The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War.
In American national memory, the Marshall Plan occupies almost cult-like status. It symbolizes the virtuous Cold War that existed before the United States' reputation and belief in victory culture perished in the jungles of Vietnam. This glorification notwithstanding, recent works by historians have begun to explore the European Recovery Program (ERP)--the Marshall Plan's formal name--from increasingly complex perspectives including European identity and American ideology. Building on his impressive and important 2013 The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order, Benn Steil's new book adds an often intriguing voice to this scholarship. A character-driven narrative, the book revives some of the grandmasters of American post-war diplomacy and in that sense provides an important accompaniment to recent scholarly biographies of George Kennan, Dean Acheson, and Arthur Vandenberg. The Marshall Plan's principal argument is that the ERP needs to be anchored more decisively within the context of the emerging Cold War than previous scholarship has allowed for. Following this logic, Steil downplays the economic consequences and instead highlights the diplomatic confrontations that arose from the ERP. This argument is largely successful, even if the end-product is often less original than the author professes.
Steil argues that the U.S.'s growing economic and diplomatic commitment to Western Europe caused Joseph Stalin to lash out, first by preventing the Eastern European nations from participation in the aid program and then in his ill-fated effort to blockade Berlin. In this sense, Steil accurately places the question of Germany's future as central to European policy in both Washington and Moscow. Thus while he concedes that the Cold War was inevitable, he insists that the Marshall Plan intensified the conflict (372). Historians have long shared this view but the originality of Steil's argument rests largely on the connection he makes between the ERP and NATO. In his view the Marshall Plan "needed a martial plan" to garner Western European approval of economic collaboration and a revitalized Germany (210). This thesis is, however, never really persuasively proven. Not only is it rather anachronistic, since NATO only became a reality long after the Marshall Plan got underway, but also because the argument rests on very limited sources and documentation, especially from the European side.
From the argument about a connection between the ERP, NATO, and the outbreak of the Cold War, Steil infers parallels to Western policies towards Russia in the post-Cold War era. NATO's creation, much like its expansion in the 1990s and beyond, Steil insists, caused a hostile response from Moscow and therefore sowed the seeds for further conflict including the present ones (385-403). Few scholars would disagree. Yet this kind of criticism of U.S. foreign policy is only fair if one assumes that Moscow itself entertained no aggressive or hegemonic objectives in Europe. Such a viewpoint seems rather starry-eyed and hardly compatible with what we now know of Stalin's objectives or the kind of actions Vladimir Putin has displayed since his rise to power.
These quibbles aside, Steil has written a first-rate book on the causes of the early Cold War. It provides much needed food for thought on the intended and unintended consequences of grand-scale diplomacy.
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|Title Annotation:||THE AMERICAS|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2019|
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