Introduction - Analysis of U.S. grand strategy during the Vietnam War cannot be fully understood without placing it in the context of the Cold War and the foreign policy of “containment.” In this context, details indicate that realist, liberalist, and constructivist theories all contributed to U.S. grand strategy at the time. However, more detailed analysis reveals that, while defensive realism was guiding foreign policy during this period of the cold war, offensive realism was the predominant theory guiding U.S. grand strategy in Vietnam.
Body - After the end of World War II, the expansion of Soviet influence into Eastern Europe and South East Asia resulted in its recognition as a growing world power. In a cable sent from Moscow in 1946, addressing concerns on offensive Soviet ideology promotion, U.S. diplomat George Kennan argued that the Soviets were waging a continuous war against the idea of capitalism by assertively promoting their own model of communism. Kennan believed that the U.S. needed to counter the Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe with an alliance in Western Europe. This perceived threat and the idea of great power parity between the U.S. and the Soviet Union led to the adoption of realist approaches to U.S. grand strategy. Kennan’s suggestions were incorporated into the 1947 Truman Doctrine, which later led to the defensive realist strategy of containment being adopted as a Cold War grand strategy. In 1948, the Marshall Plan added an economic aspect to the containment strategy. The Marshall Plan was an economic aid program designed to help rebuild European economies damaged by WWII, while helping prevent the spread of Soviet influence in Western Europe.
The attributes of realist grand strategies include the idea that anarchy induces security competition. Because there is no international sovereign, states must be able to defend themselves. Realists believe that states will act in their own self-interest, which leads to power struggles amongst competing states. Therefore, the elimination of conflict is unlikely.
Incorporating offense-defense theory into realist approaches to grand strategy allows additional analysis. Military doctrine, technology, and other factors each affect the offense-defense balance between two states. Either the offensive state or the defensive state will be favored in a particular situation. Offense-defense theory postulates that conflict is more likely when one state believes it can easily conquer another. This happens because the state that believes itself to be more powerful may find expansion desirable, especially if it believes it will meet little resistance. Conversely, when defense is favored over offense, the likelihood of conflict decreases. Diplomatic pacts may help strengthen the defense. Examples include defensive alliances, cooperative security agreements, and balancing. Balancing is when neutral states join the weaker coalition in order to counter the...