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Cold War - Rollback

In the later part of the Cold War, US national policy vis--vis our major adversary rejected the strategic offensive (roll-back or liberation) in favor of the strategic defensive (containment). Initially thie opposite was the case. In June 1948 President Truman and the National Security Council formally committed the US government to an unprecedented program of counterforce against communism, moving beyond propaganda and economic warfare to authorize "preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition, and evacuation measures," as well as "subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerrillas, and refugee liberation groups." The Truman Administration directed that all such activities were to be carried out under ruses and deceptions and that the US government would "plausibly disclaim any responsibility." This program would take the name of Operation Rollback.

In the period of the Korean War, a basic debate took hold in America arguing the choices of "containment" versus "liberation"-holding the line against further Communist expansion or attempting to roll back the extensive Soviet controls in Europe. In Europe and America at the time there was growing talk and action to set up a multi-national force (EDF) under a European Defense Community. Indications pointed to the likelihood that a West German force would be included in the EDF or become part of the NATO forces.

The Korean War permitted U.S. military strength to be rebuilt, neither exclusively nor primarily to fight in the Far East theater but to counter the growing threat, visualized by NSC 68 earlier in 1950, of increased Soviet strength and to build the mobilization base in the United States in readiness for a possible general war. In Washington in the fall and winter of 1950-195 1, U.S. leaders seriously feared the war in Korea was a Soviet ruse, designed to cause U.S. forces to be committed to what General Bradley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called "the wrong war in the wrong place," while the Soviets attacked in Europe. The JCS thought war in Europe was close.

Together with the rapid expansion and deployments of U.S. armed forces to the European area as well as to the Far East, these developments appeared to confirm prior Soviet perspectives on U.S. motives in Europe, i.e., the real purpose of the U.S. rehabilitation effort was to develop military forces in order to threaten the U.S.S.R. From a meeting of Soviet and East European foreign ministers at Prague in 1950 there came a combined proposal to forbid German militarization while holding out a prospect for a unified Germany. Soviet moves seemed apprehensive. "Capitalist encirclement" seemed to be a reality.

The U.S. decision to cross the thirty-eighth parallel and to unify all Korea by military means under the unified command of General Douglas MacArthur marked a new stage. Washington acted not simply to limit Soviet control but actually to remove an area from Russian influence. Within the context of Russian aggression in Asia, this decision seemed logical. To America, the North Korean invasion was additional proof of Soviet designs on East Asia. Such action called not only for containment but for rollback. American officials were sure that China would exercise good judgment and refrain from involvement in the Korean conflict. The PRC's subsequent intervention in November 1950 seemed to demonstrate not only Mao's irrationality but also the fact that he was a puppet of the Soviet Union.

Apart from those physical realities, the U.S. leadership confronted the issues of the on-going war against the backdrop of a rising concern about the 1952 general election. "Roll-back" advocates saw a significant shift in U.S. policy in 1951 because up until that time American post war support of Western Europe had emphasized economic rehabilitation. In the Mutual Security Act of 1951, that emphasis shifted to military aid. Included in the Act was a provision authorizing $100 million to the President, whenever he deemed it to be in the U.S. national interest, to form military units of escaped Iron Curtain nationals or "for other purposes"; this provision immediately demonstrated Soviet sensitivities to possible subversive action or increased overt resistance in Eastern Europe.

Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Y. Vishinsky berated the U.S. motives and action in developing the Act at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in Paris in December 1951, two months after the Act became law. For several years thereafter this provision of the MSA of 1951-PL165, 82nd Congress - known as the Kersten Amendment, caused the Soviets to condemn U.S. intentions in various international forums and in their propaganda. To the Soviets it appeared easy to find confirmation of their worst fears. A long-standing belief seemed validated; militarists dominated the U.S. leadershipfrom Clay in Germany; Bedell Smith in Moscow; CIA and the State Department; Marshall in China, Defense, and State; MacArthur in Japan and later a Presidential hopeful; to Eisenhower in NATO and later the President.

A genuine Soviet apprehensiveness may have caused fear that extremists were gaining power in America. This may have been a basis for Stalin's 1952 call for peaceful coexistence. The Soviets obviously were sensitive to U.S. aircraft operating near the homeland; in addition to the violent reaction in the Baltic in April 1950, a U.S. Navy aircraft was shot down in November 195 1 and within two weeks, Soviet fighters forced a USAF C-47 to land in Hungary.

Following Stalin's death in 1953, Moscow surely had reason to be concerned about possible Western efforts to exploit political realignment in the transition. The basic vulnerability of the Soviet Union was especially great if, lacking a definite, secure Soviet hierarchy, the conditions giving rise to the Berlin riots of June 1953 and concurrent unrest in Poland and Czechoslovakia, were exploited by the U.S. "'roll-back" extremists. What if that were coupled with air strikes against the U.S.S.R. on the theory that the advantageous time for an attack on the Soviet Union would be when the Kremlin leadership was disorganized? By this time, U.S. naval aviation, including nuclear strike aircraft, had been based in the Mediterranean region about two years and Soviet air defense now faced various air threats.




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