United States Foreign Policy From 1945 – 1990 Essay, Research Paper
To see the world divided into communist and anti-communist nations is both a sobering picture, and one that will stay in the mind of many of the generation that saw the events that lead to the end of the threat of communism. The doctrines of each of the first few presidents of this time period are focused on the containment, impairment, or destruction of communism, and all of the decisions in each of the smallest events are pivotal based on the domino effect that could swing in any direction at any time. This was the rule of the day.
The primary concern of the first of Harry S.Truman’s terms was the closure of the hostilities of World War II. He partook in the Potsdam negotiations, making his feeling for Stalin well known while settling terretorial lines in Europe as well as renewing the Yalta agreement with the Soviet Union. This would side The Soviet Union with the U.S. in the war against Japan. This particular conflict was ended thoroughly and abruptly by the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. After this horrific display of power, Japan surrendered, and Truman was able to focus on his second and equally important goal of containing the spread of communism, a goal which was called the Truman Doctrine.
Truman?s second term was riddled by the contageous threat of communism and the need for restored trade in an economically sound Europe. The second of these goals was accomplished to a degree through the Marshall Plan which channeled $12 billion towards the reconstruction of their crippled economy. The first of these goals would plague many presidents after Truman, though many important steps were taken in this early stage. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, for example, was begun in 1949 as a result of a Soviet blockade of western sectors of Berlin (McCoy 145). This, in turn, sparked the Warsaw Pact which consolidated the communist nations into one power generally controlled by the Soviet Union. Another anti-communist act on the part of the U.S. was the National Security Council Report (NSC-68) in 1950 which establishe the U.S. as the frontrunner of the anti-communist campaign, stating that the U.S. would not rely on other nations to take the lead in resisting communism. It also strengthened the U.S.?s military power by increasing the defense budget to accommodate the expansion. All of these developments allowed America to focus more on the unstable East Asian affairs (Dallek 147).
Specifically, America focused on the Korean conflict in 1950 between the communist North Korea, and the resisting South Korea. The support of the U.S. quickly swung to the side of South Korean because Truman saw it not only as a small scale fight for a type of government, but also an important peice for the communist or anti-communist regimes. Unfortunately, support at home was not what Truman hoped it would be and he was soon faced with a dilapidated campaign which Dweight D. Eisenhower would rebuild by addressing the situation in Korea swiftly and effectively.
The Eisenhower Administration began by vowing to resolve the crisis in Korea which it did on July 27, 1953 in Panmunjom. The treaty created a 2.5 mile buffer zone across Korea which ended up giving South Korea almost 1,500 more square miles of territory. Also in eastern Asia, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) was established to protect Indochina from the communist forces around it. In addition, at this time there was a situation that became known as the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. In this silent conflict was a hazardous arms race which would grip both nations? economies for the years to come. In southeast Asia, France was having trouble with the communist and nationalist Ho Chi Minh who was trying to take over Vietnam as an independent communist nation. The Eisenhower Doctrine, which was simply a continuation of the Truman Doctrine, supported the French in their suppression of the insurgent forces (Burk 133).
Eisenhower?s problems also extended into Africa where General Gabal Abdel Nasser had seized control of the Suez canal from the British to help fund the building of the Aswan Dam from which America had withdrawn its support. The U.S. pressured French and British troops to withdraw from an invasion to keep the Arab forces, who controlled rich oil reserves, from swinging their support to the Soviet Union. Nasser agreed to a treaty with Israel who had shown the first signs of agression towards the takeover of the canal, and thus a major crisis which could have caused a nuclear holocaust was avoided (Burk 133). Finally, towards the end of his administration, Eisenhower was scheduled to negotiate the controversy over East and West Berlin with Krushchev in Paris, when an American U-2 spy plane was shot down over Russia. This gave Krushchev reason enough not to attend the negotiations, and caused Eisenhower great embarrassment (Burk 139). Eisenhower left office having made many significant contributions to the foreign policy of that time.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy followed Eisenhower in the presidency, but did not follow in his footsteps in terms of foreign policy. Kennedy believed that, contrary to the Truman and Eisenhower Doctrines, the U.S. should not intervene on the part of insurgents just because they were anti-communist. According to Kennedy, the U.S. should only enter conflicts if it directly affected the U.S. or its people. Nonetheless, in 1961, Kennedy announced that the U.S. was prepared to use military force to prevent a communist takeover of Laos. The conflict was avoided in a truce in 1962 at Geneva which kept the country neutral. Along the same time period, on April 17, 1961, 1,500 Cuban refugee fighters who had been trained by the CIA landed at the Bay of Pigs to attempt to overthrow a Soviet-supported Castro. Unfortunately, there was not as much support from the citizens as was expected, so they were forced to surrender. The whole incident made Kennedy look indicisive in terms of foreign policy, which opened the door for even more Soviet aggression (Boorstin 647). This aggression was soon seen in the form of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. In this, one of the most frightening developments of the Cold War, Kruschev began transporting Soviet military equipment, technicians, and planes, and began to build guided missiles and launching pads on American soil. Through the little Kennedy knew about this situation, he ordered a blockade of Cuba, searching for any offensive weapons to be sent back. He also demanded that Krushchev remove all missile bases and weapons that could attack the U.S. from Cuba, in exchange for a lifting of the blockade. His firmness in this crisis earned him back much of the repect that was lost in the Bay of Pigs (Garraty 796). This repect stayed with him even as he was gunned down on November 22, 1963 by Lee Harvey Oswald.
