NSC-68 was a policy which sought to integrate all of the instruments of national power in pursuit of one overriding goal: the defeat of Soviet power. Though the tactics used in pursuit of this policy evolved, the guidance of NSC-68 remained the fundamental concept guiding American foreign policy. Ultimately, it was a successful precedent as a policy guide, for Soviet power did unravel as a result of unrelenting American pressure.
One aspect of NSC-68 that must be addressed is its ideological foundation. In many respects, there has never been an opponent that so markedly reflected the American mindset than the Soviet Union. It was a quintessential American enemy reflecting everything that Americans believed to be evil in the world: totalitarian, Godless, out to enslave the world, against the indi-vidual and where the state controlled what people thought. In every measure of American political and economic beliefs and values that we cherish, the Soviet Union was diametrically opposed to them. Never had the bad guys been so perfectly visible to us than the Soviets. As a policy, NSC-68 accurately reflected what America believed the Soviet Union to be and, therefore, was remarkable well-suited for the sometimes messianic nature of the American character, by not instituting a policy but rather embarking us on a crusade.
A second aspect is that structurally, NSC-68 was a brilliant policy, integrating all of the instruments of national power towards the defeat of the Soviet Union. Its political foundation was the containment strategy that George Kennan had outlined in his article in Foreign Affairs, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct. NSC-68 sought to unify the political aims of containment with the necessary military resources and forces, economic competition, and diplomatic strategy. As a result of these efforts, it predicted that Soviet communism will not be able to keep up under the strain of the competition; they were right!
Revisionist historians such as Walter Lacquer have criticized NSC-68 for its advocacy of military power to contain Soviet expansionism. They blame NSC-68 for laying the foundation towards massive military forces in peacetime, the military-industrial complex, and American military interventionism all over the world, accusing of giving rise to the national security state. I do not consider their theses entirely valid, though they have some merit, because NSC-68 expressed the values and beliefs of America par excellence, and as a crusade outlined a plan that most Americans would agree with.
Two central problems occurred in the implementation of NSC-68 as a national security policy. The first problem was that the Eisenhower Admin-istration wanted the results that NSC-68 called for, but due to fiscal considerations did not want to increase military spending to field the forces
necessary to implement the policy. They instead fell on the strategy of 'Massive Retaliation' as a cheaper substitute for the force levels required to implement NSC-68. As a result, the integrated strategy began to unravel because now the military instrument became the primary instrument to carry out the policy, the other instruments being subservient to the military.
The second problem arises, inclusive with the first one, and that is the advent of the Soviet Union as a nuclear power, particularly after it acquired thermonuclear weapons. The drafters of NSC-68 saw the advent of Soviet thermonuclear weapons as a threshold which, when crossed, would have an uncertain but negative impact on our abilities to contain Soviet power. For them it meant that the United States would be directly threatened by Soviet bombers, thus the Soviets would seemingly have the ability to do unto us what we intended to do to them. Their solution was to advocate a massive air defense effort to prevent the Soviets from threatening the United States. What they did not foresee was a future president relying on the threat of the use of nuclear weapons to contain even the most minor Soviet, or Soviet surrogate, incursions around the world. The problem really came to a head with the introduction of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles (ICBMs) which were capable of striking targets anywhere in the world. ICBMs directly threatened the physical security of the United States, and thus we could no longer seek to contain Soviet power through the integral use of the instruments of national power. The political and diplomatic instruments were now geared to
limiting the potential damage to the United States through treaties and arms control agreements with the Soviets. Additionally, the political instrument sought to contain our own military instrument rather than to combat Soviet expansionism.
Thus the military instrument became paramount due to the nuclear force structures we built to deter the Soviets from attacking us directly, and the conventional force structures we also built to maintain the utility of military instrument as a rational policy option. We spent trillions of dollars building two opposing force structures, and spent precious blood fighting in far away lands for what we perceived as communist totalitarianism on the march. This was the real impact of ideological lenses with which we viewed the world, for indeed it did give rise to a national security mentality that saw every manifestation of anti-American, and/or anti-Western sentiment in the world, as being directed from Moscow and as a zero-sum game where any perceived loss on my part is my enemy's gain and vice versa. What this meant in practical terms is that we made alliances and supported right-wing dictatorships, plotted the overthrow of governments, and tried to make other nations in our own image, as was the case in Vietnam.
In conclusion, NSC-68 was a logical expression of prevailing American attitudes towards the Soviet Union. Regardless of actual Soviet intentions, it sought to portray the Soviet Union as a direct threat to our way of life
and to seek the containment of Soviet power through the integration of all elements of our national power to do so. As a tribute to the people who drafted the document, it proved to be highly prescient of the actual events that occurred.
Courageous, untroubled, mocking, violent; that is
wisdom wishes us to be. Wisdom is like a woman -
who loves only a warrior.