World History: Marshall Plan

The commitment to Greece and Turkey was only the first act under the American project of containing Soviet expansion {Policy of Containment}. Soon, however, the United States realised that aid for only Greece and Turkey was quite inadequate. The war in Europe had devastated the economies of all the countries and Western Europe particularly was not making the necessary economic recovery. The deepest fear was that the Soviet Union would be able to exploit Europe’s post war economic collapse and if the situation was allowed to prevail, the communists would probably seize control of Italy and France.

American and European interests were interlinked

The collapse of Europe posed once again the basic question whether Europe was vital to U.S. security. The answer was obvious since American’s two previous interventions had been made to protect Europe. During both the world wars the United States had been drawn by Germany and both wars had been fought to uphold democracy in Europe. Europe’s vital importance became quite evident since it ranked second only to the United States in its potential power- in industry, productivity, skilled manpower, scientists and technicians. If these vital assets moved toward the Soviet side, the strategic military balance would swing sharply toward ‘the Russians and U.S. security would be endangered. Given its huge potential and its strategic geographic position, it became apparent that Europe’s security was indeed inseparable from U.S. security. Moreover, the United States could never allow the Soviet Union the control the Western approaches to the Atlantic. Hence, it was imperative for the U.S to find a way to help Europe recover.

With Europe on the verge of not only economic ruin, but also a complete social and political breakdown, everything seemed to force it into dependence upon America. Almost every item needed for reconstruction like wheat, cotton, coal, sulphur, sugar, machinery and trucks, could be obtained in sufficient quantities only from the United States. Tragically enough, Europe in 1947 had lost her capacity to buy. The only cure for Europe’s sick state was a massive injection of dollars since only a tremendous programme of economic aid could restore Europe’s economy and enable it to surpass its pre-war agricultural and industrial production.

Enunciation of Marshall Plan

To come to Europe’s rescue, Secretary of State George C. Marshall announced a policy in his address at the Harvard University on June 5,1947, which eclipsed the Truman Doctrine in importance. The essence of his speech was that, if the nations of Europe would get together and devise far-visioned plans for economic recovery, concentrate on self-help and mutual assistance, and present to Washington a specific statement of their needs, the United States would support them with financial help so far as it may be practical. In other words, American aid to Europe was made conditional upon economic co-operation among the European states and it put the burden of initiative on Europe’s shoulders. However, it soon became apparent that the Marshall scheme, unlike the Truman Doctrine which aimed at military aid or temporary relief to Greece and Turkey, was an all-inclusive plan looking toward long-range rehabilitation of Europe.

Acceptance by Europe

Secretary of State Marshall stressed upon the economic cooperation required by the United States. He thus called upon the European States to work out a plan for their common needs and common recovery. He further emphasized that the United Sates would provide the funds, but the Europeans had to assume the initiative and do the planning. Great Britain and France, releasing the breathtaking implications of the Marshall Plan called for a conference of twenty-two European countries. As expected, the satellites of the Soviet Union in Central and Eastern Europe turned down the invitation. Thereupon a sixteen-power conference met at Paris from July to September 1947 and finally worked out individual “shopping list” of desired items into an integrated programme. The Marshall Plan appropriation passed the House on April 3, 1947.

Criticism by Russians

The Marshall aid scheme was bitterly criticised by the Soviet Union, and its response to the Marshall Plan was the nine-nation Communist Information Bureau (Cominform), announced on October 5, 1947. This agency was designed to promote communism by fighting the economic recovery of Europe under the Marshall Plan. At the same time, through the Counter Molotov Plan, Moscow made an attempt for economic integration with its satellites.

ERP and American Victory

Secretary Marshall’s efforts resulted in the creation of the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC). President Truman asked for an aid of $17 billion, which the Congress cut to $13 billion. Britain, France and West Germany received more than half of this amount. The Marshall Plan, officially known as the European Relief Programme was approved just in time to influence the Italian election.

Given a choice between the concrete economic aid of the Marshall Plan and the vague benefits of communism, the Italian people returned on overwhelming verdict against the communists. This was the first decisive victory of the West and the U.S. over Communism in the post war years and it marked the turn of the tide in the cold war in favour of the United States.