Learn more about Containment
Containment refers to the foreign policy strategy of the United States in the early years of the Cold War in which it attempted to stop what it called the domino effect of nations moving politically towards Soviet Union-based communism, rather than European-American-based capitalism.
The concept of containment springs up from the idea that isolation will lead to stagnation. In earlier times, containment was followed as a tactic, rather than a strategy or a policy. Laying a passive siege to a castle where a powerful or influential lord resided, and cutting off supply lines, was a form of containment. This made the lord helpless, as his tactical ability was limited with only a few soldiers at his command. Another way to maximize the damage done due to containment was, after creating a situation of relative isolation, to subvert the enemy. In practice, this is achieved using espionage and sabotage. The anticipated result is that, due to the isolation, any subversion introduced will have a high cost and will take a long time to rectify if left alone, or will consume resources (particularly in the form of security measures) to avoid. This serves the purpose of maintaining a strategic upper hand. Eventually, the United States and allies hoped, containment would cause the fall of the Soviet Union and its satellite nations.
The policy was first laid out in George F. Kennan's famous long telegram. It was then made public in 1947 in his anonymous Foreign Affairs article "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," better known as the X Article.
Kennan argued that the primary goal of the United States should be to prevent the spread of Communism to non-Communist nations; that is, to "contain" Communism within its borders. The Truman Doctrine aimed at this goal, and containment was one of its key principles. This led to American support for regimes around the world to block the spread of communism. The epitome of containment may have been domino theory, which held that allowing one regional state to fall to communism would threaten the entire region, similar to a series of dominoes toppling. After the Vietnam War, Kennan asserted that his ideas had been misinterpreted, and that he never advocated military intervention, merely economic support.
Containment further became the overriding objective of US national security policy with the NSC 20/4, approved by President Truman in Nov. 1948. This document maintained that the Soviet Union was motivated by its ideology to expand its influence throughout the world, and claimed that this expansion of interests was inimical to American security interests. It has been recognized as the first comprehensive post-war declaration of US national security policy.
The first explosion of a Soviet nuclear weapon in 1949 prompted the National Security Council to formulate a revised security doctrine. Completed on April 7, 1950, it became known as NSC 68. This new doctrine reaffirmed the threat as stated in NSC 20/4, but stressed that it was even more imminent than previously believed.
Developed during the Stalin era, the policy of containment derived from the belief that Communism in general, and the Soviet system in particular, required the stability of a global state-controlled economy. Otherwise, the capitalist countries could continue to amass and allocate capital, including capitalist military capacity, with efficiencies that could not be matched by the controlled economies of the communist world. Counter-revolutionary forces could develop. By 1968, the Brezhnev Doctrine had been described as a rationale for Soviet intervention as well as expansion. The doctrine was a rationale for expansionism, holding that each satellite Communist party was responsible not only to its own people, but also to all the socialist countries, and to the entire Communist movement. Once a country fell into the Communist orbit, it would not be allowed to leave.
In other words, Soviet expansionism became a ratchet - "once in, never leave." Soviet involvement in third world political movements - real or invented - became the tool by which gradual Soviet expansion was practiced, all the while avoiding escalation into a nuclear confrontation with the United States. An era of "proxy wars" was fought, in developing countries worldwide, particularly Africa, Asia, Central America, and South America.
All subsequent American presidents after Truman, both Republican and Democrat, subscribed to the Doctrine of Containment as being the focal point of American foreign policy, with the exception of President Carter who initially proclaimed human rights as the priority of his administration. However, before Carter left office, he rearticulated the primary focus of American foreign policy with the Carter Doctrine, the principles of containing Soviet expansion.
 Later developments
U.S. containment policy developed into a principled opposition to the Soviet ratcheting of its sphere of influence. However, the policy suffered setbacks, and after the U.S. pullout from the Vietnam conflict, the policy of containment was somewhat discredited. U.S. politicians advanced new theories of “détente” and “peaceful co-existence”.
At the end of the 1970s - a particularly ineffective decade for U.S. foreign policy - the U.S. elected Ronald Reagan for what became an 8-year term. Reagan believed that détente was misguided, and that peaceful co-existence was tantamount to surrender to relentless Soviet ratcheting of influence. Reagan believed that the policy of containment did not go far enough. Instead of pursuing containment as an end result, Reagan believed the U.S. should defeat the Soviets by the use of an expensive arms race that the Soviets could not match. His policies were highly controversial and unpopular in many countries. They included new missile systems in Europe, and significantly, plans for a Strategic Defense Initiative, or "Star Wars", that would render the U.S. immune to a first strike. Thus, containment was not enough; defeating the Soviet Union, via bankrupting its economy, was ushered in as U.S. policy in the 1980s.
The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. This 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. As of 2005, the U.S. had at least 700 military bases around the world. Some estimates suggest that the real number is much larger.
A containment policy was also applied by the U.S. to Iraq from 1991 to 2003. When Saddam Hussein, contrary to the hopes of the George H.W. Bush administration, was not ousted from power after the Gulf War the U.S. adopted containment towards Iraq via draconian sanctions, U.N. weapons inspections, basing of troops in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, patrol of the Iraq no-fly zones, and periodic airstrikes. By 2000, these elements of containment were fraying as Iraq was able to smuggle many prohibited items via Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and Iran. The Oil for Food which began in 1996 was also corrupted and the U.N. withdrew their inspectors in 1998 due to Iraqi non-cooperation and were unable to verify whether or not Iraq's proscribed weapons programs were destroyed. The U.N. itself was divided as Iraq was able to bribe its way into gaining support from the French, Russian, and Chinese governments. Meanwhile, Arab public opinion in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere became increasingly hostile to the U.S. military presence in their nations due to renewed violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After 1998 Iraq began to fire on allied aircraft in the no-fly zones and thus suffered from retaliation via bombing, but such strikes did not threatend Saddam's grip on power. Containment was abandoned by the George W. Bush administration which opted for regime change via military action in 2003.
In the post-Cold War world, scholars have debated the extent to which containment -- or some variant of that strategy -- continues to animate U.S. diplomacy, particularly vis-a-vis China. At a speech to Tokyo's Sophia University in March 2005, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice paid fulsome tribute to Kennan and his intellectual legacy and then elaborated on the logic of the new alliances Washington was building in Asia: "[As] we look to China's life ... I really do believe the U.S.-Japan relationship, the U.S.-South Korean relationship, the U.S.-Indian relationship, all are important in creating an environment in which China is more likely to play a positive role than a negative role. These alliances are not against China; they are alliances that are devoted to a stable security and political and economic and, indeed, values-based relationships that put China in the context of those relationships, and a different path to development than if China were simply untethered, simply operating without that strategic context." (emphasis added). At least one strategic analyst, Siddharth Varadarajan, has argued that Dr Rice's use of the word "untethered" was "not fortuitous". "'To tether' means "to tie a rope or chain to an animal so as to restrict him to a particular spot", precisely the aim Kennan hoped to achieve by 'containment' of the Soviet Union", he wrote.
 See also
- Cordon sanitaire (French historian André Fontaine has argued that the containment policy was actually enacted immediately after World War I)
- Truman Doctrine
 Further reading
| United States Foreign Policy
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