The containment policy of the US in the early Cold War


Introduction and Definition

Containment was the policy in which the United States used numerous strategies in a bid to prevent or limit the spread of communism abroad. This was a reaction policy to some moves by the USSR to spread its power in China, Africa, Korea, Vietnam, and Eastern Europe (Bacon, 2010). Containment was the strategy by which the US used to wage the Cold War (Bacon, 2010). Its key purpose was to limit and control the growing spread of the communism and the Soviet power ideology. This was considered as the first step towards liberation (Bacon, 2010). The idea was for the US to regain control and to continue spreading the idea of capitalism. The Marshall Plan speech raised concerns about the world situation during the period after the World War II citing the need for a rehabilitation of Europe (Marshall, 2016). This showed the need for the United States to be involving in helping restructure Europe while spreading its dominance.

What Established the Containment Policy?

The Containment Policy developed in a bid to respond to Stalin’s leadership of the Soviet Union in which the United States wanted to stop the blowout of communism and the influence of the USSR (Teague, 2011). In the mid-1940s, the spread of communism was intensifying, and nations such as Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania were absorbed into the Soviet Union. The communist forces ultimately dominated governments of Bulgaria and Romania. By 1945, the Lublin Regime had much influence of Poland and violated the possibilities of free polls in the nation (Teague, 2011).

The spread showed that there was a little time before Czechoslovakia and Hungary slid into the Soviet Union orbit. The United States had to respond to this situation as the USSR was quietly wiping out their dominance and leaving imprints of their regime. Therefore, the government had to enact the ‘Marshall Plan’ in which the speech argued that Europe would require ethnic cuisine and other essential commodities and this need would only grow with time citing the need for them to depend on the US (Marshall, 2016). Ultimately, Harry Truman approved this plan in 1948 arguing that it was only a few presidents who had managed to sign the legislation, which represented such high importance.

Truman gave nations an ultimatum in 1947 arguing that the fateful hour had attained and states had to decide on amid the unconventional ways of life (Yilmaz & Inanc, 2012). Truman argued that the US had to support free people who resisted endeavored suppression by outside pressures or armed interest group (Yilmaz & Inanc, 2012). During this period, Turkey was experiencing a period of internal stability but was allegedly under pressure from the USSR and received outright Soviet aggression (Yilmaz & Inanc, 2012). The international situation was complex during this period.

The speech by Andrei Zhdanov showed the distinction between the two sides that were currently at war in the postwar era. He argued that there was a new alignment, which had risen and comprised of the division of the political forces into two major camps; the antidemocratic and the imperialist camp (Zhdanov). This was a set of differences between democratic and anti-imperialist on one hand and imperialism and the autocratic camp on the other (Zhdanov). The US was in the imperialist camp allied with France and Great Britain among other nations and nations economically dependent on it such as South American countries and China. The imperialist camp wanted to strengthen imperialism and fight democracy and socialism.

The anti-fascist and anti-imperialist forces were based on the USSR and other republics of Eastern Europe (Zhdanov). It also included the nations that had fragmented ties with the imperialists such as Hungary and Finland. All democratic and progressive forces around the world supported this camp. The resolve of this encampment was to resist threats of the new wars and the risk of the expansion of imperialism (Zhdanov). They aimed at improving democracy, and thus these two camps were in a war to gain dominance. Therefore, the enactment of the containment policy was meant to limit the communist east from spreading further.

The Need for the Policy

The policy was necessary to the United States; it was meant to counter the perceived threat of Soviet aggression. This policy was necessary for a bid for the nation to regain its dominance. It was necessary to limit the spread of other forces from other nations and ensure that the US was still a superpower, which had the majority of the say all around the world. The Soviet Union was spreading its control over the world, and the United States had to counter this.

However, the containment policy just served to show that the USSR was succeeding in spreading its influence and the United States felt threatened it would be taken off the helm. The United States reacted in this way because it did not want to be considered as second best. It wanted to regain its power and control, and it did not want anything that would limit this from happening. Therefore, the government had to eradicate or limit the threat that was caused by the USSR. The policy might have been effective, but it served to show that the US had lost some of its potency and had to find a way to react to this situation. This involved the use of the Cold War as a platform to sway nations to join its camp.

