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"Rollback" was a term used by Americanmarker foreign policy thinkers during the Cold War. It was defined as using military force to "roll back" communism in countries where it had taken root.

Rollback during the Cold War

The most important rollback period was during the Cold War when many Americans felt that they were in a life or death struggle against world communism. After the devastation of the Second World War, only a small minority of Americans were prepared to attempt to roll back communism throughout the world by direct force of arms. Many Americans were shocked by Winston Churchill's 1946 address at Westminster Collegemarker in Missouri, warning of "an iron curtain" descending across Europe. They still remembered the Soviets as their friends and allies from the war years, and many believed that socialism was a successful economic system, beneficial to civilization.

A compromise to military intervention was to use intelligence services to achieve these ends. These attempts began as early as 1945 with attempts in Eastern Europe, including efforts to provide weapons to independence fighters in the Baltic States and Ukrainemarker. An early effort was against Albaniamarker in 1949, following the defeat of Communist forces in the Greek Civil War that year. A force of agents was landed by the British and Americans to try to provoke a guerrilla war. The operation had already been betrayed to the Soviets by the British double-agent, Kim Philby and failed leading to the immediate capture or killing of the agents.

A more ambitious effort was Operation Paper in November 1950, the arming and supplying of Nationalist Chinese remnant troops (the 93rd Division)under General Li Mi in eastern Burma, for efforts to invade the southern Chinese province of Yunnan. All of Li Mi's brief forays into China were swiftly repulsed, and the after the final failure in August 1952, the United States began to scale back its support.

An alternative to rollback was containment. Through the adoption of National Security Council document NSC 162/2 in October 1953, the Eisenhower Administration effectively abandoned these uniformly unsuccessful efforts in Europe after only a few years. Some argue that an important opportunity for rollback was forfeited in October-November 1956, when Hungarian reformist leader Imre Nagy announced Hungary's withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, and when he and Hungarian insurgents called on the West for help against invading Soviet troops. President Eisenhower thought it too risky to intervene in a landlocked country such as Hungary and feared it might trigger a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. His Secretary of State John Foster Dulles mistakenly believed that Imre Nagy sided with the Soviet Union. On October 25, 1956, he sent a telegram to the U.S. embassy in Belgrade expressing his fears that the Imre Nagy-János Kádár government might take “reprisals” against the Hungarian “freedom fighters.” By the next day, October 26, State Department officials in Washington assumed the worst about Nagy, asserting in a top secret memorandum: “Nagy’s appeal for Soviet troops indicates, at least superficially, that there are not any open differences between the Soviet and Hungarian governments.” Both Eisenhower and Dulles focused more attention on the Suez Crisis, which was unfolding simultaneously.

Later efforts at rollback would be confined to the developing world. There were advocates of a rollback approach to Cuba especially at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Advocated by U.S. conservatives

The "rollback" movement gained significant ground, however, in the 1980s, as the Reagan administration, urged on by the conservative Heritage Foundation and other influential conservatives, began to channel weapons to anti-communist resistance movements in Afghanistanmarker, Angolamarker, Cambodiamarker, Nicaraguamarker and other nations.

This effort came to be known as the Reagan Doctrine. Critics argued that the Reagan Doctrine led to so-called blowback and an unnecessary intensification of Third World conflict, but in the various rollback battlefields, the Soviet Union made major concessions, and eventually had to retreat from Afghanistan.

As the retreat from the Soviet-Afghan war got under way, the subject nations of the Soviet Union started to prepare for their own independence, though critics of rollback interpret this not as the domino effect of the retreat, but rather as a consequence of Gorbachev's liberalization. Violence broke out between the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic and the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. Two years later, numerous Soviet Socialist Republics declared their laws superior to those of the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union collapsed, and in some ways was already collapsing as the retreat got under way. The retreat from Afghanistan was caused by (among other factors) the use of American Stinger missiles, and many would argue that it was also indirectly caused by similar military pressures on many battlegrounds throughout the world, though Afghanistan was the only battleground where significant numbers of Russian soldiers were directly being killed by American weapons supplied for that purpose.

See also


Further Reading

  1. Granville, Johanna. "Caught With Jam on Our Fingers”: Radio Free Europe and the Hungarian Revolution in 1956” Diplomatic History, vol. 29, no. 5 (2005): pp. 811-839.
  2. Granville, Johanna, The First Domino: International Decision Making During the Hungarian Crisis of 1956, Texas A & M University Press, 2004. ISBN: 1585442984

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