Daily Class OutlineDaily Class QuestionsDaily Class Web LinksDaily Class Notes

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"

Daily Class Web Links

The Truman Doctrine and American Entry
into the Cold War

American Military and Political
Goals in the Cold War

Daily Class Outline

1. The Truman Doctrine and the Declaration of the Cold War

2. NSC 68 and the Cold War as
"Real War"

3. The Korean War

4. The Cuban Missile Crisis and
the Real War

Daily Class Questions

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 States
to do in his "Truman Doctrine"?

3. According to Dean Acheson, what are the basic
principles of Western civilization and the Atlantic community?

4. What does Acheson mean when he argues that the
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 opposed
to a "containment policy" towards the Soviet Union?

7. Does Dulles foresee the eventual collapse of the
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 declares that
it is committed to protecting the Free World from Soviet domination?

10. What do the leaders of the United States mean when
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"?

Daily Class Notes

"World War 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 by the
Soviet Union and its allies into Africa,
the Islamic crescent, and Central
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 (1979)

"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 at stake."
......NSC 68 (1950)

President 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 a pattern
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,
the better."

This point is also made clear in the public record.
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 primary
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 influence:

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 military
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 repression."


[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 the world.

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 war":

"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 stake."

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 passed
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 of State
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.

© 2002 by Chris H.  Lewis, Ph.D.
Sewall Academic Program; University of Colorado at Boulder
Created 7 August 2002:  Last Modified: 28 Oct. 2002
E-mail: cclewis@spot.colorado.edu
URL:    http://www.colorado.edu/AmStudies/lewis/2010/nsc68.htm
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