The Use of the Containment Policy during the Cold War

The US used the containment strategy to numb the threat presented by the Soviet Union spread of communism as foreign policy. This policy was implemented during this period to maintain a balance of power, to preserve stability within the international arena, and to prompt the condemnation of non-democratic governments (Soddu, 2012). The Cold War was a non-violence war in which countries mostly used propagandas and tension. It was a state of geopolitical tension after the World War, and thus the containment policy served to stimulate this war.

This dogma of containment was pragmatic to Southeast Asia, which was a strategic region for the US (Soddu, 2012). For this reason, Truman was not willing to give up Indochina to France (Soddu, 2012). The victory of communism in China meant that the United States could not be able to handle another loss to a communist power. Therefore, they enacted a containment policy in a bid to prevent the Soviet Union from converting another nation to join their supposed crusade. The involvement of the US in Indochina widened during the administration of Truman.

In 1945 Ho Chi Minh, a Vietnamese Communist leader announced independence from France but the United States bowed their support to restoring the French power (Soddu, 2012). The containment policy led the US to acknowledge the client government of the French, which in turn offered aid and support to Vietnam and other countries under the French rule. This act served appropriately in the Cold War because nations needed support and aid and the US could only help those, which had not been transformed by the Soviet Union to join the communist movement. However, the French and American mutual understanding hit some barriers as the United States wanted a strong and independent Vietnam, while their French counterparts wanted to kill off local nationalism and integrate Indochina to be in the French Union (Soddu, 2012). The policy worked in a way that the United States supported the nations that supported its ideologies.

George F. Kennan enacted the strategy of containment, which became an important policy in the fight during the Cold War the Soviet Union and other communist states (Bacon, 2010). The containment policy wanted to counter the Soviet Union. Kennan argued on the need to counter the soviet pressure against the standing free institutions in the West. Kennan stated that the policy would eventually prevent the communism development and break-up the dominance of the Soviet power. Kennan enacted this policy in a way that it correlated to the Marshall Plan, which was seen when the US funded France in a bid for the latter to execute and prosecute the war on Indochina (Soddu, 2012). The containment policy worked best during the Cold War as it gave nations an ultimatum to choose between receiving support from the USA or the USSR.

The containment policy was involved in the Cold War as Truman argued that offering strong financial aid to Asian and European nations was the right policy to fight socialism without waging a real war (Soddu, 2012). The suppression policy helped raise the issue about the domino theory, which stated that if a state felled under the sway or control of communism, then the neighboring nations would soon follow (Soddu, 2012). Therefore, the containment policy had to come up with fundamental elements that shaped the events of the Cold War ; NATO and the Marshall Plan worked in a bid to prevent this spread of communism while dictating the shape of American foreign policy. The containment policy was a kind of blackmail in which the nations that supported the United States benefitted and those, which did not end up lacking financial and other forms of support from the US. Therefore, the policy was effective during the Cold War especially due to the United States’ financial capabilities.


The containment policy dictated the first steps that ensured the presence of America in Southeast Asia and contributed to the involvement of the US in Vietnam for a long while. The containment policy wanted to show that the United States was not threatened by communism but by the aggression that it presented. However, regardless of the reason, this policy worked splendidly for the United States and helped the nation regain its dominance and control.

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  1. Bacon, L. (2010, April). George F. Kennan’s strategy of containment: An assessment of Kenan’s coherence and consistency.
  2. Marshall, G. (2016). The “Marshall Plan” speech at Havard University, 5 June 1947.
  3. Soddu, M. (2012, December 13). Truman administration’s containment policy in light of the French return to Indochina. Foreign Policy Journal, 1-8.
  4. Teague, R. (2011). Containment: Relevant or relic?
  5. Yilmaz, S., & Inanç, G. (2012). Gunboat diplomacy: Turkey, USA and the advent of the Cold War . Middle Eastern Studies, 3(48), 401-411.
  6. Zhdanov, A. (n.d.). Speech by Andrei Zhdanov (Member of the Soviet Politburo) at the founding of the Cominform (a Communist Organization) in September 1947.
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