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Peace, But Not at Any Price : The Effects of Rapid Military Demobilization on US Foreign Policy and the Progression of the Nuclear Arms Race 1945-1953

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  • The research conducted here originated with the question of what caused the massive build-up of nuclear arsenals, which included ever larger and more powerful bombs and delivery systems from them, in the United States and the Soviet Union, even though the consensus beforehand was that nuclear energy should be prohibited from being used for military purposes. The results found show a parallel progression between the ever increasing sense of paranoia in United States foreign policy towards their former ally, the Soviet Union, which led the Truman administration to expend more resources into developing more advanced nuclear weapons. This eventually made nuclear deterrence the forefront of the American strategy. Several historians, including Michael D. Gordon and Morton A. Kaplan, trace the behavior of the Truman administration to a growing concern that United States military forces would be inadequate in countering a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. The origin of this was the Truman administration’s decision to demobilize American forces at a rapid pace from May of 1945 to the spring of 1946. The administration had originally put their hopes in the newly chartered United Nations to settle all international disputes and a campaign for volunteers to replace the veterans being discharged. However, the rate of new enlistees into the American military fell sharply as the country settled into peacetime. This came at a time when American policy makers began to view the Soviet Union as a new threat after an incident in Iran showed that they were willing to undermine allied post-war policy for the sake of spreading Communism. At the time, though, it was seen as being immoral and expensive to begin drafting millions of Americans back into the military for what was, at the time, only a possible threat to national security. Alternative measures were then taken to supplement American forces in case the Soviet Union became openly, and overtly, hostile towards the west; these measures were also meant to deter a Soviet attack just as much as they were meant to prepare the west for it. One of these was to utilize nuclear weapons as an alternative to maintaining the American military at 12 million, the size that it had been during the war. Included in these measures was the supporting of democratic countries against Communism, which ultimately resulted in the Marshall Plan, which Stalin and the Bolsheviks interpreted as a hostile gesture by the West towards the Soviet bloc. Thus, insecurity caused by the rapid demobilization of the United States military following the end of the Second World War caused American military planners and policy makers to enact measures that they believed would strengthen their declining military and deter Soviet aggression, but instead provoked the suspicions and contempt of the Soviet Union which caused a break down in international cooperation and culminated in four decades of heightened tensions and the build-up of massive nuclear arsenals.
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