Arming the Free World: The Origins of the United States Military Assistance Program, 1945-1950

Arming the Free World: The Origins of the United States Military Assistance Program, 1945-1950

Arming the Free World: The Origins of the United States Military Assistance Program, 1945-1950

Arming the Free World: The Origins of the United States Military Assistance Program, 1945-1950


In this important study, Chester Pach traces the emergence of military assistance as a major instrument of contemporary American foreign policy. During the early Cold War, arms aid grew from a few country and regional programs into a worldwide effort with an annual cost of more than $1 billion. Pach analyzes the Truman administration's increasing reliance on arms aid--for Latin America, Greece and Turkey, China, and Western Europe--to contain Communist expansion during the late 1940s. He shows that a crucial event was the passage of the Mutual Defense Assistance Act of 1949, the progenitor of a long series of global, Cold War arms measures.

Pach demonstrates that the main impetus for the startling growth of military assistance was a belief that it would provide critical political and psychological reassurance to friendly nations. Although this aid was ostensibly provided for military purposes, the overriding goals were insuring goodwill, raising foreign morale, stiffening the will to resist communism, and proving American resolve and reliability.

Policymakers, Pach contends, confused means with ends by stressing the symbolic importance of furnishing aid. They sought additional appropriations with the threat that any diminution or cessation of aid suggested a weakening of American commitment. Pach reveals that civilian, not military, officials were the principal advocates of the expansion of military aid, and he shows how the policies established during the Truman administration continued to exert a profound influence throughout the Cold War.

Some officials questioned the self-perpetuating qualities of military aid programs, but Pach concludes that their warnings went unheeded. Although fiscal restraints in the Truman administration temporarily stemmed the growth of aid, the Korean War exploded budgetary limitations. MIlitary assistance spending expanded rapidly in size and scope, gaining a momentum that succeeding administrations could not resist.

Originally published in 1991.


I think the concern I have run into is this, is this the beginning of the United States taking on an obligation to supply military assistance to every country in the world? . . . If we once take on the obligation, establish the precedent, where do we wind up?

--Paul G. Hoffman, Economic Cooperation Administrator, 20 April 1949

In his annual report of 1988, Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci warned Congress against cutting President Ronald Reagan's request for military assistance to foreign nations. During the previous three years, Carlucci complained, Congress had slashed the Reagan administration's requests for military assistance by as much as 25 percent. He insisted that the results had been disastrous. These reductions had eroded "the security and well-being of friendly countries." But their greatest effect, Carlucci asserted, had been "on the perceptions of friends and allies who fear that the United States cannot honor its commitments nor exert strong and effective leadership." In addition, "adversaries are gaining confidence that they can challenge our interests with impunity." He concluded that, should Congress once again cut the administration's proposed annual military aid budget, American security would suffer "serious damage."

Carlucci's warnings recall those issued by the Pentagon four decades earlier when the administration of Harry S. Truman considered reducing spending on military aid. In this instance the cuts were proposed not by Congress but by the Bureau of the Budget, which maintained that after allocating $1.314 billion to arms aid in 1949, the United States could not afford a similar expenditure in 1950. The Joint Chiefs of Staff strenuously objected. Much like Carlucci, they argued that a drastic cut would undermine the security of the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, who were the recipients of the bulk of American military assistance at that time. Even worse, the service leaders predicted, it would raise doubts not only about American resolve, but also about the credibility of President Truman, who, in his . . .

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