The Cold War and the United States Foreign Policy


The Cold War belongs to the most famous historical events of the twentieth century. There is no doubt that strained relations between two major superpowers of that time had a significant impact on strategies related to domestic and foreign policies of both the United States and the Soviet Union. As it often happens, when it comes to major events in human history and assessing their impact on different countries, there is certain discord of opinions on the real nature of changes and their consequences. Thus, there are people who suppose that foreign policy of the United States before and during the Cold War were two plans of actions that could be called almost independent; according to this opinion, such important reason to improve the results in all spheres of activity as the Cold War encouraged the government of the United States to make significant changes to the plan of collaboration with other countries. Nevertheless, there is also an opinion that certain changes in foreign policy during this period were just an essential part of the continuity.

It cannot be argued that the Cold War can be considered as a period when the disagreement between the Soviet Union and the United States was obvious enough but there was no clear reason for both countries to use military strength in order to gain a political and economical advantage over the opponent. In fact, speaking about the level of the discussed conflict, it is necessary to mention that such a clash of values between capitalism and socialism was able to divide the universal community into two parts and make almost every country support one of these systems and its requirements. Therefore, if we speak about the conflict that did not involve obvious military showdowns, it is important to understand that it was extremely important for the United States to solve urgent problems connected to its relationships with other countries that could act as valuable partners. In other words, the discussed situation where the growing tension between the two countries took place was quite difficult. Therefore, it required the United States to take any measures including quite risky ones in order to attract more partners represented by developed and wealthy countries, proclaiming the importance of its ideology all over the world, extend the sphere of its political and economic influence, and significantly increase its defense capability (“Excerpts from NSC-68: United States’ objectives and programs for national security”, 1968). As the conflict was many-sided, all the measures aimed at fulfilling the discussed tasks could help the United States to gain an advantage over its main rival in the game of politics.

Cold War

In order to better understand the situation with the external policy of the United States and assess the changes and newer measures that were implemented, it is necessary to compare the strategies of collaboration with other countries that the United States was sticking to before and during the Cold War. This conflict that was quite long-running started after the end of the Second World War that involved the participation of both aggrieved parties. Although the United States and the Soviet Union have always been on opposite sides of the barricades when it comes to issues of ideology, one of the greatest threats to peace represented by fascism encouraged Americans to support their ideological opponent that needed help. Obviously, the conflict of interests was so strong that former allies began to fight their corners at the end of the war (Kennan, 1967, p. 368).

If we speak about the foreign policy of the United States at the beginning of the past century, it is necessary to say that the country was actively expanding its political and economical influence in the Philippines and Latin America and its success was obvious for the world community. At the same time, the foreign policy strategy of the country during that period was based on the necessity to prevent the variety of European countries from posing a threat to the predominance of the United States on the continent. In fact, the relationships of the country with other states were difficult to be called a usual collaboration. The United States was extremely active in expanding its influence and it was necessary for the country to gain more power in many territories in order to fulfill its political ambitions. At the beginning of the twentieth century, American corporations dominated the countries of Latin America and controlled most of their financial and natural resources. Despite such authority, it was not interesting for the United States to reduce its ambitions and consider itself satisfied with the situation. Therefore, considering its status of development and wealth, the focus of the attention of the United States shifted to newer territories such as Asia. In other words, it can be stated that the discussed period before the First World War was marked not by active collaboration but by persistent capacity development of the United States that was able to make it a worthy adversary to European countries who had already fortified their positions in Asia. At the same time, that period the United States tried to take an active part in notable international conflicts. Making attempts to act as an intermediary between countries that had strong disagreement related to politics and many conflicts, the United States was able to expand its influence even more but in this case, it was not done with the help of territorial expansion. Instead, the country was able to play a new role in global political theater and act as a bridgebuilder and an unprejudiced judge. Nevertheless, the country was still unable to take an active part in the relationships of countries that possessed greater war capability than the United States.

