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

NSC–68/1 and NSC–69/1 (August–September 1951 and the U.S. Defense Build-up to FY 1953. In NSC–68/1, Truman asked for a follow-up report due by August 1, 1950 on the approximate dollar costs of a five-year program to implement the actions recommended in NSC–68. The response was NSC–68/1—US Objectives and Programs for National Security, prepared by an ad-hoc group established by the NSC, that was delivered on September 21. Its preparation was interrupted by the outbreak of the Korean War in June (see next section) that was a severe shock to the U.S. and its allies. It reinforced the tough threat assessments of NSC–68 and projected costs, and produced consensus on a comprehensive U.S. Cold War strategy at senior levels of the U.S. government. NSC–68 /1 consisted of a cover document and ten annexes. It estimated FY 1951 national security programs totaling $35.3 billion and nearly doubling to $63.4 billion by FY 1953. Readers are encouraged to review specific U.S. programs in NSC 68/1 identified as: Military, Economic Assistance, Civilian Defense, Stockpiling, Information, Intelligence, and Internal Security, as well as sections on Long-Term Political and Economic Framework, Organization for Coordinating National Security Policies and Programs, and Economic Implications.

Follow-on NSC Documents and Declaration of a National Emergency Concerning “World Conquest by Communist Imperialism”—September to December 1950. Other NSC documents followed in developing a systematic comprehensive strategy to mobilize the nation for a long Cold War, including NSC–68/2 on September 30, 1950, NSC–68/3 on December 8, and NSC–68/4 on December 14. As Truman mobilized the nation, he directed further studies “with a view to increasing and speeding up the programs outlined.” He met with Congressional leaders on December 13, and on December 16, 1950, he issued a public Proclamation of a National Emergency, formally titled “Proclamation 2914: Proclaiming the Existence of a National Emergency.” The Proclamation minces no words about the threat of “communist imperialism” and the strength of U.S. resolve to secure “the Blessings of Liberty:”

world conquest by communist imperialism is the goal of the forces of aggression. . . . If the goal . . . were to be achieved, the people of this country would no longer enjoy the full and rich life they have with God’s help built for themselves and their children; they would longer enjoy the blessings of the freedom of worshiping as they severally choose, the freedom of reading and listening to what they choose, the right of free speech including the right to criticize their Government, the right to choose those who conduct their Government, the right to engage freely in collective bargaining, the right to engage freely in their own business enterprises, and the many other freedoms and rights which are part of our way of life; . . . Therefore, I . . . proclaim the existence of a national emergency, which requires that the . . . defenses of this country be strengthened as speedily as possible . . . I am confident that we will meet the dangers that confront us with courage and determination, strong in the faith that we can thereby “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”5

A Historical Note on NSC–68. NSC–68 was subsequently approved by President Truman and was authoritatively adapted for a range of specific elements of Truman Administration Cold War strategy, although it was reduced in its implications for hard-hitting ideological combat, public diplomacy, and rollback in the U.S. “containment” strategy as it developed in the 1950s and 1960s and in the “détente” strategy of the 1970s. The Top Secret document itself appears to have been fairly narrowly held in the Truman Administration and to have been largely unknown to officials in subsequent administrations. As U.S. Cold War strategies faltered, and Soviet aggression increased in the mid-1970s, Ronald Reagan spoke in terms that echoed NSC–68. Paul Nitze no doubt carried aspects of the NSC–68 experience into the “Team B” Report assessment, the Committee on the Present Danger, and other mid-1970s “Reagan Coalition’’ catalysts described in Chapter 6 of this book. Most notably, the Truman document’s passionate expression of America’s freedom faith, vigorous anti-Communist concerns, and call for rebuilding U.S. and Allied strengths to roll back the Soviet threat, are echoed in Reagan’s Republican Platform—1980 (Chapter 7), NSC documents including his new Cold War strategy outlined in NSDD—75 “U.S.-Soviet Relations” of January 17, 1983 (Chapter 8), and his inspiring freedom speeches (Chapter 16).

[Book pg. 76]