President Harry S. Truman receives National Security Council Paper Number 68 (NSC-68). The report was a group effort, created with input from the Defense Department, the State Department, the CIA, and other interested agencies; NSC-68 formed the basis for America’s Cold War policy for the next two decades.
In the face of U.S. foreign policy concerns, most notably the Soviet explosion of an atomic device in September 1949 and China’s fall to communism the following October, President Truman requested a complete review and re-evaluation of America’s Cold War diplomacy strategy. The result was NSC-68, a report that took four months to compile and was completed in April 1950.
The report began by noting that the United States was facing a completely changed world. World War II had devastated Germany and Japan, and France and Great Britain had suffered terrific losses. This situation left the United States and the Soviet Union as the only two great world powers. The Soviet Union posed a new and frightening threat to U.S. power. Animated by “a new fanatic faith” in communism, the Soviet Union sought nothing less than the imposition of “its absolute authority over the rest of the world.” Clashes with the United States were, therefore, inevitable. According to the report, the development of nuclear weapons meant, “Every individual faces the ever-present possibility of annihilation,” and, as a result, “the integrity and vitality of our system is in greater jeopardy than ever before in our history.”
According to the report, the United States should vigorously pursue a policy of “containing” Soviet expansion. NSC-68 recommended that the United States embark on rapid military expansion of conventional forces and the nuclear arsenal, including the development of the new hydrogen bomb. In addition, massive increases in military aid to U.S. allies were necessary as well as more effective use of “covert” means to achieve U.S. goals. The price of these measures was estimated to be about $50 billion; at the time the report was issued, America was spending just $13 billion on defense.
Truman was somewhat taken aback at the costs associated with the report’s recommendations. As a politician, he hesitated to publicly support a program that would result in heavy tax increases for the American public, particularly since the increase would be spent on defending the United States during a time of peace. The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, however, prompted action. Truman signed NSC-68 into policy in September 1950. As one State Department official noted, “Thank God Korea came along,” since this act of communist aggression was believed to be crucial in convincing the public to support increased military spending. NSC-68 remained the foundation of U.S. Cold War policy until at least the 1970s. The document itself remained top secret until historians successfully lobbied for its declassification in 1975.