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The Containment Policy Previous Next
Digital History ID 3403

 

An article in the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, signed X, proposed that the West adopt a policy of "containment" toward the Soviet Union. The article's author, George Kennan, who set up the U.S. embassy in Moscow in 1943, called on the United States to take steps to prevent Soviet expansion. He was convinced that if the Soviet Union failed to expand, its social system would eventually break down.

The Containment Policy would adopt two approaches. One approach was military; the other was economic. In 1947, U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall proposed a program to funnel American economic aid to Europe. Faced with a rapid growth in the size of Communist parties, especially in France and Italy, the U.S. proposed a program of direct economic aid.

The Marshall Plan

In June 1947, George C. Marshall proposed to give financial aid to European countries. He called on Europeans to collectively agree on what kind of assistance they needed. Even the Soviet Union was invited to participate in the planning.

The Soviet delegation abruptly quit the summit in Paris to discuss the Marshall offer. When two Soviet satellites--Czechoslovakia and Poland--indicated that they wanted to take part in the Marshall Plan, the Soviet Union said no. The Soviet refusal to participate made it easier to secure congressional passage for the plan. When the Czechoslovakian government was overthrown in a Communist coup, congressional passage was assured.

The Marshall Plan committed more than 10 percent of the federal budget and almost 3 percent of the United States' gross national product to rebuilding Western Europe. Over the next 40 months, Congress authorized $12.5 billion in aid to restore Western Europe's economic health and to halt the spread of communism. Marshall's plan actually cost the United States very little, since it was largely paid for by European purchases of American coal, agricultural crops, and machinery.

The Fate of Germany

In March and April 1947, the United States, British, French, and Soviet officials met in Moscow to discuss the future of Germany. The participants were unable to agree about whether to end the occupation of Germany or to reunify the country. The conference's failure led the Western Allies to unify their German occupation zones in June 1948 and to establish West Germany.

Berlin Blockade

Outraged by Western plans to create an independent West Germany, Soviet forces imposed a blockade cutting off rail, highway, and water traffic between West Germany and West Berlin. A day later, an airlift began flying in food and supplies for West Berlin's two million residents. By September, the airlift was carrying 4,500 tons of supplies a day. Over the next 11 months, 277,000 flights brought in 2.5 million tons of supplies until the Soviet Union lifted the blockade.

NATO

In April 1949, a month before the Soviet Union lifted the Berlin Blockade, the United States, Canada, Iceland and nine European nations formed NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Member states pledged mutual assistance against an armed attack and cooperation in military training and strategic planning.

The U.S. stationed troops in Western Europe, assuring its Allies that it would use its nuclear deterrent to protect Western Europeans against a Soviet attack.

The admission of West Germany into NATO in 1955 led the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites to form a competing military alliance called the Warsaw Pact.

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