A Review of the United States Containment Strategy Regarding the Soviet Union


One of the major results of the Second World War was the emergence of two world super powers; the United States of America and the Soviet Union. These two powers appeared to be pitted against each other from an ideological point of view resulting in high polarization.

The United States favored communism while the Soviet Union was pro communism and aimed to spread this ideology to its spheres of influence. The Soviet Union was seen as an aggressor, keen on expanding by influencing weaker states and exporting its communism ideals to the countries.

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As a result of this, there arose the need for the United States to take steps to deter this spread of the Soviet Union. This paper shall conduct a concise yet informative research on the US containment strategy as with regard to the Soviet Union and discuss the evolution of containment. The reasoning behind the adoption of this policy and the subsequent results of the same shall also be articulated.

Birth of the Containment Policy

As a result of the victory of WWII, the Soviet Union gained considerable prestige and power on a global scale. However, the Soviet states where dictatorial in nature as opposed to the democratic West. A core ideology of the Soviet regime was to secure and make absolute its power over Russian society as well as the outside world.

This move towards absolute power began by the liquidation of capitalism in Russia and a stress on the evils of capitalism and the Western nations. This status quo led to a need to “contain” the Soviet State by limiting its spheres of influence. The major aim of “Containment” from the onset was therefore to prevent the Soviet Union from using the power and position that it had won in shaping world politics

The term “containment” was coined by the United States diplomat George Kennan and it was primarily a policy designed to curb Soviet expansionism that seemed eminent following the end of the Second World War[1]. The threats of expansion by the Soviet Union were not idle ones as was seen by the increasing influence of its communist ideology in Eastern Europe and parts of Asia.

Perhaps the spirit of the containment policy as adopted by the American government can be best summed up in the Truman Doctrine in which the US pledged to “support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.”[2]

The rationale behind the Containment policy was that the Soviet Union was not sustainable and over time, it would collapse under its own weight. As such, the policy was endorsed not out of fear of Soviet strength but rather to speed up the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.[3]

Balance of Power

Apart from the defeat of NAZI Germany, another significant production of the Second World War was the Cold War. While there was never a major military confrontation between the two major adversaries in the Cold War (Soviet Union and the U.S), there were proxy wars waged and extensive economic competition and assistance of ally states. The Containment policy was without a doubt one of the major U.S means by which the Soviet Union could be kept at bay.

The first proxy wars waged were in Greece where communist guerrilla groups threatened to topple the British backed democratic government and in Turkey where the Soviet Union threatened the sovereignty of the country by imposing its will to build naval bases on the country’s shores. The then U.S. president, Harry Truman, implored congress to approved $400 in economic and military aid to the two countries to help fight communism.

Evolution and Implications of the Containment Policy

While the containment policy started off as a reactive policy that was aimed at blunting the spread of communism, it led to U.S. involvement in many countries. The political aspects of the containment policy were mostly ignored with preference being given to the military aspect.

Hoffmann and Fleron note that the policy had a big military implication on American foreign policy.[4] Within ten years of its adoption, nearly half a million U.S military personnel were stationed in bases all over the world; from South Korea, Japan, and Greece to Turkey[5].

Zinn notes that the US proceeded to build military bases on the borders with communist nations in a bid to “contain” communism.[6] This further antagonized the Soviet Union which also sought to increase its military capabilities.

From an economic angle, the Marshall Plan which was to assist in the re-building of war torn Europe was a move to implement the containment policy. This plan was developed to prevent European states which had been devastated by the war from falling prey of the Soviet Union. This plan resulted in the creation of a stronger economy for European nations and the containment of Soviet power that was beginning to manifest in parts of Europe.

Nuclear deterrence was also one of the means employed in the containment policy in later years. The idea of nuclear deterrence was based on preventing an attack and thus preventing war altogether. It was one of the policies adopted to restrain the Soviet Union from attacking the United States or its interests.

Gaddis documents that the U.S Administration in the 1950’s “persuaded the allies that nuclear deterrence was the most credible and least costly way of discouraging a Soviet conventional attack.”[7] This was followed by a dispatch of tactical nuclear weapons to Europe. Deterrence therefore became a strategy not only for preventing war, but also for enforcing a policy of containment”.

However, The United States nuclear monopoly was offset by the attainment of nuclear capability by the Soviet Union which detonated its first nuclear test device in 1949. This resulted in increased nuclear proliferation in the following decades. The US in particular increased its military hardware by developing more nuclear warheads.

One of the ills of the Containment policy was that it resulted in the aiding of governments that were far from being democratic simply to stop them from falling into the control of communism.

Abrams notes that while Turkey was far short of the democratic ideals that the Western nations championed, its aid was guaranteed on its simple contrast with communism[8]. The United States Undertook the task of funding governments that were anti-communism regardless of their popularities and constantly sought ways to undermine communist governments.

Discussion and Conclusion

The Containment policy was a means of keeping at bay the Soviet powers during the cold war era and as such, the end of the Cold War led to the official end of this policy. While the success of the Containment Policy can be seen in the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, many historians argue that the Containment plan was a faulty policy as it led to the involvement of the United States in countries that were of little strategic or economic interest to it.

In addition to this, the containment policy led to the nuclear armament of nations and at any time, this faulty policy could have resulted in the nuclear annihilation as a result of the proliferation of weapons.

This paper set out to give an informative research on the US containment strategy that was adopted in the post war years. From the discussion presented, it is clear that the policy was a success since it prevented the spread of communism and also speeded up the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union.

However, the policy had its major setbacks that would have resulted in dire consequences for the entire world. It is plausible that a more diplomatic oriented policy based on negotiations would have had similar or even better outcomes without the placing the world at a risk of nuclear annihilation.


Abrams, Richard. “America Transformed: Sixty Years of Revolutionary Change, 1941-2001.” Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Gaddis, Lewis. “Strategies of Containment: a Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy During the Cold War”. Oxford University Press US, 2005.

Hoffmann, Erik. & Fleron Frederic. “The Conduct of Soviet Foreign Policy” Transaction Publishers, 1980.

Watson, Cynthia. “U.S. National Security: a Reference Handbook” ABC-CLIO, 2002.

Zinn, Howard. “Postwar America, 1945-1971”. South End Press, 2002.

Cynthia Watson, “U.S. National Security: a Reference Handbook” (ABC-CLIO, 2002), 44.
Richard Abrams, “America Transformed: Sixty Years of Revolutionary Change, 1941-2001.” (Cambridge University Press, 2006), 69.
Cynthia, 20.
Erik Hoffmann & Frederic Fleron, “The Conduct of Soviet Foreign Policy” (Transaction Publishers, 1980), 214.
Abrams, 70.
Howard Zinn “Postwar America, 1945-1971” (South End Press, 2002), 75.
Lewis Gaddis, “Strategies of Containment: a Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy During the Cold War” (Oxford University Press US, 2005), 215.
Abrams, 69.


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