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Chapter 4

Chapter 4: The Cold War Context: Origins and First Stages

Chapter Review

The early Cold War years were a period of crucial choices for American foreign policy. The policies pursued in these years not only addressed the immediate issues but also became the foundations and framework for the pursuit of the 4 Ps in the decades that followed.

Peace during the early Cold War years was pursued through international institutionalism and the creation of the United Nations. The UN drew from the lessons of the failure of the League of Nations and was intended to peace and international cooperation, while serving US national interests.  The UN, however, was unable to ensure peace because of the political ambivalence of a number of countries, including the US, that wanted an international institution strong enough to keep the peace but no so strong as to threaten nation-state supremacy or sovereignty. The onset of the Cold War and the ensuing priority given to considerations of Power significantly undermined the ability of the UN to achieve its original vision.

Power became the driving consideration during the early Cold War, and the two basic doctrines of Power that developed during these years remained the core of American foreign policy. Nuclear deterrence was meant to prevent attack through the fear of retaliation. Containment, as promoted by George F. Kennan, recommended that the US counter any attempt by the Soviets to expand their sphere of influence or to spread communism beyond their own borders.

Both deterrence and containment began during the Truman administration and were implemented in the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the creation of NATO and were expanded under NSC-68. Both these policies intensified during the 1950s and early 1960s. US containment policy was exported to both the Middle East and Latin America. The nuclear-deterrence doctrine evolved during the Eisenhower administration and came to a head during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

One of the key differences between the Cold War and other historical great-power struggles was the Cold War's emphasis on principles and ideology. During this period American presidential administrations advocated and "ABC" Democrat policy, supporting regimes in Asia and Latin America. This support for questionable foreign leaders coupled with CIA covert action elsewhere raised questions about the consistency of American foreign policy with Principles.

Prosperity during this period was largely pursued through the creation of the LIEO. Though many aspects of the LIEO did provide broad economic benefits internationally, it was also criticized for reinforcing American economic dominance and economic hegemony. Other critics also feared corporate interests were driving US foreign policy.

The main pattern in American foreign policy politics during this period was the "Cold War consensus," which was composed of three fundamental components:

  • Presidential dominance over Congress
  • A vast expansion of the executive-branch foreign and defense policy bureaucracy
  • A fervent anticommunism pervading public opinion

Such consensus resulted in poor policy planning during the Bay of Pigs invasion and the persecution of American citizens. These events demonstrate how too much of a consensus can have negative consequences.

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