The Development of Economic
Warfare Against the Soviet Union in
the Truman Administration
David W. Folts
Former Secretary of State Alexander Haig in the spring of 1982 stated that trade was an often neglected lever in East-West relations. John Lewis Gaddis in his book Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy barely mentioned trade as an element of containment until the Nixon administration. Revisionist historians have concentrated on the "lost loan application" and Truman's halting of Lend-Lease. The implementation of economic warfare against the Soviet Union by the Truman administration has been ignored by historians and forgotten by policy makers.
Most members of the Truman administration agreed that trade could be an important element in East-West relations. There were, however, sharp disagreements as to whether this "tool" should be used positively or negatively. These differences generally reflected more deeply held views as to the basic nature of United States-Soviet relations. Those who saw the Soviet Union as a rival great power, with whom some cooperation was necessary if peace were to prevail, wanted trade used as a positive inducement. On the other hand, those who felt coexistence of the two systems was impossible urged that trade be used as a weapon to defeat the Soviet Union. There was also a third view, namely that selective means of economic warfare could be used not to defeat the Soviet Union but to modify its behavior in desired directions. While in principle this view seemed closer to the "positive" group, in practice it was much closer to the "negative" group, for it emphasized the withholding of trade as a means of bringing about change.
One difference, which arose between groups two and three, was how to justify a policy of economic warfare vis-a-vis the United States' espousal of free trade. Group three thought it important to square the circle of encouraging free trade while engaging in economic warfare against the Soviet Union, particularly as it