The external policy of the country during the First World War was related to more active collaboration and providing the Allies with support and financial help. Therefore, the country has managed to suck political and economical advantage out of this war and the latter encouraged rapid economic growth in the United States. As for the tendencies that were peculiar to a foreign policy of the country during the Second World War, it can be stated that the government was trying to avoid risks at the beginning of the war and it preferred to keep out of foreign conflicts and give pride of place to a wait-and-see approach. Thus, it was believed that the country was going to gain an advantage over the countries devastated by the war and become the power capable of laying down the newer rules. Trying to safeguard neutrality, the country paid increased attention to domestic issues. Nevertheless, in the middle of the war, it was decided to change the policies and provide the countries that suffered because of the rise of fascism with weapons and other resources.

At the beginning of the Cold War, the situation with foreign policy started to change. After the world war, there were a lot of questions raised by the Soviet Union that caused discontent of the United States; one of the most significant ones was related to the contradiction of ideologies (“Achieving an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence”, 1946, para. 2). Apart from that, there was a range of global problems that made the conflict between the two superpowers even worse. At that time, socialism was seen as “suspicious but patient” and the United States regarded rapid capacity development as the only way to withstand the rival (Kennan, 1946, para. 2). Realizing the power of the Soviet Union that could pose a threat to further development of capitalism in the world, the United States decided to rely on the measures allowing to establish partnerships and garner the support of many developed countries. In order to do that, the United States took an active part in the establishment and further development of a few international organizations such as NATO and IMF.

That period, the attention of the government was focused on preventing the spread of socialist ideology and a few strategies of further development of the United States were proposed. For instance, according to Truman’s statement, the primary objectives of the country were to eliminate coercion, to decrease the influence of the Soviet Union, and to encourage the creation of the monocentric world (Truman, 1947). Later, the prevalence of Truman’s Doctrine was replaced by Détente decreasing the tension between the countries and proclaiming the importance of cultural exchange and economic partnership with the Soviet Union (Kissinger, 1975, p. 35). Besides, there were other political figures who were expressing their vision of the best political strategies.

Thus, Wallace supported the opinion that contradicted the ideals of the authorities in power; according to him, the only way to ameliorate the situation in the world was to stop seeing the Soviet Union as a threat and reduce this irrational fear (“Achieving an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence”, 1946). Obviously, the further career of this politician was unsuccessful due to the fact that his attitude to the Soviet Union contradicted commonly held opinion supported in the United States. According to the point of view expressed by Lippmann, the received strategy of confronting the Soviet Union would turn out to be harmful to both sides of the conflict and it was necessary to reach an agreement with Russia and United Kingdom and withdraw troops from Europe to prevent further clashes (Lippmann, 1947). Just like Wallace, Lippmann spoke out against NATO but their opinions were not considered. Kennan belongs to the number of historians whose opinions have significantly changed over the course of time. Thus, during the heat of the war, he was supporting an opinion that Japan could become another country besides the Soviet Union whose growth had to be contained but he was neutral about NATO and its role in the world; a few decades later, he stated that expanding NATO could become a fatal mistake for the United States (Kennan, 1997).


In the end, the departure from the initial foreign policy of the United States during the Cold War was strictly connected to the threat seen in the Soviet Union and other countries. At the same time, there were also the principles such as active participation in foreign conflicts that were followed both before and during the Cold War.


Achieving an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence (1946). Web.

Excerpts from NSC-68: United States’ objectives and programs for national security (1968). Web.

Kennan, G. F. (1946). The sources of Soviet conduct. Foreign Affairs, 25(1), 566.

Kennan, G. F. (1967). Memoirs 1925–1950. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, Boston.

Kennan, G. F. (1997). A fateful error: Expanding NATO would be a rebuff to Russian democracy. New York Times, p.35.

Kissinger, H. (1975). Détente: The American view. Survival, 17(1), 35-36.

Lippmann, W. (1947). The cold war. New York, NY: Harper and Bros.

Truman, H.S. (1947). The Truman doctrine. Web.