Repeat Effort for Eastern Europe Unlikely in Different Era

By Sieff, Martin | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 29, 1997 | Go to article overview

Repeat Effort for Eastern Europe Unlikely in Different Era


Sieff, Martin, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Winston Churchill called the Marshall Plan "the most unsordid deed in history," but experts say it could not be repeated in the very different circumstances of today.

From 1948 to 1952, the recovery program plowed $13.5 billion into Western Europe, raising half a continent out of abject poverty. It set Europe and America on the road to a half-century of unprecedented prosperity and cooperation.

Nothing like it had been imagined. Nothing on its colossal scale of geopolitical and economic achievement has come close since. The plan even came in $3.5 billion under budget.

The plan spent the equivalent of $130 billion to $150 billion in today's dollars. That injection of wealth allowed the war-smashed economies of the region, led by France, Germany and Italy, to recover from the devastation of World War II.

Isolationists sneered at the ambitions and scale of the program, but they were proved wrong.

"The basic lesson of the Marshall Plan achievement is that if you have a good idea, you push ahead and go through with it, and you ignore the carping of all the critics and Monday-morning quarterbacks on the sidelines," former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski said.

"NATO expansion today is the subject of a similar carping - and even comical - campaign of criticism, just as the Marshall program was then," he said.

The example of the Marshall Plan is also being invoked to urge a vast U.S.-Western Europe effort on behalf of the economies of Eastern Europe or even Russia.

David Fromkin, in his classic study of 20th-century U.S. foreign policy, "In the Time of the Americans," argued that the U.S. economy is far wealthier and bigger today than it was in 1947, with its potential positive impact greatly magnified by its vastly superior technologies.

The failure to help Central and Eastern Europe since the collapse of communism, he argued, resulted from a shrinking, not of American material might, but of American spiritual resources. No contemporary U.S. leader, he argued, showed the tremendous vision of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman or of Secretaries of State George C. Marshall and Dean Acheson in mobilizing the American people or inspiring them to support such ambitious programs.

But others counter that Central and Eastern Europe and Russia face far different problems from those of Western Europe in 1947.

Marshall aid did not create successful industrial societies where none had existed, critics of mimicking the plan today argue. For centuries, Western European nations had been the world's most prosperous and technologically advanced free-trade economies. …

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Repeat Effort for Eastern Europe Unlikely in Different Era
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