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Talbott on containment and the diplomatic toolbox

How the United States implemented the policy of containment and the transatlantic alliances that emerged during the Cold War: Warsaw Pact, EU, Truman. Fmr. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott in conversation with Walter Isaacson, President & CEO of The Aspen Institute.

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Video transcript

I'm Walter Isaacson to the aspen institute i'm here with strobe talbott former Deputy Secretary of State we've just been discussing containment when we implemented the policy of containment it seemed to have a military economic diplomatic component let's go through what you could call the tools that we put in the toolbox starting with a defensive military alliance the United States particularly in the person of President Harry Truman could see early on as the Soviet threat was taking shape that it was a military threat not only coming from the Soviet Union but the puppet regimes in Eastern Europe that made up the Warsaw Pact so there had to be an alliance and the alliance would be transatlantic which is to say it would involve both the United States and our neighbor to the north Canada and the major countries of Western Europe but something that is not fully appreciated even to this day is that the American leadership said to the leaders of Europe you in Western Europe have to bury a lot of hatchets between yourselves letting the Americans were most thinking about was the longtime enmity between Germany and France it's post Nazi phase it was a democracy and was going to be part of the Alliance and had to have a good relationship with France so essentially the United States said to Europe you guys need to create something called the European Union the United States of Europe and that was an economic not military union that involved everything from steel factory it started precisely on coal and steel and then spread but it was basically a condition that the Europeans fulfilled that allowed the United States to say that we will now give you the defense umbrella on top of that so there was an understanding that geopolitics and geo economics matter and I guess there was another front too and that was the ideological front the what became the voice of America and radio for Europe also grew out of same period but the NATO alliance a military component involve making a pledge that we would both create an alliance of forces but that an attack on any one member of NATO would be considered an attack on all is that something new and that was sort of a cornerstone of the containment it was the absolute most important provision in the North Atlantic Charter mercifully it never had to be exercised in the course of the Cold War because basically containment worked and nuclear deterrence worked so there were other things we did you've mentioned voice of American radio free europe and things like that that helped create public diplomacy there was also besides the european union other economic tools that we created such as at Bretton Woods explain those the Marshall Plan of course was crucial to this as well there was an understanding that with virtually all of Europe flat on its back much of it in rubble economies shattered by the war that if the countries and the government's cells were not going to be able to reconstruct a healthy economic environment of the United States and the international community had to help them do that so this is General George Marshall which then Secretary of State under Truman and proposes a plan to help rebuild war devastated Western Europe at first and it was of course an American plan there were these international institutions like the World Bank the International Monetary Fund but the Marshall Plan was an extraordinary case of farsighted American generosity and it was generosity that had self-interest attached because if Europe could get back on its feet then the United States would not have to for decades to come help Europe survive because Europe would be in a position in due course and being able to manage itself so there's a wonderful burst of creativity between say 1946 and 1949 of creating NATO the European Union in the marshall plan to rebuild Europe the public diplomacy arms such as Radio Free Europe and then a variety of economic structures such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank was there a consideration of allowing some of the Soviet allies wausau Pact nations Eastern European nations and maybe even the Soviet Union to participate in things like the Marshall Plan there was and the Soviets probably to the relief of those who proposed the idea turned it down basically they saw it as a as a trap and so what we end up having is really a balance of power between East and less between those aligned with the Soviet Union those aligned with Western Europe in the United States and we're each creating tools so that we can have what becomes a cold war what was key in the sequence that you just went through Walter is that on the economic side the West had the Soviet bloc beaten from the beginning because the Soviet Union in addition to all of its other perversities including of course stamping out civil and human rights and putting whole countries into what was sometimes called the prison house of nations they had a economic system of that as long as it existed it was going to keep those countries from being genuine modern States able to compete and even really trade with the rest of the world so matching the Russians economically militarily and in terms of values and ideas set the groundwork for containment policy that lasted 40 years until it was a success and I would say not even matching Russia but beating Russia from the outset that's the point I was making thanks