Postwar American National Security Policy Essay, Research Paper
Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy
In Strategies of Containment, John Lewis Gaddis looks to analyze the United States national security policy since World War II. Gaddis divides the postwar years into five distinct geopolitical codes, which he analyzes in depth. Gaddis’ systematic analysis asks the following questions of each geopolitical code:
1. What conception did the administration in question have of American interests in the world?
2. How did it perceive threats to those interests
3. What responses did it choose to make, in light of those interests and threats?
4. How did it seek to justify those responses?
Gaddis’ objective, as he quite humorously puts it, “is to throw out a large, but [he] hopes not too indigestible ‘lump,’ which should at least give the ’splitters,’ who have been on a pretty lean diet lately, something to chew on.” The word containment, as Gaddis puts it, is “the term generally used to characterize American policy toward the Soviet Union during the postwar era.” The term comes from Gaddis’ first topic: George F. Kennan, used the term “containment” in 1947, while acting as director of the Policy Planning Staff in the White House. With his “long telegram” and “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” article, Kennan became America’s first Soviet “Expert.” Kennan’s recommendations for containment focused mainly on psychological means (in the United States) and through economic rehabilitation of Western Europe and Japan. It is this emphasis on psychological means that Gaddis describes as Kennan’s policy’s fatal flaw.
With Kennan’s resignation from the Policy Planning Staff in 1949, an ad hoc committee of State and Defense Department officials created NSC-68, a document that was mean to “systematize containment, and to find the means to make it work.” Among the things that NSC-68 did were: changed the policy from a strongpoint defense to perimeter defense, increased defense expenditures without war, and approved the decision to build the H-bomb. NSC-68 did not revolutionize the National Security Policy of the United States, but more so piggybacked on many of Kennan’s ideas from 1950 through 1953. In 1953 the Eisenhower administration went through a planning exercise known as “Operation Solarium,” designed to determine the best options for national security. The administration adopted a strategic concept, which came to be known as the “New Look,” based mainly on alterations to NSC-68 under the guidance of Kennan. The “New Look” popularized terms like “brinksmanship,” “massive retaliation,” “psychological warfare” and “covert operations.” In a general sense, the New Look tried to achieve the maximum possible security against communism at the least possible expense. Gaddis uses the four main objections of the “New Look”–(1) excessive reliance on nuclear weapons; (2) failure to “deal” with Third World issues; (3) allowed a missile gap to develop; and (4) neglected diplomacy in dealing with adversaries–as a framework for analyzing it. Gaddis describes Eisenhower as something less than a “genius” and agrees with three of these four criticisms and adds the Eisenhower’s success came with a good deal of luck. He does maintain, however, that Eisenhower’s strategy was “more consistent with than detrimental to the national interest.” Whether that is a good or bad thing remains to be seen in my eyes.
John F. Kennedy’s plan for National Security rested on six major areas: (1) bolster conventional and unconventional military capabilities; (2) strategic missile build-up; (3) solidify alliances; (4) emphasis on non-military instruments of containment; (5) manage defense-vital domestic resources better; and (6) expand diplomacy. This strategy, dubbed one of “flexible response” would shape America’s approach to the world until 1969. Gaddis
analyzes the effectiveness of this “flexible response” policy by looking at the war in Vietnam. Gaddis feels that the “flexible response” concept did not work because there was a lack of balance between ends and means. In the end Gaddis calls the result a “strategic vacuum” in that the complete opposite occurred as to what was planned. As Nixon enters the White House in 1969 he appoints Henry Kissinger as his national security advisor. Nixon and Kissinger’s strategy for containment was called “d tente” which would attempt to end the cold war with the Soviet Union. In July of 1969 Nixon set forth the Nixon Doctrine, part of the larger strategy which essentially phased down America’s commitments in the world.
Gaddis ends Strategies of Containment with the thought that containment did not evolve because of what the Russians did during the years following the war, but did evolve because of “internal forces” inside America. He also argues that historians tend to see the years of containment as very stable years but infrequently give the policymakers appropriate credit. Gaddis lays out a very systematic and precise analysis of the three decades following WW II and how the national security policy of the United States was formed. Although somewhat bogged down with technical details of the period (though probably necessary for complete understanding) the book presents a very interesting topic from a perspective very few people ever witness.