshima: Historians Reassess”. Foreign Policy, No. 99, Summer 1995, p. 15-34. Newsweek Interactive, LLC. Stable URL: http://www. jstor. org/stable/1149003
Dobson, A. P. and S. Marsh (2006). U. S. foreign Policy since 1945, 2nd Edition. Routledge.
Kennan, George. The Long Telegram (1946). National Security Archive.
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National Security Council (NSC) Memorandum 68 (1950). FAS. org.
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Offner, A. (2011). President Truman and the Origins of the Cold War. BBC.
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Roy, D. (2003). Taiwan: A Political History. Cornell University Press, 2003.