Regardless of the underlying causes of the Cold War and the differing perspectives offered by orthodox, revisionist and post-revisionist historians, it is important to develop an understanding of the stated foreign policy and stated motivations of the USA
Because so many modern historians argue that Australia “followed” the USA into the Vietnam conflict during the 1960s as a result of fears of Asian communism and out of a desire to prove loyalty to the alliances formed with America, it is important to consider the US policies towards the communist bloc which influenced its decision-making during the Vietnam era (the 1950s – 1970s).
Throughout the Cold War, American foreign policy towards the USSR (and other communist nations such as China) was characterised by a perceived need to defend itself and its allies against the threat of communist expansion (as envisaged by Marx and Trotsky – notably not by Stalin). The leaders of the USA repeatedly articulated a commitment to assisting and supporting like-minded and supposedly “liberal-democratic” states against any perceived left-wing threats. Some critics have gone so far as to argue that US foreign policy during the Cold War period until 1991 can, at its worst, be interpreted as an American willingness to support any regime as long as it was anti-communist – even if it were clearly authoritarian and undemocratic!
What is clear, however, is that US foreign policy during the Vietnam era can be explored by examining a series of phases in which a variety of approaches are taken in dealing with the perceived communist threat posed by the USSR and the People’s Republic of China. Underlying each of these phases is a clear desire to CONTAIN communism within its present boundaries. Each phase seems to have developed its own nuances that have been captured in the speeches and “doctrines” of policy leaders – especially those of three key Presidents.
|PHASE 1: 1947 – 1961
TRUMAN DOCTRINE (named after President Harry S. Truman)
Sub-theme: The Domino Theory (President Eisenhower, 1954)
|The creation of Containment as a principle in US Foreign Policy during the early years of the Cold War largely prior to Australian and American involvement in Vietnam..
“I believe it must be the policy of the United States to support free people who are resisting the attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures… If we falter… we may endanger the peace of the world – and we shall surely endanger the welfare of our own nation.” (Truman, 1947)
Associated with a growing American commitment to containing communism in a variety of locations including Vietnam after 1954. According to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, containment was of particular importance in Asia where the threat of communist expansion was expressed in the Domino Theory.
1961 – 1970
KENNEDY DOCTRINE (named after President John F. Kennedy)
|A continuation of the objective of Containment but couched in far more “robust” and “assertive” terms than the Truman Doctrine.
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill… that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” (Kennedy, 1961)
Initially associated with the events of the Cuban revolution (1959) and subsequent Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), the doctrine represented an escalation of America’s commitment to containing communism in a variety of locations including Vietnam after 1961.
After Kennedy’s assassination in 1962, his doctrine remained central to the policies of his successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson. LBJ is remembered for his escalation of the Vietnam conflict.
1970/3 – 1977
NIXON DOCTRINE (named after President Richard M. Nixon)
|Containment is placed “in context”. America states a willingness to support others rather than become directly involved in warfare.
“Abroad and at home the key… lies in the placing and the division of responsibilities. The time has passed when America will make every other nation’s conflict our own, or make every other nation’s future our responsibility, or presume to tell the people of other nations how to manage their affairs. Just as we respect the right of each nation to determine its own future, we also recognise the responsibility of each nation to secure its own future.” (Nixon, 1969)
Associated with the end of the Vietnam War (early 1970s) and the concept of Vietnamisation (1969), the doctrine was announced in a context of American desires to withdraw from the Vietnam War.