THE EVOLUTION OF AMERICAN NATIONAL SECURITY POLICY SINCE THE END OF SECOND WORLD WAR
THE EVOLUTION OF AMERICAN NATIONAL SECURITY POLICY SINCE THE END OF SECOND WORLD WAR
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
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
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
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
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. The US signed
bilateral agreements with South Korea (1953), the Republic of China
(Taiwan) (1954), Iran (1959), Pakistan (1959), and Turkey (1959). In 1954
South East Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO) was created. In 1959 the US
became a member of Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO).
Also the Middle East became the area of concern, especially after the
Suez crizis (1956). Fear of Communist incursions in this area led to the
formulation of Eisenhower Doctrine.
Of course, the most important event during this period was the Cuban
crisis (1962). It was the most dangerous event of the Cold War, and a good
lesson for the officials of both superpowers. A nuclear exchange was so
close that both White House and Kremlin officials frankly expected the
bombs to fall. They recognized that the superpowers must change their
3. Competetive Coexistence, 1963-1968. Because of growing parity of
American and Soviet military capabilities the fact was that the
alternatives were coexistence or noncoexistence. The powers began to
look for the ways to coexistence. One of the first signs was the
instaliation of the “hot line” linking the White House and the Kremlin With
a direct communication system in 1963. Also a number of agreements were
negotiated: The Antarctic Treaty (1959), The Partial Test Ban Treaty
(1963), The Outer Space Treaty (1967), The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty
(1968). All this paved the way towards detente.
4. Detente, 1969-1978. Detente - a policy and a process designed to relax
tensions between the superpowers. Nixon and Kissinger viewed detente as
yet another in a long series of attempts to contain the power and the
influence of the SU.
In July 1969, the Nixon Doctrine was declared. There were three major
points: (1) that the US will keep all of its treaty commitments; (2) that
the US will provide a shield if a nuclear power threatens the freedom of a
allied nation; and (3) that the US will furnish military and economic
assistance when requested in accordance with treaty commitments.
The first real step in implementation of the Nixon Doctrine was the
gradual withdrawal of American troops from South Vietnam. Nixon also
reduced the “two-and-one-half” war strategy to a “one-and-one-half” war
There were two requirements for implementing detente: (1) to engage
the SU in serious negotiations; (2) the concept of linkage .
Detente led to a series of negotiations and signing of treaties. The
Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) was signed in 1972, the Vladivostok
Accords - in 1974, the Helsinki Agreement - in 1975, and SALT II - in 1979
(SALT II was never ratified by the Congress).
At the same time the more serious doubts about mutual assured
destruction strategy (MAD) arose. Early in 1974, President Nixon signed
National Security Decision Memorandum (NSDM)-242. This was the shift of
emphasis away from the MAD strike options in the strategic war plans toward
more limited and flexible options designed to control escalation and
neutralize any Soviet advantage.
Another important issue was China. During the late 1960s, both Nixon
and Kissinger had reached the conclusion that it would not be wise to leave
China permanently isolated. Also it became clear that the split between
the SU and the China was real. Recognition of the People’s Republic of
China and full diplomatic relations with the Beijing goverment took effect
on January 1, 1979.
Carter came into office in January 1977. In general, the Carter
administration continued the same strategy as Nixon. But some changes were
introduced. The Carter administration emphasized a more global agenda,
concentrating on regional issues, the North-South relationship, the
economic interdependence of the industrial democracies, and human rights.
Another important departure was a renewed emphasis on moralism in US
The end of detente was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December
1979. Ronald Sullivan pointed out: “The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan
finally closed the door on the policy experiment known as detente.”
5. Confrontation, 1979-1986. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan opened the
new period of the US-Soviet relations. Confrontation rather than
accomodation had once again become the dominant mode of interaction between
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