Essay: The Marshall plan

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  • The Marshall plan
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The Marshall plan was a US program introduced to recover the Western European countries after WW2. The motives behind the plan come down to three broad strands that are economic, political and humanitarian. Each interpretation focuses on one or more of these aspects. In the Kolko’s argument they outline that the Americans economy and prosperity was the most important motive behind the introduction of the Marshall plan. That it was introduced as the US relied on the European countries trade to expand. A varied argument comes from David Rees, he claims that the plan was simply to defend Europe from communism and to rehabilitate the countries. Finally, Daniel Yergins key argument is one where economics and politics were motives. He argues that the plan was to consolidate the Western sphere by rebuilding the economy, which at the same time would keep the communists out. The motives each have different impacts on the Marshall plans introduction.

Kolko’s analysis and explanation

Joyce and Gabriel Kolko, writing in ‘The limits of power’, make it clear that they had a straightforward view on the motives behind the introduction of the Marshall plan. They openly imply the main factor behind it was that the US wanted to re-establish the American economy by which they would “subsidize United States exports” and “permanently influence and shape Western Europe’s internal economic policy”.

The most significant argument that the Kolkos present is that of economic self-interest and expansion in Europe. A point that they make early on in the work is the plan was the “outcome of real alarm with which Washington viewed the direction of the world economy”. The Kolkos argue that the USAs prosperity was dependant on the plan. They claim the US is “a powerful nation rebuilding its potential economic competitors from the ruins of war”. This aim, the Kolkos say, was key as they saw it is an attempt by the US “to expand their market to avoid internal crisis” and also “secure their own immediate gains” by introducing the Marshall plan. This internal crisis they believe was the dollar gap and export surplus, as after the war there wasn’t enough dollars in Europe to purchase American goods, therefore their exports were building up with no one to buy them. Henry G Aubrey, a US economist noted “dollars were so scarce that the economists were talking about a permanent dollar shortage”. Kolko saw this as an immediate motive as without the dollars in Europe it would “further isolate” the US economy. Therefore, the Kolkos claim the motive behind the plan is to “re-establish normal trading patterns through which the entire world would realise prosperity and peace”. The Kolkos further expand this point of internal crisis by saying that a prominent danger to the US was that the trade set up by European countries to provide their countries with basis needs would stick, therefore permanently excluding the US and halting their expansion.

Another element to the Kolkos argument is that the US couldn’t relieve the economic problem they were facing in their country by themselves as the Kolkos claim they were a “capitalist nation unable to expand its internal market”. The Kolkos have little sympathy for the US and argue that because of the “vast unsalable surplus” that had built up, the aim of American prosperity was dependant to the rebuilding of European cities, with no interest of the people or resolving their issues. They suggest that the rebuilding was crucial and a principal motive behind the Marshall plan as it was this that would allow prosperity in the countries to return to normal levels and hence have the money to pay for the US goods, and fuel their aim of an American empire.

In the Kolko’s book, they are clearly anti-US, which is seen in their criticisms of the plan and its aim. This could be because around the time they were writing in 1972, American foreign policy was heavily under scrutiny from America, this is evident as during this time troops were being withdrawn from Vietnam due to the persistent backlash from the American public Kolko addressed the issues of the foreign policy as inapplicable and was notoriously anti-capitalist. Historians have said it was “no surprise: Kolko had been a socialist” which explain his views of the Americans selfish self-interest.

Rees analysis and explanation

Rees writing in the “Age of containment” has a contrasting argument to the Kolkos as he has a central focus on the containment of communism as being a key motive. Rees argues that the motives behind the Marshall plan “stems from the events of 7 November 1917, with the successful storming of the Petrograd Winter Palace” and the deep rooted ideological differences that he noted as “grave differences” at Potsdam. From this we can see that Rees first argument for the motives of the Marshall plan and his principal argument was that it was purely defending Europe from communism. The containment policy that flowed over into the basis of the Marshall plan was of “defensive nature” and “encouraging…the survival of free institutions”. Rees argued that the the communist ideology would influence those in Europe due to their lack of structure after the war, he believed “American opinion was beginning to see that it could not let Europe…fall to the Soviets by default”. To support his argument that ideology was a key motive he quotes Truman “the constant threat of unpredictable Soviet moves resulted in an atmosphere of insecurity…among the peoples of Western Europe”. This emphasises Rees argument that the Marshall plan was introduced to combat the “increasingly suspicious” Soviet policy. It also indicates that ideology was a long term factor behind the introduction of the Marshall Plan as he saw that the US and Soviets would always be on an ideological collision course, due to those early events as said earlier.

