Much has been made of the shift in 1945 and 1946 of some key Republicans, particularly Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg, from apparent isolationism to internationalism. Their approach toward alliance diplomacy demonstrates why that shift was really a logical progression. Isolationism had never argued against alliances per se, only against "entangling" ones. The atomic bomb, when added to America's conventional military strength and to the nation's demonstrable economic might, seemed to guarantee that any participation in alliances would be on American terms. Only the other nations would be entangled. Even the British, rhetorically an equal partner because of the sharing of nuclear weapons, quickly found that economics put them in a secondary role. Participation in the United Nations organization posed no problems, since pro-American states could dominate all voting. Moreover, the United Nations made internationalism appear somehow different from and more moral than balance-of-power politics. Alliances, however, appeared unnecessary until 1947, when clumsy Soviet attempts to influence domestic developments in Greece and Turkey caused the president to announce the Truman Doctrine. A unilateral pronouncement rather than a negotiated alliance, the results were the same. The United States had committed itself to defend two distant nations— and by implication many more.
Those implications became fact in September 1947, when the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, the first of many so-called mutual security agreements, came into being. The very label given such treaties—mutual security agreements—testifies to the long-lasting antipathy to the very word "alliance," although it was also a means of making such arrangements seem to fit the United Nations Charter. Although such a Western Hemisphere arrangement, dominated by the power of the United States, was part and parcel of the historic Monroe Doctrine, this particular treaty aimed primarily at preventing internal communist subversion—a concern that related directly to the Cold War.
At the same time that formal alliances became part of American foreign policy, the United States used its entente with Great Britain to retain and expand the invaluable security assets of the British Empire. Reading the British a lesson in "informal" empire, the Americans continued to argue for independence for British colonies but then quietly provided financial and military incentives that would allow Britain to hang on to its military bases in those same colonies. Those bases would allow the United States to project its power and influence throughout the world.
As Cold War tensions increased, the United States resorted more and more to traditional balance-of-power politics in an attempt to maintain complete control. President Dwight Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, have usually been pictured as the architects of the American alliance system, but the bulk of those alliances came into being during the administration of Harry Truman and his secretary of state, Dean Acheson. Following the Berlin airlift and the establishment of Russian hegemony in Czechoslovakia, the keystone of what was to become a worldwide structure of alliances came in April 1949, when, at the instigation of the United States, eleven other nations in the North Atlantic area joined the United States in signing the North Atlantic Treaty. The role played by that treaty in the Cold War is told elsewhere in this volume; but much of America's conception of its own role within that treaty structure existed separately from Soviet-American tension. From the inception of the treaty, the United States used the North Atlantic alliance to pursue two frequently contradictory goals. The treaty was primarily aimed at the military and political containment of the Soviet Union, a function in which the United States, by virtue of its overwhelming military power, dominated all strategic planning. Since the conventional and small nuclear forces of western Europe depended upon American nuclear weapons to act as the ultimate deterrent against any Russian aggression, the crucial decisions always lay with American leaders. Accordingly, the major NATO commands fell to Americans.
Yet that role as the military leader of the alliance became increasingly offset by American insistence upon western European unity. At the time that the United States initiated the North Atlantic Treaty it had already begun implementing the Marshall Plan. Although ostensibly designed to promote European economic recovery, the Marshall Plan also added an economic facet to NATO. The long-term program supported by the United States called for economic and political unity among the western European nations. In a transparent attempt to transfer their own federal system to Europe, Americans consistently demanded that western Europe work together; first at the economic level and then, it was hoped, at the political level. American leaders spoke jejunely of a "United States of Europe" and frequently seemed to assume that, once European unification had occurred, the United States could pull back into the Western Hemisphere. This new reform movement—reminiscent of the Grand Crusade of three decades earlier—frequently clashed with American images of an evil and fanatical Soviet Russia, so powerful that only American military strength could defend the "free world." Just as an economically stable western Europe would eventually be able to compete with American business interests on an even basis, so the political and military strengthening of those nations inevitably meant that the United States would lose the total control of the North Atlantic Alliance that characterized the late 1940s and 1950s.
Initially, the North Atlantic Alliance exhibited great unity and strength under America's leadership, but only when the crisis was in Europe. As long as the Europeans feared Soviet expansion, either by force or subversion, they found NATO useful. But the Korean War, and American attempts to involve all its allies, found the western Europeans reluctant to translate a regional defense agreement into a worldwide crusade against communism. Despite a UN resolution that sanctified America's "police action" in Korea, the contribution made by the other members of the North Atlantic Alliance was a token one.
Asia posed special problems for the United States. The victory of the communist forces in China in 1949 stimulated an immediate attempt by the Truman administration to contain communism in Asia. In 1951 the United States signed a peace treaty with Japan that provided bases and similar methods of integrating that nation into the American alliance system, even if the Japanese constitution—written by the U.S. government— prohibited the development of any large-scale military forces. Less hypocritical were the mutual defense treaties the United States signed with its ex-colony, the Philippines, and with Australia and New Zealand (the Pacific Security Treaty or, more usually, the ANZUS Pact). Yet those alliances too were a disappointment during the Korean War. Japan had no choice but to provide bases and similar logistical support, but the ANZUS Pact brought little in the way of concrete assistance to American forces.
By 1952 it should have been clear to American leaders that their conception of alliances against worldwide communism differed significantly from that of most of their allies. But the Eisenhower administration refused to reexamine the alliance system, choosing instead to expand it in two areas where the collapse of the European and Japanese colonial empires had left political chaos behind—Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Although specific events frequently stimulated the negotiation of specific alliances, the overarching purpose of the system was geographically obvious. The North Atlantic Treaty, which included Canada, Greece, and Turkey in addition to the United States and western Europe, blocked any Soviet expansion to the west, southwest, or north. The Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, prompted by the collapse of French rule in Indochina and fear of the People's Republic of China, completed another portion of the cordon sanitaire, which also included Japan, South Korea, and the Republic of China on Taiwan (the last two each signed bilateral alliances with the United States shortly after the Korean Armistice of 1953). The containment ring around Russia and its supposed satellite, China, was nearly completed with the Baghdad Pact of 1955, which brought Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, and Great Britain into alliance together. The United States never formally joined the alliance (renamed the Central Treaty Organization, or CENTO, after Iraq dropped out in 1959 following a coup d'état against the pro-British Hashimite monarchy). But Congress and the president publicly committed America to aid the members in the event of aggression or externally supported subversion. There were large gaps in the geographic encirclement; India and Afghanistan, for example, refused all blandishments from the United States. Nevertheless, American schoolchildren during the 1950s and 1960s, their teachers, and their leaders all reveled in the illusory security of world maps, which imitated the ones that so delighted the English in the nineteenth century.
The enormous disparity in economic and military power between the United States and its Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern allies meant that their relationship was that of patron and client. Although Americans claimed to prefer liberal democracies as allies, they did not become involved in the domestic affairs of their clients unless there was communist subversion or aggression. The only criterion for an alliance with the United States became anticommunism. The liberal community in America justified actual or inferred alliances with dictatorships such as those in South Korea, Taiwan, Iran, and Spain because of the greater danger posed by militant, expansionist communism. Such nations had little choice but to accept American leadership, since American military and economic aid provided important props for their regimes.