Learn more about Domino theory
The domino theory was a 20th Century foreign policy theory, promoted by the government of the United States, that speculated if one land in a region came under the influence of Communists, then more would follow in a domino effect. The domino effect suggests that some change, small in itself, will cause a similar change nearby, which then will cause another similar change, and so on in linear sequence, by analogy to a falling row of dominoes standing on end. The Domino Theory was prosecuted by successive United States administrations during the Cold War, primarily to justify America's escalating intervention in the civil war in Vietnam in the 1960s.
The domino theory was first proposed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his top advisers in 1954 to describe the prospects of communist expansion across Asia if Indochina were to fall. Eisenhower argued that all of southeast Asia could fall under the sway of Communism (and by implication, under the de facto control of Communist China and/or the Soviet Union) unless America and its allies took direct action against Communist-backed "national liberation" movements in countries like South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, which were seen as being especially vulnerable to a Communist takeovers.
Although widely accepted and actively promoted by the politicans and diplomats of the United States and its allies (including Australia), the theory's ultimate validity was and remains highly dubious. Opponents of the Domino Theory argue that it was concocted to support America's overt military involvement in South-East Asia, which was underpinned by extensive covert activity in the region, through agencies including the CIA, who secretly gave financial and logistical support to puppet regimes in countries like South Vietnam, and who were active in many Asian nations, secretly undermining and obstructing left-wing political parties, national liberation movements, trade unions and other associations and actions which the U.S. perceived as being contrary to its strategic and economic interests.
Opponents also argued that the Domino Theory misrepresented the real nature of the widespread and growing civil oppostion that the puppet regimes in these countries were generating beause of entrenched official corruption and widepread human rights abuses, notably in South Vietnam. The real motivation behind the Domino Theory, it was argued, was the desire of the U.S. government to justify the actions it was taking to protect the economic and strategic interests it had controlled in Asia and the Pacific since the end of World War II.
Proponents point to the fact that, after the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam, the Communist forces of the North indeed conquered the South, deposing the U.S.-backed regime and uniting the country, and the Communist government remains in power there to the present day. Communist forces also took over Laos and Cambodia, although the brutal pseudo-Marxist regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia -- soon exposed as one of the most murderous in modern history -- was subsequently overthrown, and Cambodia is no longer a communist state. The limited spread of Communism in Indochina provides support for opponents of the theory, but both sides argue that the historical record overall supports their position, although the evident failure of Communism to sweep across South-East Asia, as predicted, clearly suggests that the Theory is highly questionable.
In the 1980s, the domino theory was used again to justify the Reagan administration's interventions in Central America and the Caribbean region.
From its first conception, many have disputed central assumptions of the domino theory, for instance by arguing that Communist States lacked the tradition of cooperation the theory assumes (eg Cambodia attacked Vietnam, to which Vietnam responded by overthrowing the Khmer Rouge government). Supporters however have continued to argue it was a sensible policy in the context of the times.
 Conceptual roots
The domino theory is based on three assumptions about alliance formation. The first assumption claims that, because states are attracted to power and consistent demonstrations of strength, the more powerful a coalition leader is and the more clearly and reliably its power is projected, the more likely others are to align with it. It follows that a decline in a coalition leader's relative position causes defections--often to the rival side--on the part of its allies and potential partners (the unaligned). The second assumption claims that the more similar two or more states are ideologically, the more likely they are to unite politically. Lastly, it is assumed that certain ideologies (on account of their precepts) can render tight, insular coalition bonds as well as acute competition between rivals.
With the above in mind, the domino theory unfolds as follows. Because states are attracted to power and credibility, coalition leaders must regularly and effectively demonstrate their strength as a means of retaining and attracting as many allies as possible. It follows that signs of political and military weakness are correlated with defections and alignment with opposing coalitions. According to the domino theory, even a single successful display of superior force by one coalition can trigger a domino effect whereby one state after another will choose to align with the stronger coalition (since states are attracted to power and credibility). It stands to reason that if two or more coalitions are battling for allies, the domino effect is a valuable (albeit risky) foreign policy instrument. For instance, in regions of the world where states remain largely unaligned, the domino theory predicts that even one ill-timed display of weakness by one coalition leader can trigger the domino effect in which the unaligned states join the opposing side in succession. Likewise, just one robust display of strength by one coalition leader can cause unaligned states to link forces with it in opposition to others.
In strategic thinking about the domino theory, ideology often plays a leading role. Because ideologically similar states can easily unite according to the domino theory, coalition leaders must pay particular attention to unaligned states in which ideologies are battling for supremacy. Apparently, if a coalition leader, who supports one ideology over others, displays weakness in its international engagements, the battling factions in unaligned states will naturally reject the losing ideology and possibly unite under one of its more robust rivals. Once a state is united under one ideology, it will politically align with other states like it. Clearly then, if an ideology underscores universal domination, it is imperative that the coalition leaders, who will be negatively affected by its ascendancy, never allow it to spread, especially by triggering the domino effect.
