Evaluate the effectiveness of the United States' foreign policy during the Cold War (1947-1989).

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American foreign policy during the Cold War was marked by both successes and failures, but if we consider the Cold War as a struggle for survival and power between two superpowers (and there are many other ways to think about it), then one would have to say American foreign policy...

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American foreign policy during the Cold War was marked by both successes and failures, but if we consider the Cold War as a struggle for survival and power between two superpowers (and there are many other ways to think about it), then one would have to say American foreign policy was a very costly success.

The United States contained communist expansion into Europe in the two decades following the Second World War. This was through the joint strategies of collective security (through NATO) and economic aid in the immediate aftermath of the war (through the Marshall Plan). While there was little the US could do, short of waging war, to stop Soviet expansion into areas occupied by its army after WWII, American policies drew a line, as it were, around Eastern Europe. Similarly, the US stopped communist incursions into South Korea, this time through military intervention.

On the other hand, the United States botched its response to the Cuban Revolution, causing its leader Fidel Castro to turn to the USSR for support and to eventually establish a communist society. Years of bloody conflict in Vietnam ended with that nation's unification under the rule of the communist North. Moreover, the United States supported many tyrannical regimes because they were anti-communist, and opposed many democratic, left-leaning rulers. Some historians, for example, have argued that the United States helped to engineer a coup led by Augusto Pinochet in Chile. Pinochet would establish a bloody dictatorship in that country.

By another more basic measure, the Cold War was a success for the United States and the world in general. The US and the USSR managed to avoid nuclear conflict with each other throughout the period. Had they gone to war, the ensuing nuclear conflict would likely have destroyed much of humanity. So in this sense, too, American policy in the Cold War was a success.

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In order to answer this question, you first have to figure out how you would define “effective.”  There is no one correct definition of this but the definition will do much to determine your answer.

For example, you might say that for America’s foreign policy to have been effective, it would have had to roll back communism. If that is how you define effectiveness, US foreign policy clearly was not effective.  The US did not manage to take any country that was communist and make it become democratic/capitalist before 1989. 

Conversely, you might say that an effective foreign policy was one that kept the communists from making any inroads in areas of the world that were strategically important.  In this case, you would have to say that American foreign policy was effective.  None of America’s important allies became communist during this time. 

Finally, you might say that effective foreign policy would have prevented the expansion of communism.  This was, after all, the idea of containment. If that is your definition, you could say that American foreign policy was somewhat effective. American policy did not completely prevent communist expansion.  Countries like Cuba and South Korea became communist during the period that you mention. On the other hand, American policy did prevent communist expansion in the most strategically important areas of the world. 

Thus, we can see that the answer to this question depends greatly on how you define an effective foreign policy.

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