How did containment lead to the Cold War?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The United States' policy of containment was quite important to the continuation of the Cold War. George Kenan's Long Telegram stated that the Soviet Union was evil and expansionist. Based on this, the United States believed that any Communist takeovers were directed by the Soviet Union. The United States influenced...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The United States' policy of containment was quite important to the continuation of the Cold War. George Kenan's Long Telegram stated that the Soviet Union was evil and expansionist. Based on this, the United States believed that any Communist takeovers were directed by the Soviet Union. The United States influenced postwar elections in France and Italy in order to ensure that anti-left governments won. It also gave financial assistance to rightist groups fighting in the Greek civil war. The United States could not stop a communist takeover in China but successfully managed to prevent the fall of South Korea to communist North Korea. Obstructing the spread of communism soon became the major foreign policy of the United States; this would be called containment. Containment was only taken up when the United States gave up hope that starting revolutions behind the Iron Curtain would one day lead to the fall of the Soviet regime.

Some aspects of containment did stop Soviet aggression, such as the Berlin Airlift, which stopped the Soviets from encroaching on West Berlin. Some aspects of containment, however, were fueled by American interests. The United States helped to overthrow a leftist government in Iran and install a pro-Western leader. This leader would ultimately be overthrown by a theocracy hostile to the United States. The United States also sent aid to rightist leaders in Guatemala with checkered records in human rights. This was done in the name of containment, but in reality, preserving the interests of United Fruit and its American investors had a lot to do with the intervention.

Containment was used as a justification for continuing American military buildup and the promotion of new nuclear weapons systems. The Soviet Union was also guilty of fueling the United States' containment fears, as Stalin installed puppet regimes all over Eastern Europe in order to create a buffer zone with the West and to look strong in his own government. Khrushchev also gave aid to Castro-led Cuba in order to score political points within his own party. Ultimately, containment led to the United States and the Soviet Union fighting many proxy wars all over the world at the expense of trillions of dollars and countless lives, many of which were the lives of people who lived in the Global South.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"Containment" was name given to the strategy formulated by American policy leaders in response to what they perceived as Communist aggression. This policy was first suggested by American diplomat George Kennan, whose "Long Telegram" painted the Soviets as implacable expansionists. In response, Kennan recommended (in a later article in Foreign Affairs) "long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies." Whether this caused the Cold War is open to debate, but it certainly helped shape the contours of the conflict. Within half a decade of Kennan's article, the United States committed to resisting communism by providing economic and military aid to anti-communists (as in Turkey and Greece,) by maintaining a large military presence to counter the Soviets (as in the divided Germany) and even by invasion (as in Korea). Containment assumed that the Soviets would always behave aggressively, and that the United States needed to maintain a firm response. Pursuing this policy contributed to many of the Cold War's early crises, beginning with the Berlin blockade and airlift in 1948. It would continue to shape American foreign policy until the end of the Cold War.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team