Question for Discussion: What are the United
States' military and political objectives
during the early years of the Cold War?
Reading: NSC 68 (web);
The Truman Doctrine (web);
"Beyond Containment" (web); Nixon
"The Real War"
The Truman Doctrine and
into the Cold War
American Military and Political
Goals in the Cold War
1. The Truman Doctrine and the Declaration of
the Cold War
2. NSC 68 and the Cold War as
3. The Korean War
4. The Cuban Missile Crisis and
the Real War
1. What does Truman mean when he argues that
the Cold War is a global struggle between two ways of life?
2. What does President Truman commit the United
to do in his "Truman Doctrine"?
3. According to Dean Acheson, what are the
principles of Western civilization and the Atlantic community?
4. What does Acheson mean when he argues that
United States is "waging peace"?
5. What does President Truman argue is the
goal of the United States in the Korean War?
6. Why is Secretary of State John Foster Dulles
to a "containment policy" towards the Soviet Union?
7. Does Dulles foresee the eventual collapse
Soviet Union and the communist threat to the free world?
8. According to NSC 68 what are the two major
goals of American foreign policy?
9. What does the United States mean when it
it is committed to protecting the Free World from Soviet domination?
10. What do the leaders of the United States
they declare in NSC 68 that the "cold war is in fact a real
war in which the survival of the free world is at stake"?
III began before World
War II ended. Even as allied armies
battled Nazi forces to the death in
Europe, Stalin had his eye clearly
fixed on his postwar objectives. In April 1945, as American
and Russian soldiers were embracing at the Elbe River in Germany,
Stalin was spelling out his blueprint for a divided postwar world.
"This war is not as in the past," he said, "whoever
occupies a territory also
imposes on it his own social system
as far as his army can reach. It cannot
be otherwise." (p.19)
"World War III has proceeded
from the Soviet seizure of Eastern Europe,
through the communist conquest of
China, the wars in Korea and IndoChina,
and the establishment of Soviet power in Cuba, to the present thrusts
Soviet Union and its allies into Africa,
the Islamic crescent, and Central
America. The expansionism has been accompanied by a prodigious
military buildup that has brought the Soviet
Union to the verge of decisive supremacy over the West.....
"World War III is the first
truly global war. No corner of the earth is beyond its reach. The
United States and the Soviet Union have both become global powers,
and whatever affects the balance between us anywhere affects the
balance everywhere. The Soviets understand this. We too must
understand it, and learn to think in global terms." (p. 21)
........Richard Nixon, The Real War
"The whole success of the proposed
program hangs ultimately on recognition by this Government, the
American people, and all free peoples, that the cold war is
in fact a real war in which the survival of the free world is
......NSC 68 (1950)
Eisenhower told congressional
leaders that the general idea [behind massive
retaliation] was "to blow the hell out of them [communists]
in a hurry if they start anything."
Kennan was one
of the most intelligent and lucid of US planners, and a major figure
in shaping the
postwar world. His writings are an extremely
interesting illustration of the dovish position. One document to
look at if you want to understand your country is Policy
Planning Study 23, written by
Kennan for the State Department planning staff in 1948. Here's some
of what it says:
"We have about 50% of the world's
wealth, but only 6.3% of its population....In this situation, we
cannot fail to be the object of envy
and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise
of relationships which will permit us
to maintain this position of disparity....To do so, we will have
to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention
will have to be concentrated everywhere
on our immediate national objectives....
We should cease to talk about vague and...unreal objectives such
as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization.
The day is not far off when we are going
to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then
hampered by idealistic slogans,
This point is also made clear in the
For example, a high-level study
group in 1955 stated that the essential threat of the Communist
powers (the real meaning of the term Communism in practice) is their
refusal to fulfill their service role -- that is, "to complement
the industrial economies of the West."
Kennan went on to explain the means we have to use against our enemies
who fall prey to this heresy:
"The final answer might be an unpleasant one, but...we
should not hesitate before police repression by the local government.
This is not shameful since the Communists are essentially traitors....It
is better to have a strong regime in power than a liberal government
if it is indulgent and relaxed and penetrated by Communists. "
Faced with the Soviet Union's resistance
to accept American global economic and political dominance, the
United States began preparing for a prolonged "Cold War"
with the Russians. Our larger objective in the Cold War was to undermine
Soviet communism and eliminate the Soviet Union as a challenger
to American global hegemony. In 1948, American leaders spelled out
the United States' larger goals in the Cold War in NSC 20, a top
secret National Security Council policy directive that described
American political and military goals in the Cold War.
