After the devastating effects of WWII, Europe s economic and social conditions where in shambles. The personal suffering and internal upheavals threatened chaos. There was a lack of coal, steel, electrical power, railroad cars, locomotives, trucks, oil, and grain. All of the West European countries suffered political instability. This was the Europe, Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, saw when he attended a meeting of Foreign Ministers in Moscow on March 1, 1947. In this meeting, which was called to ease tensions, Secretary Marshall became disillusioned over the chance of cooperation with the Soviet Union. After a stormy interview with Joseph Stalin, Secretary Marshall knew that Stalin meant to profit from Europe s maladies. Marshall was convinced that the only hope for Europe s recovery lay in the United States. He could see the United States needed to help Europe, not only for moral reasons, but also it was in the interest of the United States in order to curb communism and Europe was the United States biggest customer. On June 5, 1947 Secretary Marshall delivered his classic speech at Harvard University, thus starting the European Recovery Program (ERP), what would later be known, all over the world, as The Marshall Plan.
The Marshall Plan constituted one of our countries finest foreign policy moments. It signals the United States unequivocal resolve to assist an economically struggling Europe and assume a position of leadership. At the Harvard speech Secretary Marshall announced, Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos Any government that is willing to assist in the task of recovery will find full cooperation, I am sure, on the part of the United States government.
The Marshall Plan was set up for a limited period of four years (1948-1952). The money given by the United States included money for loans. The European countries, however, were not given the money as a gift; they had to pay for it in local currency, which was then deposited by the government in a counterpart fund. This money could be used by the ERP countries for further investment projects. One of the main requirements was for the European countries to come up with a plan of how to collaborate and organize the recovery. For this reason the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) was created. Germany was not an original member, but the organization realized that Europe needed Germany as much as Germany needed Europe and The Federal Republic of Germany was admitted.
The Marshall Plan, in my opinion was one of the main reasons the European Union exists today. Like Paul Porter, who led the economic mission to the United Kingdom said, We are so accustomed to enjoying friendly relations with our former enemies that we fail to marvel at what a great achievement this was. The Marshall Plan aside from helping Europe led to the Schuman Plan, which led to Euraton, then to Coal and Iron Community and the Common Market. It is the opinion of many that The Marshall Plan helped curb communism in the European countries because the Soviet Union was the only other political stable country. As Larry Bland from the George C. Marshall Foundation states, to honor The Marshall Plan and Marshall is to look at The Marshall Plan as perhaps the center piece of the strategy that ultimately won the Cold War after 45 years.
The program officially ended on December 31, 1951. Aid rendered to Europe during the life of The Marshall Plan amounted to roughly 1.2 percent of the gross national product (GNP) of the United States. It produced astounding results. Europe s GNP rose from $119.6 billion in 1947 to almost $159 billion in 1951, an increase of 32.5 percent. The Marshall Plan provided Europe with the momentum it needed to achieve economic viability. Most European countries still are grateful to this day for what The Marshall Plan did for their countries and acknowledge this by still celebrating it s anniversary.
The Marshall Plan was an example of how the strong should help the weak and both sides can benefit. Besides rehabilitation of the European countries, The Marshall Plan sparked a new spirit of cooperation and mutual help among Western nations. For the United States, The Marshall Plan represented the new responsibilities of the leading world power. The self-help of The Marshall Plan encouraged the continuance of foreign assistance programs as an important and integral part of United States foreign Policy.