A secondary argument that Rees presents is that a motive behind the introduction of the Marshall plan was humanitarian. Contrasting the Kolko’s view that Americas motive behind the Marshall plan was for selfish reasons. Rees argues that Americas interest was more focused on actually protecting Europe, rather than focussing only on their own benefits. He says that “American power was still the ultimate guarantee of Western collective security”, this emphasises that the Americans needed to protect Europe and their “free institutions”. Rees mentions that “the entire continent would have to be rehabilitated with US aid”. The language highlights that in Rees’ eyes it was about fixing Europe with the US’ help as hero’s, not the US doing it in their own interest.

David Rees argument for the motives behind the Marshall plan are traditionalist, and were written during the 1960s when the common perception of the Cold War that the USA were defending freedom and capitalism. This outlook can easily be explained as the sources he uses are largely official documents from the US government “Foreign relations of the United States”, and memoirs and bibliography’s from US congressmen.

Yergin analysis and explanation

A third works that investigates the motives behind the Marshall Plan comes from Daniel Yergin in The Shattered Peace. His interpretation of the motives is that the political scene in Europe and the divisions between the US and communism were responsible for the plans introduction. Yergin also touches upon the economic factors that play into the political conflict and the impact it has on the Communists influence in Europe. However, these were of a humanitarian nature and were not to do with self-interest for the Americans as the Kolko’s believed they were. He describes Europe as being in “an economic crisis with momentous political ramifications” and that the Marshall plans two aims were “to halt a feared communist advance… and to stabilize an international economic environment favorable to capitalism”. Yergin claims that the two factors fuse together to form the Marshall plan.

Yergin suggests that the Truman doctrine was failing, as US policy was focused on acting against the soviet sphere. He interprets this as being a long term motive behind the plan and that it was introduced to create a shift in US policymaking towards creating a Western Sphere to block any further spread of the communist regime. He argues that the Marshall plan was “the last great effort, using the powerful and attractive magnetism of the American economy, to draw these countries out of the Soviet orbit”. Yergin uses Truman’s point that “There are other places where we can be effective”, highlighting how a consolidated Western Sphere is more significant than a weakened Soviet sphere. To extend this Yergin breaks down the consolidation of Europe and says that the recovery of Germany was a motive behind the plan as he believed the security and development of the other western countries was based on its survival. He says “Western Germany was presented as essential for the recovery of its non-communist neighbors”. Yergin stresses that West Germany needed to become “integrated into a Western system”. This motive would deter a communist interest and prevent a “feared communist advance into Western Europe”.

Another area Yergin argues was a motivation behind the Marshall plan was humanitarian aid to Europe. Yergin claims that this was mostly done through economic help. Yergin argues a reason the plan was introduced was “to cover the entire range of European economic problems”. He makes it clear though that the motive behind this was less to do with the “impending American depression”,which Kolko argues is the centre of the plan. But more based around helping Europe from its “economic crisis” and preventing its “complete collapse”. Yergin also makes a clear point that the economic motives were of a humanitarian nature as he makes reference to the “visible destruction”, that needs repairing, as well as the the capital destruction that affected the people of Europe “Western Europe was no longer able to obtain food stores from traditional sources in Eastern Europe”. This indicates Yergins awareness of the state of the people and not just the economy or politics.

Yergins assessment of the motives can be explained as some historians have said…

“Yergin has largely escaped from the arid conceptual desert of all those revisionist versus traditionalist tracts. He appreciates that neither the orthodox blame-it-on-the-Russians approach, nor the revisionist blame-it-on-the-Americans,”.