NSC 20 said America's
objective must be to reduce the "power and influence of the
Soviet Union" by all means possible. NSC 20 went on to describe
the military and political strategy to undermine Soviet power and
1). Liberate Eastern Europe from Soviet
domination and control.
2). Dismantle the Soviet military establishment
and end the Soviet military threat to the "free world."
3). Cause the dissolution of the Soviet
Communist Party and end communist rule in the Soviet Union.
NSC 20 concluded that if necessary
the United States should be prepared to rely on nuclear weapons
and air power to wage war with the Soviet Union. Clearly, NSC
20 is an aggressive military and political strategy for the United
States to undermine Soviet communism. Even with the risk of global
nuclear war, the United States is committed to defeating the Soviet
Union and forcing it to accept American political, economic, and
hegemony and dominance.
In order to understand why American
leaders were willing to accept such an aggressive strategy to undermine
Soviet communism, we need to look at President Truman's March 1947
speech before Congress. In this speech Truman lays out his view
of the larger global struggle between the United States and the
Soviet Union. Truman describes the emerging Cold War as a global
conflict between two "alternative ways of life":
"One way of life is based on the
will of the majority, and it distinguished by free institutions,
representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual
liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political
[Their] "way of life is based
upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority.
It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio,
fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms."
Declaring what has become known as
"the Truman Doctrine," President Truman said that "it
must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples
who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by
outside pressures." In this speech, Truman is declaring that
the United States should and must be the "global policemen,"
protecting and securing freedom and democracy in the "free
world," all countries not presently controlled or dominated
by Soviet communism. For Truman and future American Presidents,
the Soviet Union was seen as the greatest threat to the free world,
and this threat justified the United States taking extreme measures
and aggressive action to protect freedom and democracy throughout
In 1950, President Truman approved
NSC 68, another top secret Nation Security strategy to undermine
Soviet power and influence. NSC 68 provides an additional window
into the minds of American leaders who chose to pursue and aggressive
Cold War with the Soviet Union. NSC 68 begins by noting that at
the end of World War II with the defeat of the German and Japanese
empires, and the decline of the French and British empires, there
are now two major global powers competing for global leadership
and dominance, the United States and the Soviet Union. Declaring
that the Soviet want to expand their control over the Eurasian land
mass and eventually dominate the world, the United States is faced
with a threat that could lead to the "destruction not only
of the Republic but of civilization itself." NSC 68 declares
that "unwillingly our free society finds itself mortally challenged
by the Soviet system."
Faced with this Soviet threat, NSC
68 declares that American policy is to "foster a world environment
in which the American system can survive and flourish." It
goes on to observe that it would be American policy to develop a
"healthy international community" even if there were no
Soviet threat. In the face of the Soviet challenge to American efforts
to create this global community of nations led by the United States,
the United States must contain the Soviet system and protect the
"free world" from Soviet power and influence. NSC 68 describes
the American commitment to create "a military shield under
which...[the peoples of the free world] can develop," a military
shield strong enough "to deter, if possible, Soviet expansion,
and to defeat, if necessary, aggressive Soviet or Soviet-directed
actions of a limited or total character."
NSC 68 describes an American policy
to use the Soviet threat to support the United States efforts to
increasingly impose American political, economic, and military dominance
over the entire world. The Soviet Union and the "Soviet threat"
justifies American aspirations for global hegemony and dominance.
Using the Soviet threat as a justification, the United States will
attempt to impose its political and economic will on the nations
of the "free world."
But NSC 68 does not stop at American
domination over the Soviet Union in a bipolar world, the free world
and the communist world. NSC 68 declares that this Cold War struggle
between the United States and the Soviet Union is, in fact, a "real
"The whole success of the proposed
program hangs ultimately on the recognition by this Government,
the American people, and all free peoples, that the cold war is
is fact a real war in which the survival of the free world is at
Describing the Cold War as a real war,
NSC 68 now lays out aggressive political and military actions that
the United States can take to win this war. It calls for to wage
"overt psychological warfare calculated to encourage mass defections
from Soviet allegiance and to frustrate the Kremlin designs in other
ways." NSC 68 also calls for the United States to use covert
means to wage "economic warfare and political and psychological
warfare with a view to fomenting and supporting unrest and revolt
in selected strategic satellite countries." Finally, NSC 68
calls for the development of "internal security and civilian
defense programs" in order to prepare the American people to
accept the Cold War and the need to be prepared to fight and win
global nuclear wars.
