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               “The originally propagated view
that the Marshall Plan was an altruistic endeavour … has long been dismissed.”1
Instead, “The overwhelming body of literature looks at the Marshall Plan either
from a political and diplomatic or from an economic viewpoint.”2
Overall, the Plan was primarily motivated by the former, rather, than the later,
albeit both were heavily intertwined. This is because containment and a fear of
Soviet expansion categorised US foreign policy for much of the postwar period,
with economic considerations being the method used, to enact this policy of

                      The most convincing
argument why the Marshall Plan was a scheme driven primarily by political,
rather than economic considerations, is because there was an overwhelming US
desire for containment. Containment is the doctrine used to describe US attempts
to contain the spread of communism, as well as subvert Russian influence, in
postwar Europe. This formed the basis of the Marshall Plan, as President Truman
and his advisors were fearful that Stalin wanted to isolate Eastern Europe from
the West and implement his communist and totalitarian doctrines in those
regions. This Western fear stemmed prior to the introduction of the Marshall
Plan, with Congress authorising $400 million of aid to Greece and Turkey, as
part of the Truman Doctrine, to combat the prospect of communism fostering in
these countries. Truman in his speech to Congress, in March 1947, stated that “it
must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are
resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.”3 The
Marshall Plan was thus required to help contain this spread of communism, as communist
regimes were “inhumane, undemocratic, and convoluted and offered an alternative
vision of society no right or left-thinking person would desire, rationalise,
or tolerate.”4 Therefore,
this issue of containment lies at the crux of the Marshall Plan, as the Truman administration
was overwhelmingly concerned with preventing the emergence and expansion of Soviet
satellite states.

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                However, it has been argued
that containment should not be seen as the underlying factor behind the
Marshall Plan, due to the fact that Britain was a recipient of this aid. This
is because Britain did not fall within the sphere of communist influence, yet received
the most amount of aid. For example, in the 1945 General Election, the British Communist
Party only won two out of six-hundred and fifty seats, receiving less than one hundred
thousand votes overall; thus, highlighting the lack of communist support in
postwar Britain. Furthermore, the Marshall Plan was even offered to the Soviet
Union by the American administration. Despite being an empty gesture, if there
was a genuine fear of communism and an overwhelming agenda to contain it, why
would they offer aid, in the first place, to the principal communist state? Joyce
and Gabriel Kolko go further and ascertain that the US “cynically manipulated a
Russian threat in an effort to fasten economic control over the entire world.”5 The
Kolkos argue that “Truman and his advisers deliberately exaggerated and
misrepresented external reality, provoked and invented crises, and spurned
genuine Russian offers to negotiate a détente,”6 in
order to achieve greater world hegemony.

          Yet, it would be inconceivable that
Britain, America’s greatest ally in Western Europe, would not receive aid,
especially off the back of the harsh winter of 1946-47. This is because Britain
faced an “imminent economic collapse that was only averted by the timely Marshall
aid.”7 Furthermore,
Ernest Bevin, UK Foreign Affairs Secretary, made the case that “without a
powerful and stable Britain, the Soviet Union could assume control of the continent.”8 Similarly,
with regards to the extension of Marshall aid to the Soviet Union, this was a
purely tactical manouevre, for Truman and his policymakers knew that Stalin
would never accept this aid, thus “letting the Soviet Union bear the onus for
withdrawing.”9 Furthermore,
whilst the United States acknowledged that the Soviet Union weren’t posing an
imminent threat, the Truman administration were nevertheless intent in protecting
and safeguarding the interests and liberties of the European populations,
especially in the long-term. Therefore, containment largely provided the
overall incentive for the Marshall Plan.

               However, the Marshall Plan can
also be explained by a desire for European integration – an economic
consideration. European integration is a model, which encouraged greater
co-operation and unity between European states, through “setting up
institutions that coordinated the economies of Europe into a single efficient
unit.”10 A
“United States of Europe”11 was
required, as there had been a fragmentation of Europe into distinct autonomous
states, following the turn of the twentieth-century. Initial attempts, in the
aftermath of World War I, to resolve this issue were overwhelmingly
unsuccessful. The Treaty of Versailles failed to secure peace and stability
within the region, with Germany again culpable for another major war, just
twenty years later. Rather, European integration was pursued in order to create
a framework for the reconciliation of Germany, which would alleviate the
economic and security concerns of its neighbours, in particular France. This is
corroborated by the Library of Congress, who “circulated a paper discussing
European unification as a method of controlling postwar Germany.”12 Instead
of ‘crippling’ Germany, the US maintained that German economic prosperity would
be the most effective method in ensuring German co-operation. By including
Germany in their vision of postwar Europe, as well as encouraging German
rehabilitation, the United States hoped that they would not be resented, like
the ‘Big Three’ were, following the Treaty of Versailles. Thus, the United
States “made it inevitable that West Germany played a part in the Organisation
for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC),”13 which
was the financial institution devised by the United States, to coordinate European

