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THE UNIVERSITY OF HULL
Department of Politics
Comparative National Security Policy
THE EVOLUTION OF AMERICAN NATIONAL SECURITY POLICY
SINCE THE END OF SECOND WORLD WAR
Eric J. Grove
March 10, 1995
The aim of this work is to account for the evolution of the American national security policy since the end of the World War II.
Charles Kegley divided the history of the American foreign policy of containing the Soviet Union into the five chronologically ordered phases:
1. Belligerence, 1947-1952
2. Tough Talk, Accomodative Action, 1953-1962
3. Competetive Coexistence, 1963-1968
4. Detente, 1969-1978
5. Confrontation, 1979 onwards
The same pattern fits for the US national security policy quite well. Only some additions must be introduced. The period of confrontation ended in 1986. The period between 1987 and 1990 could be called ‘Ending the Cold War’, and the period from 1991 onwards - ‘The Post-Cold War Era’. The period between 1945 and 1946 could be named ‘Toward Containment’.
So, the goal of the US national security policy for nearly forty years was the containment of the Soviet Union by all possible means.
But in the 1991 the US founded itself in the confusing situation. The major threat - the SU - simply dissapeared. The US left the only superpower. There are no large specific military threats facing the US. The US national security policy must be changed, and it is changing. The problem is that there is no clear consensus in the US over the threats to the security and economic well-being of the US.
Toward Containment, 1945-1946.
The World War II showed that the US must change its role in the world politics. The World War II reafirmed that the US could not pretend to be immune from the global turmoil and gave birth to the notion of the US as a “superpower”. The first problem was how to deal with the Soviets. The immediate postwar American policy towards the SU was based on the belief that the SU could be integrated in the postwar security structure. President Roosevelt developed the ‘Four Policemen’ idea, which was based on the vision that the US, Great Britain, the SU, and China would impose order on the rest of the postwar world. But in fact, experience showed that there was little the US could do to shape Stalin’s decisions. It was realized that neither trust nor pressure had made any difference. In less than a year President Truman realized that the Soviets would expand as far as they could unless effective countervailing power was organized to stop them. Stalin obviously placed a higher value on expanding the Soviet sphere of control then on maintaining good relations with the US.
Many American defense officials in 1945 hoped to avoid the escalation with the SU. But at the same time their aim was to prevent Europe from falling under Communist regime. The American objective was to avoid Soviet hegemony over Eurasia. In winter 1945-1946 the SU increased pressures on Iran and Turkey. The US viewed this as a threat to the global balance of power. The battleship Missouri was sent to Istanbul.
In October 1945 the first postwar base system was approved by both the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and the civilian secretaries. It included Iceland as a primary base area. So, when Winston Churchill delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in March 1946, the US was on the path of the Cold War allready.
In fact, the origins of the Cold War were in Europe. Martin Walker wrote: “The Cold War started in Europe because it was there that US and Soviet troops met in May 1945, over the corpse of Nazi Germany, and discovered that their concepts of Europe’s postwar future were dangerously incopatible.”
Five Stages of Containment:
1. Belligerence, 1947-1952. There are different opinions about the date when the Cold War began. In fact, there is no date of the begining of the Cold War. It didn’t begin in one night. It began step by step. And it began from both sides.
In February 1946, Stalin gave a speech in which he spoke about “the inevitability of conflict with the capitalist powers”.
On February 22, 1946, George F.Kennan, at that time charge d’affaires in the US embassy in Moscow, sent to Washington his famous “long telegram” assessing the motivations of the Soviets. Later he published his well-known article “X” in the Foreign Affairs (1947). In it, Kennan argued that Soviet leaders would forever feel insecure about their political ability to maintain power against forces both within Soviet society andin the outside world. Their insecurity would lead to an activist - and perhaps hostile - Soviet foreign policy.
In March 1947, the Truman Doctrine was announced. This was a dramatic departure from traditional US foreign, defense, and security policy. It was based on a view of international politics as a contest for world domination, with the SU as an imperial power bent on world conquest.
This was the start of containment policy. Containment was designed to circumscribe Soviet expansionism in order to (1) save the international system from a revolutionary state, and (2) force internal changes in the SU. Containment was a desired condition in US-Soviet relations. It was a geopolitical rather than ideological or military strategy. Its ultimate objective was a stable and peaceful international system.
Soon the first results of the containment appeared. The National Security Act (1947) created a unified Department of Defense with an autonomous Air Force, a Joint Chiefs of Staff system, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Council. In June 1947, the Marshall Plan for the economic recovery of Europe was announced.
In July 1947, intelligence analysts in the War Department maintained that the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan provoked a more aggresive Soviet attitude toward the US. So, the result of the beginning of containment was the escalation.
Another step to deeper hostility was the document called NSC-68 (approved by President Truman on September 30, 1950). NSC-68 was designed to (1) bolster the conventional capabilities, (2) strenghten the strategic nuclear forces, (3) assist the US allies, especially in Europe.
The aim of NSC-68 was “to check and roll back the Kremlin’s drive for world domination.”
The first military attempt to contain the communism was the Korean War (1950), which had pushed the budget appropriations for defense up to a peak of almost $57 billion (67 per cent of the whole budget) for fiscal year 1952. The Korean War marked a globalisation of containment in terms of operational commitments as well as rhetoric.
This period was also marked by the creation of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The NATO Pact was signed in April 1949. This was open-ended, multilateral, peacetime alliance among the US, Canada, and West European nations that commited the US to consider an attack on any member nation as an attack on itself. The creation of NATO was a response to Soviet actions in Czekoslovakia, Berlin, and Greece.
Also the US signed bilateral mutual defense treaties with Japan and the Philippines and a trilateral pact with Australia and New Zealand (the ANZUS Treaty). All three were signed in 1951.
2. Tough Talk, Accomodative Action, 1953-1962. This was the period of the American superiority in terms of the nuclear capabilities. But President Eisenhover understood that American resources are not endless. The idea of his policy was security and solvency - to regain American initiative in foreign policy without bankrupting the nation. His policy had two elements. The first was “New Look” defense policy, and second - the formation of a global alliance system.
The “New Look” was based on three concepts: rollback, brinkmanship,and massive retaliation.
Rollback stated the goal the US was to pursue: reject merely containing the spread of communist influence and instead “roll back” the iron curtain.
Brinkmanship was a strategy for dealing with the Soviets by backing them into the corner with the threat of nuclear amihilation.
Massive retaliation was a countervalue nuclear weapons strategy that sought to achieve American foreign policy objectives by threatening mass destruction of the Soviet population and industrial centers.
All this was called compellence strategy, which lasted until1961.
In the early 1960s the American superiority declined. This pushed towards deterrence strategy. Deterrence means discouraging an adversary from taking military action by convincing him that the cost and risk of such action would outweight the potential gain. The concept of flexible response was formulated. It means the increase of conventional war capabilities. In 1962 the capacity to wage “two-and-one-half “ wars was embraced as the official strategy.
The formation of the global alliance system continued.
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