Foreign Policy: The Marshall Plan

In my third blog post, I am going to discuss the post-WWII Marshall Plan and expound on its relationship to the Cold War. To provide background, the Marshall Plan was an American-funded initiative to help economic recovery and reconstruction in European countries after the war. The program was effective from 1948 to 1952 and totaled around $12 billion distributed. The devastation of Europe after WWII allowed the U.S. to rise as the world’s sole superpower and the Marshall Plan further solidified the country’s leadership in the West in the post-war era.

Although it would require a lot of American resources, the Marshall Plan sustained U.S. economic interests and political interests through the containment of communism. While the program is generally seen as a foreign policy success, it exacerbated preexisting Cold War tensions by further dividing Western Europe and the Soviet-led Eastern Bloc. It was in the United States’ interest to have a strong Europe in order to help American exports and stimulate the American economy. U.S. policy makers also did not want to make the same mistakes that were made after World War I in Germany. When Germany rose from the despair of post-WWI Europe it was hit first by the deprivations of the war itself, then by harsh reparations, and finally the Great Depression. This series of economic catastrophes led to a political climate in which Naziism could rise. The American logic was that if Germany or any other European country was further depleted after WWII, it would create fertile ground in which communism or fascism would be seen as attractive. Therefore an emphasis on reconstruction was deemed necessary in order to contain the growing Soviet sphere of influence in Europe. The Marshall Plan also pushed the importance of free trade and European unity to form a bulwark against communism. Additionally, it fostered international trade so that it would look westward and not eastward.

The nonparticipation of Eastern Bloc states in the Marshall Plan, combined with the self-interested Soviet governing of the Eastern Bloc gave rise to the huge disparity in the development of Western and Eastern Europe. Stalin meant to profit from the chaos in Europe in order to help rebuild the devastated U.S.S.R, which would need to recover in order to maintain its influence in Europe. Instead of providing aid, the Soviet Union took resources and imposed large payments as reparations from the Eastern European countries under its sphere of influence. In addition, the U.S.S.R was intimately involved in the governing of the Eastern Bloc countries, which made those nations largely dependent on the Soviets. While it did try to promote democracy, the U.S. didn’t involve itself much in the politics of Western European countries. Unlike the Soviets, the U.S instead provided money to assist in this reconstruction so that the economies could become self-sustaining.

To conclude, the Marshall Plan fostered powerful democratic principles such as self-help, regional cooperation, and technical trading in order to provide aid to rebuild Europe and to contain the growing influence of communism. While the U.S. and U.S.S.R were allies in WWII, the Marshall Plan and the approaches to post-War recovery revealed the deep tensions and ideological divisions between the two countries. I thought that the Marshall Plan, in particular, was an interesting event in U.S. foreign policy because of the number of different layers to it. It was not only an economic initiative, but it involved politics and the containment of communism. Although the official beginning of the Cold War is disputed among historians, I believe that the Marshall Plan was the first major event to really display the deep-rooted mutual animosity between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

 

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