          Yet, the
reintegration of Germany wasn’t the sole reason why the US were deeply vested
in this issue of European integration. This is because “European economic
recovery was also essential to US long-term interests,”14 as
it would mean that the “United States would no longer need to act as Europe’s
‘horn of plenty’.”15
There had been a previous European tendency to rely heavily on the United
States, especially with regards to aid, as shown by the Lend-Lease Act (1941). This
Act conveyed “$50.1 billion (equivalent to $656 billion today) worth of
supplies”16 to
the Allies during the war, and allowed Britain to “retain the Lend-Lease
equipment, for just ten cents on the dollar, after the war.”17 Whilst,
the United States tried to establish a ‘Reverse Lend-Lease’, in which they
would receive goods and services from the Allies, they only recovered $7.8
billion; which wasn’t a tangible return on their $50.1 billion worth of aid. As
such, the United States decided that European integration was the best policy
to help guarantee European economic recovery, which would in turn allow them to
limit their future interventions. This is because a prosperous Europe would not
require US aid and involvement, as there wouldn’t be a major war or economic
crisis for them to contend with.

             However, recent historiography has
indicated that integration was only feverously pursued as it was primarily “a
method of maintaining capitalist relations in Europe and halting Soviet
advantage.”18 The
American administration, under Harry S. Truman, understood that a weak,
disintegrated Europe would be more susceptible to the advances of communism. This
was particularly the case in early 1947, where communism had already begun to
be fostered in Eastern European countries, such as Hungary, Poland and
Czechoslovakia. Coupled with the forthcoming economic crisis in Western Europe,
US policymakers deemed intervention a priority, in order to prevent the
“economic, social and political disintegration, which will overwhelm Europe.”19 This
US involvement was thus necessary to contain the spread of communism,
especially in tumultuous times, in which communism overwhelmingly tends to
thrive. Therefore, whilst European integration, in itself, would be beneficial
to the United States, economic factors were not the primary motivation of the
Marshall Plan. Instead, the Marshall Plan was underpinned by a desire to
contain communism in Europe, above all else.

            Walter LaFeber similarly argues that
the Marshall Plan was driven by economic considerations, albeit with regards to
domestic economic imperative rather than European integration. This is because Truman’s
administration understood that if Europe stagnated “Americans would face the loss
of their most vital market, causing a return to the 1930s state of affairs,
with all its terrible political consequences.”20 This
argument is corroborated by U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs,
William Clayton, who acknowledged that “the immediate effects of a European crisis
on our domestic economy would be disastrous: markets for our surplus production
gone, unemployment, depression, a heavily unbalanced budget on the background
of a mountainous war debt.”21 Yet,
this fear of European collapse wasn’t purely hypothetical, as there was the
European crisis of 1947, which resulted in a European dollar shortage. The
outcome of this shortage was that “the world would not be able to continue to
buy U.S. exports at the 1946-7 rate beyond another 12-18 months.”22 In
response, the United States relied on the extensive use of counterpart funds,
to shorten the dollar gap. Counterpart funds allowed these European countries to
purchase US goods and services with their own currency, rather than in dollars,
which then went into ERP Special Accounts. However, not only were America able
to control the use of these funds, “each country also had to set aside five
percent of their counterpart funds for American use, either to pay for scarce
materials or for American “administrative purposes,”23 thus
highlighting the prevalence of US domestic imperative behind the Plan.

                However, John Killick refutes
the claim that domestic economic imperative formed the basis of the Marshall
Plan. This is because he argues that whilst European collapse would have been
serious, it would not have been anywhere as debilitating as the post-World War
1 and 1929 depressions. Killick argues that “Exports and aid were a small share
of US GNP. The strength of the underlying domestic consumer demand, and the
improvement in government management techniques made the immediate economic
risks relatively small.”24
His argument is corroborated by US GNP, Government Finance, Aid and Employment,
1945-55 statistics.25 These
statistics illustrate that foreign aid only contributed to 2.6% of GNP in 1947,
2.1% in 1949 and 2.2% in 1950. Similarly, in 1947 the US operated with a
current account surplus of $11.3 billion (only 5% of GNP),26 which
then fell to $6.4 billion (2.5% of GNP) in 1948.27 Therefore,
it can be seen that European stagnation would have only affected a small part
of the US’s economy, limiting the argument that the Marshall Plan was driven by
domestic imperative. Rather, the Marshall Plan is best explained by an aspiration
to contain communism, as according to Clark Clifford, former Special Counsel to
the President, “we weren’t concerned about markets; we were concerned about
preventing Soviet control of larger areas of the world than they already