Lyndon B. Johnson followed Kennedy as president, and was immediately faced with problems in Panama, where America had established control of the canal joining the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. An incident at Balboa High School instigated violent riots with Molotor Cocktails and sniper fire. The leader of Panama, Chiari blamed communist agents for the incident, but also broke off relations with the U.S. Johnson slowly restored negotiations with the country and was still working with them when he left office in 1968 (Heath 189).
Johnson?s next test would come with the upset of the Dominican Republic which had started with the assassination of their dictator, Rafael Trujillo, back in 1961. This led to a toss up for the power of the nation which landed in the hands of Juan Bosch, then Donald Reid Cabral, and finally another member of the Bosch family (Lovell 217). To the U.S., this was not acceptable, so they supported an insurrection by Air Force General Eli Wessin. They were able to do so with the report from U.S. ambassador W. Tapley Bennett which convinced the president that U.S. citizens were in danger. Johnson soon sent marines and the 82nd Airborne Division, seeing that the situation could develop into another missile crisis like the one in Cuba due to the fact that, at that time, communists were in control of the country (Heath 232). Johnson finally saw the anti-communist Joaquin Balaguer win the presidency of the Diminican Republic in 1966.
Overshadowing all foreign policy events were the hostilities in Vietnam. Johnson was continually sending more troops and authorizing more air raids over North Vietnam such as ?Rolling Thunder?. Despite these many efforts, North Vietnam refused to meet to negotiate because their goal was similar to Hitler?s in that they intended to ultimately rule the world (Ingui 166). Throughout the conflict, Johnson was faced with the issue that a loss in Vietnam would cause communist aggression to multiply, possibly losing Southeast Asia and the Far East. On the other hand, a victory in Vietnam might instigate other nations to try their hand at insurrection against the overbearing powers of communism (Heath 299). This thinking was accurately termed the ?domino theory.?
Richard Nixon?s primary concern going into office after Johnson was the ending of the Vietnam War. He accomplished this goal through an increase in the number and intensity of the air raids over North Vietnam, and a policy called ?Vietnamization? (Warren 180). Vietnamization involved the training of South Vietnamese to replace the U.S. military in the hostilities there. Not only did this decrease the number of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam, but it also undermined opposition to the war in the citizens. As for the bombing, Nixon authorized the air raids over Cambodia and North Vietnam according to the offenses taken in these areas (Vander Linden 54). This also included the mining of seven strategic North Vietnamese ports. All of these efforts led to the final ?Peace with honor (Evans 248),? negotiated by Kissinger on January 27, 1973 (Ripley 84). The Paris Accords was the actual peace agreement which called for a cease-fire and the release of several hundred American prisoners of war from North Vietnam. Unfortunately, by 1975, Vietnam was reunited under communism and the South Vietnamese capitol of Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City (Linton 146). Following the Vietnam hostilities there was a relaxation of the tensions between Communist nations and the U.S. This pause was called the D?tente.
In addition to the closure of the Vietnam War and the aftermath of the changes, Nixon was also dealing with China which he intended to use as a buffer between the U.S. and the Soviet Union (Osgood 173). These relations began with a secret mission by Kissinger, and escalated to China being admitted into the UN, and embassies being placed in each nation. Nixon also began the SALT talks, the pupose of which was to limit the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles and antiballistic missile systems (Mazlish 375). After Nixon began the SALT talks in Moscow, trade agreements were made between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. In Addition, Nixon was pouring money into Chile to undermine the Marxist president, Salvador Allende who lost power and was murdered (Ambrose 134). The U.S. supported the resulting repressive government. Nixon had many successes in foreign policy though he lost most of the respect of the people through the Watergate crisis.
Most of Gerald Ford?s uneventful administration involved relations with the Soviet Union. The first of these was a meeting with Brezhnev in 1974 in which the two leaders signed an arms treaty at Vladivostok in Serbia which would serve as the basis for SALT II talks (Ingui 188). Also, in the Helsinki Accords of 1975, the U.S. and the Soviet Union legitimized the borders drawn in Eastern Europe after World War II. Ford left office with few contributions to the foreign policy of the nation.
