Early Cold War: 1945–1962

Cold War Theories

Domino Theory

As the Cold War intensified, the United States developed new foreign policies, including the domino theory, which became a foundation of American foreign policy.

The evolution of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union initiated a new U.S. foreign policy. In 1945 English writer George Orwell first used the term cold war in a published article. A cold war is a restricted war with very limited combat fought on political and economic fronts using propaganda. He predicted there would be a nuclear stalemate between superstates. In the United States, presidential adviser Bernard Baruch first used the term in a speech in South Carolina in 1947. Usage of the term grew as new theories and strategies developed on how to fight the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.

President Truman and his advisers were discussing what to do about the crumbling nations of Turkey and Greece in 1947. Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson contended that if those two states fell, communism would likely spread to Iran and even to India. His comments evolved into the domino theory, in which the fall of a noncommunist country to communism would cause neighboring noncommunist countries to also fall to communism. Truman adopted this theory, which led to the U.S. policy of supporting those free nations resisting communist influence. The United States lent aid to nations with weak leaders who wished to prevent communist incursions into their own country or prevent it from spreading to nearby nations. The domino theory became a foundation of American foreign policy.

Containment and Rollback Theories

U.S. foreign policy expanded to include the strategies of containment—preventing the spread of communism to noncommunist countries—and rollback—removing the communist presence from countries where it had already taken root.

The strategy of containment, a policy to prevent the spread of a hostile ideology to other countries, was first suggested by George Kennan, a State Department diplomat and adviser on the Soviet Union. In 1947 Kennan wrote an article in the prestigious Foreign Affairs journal. In it, he proposed "a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies." Truman also adopted this overall policy strategy in forming his Truman Doctrine. U.S. aid to Turkey and Greece was the first use of the containment strategy. Soon, however, containment became the basic strategy of America's foreign policy in the Cold War. This led to the drafting of a document called the National Security Council Paper (NSC-68) by the U.S. Department of State in 1950. The NSC-68 called for the rearmament of the United States to meet the rising threats of the Soviet Union and Korea.

Kennan's suggested policy was controversial, and many disagreed with it. Instead of containment, they advocated a policy of rollback, or pushing communism out of areas where it was already present. John Foster Dulles, secretary of state in the Eisenhower administration beginning in 1953, was a strong supporter of rollback and even thought the Eastern bloc countries under Stalin's control should be freed. But Eisenhower made it clear in his 1952 campaign that if elected, he would not liberate Europe's Eastern bloc nations. The Eisenhower administration followed the strategy of containment established in the Truman presidency. In 1956 the Hungarian people revolted against Soviet occupation in what became known as the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Eisenhower and Dulles were sympathetic to the plight of the Hungarian people but chose not to act, following the policy of containment, because of the Suez Crisis taking place in Egypt at the same time.

Collective Defense

To counter the growing Soviet threat, the United States began a strategy of collective defense.

After World War II, the Soviet threat continued to grow. England's prime minister, Winston Churchill, gave a speech on March 5, 1946, in which he described the "Iron Curtain," a line that divided Europe between eastern countries under Soviet influence and western countries under Western influence. The Western powers decided to build a strategy based on the principle of collective defense, which centered on building a regional coalition of nations in which members agreed to defend all nations in the coalition from outside attack. An attack against one coalition nation was considered an attack against all the nations in the coalition.

The Western powers formed such a coalition and named it the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Ten European countries, along with Canada and the United States, signed the North Atlantic Treaty in early April 1949. Article Five of the treaty stated, "An armed attack against one or more of [the member countries] in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all." The formation of NATO was a significant event in the early years of the Cold War.

The Soviets responded in kind. When NATO admitted West Germany to its membership, West Germany became an armed member of NATO and therefore a threat to the Soviet Union. Under new leadership, the Soviet Union moved to establish a defense alliance against any possible military or economic threat from the West. In addition the Soviet Union sought to strengthen its control over its satellite nations. The Warsaw Treaty Organization, or the Warsaw Pact, a treaty between the Soviet Union and seven Eastern European countries, was signed on May 14, 1955, as a response to NATO. The treaty provided for Soviet troops and weaponry to be stationed in Eastern European countries under Soviet control.

NATO and the Warsaw Pact

NATO Warsaw Pact
Dates of Existence April 1949 to present May 1955 to March and July 1991, when its military structure was disbanded
Countries Originally 12 countries signed the North Atlantic Treaty: Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States. Originally eight countries signed the Warsaw Treaty: Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the Soviet Union.
Official Purpose A collective defense organization formed to defend nations in the coalition from outside attack A mutual defense organization, the treaty called for the stationing of Soviet troops and weaponry in member countries.
Effect After the end of the Cold War, worldwide membership; former countries of the Warsaw Pact joined NATO. The stationing of Soviet troops in Eastern bloc countries led to hostility toward the Soviet Union and ignited nationalism.

Original NATO and Warsaw Pact Areas, 1955

The formation of NATO and the Warsaw Pact confirmed the division of Europe in 1949 and 1955, respectively. NATO is still active, while the Warsaw Pact was dissolved in 1991.