This could be explained as he was writing in 1990, when primary sources became widely available for use, especially some from the soviet archives which were released after USSR began to collapse in 1990. Also his jobs provide an insight to why he holds the views he does. He is a director of the Council on Foreign Relations and also teaches in the program on National and international Affairs. This provides evidence towards his international views.
Evaluation

The Kolko’s argument is more narrow than others as he claims that the motives behind the Marshall plan were purely of economic self-interest as the US wanted to “secure their own immediate gains”. This already strays Kolko’s argument away from those of Rees and Yergin who have more diverse views on the motives such as humanitarian and political. Kolko’s particular focus economically for the basis of his argument is on the self-interests of the American government and particularly the dollar crisis which at the time was viewed as critical for the condition of the world economy. Similarly, to add support to Kolko’s specific argument McCormick too comments on the importance of it, that “the dollar gap situation provoked” the plan. Therefore, Kolko’s argument does highlight the important motive that economic factors, such as the dollar crisis, had on the introduction of the Marshall plan. This argument is further developed as Europe was undoubtedly in a financial crisis with money being the short term requirement by many European countries. This is seen as Britain was already using up the $3.75bn Anglo-American loan given in 1945 which was meant to last till 1951 and “designed to get England back on its feet”, which it didn’t. Emphasizing the need for the Marshall plan. Overall, the Kolko’s were right to say that Europe was desperate and that the Americans exploited this for their own selfish reasons.

Michael J Hogan provides a supporting argument to this in that US integration into Europe was key for European economic recovery and was essential for the long term interests of the USA, “The Marshall plan rested squarely on an American conviction that European economic recovery was essential to the long term interests of the United States.”. Hogan’s approach somewhat validates Kolko in implementing the importance that the economics had behind the Marshall plan. But also backs up Kolko’s argument of economic self-interest. Hogan says American policy makers saw “economic integration as the best way to achieve the interrelated economic, political, and strategic goals on their agenda”.

Kolko’s anti-capitalist views are one reason why he fails to mention communism as a motive for the Marshall Plan, weakening his argument. Kolko appears to overlook communism as a factor despite taking interest in “the direction of the world economy”, which would indicate a concern of communism influence. Hogan who has a similar economic argument does comment on a communism motive behind the Marshall plan, which provides his argument with more depth and therefore a more balanced piece then Kolko. Hogan argues “American officials saw Marshall’s plan as a way to break soviet influence in Eastern Europe”. I agree that the lack of economic stability could strengthen communist parties, as in France the communist party was the strongest politically, winning 25% of the votes that year. To further maintenance this Hogan says “This level of expenditure was necessary to avert ‘economic, social, and political’ chaos in Europe, (and) contain communism”. This argument is stronger than Kolko as its undeniable that economic motives were important as clearly Europe needed the money however the communist ideology was an underlying fear as it would have had the influence over the direction of world trade and economics as a whole in the long term. This subsequently shows Kolko is wrong to say it’s all down to economics. Truman introduced the Truman doctrine only a year before the Marshall plan. I would argue that this clearly shows Truman’s stance on communism and that it’s at the for-front of his policies. In the New York, St Patrick’s day address on 17 March 1948 while discussing the Marshall plan Truman is quoted saying,

“So long as democracy is threatened in the world, and during the period in which the free nations of Europe are regaining their strength, this country must remain strong in order to give support to those countries of Europe whose freedom is endangered… It (communism) is tyranny against freedom.”

I therefore find it hard to agree with Kolko that economics, despite being important, was the only motive.

David Rees provides a compelling argument for the introduction of the Marshall plan, due to the breath of motives he includes. He offers two strands, a humanitarian aspect and protecting Europe from communist threat. This already is more convincing than Kolko as Rees gives a more diverse view of American politics, not just the economic self-interest that Kolko proposes.

Rees’ strand articulating the motive behind the plan, containment of communism, is credible as he emphasizes the deep rooted ideological differences that had been shown between the US and the Soviets for years as key to the introduction of the Marshall plan. Rees’ citing of Potsdam, 1945 where he says “grave differences” were seen between the two powers can be validated by other sources, ‘’the United States government was initially hostile to the Soviet leaders for taking Russia out of World War I and was opposed to a state ideologically based on communism”. This shows that for years’ communism had been the wall between the two powers. Also, Rees citing of George Kennan, US diplomat “I still consider that containment is better than war… with regards to Russia”, gives convincing support towards his argument the Marshall plan was defensive.

