Mutual Security Act (1951)

views updated May 21 2018

Mutual Security Act (1951)

Lynne K. Zusmanand Neil S. Helfand

In the aftermath of World War II, a redistribution of military and economic power left two supreme powers, the United States and the Soviet Union. The remaining world order consisted of the war torn nations of the European continent and the less-developed nations of Asia, Africa, and South America, many of which would gain their independence in the postWorld War II era. Ideologically divided and with competing aims, the Soviet Union and the United States each vied for control over the reshaping and development of this remaining world order.

From the standpoint of U.S. foreign policy makers, the vulnerability of these nations to the threat of communist influence and aggression posed a direct threat to the national security of the United States and the rest of the free world. In response to this security threat, the United States enacted the Mutual Security Act of 1951, an ambitious piece of legislation with its stated aim "to maintain the security and promote the foreign policy and provide for the general welfare of the United States by furnishing assistance to friendly nations in the interest of international peace and security."

The ideological purpose of this act was the defense of democracy in the continual struggle against communism. The chosen means by which to mount this defense was the strengthening and development of the military and economic structure of friendly nations, in other words those nations opposed to communism. The goal of the act was to make these nations viable partners in the building of an effective "collective security" against communist domination. Such self-sustaining countries could contribute to the common defense of the free world, including the defense of the United States.


The act authorized military, economic, and technical assistance to countries with the aim of developing their resources in the interest of their security and independence on the condition that such assistance be in the national interest of the United States. However, the act also reflected the idealism of the post-war era, as embodied in the Charter of the United Nations, in its ambition to promote world peace, international understanding, and good will and to bring about the participation of recipient countries in the United Nations system for collective security. The act provided for the distribution of funds based on geographical regions, namely Europe, the Near East and Africa, Asia, and the American republics, taking into account the unique circumstances and needs of each region.


As Western Europe quickly rebounded from the ravages of war, United States assistance became increasingly focused on the less-developed nations of the Southern Hemisphere. It was widely believed that the southern half of the globe was the battleground between the free world and the communist world. Under this act the United States provided not only military funding and training but also assistance to bolster the economies and the standards of living and health of recipient countries.


Mutual Security Act

views updated Jun 11 2018

Mutual Security Act (1951).Successor to the Mutual Defense Assistance Act and the Economic Cooperation Act, the Mutual Security Act became law on 10 October 1951. It created a new, independent agency, the Mutual Security Administration, to supervise all foreign aid programs including military assistance and economic programs that bolstered the defense capability of U.S. allies.

Submitted on 24 May 1951, President Harry S. Truman's omnibus foreign aid bill got a hostile reception on Capitol Hill. Rapid expansion of national security expenditures during the Korean War had produced alarm over high taxes, large deficits, government controls, and a possible “garrison state” among such prominent conservatives as Senator Robert Taft (R‐Ohio). Truman's decision to send U.S. troops to Europe as part of a standing NATO force further antagonized congressional conservatives and exacerbated their fears that European nations were not doing enough for their own defense. Congress thus reduced the administration's request for Mutual Security funds by 15 percent and authorized $5.998 billion and $1.486 billion, respectively, for military and economic assistance. The deepest cuts were in economic aid, thus ensuring its subordination to military assistance as “defense support.” Renewed each year until 1961 (on the reorganization of the program under new legislation), the Mutual Security Act produced annual struggles over the size of the foreign aid budget and the balance between military and economic aid.
[See also Isolationism; Marshall Plan.]


Michael J. Hogan , The Marshall Plan: America, Britain, and the Reconstruction of Western Europe, 1947–1952, 1987.
Alfred Goldberg, ed., History of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Vol. 2: Doris M. Condit , The Test of War, 1950–1953, 1988.

Chester J. Pach, Jr.