United States During the Cold War

United States During the Cold War



Following World War II, the United States saw an advanced economic and political growth. The United States foreign policy was to be against the Soviet Union. This meant that in many ways the United States had deep economic and political ties throughout the world in the middle of the 20th century. The Truman Doctrine played a significant role in how the United States grew during this period. 


Learning Objectives

  • Evaluate the differences between Soviet Communism and United States Capitalism.
  • Analyze the impact of the end of World War II on the post-war societies.
  • Evaluate the role of United States foreign policy in shaping the post World War II world. 


Key Terms / Key Concepts

containment: a military strategy to stop the expansion of an enemy; the goal of the United States and its allies to prevent the spread of communism

“Long Telegram”: a 1946 cable telegram by U.S. diplomat George F. Kennan during the post-WWII administration of U.S. President Harry Truman that articulated the policy of containment toward the USSR

Marshall Plan: an American initiative to aid Western Europe in which the United States gave more than $12 billion in economic support to help rebuild Western European economies after the end of World War II

National Security Act of 1947: a bill that brought about a major restructuring of the United States government’s military and intelligence agencies following World War; a bill that established the National Security Council, a central place of coordination for national security policy in the executive branch, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the U.S.’s first peacetime intelligence agency

North Atlantic Trade Organization (NATO): an intergovernmental military alliance signed on April 4, 1949 and including the five Treaty of Brussels states (Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and the United Kingdom) plus the United States, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland

Truman Doctrine: an American foreign policy created to counter Soviet geopolitical spread during the Cold War, announced by Harry S. Truman to Congress in 1947




The North Atlantic Trade Organization (NATO) is an intergovernmental military alliance based on the North Atlantic Treaty signed on April 4, 1949. The organization constitutes a system of collective defense whereby its member states agree to mutual defense in response to an attack by any external party.

NATO was little more than a political association until the Korean War galvanized the organization’s member states and an integrated military structure was built up under the direction of two U.S. supreme commanders. The course of the Cold War led to a rivalry with nations of the Warsaw Pact, which formed in 1955.

Doubts over the strength of the relationship between the European states and the United States ebbed and flowed, along with doubts over the credibility of the NATO defense against a prospective Soviet invasion—doubts that led to the development of the independent French nuclear deterrent and the withdrawal of France from NATO’s military structure in 1966 for 30 years.

The Treaty of Brussels 1948 is considered the precursor to the NATO agreement; it was signed on March 17 by Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and the United Kingdom. The treaty and the Soviet Berlin Blockade led to the creation of the Western European Union’s Defense Organization in September 1948. However, none of these organizations were thought to be sufficient without participation of the United States, which was thought necessary both to counter the military power of the USSR and prevent the revival of nationalist militarism. In addition, the 1948 Czechoslovak coup d'etat by the Communists had overthrown a democratic government, and British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin reiterated that the best way to prevent another Czechoslovakia was to evolve a joint Western military strategy.

In 1948, European leaders met with U.S. defense, military, and diplomatic officials at the Pentagon under U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall’s orders, exploring a framework for a new and unprecedented association. Talks for a new military alliance resulted in the North Atlantic Treaty, signed in Washington, D.C. on April 4, 1949. It included the five Treaty of Brussels states plus the United States, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. The first NATO Secretary General, Lord Ismay, stated in 1949 that the organization’s goal was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”

The members agreed that an armed attack against any one of them in Europe or North America would be considered an attack against them all. Consequently, they agreed that if an armed attack occurred, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense, would assist the member being attacked, taking such action as it deemed necessary; this would include the use of armed force to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area. The treaty does not require members to respond with military action against an aggressor. Although obliged to respond, they maintain the freedom to choose the method by which they do so.

The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 was crucial for NATO as it raised the apparent threat of all Communist countries working together and forced the alliance to develop concrete military plans. Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) was formed to direct forces in Europe and began work under Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower in January 1951. In September 1950, the NATO Military Committee called for an ambitious buildup of conventional forces to meet the Soviets, subsequently reaffirming this position at the February 1952 meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Lisbon.

In 1954, the Soviet Union suggested that it should join NATO to preserve peace in Europe. The NATO countries, fearing that the Soviet Union’s motive was to weaken the alliance, ultimately rejected this proposal.

The incorporation of West Germany into the organization on May 9, 1955 was described as “a decisive turning point in the history of our continent” by Halvard Lange, Foreign Affairs Minister of Norway at the time. A major reason for Germany’s entry into the alliance was that without German manpower, it would have been impossible to field enough conventional forces to resist a Soviet invasion. One of its immediate results was the creation of the Warsaw Pact, signed on May 14, 1955 by the Soviet Union, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, and East Germany as a formal response to this event. The Warsaw Pact ensured the delineation of the two opposing sides of the Cold War.



North Atlantic Treaty: The North Atlantic Treaty was signed in Washington, D.C., on April 4, 1949 and was ratified by the United States that August.

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