Jimmy Carter?s administration saw involvement with Panama, Egypt, Israel, Iran, and, of course, the Soviet Union. In Panama, Carter ratified two treaties in 1978 concerning the Panama Canal. One gave Panama control of the canal in 1999, and the other gave the U.S. the right to defend the canal?s neutrality (Slavin 91). Carter also negotiated the treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1979 following the Yom Kippur War (Slavin 82). Also in 1979 was an incident with a Muslim religious leader in Iran who overthrew the government of the Shah and took U.S. citizens hostage. Carter cut off all relations to Iran until the day he left office when the hostages were finally released (Slavin 103).
More importantly, Carter instigated the SALT II and SALT III talks with the Soviet Union. Despite the postponing of the SALT II talks because of the Soviet takeover of Afghanistan (Kaufman 165), Carter was able to make significant steps toward the ending of the Cold War which would not be totally ended until the Reagan administration. In these talks, limits were placed on the construction of nuclear weapons, and nuclear stockpiles were actually reduced (Slavin 95).
Ronald Reagan followed Carter as president, and had possibly the most eventful administration of any in this period in the area of foreign policy. First of all, in a series of summit meetings with Gorbachev, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were able to end the dangerous arms race that could be traced back to the Truman administration. The first of these summit meetings in Reykjavik, Iceland was inconclusive due to the fact that both leaders came with plans that were too radical for the other (Hill 213). The second, in Washington in 1987 banned all intermediate- and short-ranged missiles, along with agreeing to meet again in Moscow (Schwartzberg 103). In this third meeting in Moscow in 1988, they ratified the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and started progress on the strategic arms reductions agreement (Hill 217). On the side of these agreements to decrease armaments, Reagan also instituted the Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983 which was meant to eliminate the threat of nuclear annihilation with defenses on land and in space to destroy missiles before contact. It was for this reason that it was dubbed the “Star Wars” military defense system (Schwartzberg 101).
During Reagan’s continued policy with the Soviet Union for the reduction of armaments, there were many other world events affecting the U.S. foreign policy. For example, in Lebanon, Muslim insurgents had attacked Beirut, killing many U.S. marines. Reagan was forced to respond with military action, but at the same time, he authorized the bombing of the communist nation of Grenada in the Carribbean to take the attention off the embarrassing Lebanon Crisis.
Also in 1983, Congress passed the Boland agreement which said that the U.S. would stay out of the Contra’s revolution in Nicaragua. Up to this point, the CIA had been training the Contra’s for the revolution (Schwartzberg 97). This event was linked to the Iran-Contra affair when Iran agreed to help free American hostages from Lebanon if America would supply military equipment for their conflict with Iraq. The profits from this sale of armaments was funnelled into the Contra’s cause (Hill 214). Reagan also authorized in 1986 the bombing of Libya, which started out as a simple routine maneuver which was meant to stir up conflict. When it did, American ships knocked out the communications needed for the directing of their missiles (Reagan 321). Reagan handled all these decisions with the poise expected of a president.
George Bush was the last president of this time period, and the first decision he had to face in office int he way of foreign policy was the issue of how to treat China in the international relations. Bush was reluctant to completely cut off China from American relations, but on the other hand, China was obviously violating human rights (Campbell 108). Ultimately, Bush felt that China was a vital part of the post-Cold War picture, having influence in Afghanistan, and in southeastern Asia (Oye 300).
Bush also authorized the invasion of Panama after General Manuel Noriega, a known drug trafficker, had taken power there. With a warning of the U.S.’s intentions, Noriega began building countermeasures to an American invasion. This made Bush and Collen Powell move even faster to remove him from power and allow fair elections to be held. The U.S. had to help Panama for years to suppress Noriega’s insurrectionists. Noriega was soon thereafter arrested for his drug activities (Oye 128). Finally, and most importantly, Bush was faced with the Persian Gulf War in 1990 and 1991. In this short-lived, yet significant exchange of hostilities, Hussein occupied Kuwait for a time, and Bush and the Allies attempted to subdue him by putting a strict embargo on Kuwait and Iraq to keep him from selling any of his new-found oil. Some say that Hussein was simply trying to get all he could after the breaking up of the Soviet Union, and others say that he was merely a megalomaniacal dictator grasping for more territory. Whatever the case may be, his efforts were quickly halted by the Allies and the U.S. forces sent there (Oye 128).
The most significant issue of this time period is obviously the fight against communism which is finally won by the Bush administration. Ever since the post-World War II structure of nations with the Soviet Union controlling Eastern Europe, and communism spreading into the southeast portions of Asia, the U.S. has been trying to deflect nuclear threats while opposing communism militarily wherever possible. Some of the major setbacks were Vietnem and Korea, while this time period also saw many accomplishments in the way of the SALT talks and the final breakup of the Soviet Union. If given the chance to replay history, it would be very difficult to come out better than the U.S. did in 1990.