The term "containment" was first used in US strategies immediately following WW2 but George F. Kennan, a Foreign Service Officer and diplomat working in the American Embassy in Moscow, articulated the policy of containment when he sent the "Long Telegram" on February 22, 1946 in which he advised "a long term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies." George Kennan’s advice on containment formed the basis of the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan and the Domino Theory forming the basis of US policy during the early stages of the Cold War. There are many examples of events during the Cold War when the United States used the containment policy including the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Cuban missile crisis.
US Containment Policy: The Cold War Presidents
The purpose of the US Containment policy was to restrict communist expansion response to a series of moves by the Soviet Union to enlarge its communist sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, China, Korea, Cuba and Vietnam. The strategy played a major role in diplomatic, economic and military actions and was strongly associated with the Domino Theory.
The term "containment" was first used in US policies and strategies in 1945 when World War 2 ended. The end of WW2 saw Russian military forces occupying large areas of Eastern Europe. The Soviets had extended their influence over the communist-dominated governments in the 'Satellite Nations' of the Iron Curtain.
Not content with their power over East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Albania, the USSR sought to extend their sphere of influence and communism to other countries in Eastern Europe and even to the Middle East.
The US policy of Containment was used when the Soviets made a move the Middle East in the Iran crisis of 1946, also known as the Iran-Azerbaijan Crisis. During WW2 Soviet troops occupied Northern Iran, but instead of withdrawing their troops after the war, the Soviets remained in Northern Iran, which bordered the Soviet Union.
The USSR demanded access to Iran's oil supplies and began to help Communists in Northern Iran to set up a separate government. The United States protested and sent the USS Missouri battleship into the Eastern Mediterranean forcing the withdrawal of the Red Army from Iran and reducing Soviet influence in the country. The policy of containment, that let the opponent choose the place and time of any confrontation, successfully resolved the Iran crisis of 1946.
The Soviet targets at this time also extended to Turkey and Greece. Greece was involved in the Greek Civil War (1946–1949) as Communist rebels attempted to take over the country.
Turkey became involved in the Turkish Straits crisis in 1946. The Turkish Straits, which connected the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, were an important trade route and were critical in terms of the Soviet military strategy. Whoever controlled the Turkish straits had exit or entry points for naval forces to travel to and from the Black Sea.
Turkey and Greece turned to the United States for help and on March 27, 1947 President Truman made a speech asking Congress to support the Greek Government with military and economic assistance against the Communists and to provide assistance for Turkey to help them resist the communist threat.
The Truman Doctrine derived from the president's speech of March 27, 1947. The key element of the Truman Doctrine was the policy of containment and pledged to support other countries in their struggle to resist communism.
The Marshall Plan, known as the "Truman Doctrine - Phase II" followed. It was a US-financed relief package to assist European nations after WW2. The Marshall Plan authorized the US government to supply equipment and military aid to support nations at risk from communism. The Marshall Plan was essential for the success of the United States policy of containment.
The Berlin Crisis erupted in 1948 which brought the United States and the USSR to the brink of war. Joseph Stalin ordered the Berlin blockade in East Germany closing the entry points to the Western zones of Berlin by road and rail in an attempt to starve out the Western allies and abandon the city. Relinquishing Berlin to the Soviets would have seriously undermined the US policy of containment.
The US responded with the Berlin Airlift forcing Stalin to choose between war and peace. Stalin ref used to give the order to shoot down the American planes, West Berlin remained free from communism and another war was averted.
NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was formed on April 4, 1949 comprising of 12 members to establish a mutual defense pact aimed at containing possible Soviet aggression and blocking Soviet expansion into Europe. The establishment of NATO furthered the United States policy of containment.
The rise in power of Mao Zedong and Communism in China against the US-backed Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek resulted in the spread of the Cold War beyond Europe into East Asia. In 1950 China entered the Korean War.
Following the containment doctrine the U.S. entered the Korean War (June 25, 1950 - July 27, 1953) to defend South Korea from a communist invasion and gain a pledge from the United Nations (UN) to give support.
Dien Bien Phu: In line with the US policy President Eisenhower made the decision against US military intervention sent aid to the French forces fighting the Communist guerillas in Vietnam. The French defeat at Dien Bien Phu on 7 May 1954 was a watershed event as it ended the French effort to retain Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos during the Indochina War, but began the direct involvement of the US who later replaced France to fight against communism in Vietnam.
The Vietnam War (November 1, 1955 – April 30, 1975) was to last for 20 years during the period of the Cold War in south-east Asia. The first US combat troops were sent to Vietnam in March 1965 and left in August 1973
The Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) was formed on September 8, 1954. The United States saw the establishment of SEATO as essential to its Cold War Containment policy in Southeast Asia.
The Checkpoint Charlie Incident (22 October 22, 1961 - October 27, 1961) erupted due to a minor dispute at the Berlin Wall when a stand-off between Soviet and US tanks nearly led to the start of WW3. After a tense stand-off, both sides decided to back down and withdraw their tanks. President Kennedy tolerated the rest of the wall's construction, famously saying, "A wall is sure better than a war. "
In 1959, a rebel named Fidel Castro took power in Cuba. The US doctrine of containment and fear of communism led to a ban on imports of Cuban sugar and all aid to Cuba. The US assumed Castro’s allegiance to the Soviet Union which on April 17, 1961 led to the invasion at a beach on the south coast of Cuba called the Bay of Pigs.
The Bay of Pigs invasion led to the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 14, 1962 – October 28, 1962). The Cuban Missile Crisis was a crucial test for the Containment doctrine. The Containment policy gave President Kennedy a number of options such as applying diplomatic pressure, the invasion of Cuba, blockade tactics and air attack. The threat of a nuclear war was so great that President Kennedy and Khrushchev had to create a peace to avoid the devastation of nuclear warfare. The US Containment policy failed as Cuba became a communism state.
The US Containment policy of the 1940's and 1950's changed to Detente when there was a release from tension and the relaxation in a political situation which led to a temporary ‘thaw’ in US-Soviet relations. The first signs of detente followed the Cuban Missile crisis when in August 1963 the USSR, the United States and Great Britain signed the first Nuclear Test Ban treaty.
The end of the Cold War in 1991 marked the official end of U.S. containment policy which had been a major influenced U.S. foreign policy.
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