This argument provides strong evidence that communism was the most important motive as Rees says it was about “encouraging as far as possible the survival of free institutions”. This can be supported by the fact Truman’s foreign policy was about containing communism, the Truman Doctrine, which in turn lead to the Marshall plan as Europe “still reeling from the devastation wrought by World War II, might elect indigenous Communist governments that would orient their nations—politically, economically, and militarily—toward the Soviet Union.”. This shows that Rees was right to say defending Europe was the key factor because the fear of communism and it spreading was clearly rooted in American policy.

John Gaddis, offers an argument that gives supporting evidence. Likewise, to Rees Gaddis argues that the Americans were defending Europe, he says the “Americans began to realize that a potentially hostile power was one again threatening Europe”. Gaddis validates this by saying “Stalin’s policy, was one of imperial expansion”. Gaddis provides sufficient support to Rees. These arguments provide evidence to show that communism was key and I specifically agree with Gaddis argument. “It’s difficult to see how a strategy of containment could have developed – with the Marshall plan as its centerpiece – had there been nothing to contain”. Therefore, Rees and Gaddis highlight the underlying motive of containment. The plan couldn’t have arisen without the initial doctrine of containment as it was this that spurred on the Marshall plan, in the fact that economic support was required to contain it. Rees says that without the Marshall plan “the collapse of Western Eurasia seemed imminent”.

David Rees provides a somewhat compelling argument for the introduction of the Marshall plan, due to the breath of motives he includes. He offers two strands, a humanitarian aspect and protecting Europe from communist threat. This already is more convincing than Kolko as Rees gives a more diverse view of American politics, not just the economic self-interest that Kolko proposes.

Rees’ strand articulating the motive behind the plan, containment of communism, is credible as he emphasizes the deep rooted ideological differences that had been shown between the US and the Soviets for years as key to the introduction of the Marshall plan. Rees’ citing of Potsdam, 1945 where he says “grave differences” were seen between the two powers can be validated by other sources, ‘’the United States government was initially hostile to the Soviet leaders for taking Russia out of World War I and was opposed to a state ideologically based on communism”. This shows that for years’ communism had been the wall between the two powers. Also, Rees citing of George Kennan, US diplomat “I still consider that containment is better than war… with regards to Russia”, gives convincing support towards his argument the Marshall plan was defensive. This argument provides strong evidence that communism was the most important motive as Rees says it was about “encouraging as far as possible the survival of free institutions”. This can be supported by the fact Truman’s foreign policy, the Truman Doctrine, was about containing communism, which in turn lead to the Marshall plan as Europe “still reeling from the devastation wrought by World War II, might elect indigenous Communist governments that would orient their nations—politically, economically, and militarily—toward the Soviet Union.”. This shows that Rees was right to say defending Europe was the key factor because the fear of communism and it spreading was clearly rooted in American policy. John Gaddis, offers an argument that gives supporting evidence. Likewise, to Rees Gaddis argues that the Americans were defending Europe, he says the “Americans began to realize that a potentially hostile power was one again threatening Europe”. This is evident as Stalin was already beginning his consolidation of power throughout Western Europe between 1945-47 through rigged elections, for example Poland in 1947 violence was used and ant-communist parties were persecuted, with the Communists winning the election this gave the Soviets legitimacy to say that Poland was democratic. Gaddis validates this by saying “Stalin’s policy, was one of imperial expansion”. Gaddis provides sufficient support to Rees. These arguments provide evidence to show that communism was key and I specifically agree with Gaddis argument. “It’s difficult to see how a strategy of containment could have developed – with the Marshall plan as its centerpiece – had there been nothing to contain”. Therefore, Rees and Gaddis highlight the underlying motive of containment. The plan couldn’t have arisen without the initial doctrine of containment as it was this that spurred on the Marshall plan, in the fact that economic support was required to contain it. Rees says that without the Marshall plan “the collapse of Western Eurasia seemed imminent”.

The second strand arguing the motive behind the plan was humanitarian, is less persuasive. He focusses more on portraying the US as a hero against communism the “tyranny”, with little evidence to support their motives were to specifically help the European people. Whilst this isn’t as far-fetched as Kolko saying it was all American self-interest. Rees argument is more substantial in saying the motive was protecting Europe from communism, not helping the people, “Most important of all, American power was still the ultimate guarantee of Western collective security”. On the other hand, despite Rees’ humanitarian argument not being that strong, I think that Nicolaus Mills provides a stronger argument for the motive on the grounds that he provides more evidence that the plan was introduced with the people of Europe in mind.

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