          Overall, whilst the Marshall Plan can’t be
viewed as a totally linear scheme, directed solely by one or the other, the
Plan was driven, to a greater extent, by political rather than economic
considerations. This is because, despite the Marshall Plan’s official title of
the Economic Recovery Program, it
was underpinned by a deep-rooted fear of communism and Soviet expansion. In
order to combat this, the United States couldn’t outwardly declare that they
were trying to suppress Soviet influence. From their perspective, the political
could only be achieved through the economic, as European economic recovery and
greater integration would decrease the chance of communism fostering in these
countries. This is because communism is most influential when the masses are
discontent, which is predominantly in the case of depression, not economic
prosperity. Additionally, whilst the Marshall Plan did result in a boost of the
US economy, US postwar finances were the strongest out of all the participating
countries and a $13 billion aid package is a significant sum to spend to ‘rejuvenate’
their already invigorated economy. Thus, the Marshall Plan was a scheme driven
primarily by political considerations, with historiography also portraying that
this communist fear dictated much of the US’s foreign policy, notably in the
Cold War, for the remaining part of the twentieth century.

1Armin Grünbacher, ‘Cold-War Economics: The Use of Marshall Plan
Counterpart Funds in Germany, 1948–1960’, Central European History, No.45
(2012), pp.697-716, p.697.

2 Ibid.

3 Harry Truman, “Truman Doctrine” (speech, Washington, DC, March 12th,
1947), Yale Law. Accessed December 5th, 2017.

4 Terry Buss, ‘Marxism Is Wrong, and Thankfully, Dead.’ The Academy
of Management Review 18, no. 1 (1993), pp.10-11, p.10.

5 John Gaddis, “The Limits of Power”, New York Times, February 27th, 1972. Accessed December 5th,

6 Ibid.

7 Peter Burnham, The Political
Economy of Postwar Reconstruction, (New York, 1990), p.71

8 Michael Cox and Caroline Kennedy-Pipe, ‘The Tragedy of American
Diplomacy? Rethinking the Marshall Plan’, Journal of Cold War Studies, Vol. 7,
No.1 (2005), pp.97-134, p.113.

9 Diane Kunz, ‘The Marshall Plan Reconsidered: A Complex of Motives’,
Foreign Affairs 76, no. 3 (1997), pp.162-70,

10 John Provan, “The Marshall Plan and its consequences”, George Marshall Society. Accessed
December 5th, 2017.

11 Winston Churchill, “Tragedy of Europe” (speech, Zurich, September
19th, 1946), Churchill Society. Accessed December 5th,

12 Michael Hogan, The Marshall Plan.
America, Britain and the reconstruction of Western Europe, 1947-1952, (New
York, 1987) p.28.

13 Armin Grünbacher, Reconstruction
and Cold War in Germany: The Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau 1948-61, (Aldershot,
2004), p.65

14 Hogan, The Marshall Plan,

15 Grünbacher, Reconstruction
and Cold War in Germany, p.64

16 William McNeill, America,
Britain and Russia: Their Co-operation and Conflict, 1941-1946, (Oxford,
1953), p.778

17 Kennedy Hickman, “World War II: The Lend-Lease Act”, ThoughtCo.,
May 12th, 2017. Accessed December 5th, 2017.

18 Burnham, Political Economy of
Postwar Reconstruction, p.82.

19 Ibid, p.71

20 Walter LaFeber, America,
Russia and the Cold War, 1945-2006,
(Boston, 2006), p.59.

21 Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), 1947, Volume III,

22 Ibid.

23 Grünbacher, ‘Cold War Economics’, p.699

24 John Killick, The United
States and European Reconstruction 1945-1960, (Chicago, 1997), p.90.

25 United States, Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the
United States: Colonial Times to 1970.

26 United States. Federal Reserve Board. (October 19th, 1948).
Review of Foreign Developments, p.2. Accessed December 5th, 2017.

27 Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, The United States Balance of
Payments 1946-1960, Vol. 43, No.3, March 1961, p.5. Accessed December 5th,

28 Extract from Oral History Interview with Clark M. Clifford.
Assistant to White House Naval Aide, 1945-46; Special Counsel to the President,
1946-50. Washington, D.C. March 16, 1972 by Jerry N. Hess. Accessed December
5th, 2017.

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