In June 1950, after Secretary of State
Dean Acheson declared Korea to be outside of America's sphere of
influence, the North Koreans invaded South Korea and attempted to
reunify the country under communist rule. President Truman immediately
declared Korea a "global police action" and attempted
to drive the North Koreans out of South Korea. In fact, the United
States secret larger goal in the Korean war was to defeat North
Korean communism and create a unified Korea under American domination
and control. Korea was supposed to be the first major effort to
rollback global communism. However, communist China, feeling threatened
that aggressive American actions against North Korea would be followed
by American attempts to undermine Chinese communism, entered the
Korean war against the United States and its South Korean ally.
The Korea war quickly proved to be a deadly stalemate between the
United States and communist China. Only in 1953, after President
Eisenhower secretly threatened to drop atomic bombs on China, did
the Chinese agree to an end to the war, leaving North and South
Korea divided just as they were at the beginning of the war.
The Korean war, as many American leader
later said, seem to justify America's global crusade against Soviet
communism. It convinced many Americans of the truth of the United
States governments warning that the Soviet were plotting to take
over the world and impose communist domination over the free world.
The Korean war would further justify American creation of the "nuclear
umbrella" to shield the free world from Soviet expansion. As
described by Secretary of State Dean Acheson in 1949, the nuclear
umbrella was the American threat to wage nuclear war against the
Soviet Union if the communists threatened any country in the free
world. An attack on any member of the free world, thus, would be
treated as an attack against the United States, which would lead
America to wage nuclear war against the aggressor.
Under Eisenhower and his Secretary
of State John Foster Dulles, the United States became committed
to not just "containing" the Soviet Union but "rolling
back" Soviet communist, that is undermining communist rule
in the Soviet dominated countries. In his 1953 testimony before
Congress, Dulles declares that it must be American policy to liberate
the captive peoples under Soviet domination. Dulles argues that
it is "possible to disintegrate this present monolithic structure"
and undermine Soviet rule and domination. Dulles concludes that
"only by keeping alive the hope of liberation, by taking advantage
of that wherever opportunity arises, that we will end this terrible
peril which dominates the world, which imposes upon us such terrible
sacrifices and so great fears for the future." The problem,
however, created by an American rollback strategy is that we are
pushing the Soviet Union into a corner and giving them no little
or no option but to come out fighting for their own survival.
The Cuban missile crisis illustrates
the danger of this aggressive rollback strategy. In 1962, the Soviet
Union placed nuclear missiles in Cuba aimed at the United States.
Feeling that the United States had nuclear missiles in bases surrounding
the Soviet Union, the Soviets wanted to force the United States
to understand the fear and danger of nuclear attack that they experienced
every day. However, the United States responded to this Soviet challenge
by putting its nuclear forces on full alert and threatening to wage
a nuclear war with the Soviets unless they removed their missiles
from Cuba. President Kennedy took the Soviets to the very edge of
nuclear war before the Soviet leader backed down, fearing that the
United States was on the verge of destroying the Soviet Union. But
this nuclear showdown caused millions of Americans to fear that
they would soon die in a nuclear war. The Cuban missile crisis caused
many Americans to question the United States' reliance on nuclear
war to deter Soviet aggression. Could we really be free if our freedom
depended on the threat to blow up the Soviet Union and in turn have
our cities blown up in a nuclear war?
[During the Cuban
Missile Crisis,] "the Soviet Union possessed at that time as
few as 75, and no more than 300,
strategic missiles. The United States
could target and deliver perhaps as
many as 5,000 nuclear warheads. To some Americans theorists this
for a 'parity' of sorts, but surely it could not look like that
to Moscow, even without factoring in Soviet paranoia. If Krushchev
were so lunatic as to launch a first strike and kill thousands of
Americans, it would be be a terrible prelude to having his country
wiped off the face of the Earth. . "Krushchev knows that we
have a substanial nuclear superiority," McGeorge Bundy was
to write later, "but he also knows that we don't really live
under fear of his nuclear weapons to the extent he has to live under
fear of ours."
......Robert Manning, Assistant Secretary
under President Kennedy
......Newsweek, Oct. 20, 1997, p. 18.
The larger question posed by the Cuban
missile crisis was the wisdom of America's aggressive military and
political strategy to undermine Soviet power and influence. Should
the United States risk nuclear war and global destruction in order
to ensure its global political and economy dominance and hegemony?
Could the United States and the Soviet Union coexist, reducing the
danger of nuclear war and global military conflict? Was the Soviet
Union really an aggressive global empire attempting to take over
the world that justified aggressive American countermeasures? Most
of these questions had never seriously been debated in public in
the United States in the first twenty years of the Cold War. Only
in the late 1960s did some Americans begin to question the wisdom
of the United States' Cold War policies.