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Student Question: American Foreign Policy

Ben Burgess

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I was recently emailed the following question by a user to my website although I have no idea where to start in answering. Does anybody have any ideas?

I have just started an assignment detailing American foreign policy post 1945 and the extent to which it revolved around economic factors.

Anyone have any ideas where to start my research or what to concentrate on?



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Dwight Eisenhower said the following in his last speech as President of the United States (17th January, 1961):

Three days from now, after half a century in the service of our country, I shall lay down the responsibilities of office as, in traditional and solemn ceremony, the authority of the Presidency is vested in my successor.

This evening I come to you with a message of leave-taking and farewell, and to share a few final thoughts with you, my countrymen...

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence - economic, political, even spiritual - is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Eisenhower was making the point that it was in some people’s economic interest to maintain the Cold War. Of course, Eisenhower had become aware of this at the beginning of his presidency (in the same way as Harry Truman had realised it before him). However, the Military Industrial Complex was too powerful to deal with and decided to pass the problem over to John F. Kennedy.

In the summer of 1963 Kennedy became involved in secret negotiations to bring an end to the Cold War. In doing so, he signed his own death warrant.

Some economists believed that the end of the Cold War would result in a dramatic cut in military spending. However, this did not happen. The “peace dividend” was never cashed. Instead, new enemies had to be created in order to justify high levels of military spending.


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I would look at the Atlantic Charter as a point of origin for the architecture of the postwar economy with an emphasis on freer trade.

Case studeis should include looking at how the West German and Japanese economies were set up while under Allied occupation. They definitely were solid examples of friendly Cold WAr economies that could be put forth as examples of the economic superiority of the capitalism-heavy mixed economies of the "First" world in the cold war era.

This link in the ever evolving Wikipedia format has quite a wealth of detail


Here is another link for that

Bretton Woods System

Also, the fight to fend off communism from sweeping into Western Europe was not just poltical with the Truman Doctrine, but the very successful element of this program, which was based on the premise that economic instability fueled the communist movement, was the Marshall Plan.

Marshall Plan 1947-1997

America and the West: Lessons from the Marshall Plan

Would Europe have "gone Communist" without the Marshall Plan? No, but the mean and dispirited politics of the late 1930s might well have returned. The Marshall Plan made it easier to inaugurate a quarter century of ebullient economic growth; it provided incentives for closer regional integration (especially the decisive European Payments Union of 1950, which Washington helped to finance); and worked to stabilize the consensual welfare-state politics that prevailed until the 1970s.

From Plan to Practice

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