Essay: Foreign Relations of U.S

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Foreign Relations of the U.S.

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What were the initial aims, scope and means of the containment policy? How and why did strategy of containment evolve over time from Truman to Reagan? What were its major strengths and flaws?

George Kennan, President Truman's Director of the Policy Planning Staff, created the doctrine we know as "containment." It was meant, at the time, to contain the advance of the U.S.S.R. And communism to other areas of the world. His idea was that the U.S. should utilize patience, firmness, and counter-force only when necessary to ensure that communism did not spread to other countries and continents. He thought that this policy, over time, might lead to the wearing down and eventual breakup of the Soviet Union, or at a minimum, to the nullification of its power and ability to advance its political agenda. However, a key part of Kennan's original policy called for always allowing the Soviets an honorable way to back off their aggression.

The means of enforcing this policy was the confrontation of the Soviet Union at every geographical location, anywhere around the globe, that it presented itself with the goal of communist expansion. Kennan pointed to Western Europe, Japan and the United States as the main areas of concern where it would be critical to stop than expansion. His idea was to utilize economic pressure, economic assistance programs, and psychological warfare and propaganda to accomplish his goal of containment. Though he referred to the use of "counter-force," as well, Kennan considered the Soviet threat to be political, not military, and deferred to non-military means of "force" to stop it.

The Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan and the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty

Organization (NATO) all originated with this policy of containment. The purpose of all these programs was to aid and assist countries falling under the influence of communism, and not to militarily confront the Soviet Union.

The main weakness of "containment" in the view of other statesmen, like Paul Nitze, Kennan's successor, was that there were no set boundaries or limits on how far the Soviets could go before containment kicked in. The thought was that Kennan's policy was too weak, too passive. A stronger, more aggressive policy was needed to really keep communism from extending its fingers into weaker, developing countries in particular. The concern was not just the industrial centers as spelled out by Kennan, but anywhere on the face of the earth.

A passive containment policy would not stop the Soviets, argued the opposition, who only understood the use of military force. Diplomacy and negotiations would prove useless. The U.S. should significantly increase its military forces, and cut other domestic and foreign programs to do so. By the early 1950s, the specifically targeted containment policy became a global military policy aimed at anywhere communism showed its head. Essentially, over the next three decades the policy became more and more aggressive to the point that, by the Reagan years, it meant the potential overthrow of the U.S.S.R., and more certainly, psychological, military, and political programs and pressures to ensure that overthrow.

The situation in China and Southeast Asia played no small part in this expansion of the aggressiveness of the containment policy. China was involved in a civil war and it looked to the U.S. As if the communists were winning. The situation in Southeast Asia was unstable. These small countries, once under the thumb of Western nations as colonies, were becoming more independent. With the situation in China, the possibility of communism spreading to these countries seemed to be a real possibility, and that could not be tolerated. That is the reason President Truman saw it necessary to support the French in their battle with communist insurgents in a little, unknown place known as Viet Nam. As far back as the early 1950s, Truman saw Viet Nam as a key geographical location for the containment of communism and the Kremlin. As we know from history, each succeeding administration seemed to agree.

Eventually, in the 1960s, under Kennedy and Johnson, the U.S. became fully involved in an aggressive military campaign of containment aimed at China and Russia being stopped in Southeast Asia. Ultimately, we failed.

It is ironic that it was more Kennan's original policy that brought the U.S.S.R. To its knees in 1989. President Reagan used the psychology of the U.S. missile defense system which cost the Soviets their entire budget to counter, embedding the global concept of the Soviets as the "evil empire," and then turning to diplomacy with Gorbachev. The U.S.S.R., as Kennan had predicted 40 years prior, became "the most pitiable of national societies." The great strengths of containment -- persistence, patience, and economics -- had destroyed the power of the Kremlin.

2. What were the major reasons for the Cuban Missile crisis? Could the crisis have been avoided? Evaluate the management of the crisis by the U.S. And the Soviet leadership. What were the lessons of the crisis for American, Soviet and European leaders?

Nikita Khrushchev, in his memoirs, states that, in May 1962, he decided to place nuclear missiles in Cuba because he feared another "Bay of Pigs" invasion of Cuba, and because the U.S. was developing and deploying more strategic missiles than the U.S.S.R. Also involved in the rationale by Khrushchev to place the weapons in Cuba was the fact that the U.S. had been waging a covert operations war against Castro in Cuba for many years with assassination attempts, and the sabotage of Cuban factories. The U.S. was going all out at the time to expand its military forces when it already overwhelmed the Soviets with nuclear delivery capability. In addition, the U.S. had placed Jupiter intermediate-range missiles in Turkey. Kennedy had made it a point to let the Soviets know that the U.S. would consider a nuclear first-strike against the U.S.S.R. The Soviets felt severely threatened, perhaps rightfully so.

The crisis developed when Kennedy, weakened by the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, and convinced that nuclear missiles 90 miles from the U.S. could not be tolerated, initiated steps to have them removed.

It is difficult to say whether or not this crisis could have been avoided. Perhaps if our policies towards Cuba had been different, or if we accepted our domination over the Soviets in nuclear capability and did not expand it beyond necessary, or if the Bay of Pigs had not occurred, then it might have been possible that the Soviets would not have placed the missiles so close to the U.S. So, yes, it is theoretically possible it could have been avoided. But once Khrushchev decided to place the missiles in Cuba, the path to a confrontation was certain. Regardless of any other circumstances, no President of the U.S. could tolerate an "enemy's" nuclear weapons that close to the U.S. where they could be launched and strike within five minutes.

The management of the crisis by the U.S. was filled with confrontation between military and civilian leaders. It was organized and controlled chaos at times. There was great dissension as to what path the U.S. should take to get the missiles out. False steps were taken. Mistakes were made. But, in the end, most experts agree that it was Kennedy's flexibility and his management style of listening to all ideas, and his commitment to a peaceful resolution, that won the day. He was able to manipulate a consensus for a quarantine and manage the communications between himself and Khrushchev with significant input from others in his administration. And, at the suggestion of others, he arranged for the subtle removal of the U.S. Jupiter missiles in Turkey in trade of the Russian Cuban missiles to seal the deal. Finally, he guaranteed the Soviets that the U.S. would not invade Cuba -- one of Khrushchev's greatest fears, and a move the U.S. really never intended to make anyway.

The Soviets, and particularly, Nikita Khrushchev, for all of his shoe-banging at the U.N., acted with restraint and courage. Khrushchev was under the same pressure from his military and political hard-liners that Kennedy was in the U.S. He, like Kennedy, had to stand against the desire for war, and negotiate for peace. And Khrushchev, like Kennedy, knew that force would end only one way, in catastrophe for both countries and, perhaps, the entire globe. No one will know the inner workings of the Soviet inner council or of their leader's thoughts other than what he wrote. But it is the outcome that judges how a crisis is managed. Errors will be made. But two men saved the world from nuclear war. No matter how they accomplished it, that is a fact.

There were several lessons learned for the U.S. from this crisis. Number one, it is thought by experts, that military superiority is crucial in a crisis. The resolve to use it will deter aggression. We also learned that, at the time, any… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Foreign Relations of U.S.  (2009, July 29).  Retrieved December 11, 2019, from

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"Foreign Relations of U.S."  29 July 2009.  Web.  11 December 2019. <>.

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"Foreign Relations of U.S."  July 29, 2009.  Accessed December 11, 2019.