Strategic U.S. foreign policy of the late 1940s and early 1950s intended to check the expansionist designs of the Soviet Union through economic, military, diplomatic, and political means. It was conceived by George Kennan soon after World War II. An early application of containment was the Truman Doctrine (1947), which provided U.S. aid to Greece and Turkey. Seealso Marshall Plan.
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Containment refers to a foreign policy of the United States in the early years of the Cold War. The policy was a response to a series of moves by the Soviet Union to expand communist influence in eastern Europe and elsewhere. It represents a middle ground position between appeasement and rollback. It was championed by Cold War liberals such as U.S. presidents Harry S Truman (1945-53) and Lyndon Johnson (1963-69). For nuclear weapons policy, the corresponding doctrine is called Mutual Assured Destruction.
The basis for containment was articulated in a diplomatic cable by George Kennan, a diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, in February 1946. It was adopted as policy by Truman the following year. The purpose of containment was to prevent communism from spreading in a "one after another" pattern known as the "domino effect." Containment was a rationale for many U.S. actions during the Cold War, Korean War, and Vietnam War. U.S. defeat in Vietnam led many to question the doctrine.
Soviet power, unlike that of Hitlerite Germany, is neither schematic nor adventunstic. It does not work by fixed plans. It does not take unnecessary risks. Impervious to logic of reason, and it is highly sensitive to logic of force. For this reason it can easily withdraw--and usually does when strong resistance is encountered at any point.
According to Kennan:
“The main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies,” Kennan wrote.
Kennan's analysis came to be regarded as prescient following later Russian moves aimed at establishing Communist control over eastern Europe. Kennan's telegram was published as a magazine article entitled "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" in July 1947 under the pseudonym "Mr. X."
During the Korean War, Truman allowed General Douglas MacArthur to advance across the 38th parallel into North Korea. For many policymakers, MacArthur's subsequent defeat at the hands of the Chinese at Chosin Reservoir confirmed the wisdom of containment and discredited MacArthur's focus on victory. Others, such as John Foster Dulles, backed MacArthur and concluded that Truman had been too timid. In 1952, Dulles called for "rollback" and the eventual "liberation" of eastern Europe. Dulles was named secretary of state by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, but Eisenhower's failure to intervene during Hungarian Uprising of 1956 made containment a bipartisan doctrine.
Senator Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate for president in 1964, challenged containment and asked, "Why not victory? President Johnson, the Democratic nominee, answered that rollback risked nuclear war. Johnson explained containment doctrine by quoting the Bible: "Hitherto shalt thou come, but not further." Goldwater lost to Johnson in the general election by a wide margin. Johnson adhered closely to containment during the Vietnam War, rejecting proposals by General William Westmoreland that U.S. ground forces advance into Laos and cut communist supply lines. Rallies in support of the troops were discouraged for fear that a patriotic response would lead to demands for victory and rollback. Military responsibility was divided among three generals so that no powerful theater commander could emerge to challenge Johnson as MacArthur had challenged Truman.
The end of the Cold War in 1989 marked the official end of U.S. containment policy, though it kept its bases in the areas around the former Soviet Union, such as ones in Iceland, Germany, and Turkey. (The Naval Air Station Keflavik in Iceland was closed in September 2006.) As of 2005, the U.S. had at least 700 military bases around the world.
As of 2008, the U.S. has military bases in South Korea, Japan and Afghanistan. The US supplies military equipment to South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and India. In addition, it is assumed by the ROC military that the US has guaranteed the security of Taiwan. The U.S. has also proposed a deal to supply India with nuclear fuel and technology.
The other Asian nation "contained" by U.S. policies is North Korea, which has been under trade sanctions and isolation. The U.S. president George W Bush further claimed North Korea, along with Iraq and Iran forms the Axis of Evil.