Chapter 4 – U.S. “Containment” Strategy from Truman to Johnson - 1950 to 1968

efforts and broke its pledges made at Yalta, Potsdam and the United Nations. The Soviets used their military power to Sovietize Eastern Europe and step up their pro-Communist revolutionary instruments of subversion, “active measures” (propaganda, misinformation, espionage and false front influence operations), and outright warfare as they added millions of new victims of Communism behind the Iron Curtain.

Soviet and Chinese Imperialism, NSC–68 and U.S./Western “Containment” and MAD Nuclear Deterrence Strategies. The mounting Soviet violations of its international pledges in Eastern Europe and globally, the development of Soviet nuclear arms (partly through espionage), and turning point developments in Asia including the Communist revolution in China in 1949 and North Korea’s Soviet- and Chinese-supported invasion of 1950 could not be evaded. A comprehensive U.S./Western international strategy was required going beyond the Truman Doctrine and early Western alliance steps reviewed in the preceding chapter. As authoritatively articulated in Truman’s landmark NSC–68 document of 1950, “containment” was necessary to defend peace and freedom in the nuclear age. Incorporated by the U.S. and Western political and military establishments, including NATO and other key alliances, “containment” remained the official strategy until replaced with Richard Nixon’s “détente” strategy in 1969. However, the containment-associated U.S. nuclear deterrence strategies of “massive retaliation,” and “Mutual Assured Destruction” endured through the 1970s, until replaced, along with the “detente” strategy, by Ronald Reagan’s revolutionary Cold War strategy.

Soviet and U.S. Leaders and Key Cold War Events During the “Containment” Period. Soviet Communist Party leaders of the 1950s and 1960s during the U.S. containment strategy period reviewed in this chapter were marked by different personal styles and tactics, but were consistent in sharing aggressive common Soviet ideological and imperial objectives. These leaders included Josef Stalin to 1954, Nikita Khrushchev to 1964, and Leonid Brezhnev, who ruled into the 1980s. U.S. presidents who adopted variants of the containment strategy include President Truman to 1953, Dwight Eisenhower to 1961, John Kennedy to 1963, and Lyndon Johnson to 1969. Major 1950s Cold War crises developed over Soviet global subversion and use of the Red Army and Warsaw Pact forces to crush anti-Soviet national uprisings in the captive nations of East Germany (1953) and Hungary and Poland (1956). Later crises included Fidel Castro’s seizure of power in Cuba (1959) and the creation of a Communist regime there followed by the Soviet missile crisis in Cuba in 1962. The 1960s also saw major Soviet arms buildups, the construction of the Berlin Wall (1961), Mao Zedong’s and Lin Piao’s radical militancy in China and in support of North Vietnam’s effort in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia as a “central front” of the Cold War. A further Cold War turning point was the Soviet/Warsaw Pact invasion of its Communist ally Czechoslovakia in 1968 to crush the reform hopes of the “Prague Spring,” to declare the imperial “Brezhnev Doctrine” within the Kremlin’s “Socialist Camp” and in support of “Wars of National Liberation” by Soviet-supported pro-Communist insurgencies throughout the globe.

1. The Origins of the “Containment” Strategy: Truman, Kennan, and Initial U.S. Strategy Documents before NSC–68—1946 to January 1950

The U.S. “containment” strategy presented formally in President Harry Truman’s 1950 directive NSC–68—Objectives and Programs for National Security marked a multi-faceted U.S. response to the Soviet Union’s aggressive Cold War, and hot wars, in the early post-Second World War years. As reviewed in the prior chapter, the Soviet leadership headed by Josef Stalin even before the end of the Second World War intensified the pattern of Communist subversion and warfare against peace and freedom initiated decades earlier by Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. As Soviet aggression, and that of its proxies and allies, overran peoples and nations seeking freedom and independence, this confounded America’s illusory post-war expectations. It led to the recognition that an effective U.S./Western strategy must be developed to deal with the compelling historical reality of the Soviet Union’s totalitarian threat in what came to be called the Cold War—the Third World War of the twentieth century. Truman’s NSC–68 containment strategy reflected the principles of America’s freedom faith and experience and a set forth a Free World strategy to counter the global Communist threat to democracy and peace and to roll back and ultimately to collapse the brutal Soviet ideology and empire

Harry Truman’s Freedom Faith and Leadership Experience. The containment strategy reflected Truman’s personal faith in American values; his war experience as a U.S. officer on the Western Front in the First World War; his successful campaign against the corrupt machine politics that controlled Kansas City; and, finally, his extraordinary leadership growth as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s relatively unknown Vice President who inherited the extraordinary responsibilities of the U.S. presidency upon Roosevelt’s death in April 1945 and

[Book pg. 70]