The domino theory was first espoused by name by President Eisenhower in an April 7, 1954 news conference , and was originally applied to Indochina. If Communists succeeded in Indochina, Eisenhower argued, local groups would then have the encouragement, material support and momentum to take over Burma, Thailand, Malaya and Indonesia. This would give them a geographical and economic strategic advantage. It would make Japan, Formosa, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand the frontline defensive states. The loss of regions traditionally within the vital regional trading area of countries like Japan would encourage the frontline countries to politically compromise with communism. This is not to say, however, that the theory was not recognised. Indeed, Truman hit upon the idea in 1947 with the Truman Doctrine, promising to contribute financial aid to Greece and Turkey following their decimation during World War II, in the hope that this would impede the advancement of communism into Western Europe. In 1954, all of the countries in Southeast Asia had large popular Communist movements and insurgencies within their borders. Eisenhower's domino theory of 1954 was a specific description of the situation and conditions within Southeast Asia at the time. Eisenhower did not suggest a generalized domino theory as others did afterward.
The domino theory was expounded periodically since 1954 by top U.S. leaders who used it as a justification for expanding military programs throughout the world and more specifically intervention in Southeast Asia. Eisenhower first propped up the French in Indochina and then assisted in the creation of South Vietnam to protect what was considered an important "domino". The Kennedy administration intervened in Vietnam in the early 1960s to, among other reasons, keep the South Vietnamese "domino" from falling.
The primary evidence for the domino theory is the communist rule of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, who set about establishing what they thought would be a communist utopia (but turned out to be one of the bloodiest regimes in the history of communism).
The primary evidence against the domino theory is the failure of communism to take hold in Thailand, Indonesia, and other large southeast Asian countries after the end of the Vietnam War, as Eisenhower's speech argued it would.
Many supporters, however, attempt to explain this in light of the theory. Walt Rostow has argued that the U.S. intervention in Indochina, by giving the nations of ASEAN time to consolidate and engage in economic growth, prevented a wider domino effect. McGeorge Bundy argues that the prospects for a domino effect, though high in the 1950s and early 1960s, were weakened in 1965 when the Indonesian communist party was destroyed.
Some supporters of the domino theory focus on the ability of a communist government in one country to supply communist revolutionaries in neighboring countries, as for instance China supplied the Vietminh. Other supporters focused on the issue of U.S. prestige, arguing that a communist victory would mean that U.S. alliance guarantees for other small nations would no longer be credible, and a series of communist victories could be expected.
Critics of the theory charged that the Indochinese wars were largely indigenous or nationalist in nature (such as the Vietnamese driving out the French), that no such monolithic force as "world communism" existed, and that the theory was used as a propaganda scare tactic to try to justify unwarranted intervention policies. The fracturing of the communist states at the time is supported by the rivalry between the Soviet Union and China. However, this did not stop both powers from providing major military aid to North Vietnam in the form of Soviet tanks and heavy weapons and Chinese troops and supplies. However, it did lead to unproductive rivalries which led to conflicting policies in Cambodia and eventually war between China and Vietnam.
Critics of the theory with regard to Laos and Cambodia point to circumstances in both cases. In both cases, the Vietnam war spread over the borders of Vietnam into these countries. Neither country was strong enough to defend its own territory. And in both cases, Vietnam had imperial and political regional ambitions with regard to both countries that were strengthened by the years of unity under the French. The fall of Laos was due to repeated outright invasions by Vietnam and the inability of the army of Laos to defend the country. The fall of Cambodia was due to the Cambodian government allowing North Vietnam to use the country as a base area for its attacks on South Vietnam which dragged the country into the Vietnam war and led to first the Khmer Rouge and then after to military rule for many years by Vietnam.
Michael Lind has argued that though the domino theory failed regionally, there was a global wave, as communist or Marxist-Leninist regimes came to power in Benin, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Angola, Afghanistan, Grenada, and Nicaragua during the 1970s. The global interpretation of the domino effect relies heavily upon the prestige interpretation of the theory.
In addition, this therory can be further bolstered by the rise in terrorist incidents by left-wing terrorists in France, Belgium, West Germany, Italy, Latin America, and even the United States. In Italy, this includes the kidnapping of Aldo Moro and former US Brigadier General James Dozier, the former of which included his assasination. Many of these groups also supported Palestinan terrorist groups. During the 1976 Chowchilla Bus Hijacking incident, some people assumed(albeit erroneously) that the kidnappers might have been left wing extremists such as the Weather Underground or the Symbionese Liberation Army.
 Al Qaeda and terrorism in the Middle East
A top member of the terrorist organization Al Qaeda, Abu Hafiza, proposed his own domino theory in which large-scale terrorist attacks are used to intimidate the populace of a country into voting against an administration that advocates aggressive anti-terror policies. Some argue that the Spanish response to the 2004 Madrid train bombings may demonstrate this effect. Others suggest that it is highly insulting to Spanish voters to suggest any effect and that those making the suggestion confuse support for anti-terror policies with support for the US war in Iraq.
Similarly, another new form of the domino theory has been advocated by those who seek to oppose terrorism in the Middle East. Some foreign policy advocates in the United States refer to the potential spread of both Islamic theocracy and liberal democracy in the Middle East as representing a sort of domino theory. During the Iran-Iraq war, the United States and many other western nations supported Iraq, fearing the spread of Iran's radical theocracy throughout the region. In the 2003 invasion of Iraq, neoconservatives argued that by invading Iraq a democratic government could be implemented, which would then help spread democracy and liberalism across the Middle East.
 See also
| United States Foreign Policy
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| Presidential: Proclamation of Neutrality • Monroe Doctrine • Roosevelt Corollary • Truman Doctrine • Eisenhower Doctrine • Kennedy Doctrine • Johnson Doctrine • Nixon Doctrine • Carter Doctrine • Reagan Doctrine • Clinton Doctrine • Bush Doctrine
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