by Benn Steil
“The gripping history behind the Marshall Plan—told with verve, insight, and resonance for today.”
The Marshall Plan—the costly and ambitious initiative to revive western Europe after World War II—marked the true beginning of the Cold War, argues Benn Steil. Bringing to bear new Russian and American archival material, Steil shows that it was only after the launch of the plan in 1947 “that both sides, the United States and the Soviet Union, became irrevocably committed to securing their respective spheres of influence.”
In his new book, The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War, Steil describes how President Harry S. Truman’s State Department, under George C. Marshall’s leadership, formulated the recovery program to provide Europe with a new economic and political architecture appropriate for a continent divided into two worlds: a capitalist and a communist one. The Marshall Plan “promised a continuing energetic U.S. presence, underwritten by a reindustrialized capitalist western Germany at the heart of an integrated, capitalist western Europe,” Steil explains. His narrative, which Paul Kennedy’s Wall Street Journal review calls “brilliant,” brings to life the most dramatic episodes of the early Cold War—such as the Prague coup, the Berlin blockade, and the division of Germany—and shows how they unfurled from Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s determination to undermine the U.S. intervention.
Given current echoes of the Cold War, the tenuous balance of power and uncertain order of the late 1940s is as relevant as ever. The Marshall Plan provides critical context into understanding today’s international landscape. “Many of the institutions we now take for granted as natural elements of the liberal postwar order—in particular, the European Union, NATO, and the World Trade Organization—were forged under U.S. leadership during the early Marshall years,” writes Steil. This order is now under threat, Steil argues, partly from failures in American diplomacy.
Benn Steil is senior fellow and director of international economics, as well as the official historian in residence, at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He is also the founding editor of International Finance, a scholarly economics journal; lead writer of the Council’s Geo-Graphics economics blog; and creator of four web-based interactives tracking Global Monetary Policy, Global Imbalances, Sovereign Risk, and Central Bank Currency Swaps. Prior to his joining the Council in 1999, he was director of the International Economics Programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.