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What Exactly was the Domino Theory and its Effect?

Rohini Mohan Jun 3, 2019
The term 'domino' was used as a metaphor to describe the spread of communism. It later became a part of the US containment policy to control the spread of communism during the Cold War.

Did You Know?

The domino theory is a foreign policy based on the chain reaction that is displayed by pushing the first tile during a game of dominoes.
The domino theory was based on the assumption that if one country adopted communism, the surrounding countries would be easily influenced and adopt this revolutionary socialist way of governance as well, thus, representing the fall of countries into communism like a stack of dominoes.
The term 'domino' was first used by US President Dwight D. Eisenhower on April 7, 1954 during a news conference to describe the increased spread of communism in Indochina. This political theory was intended as a metaphor, and the term 'domino' referred to the adoption of communism by China in 1949.
It was used for the surge of communist military campaigns in Korea, and the probability of communism spreading to the surrounding countries. Referring to the spread of communism in Indochina, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower had made the following statement:
Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the "falling domino" principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.

What Necessitated the Creation of this Theory?

Things were going horribly wrong after the World War II, and the Soviet Union had succeeded in bringing several countries in the East and Central Europe under its control, which was termed as the "Iron Curtain" and "Soviet Sphere" by Winston Churchill.
Winston Churchill

Potsdam Conference

▶ The results of the Potsdam Conference (July 17 - August 2, 1945) between the USA, USSR, and the UK confirmed President Truman and Prime Minister Winston Churchill's suspicion about Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin's intentions behind retaining control over most of Central and Eastern Europe.
▶ Stalin had not only backtracked on his promise to allow free elections in Poland, he had instead gone ahead and established a communist Provisional Government in the country―this step being in strict breach of the agreements made during the Yalta Conference in February 1945.
▶ Stalin justified the Red Army's control over Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Baltic states, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Eastern Europe as a strategic measure to defend their 'sphere of influence' against any further attacks by the Germans or French.
▶ The vision of communist world revolution, as propagated by the Bolsheviks, made the US distrust the intention behind the post-World War II expansionism of USSR. This hostility between the USA and Soviet Union led to the 'Cold War', which lasted from 1947 to 1991.

The Greek Civil War

▶ The Greek Civil War (March 30, 1946 - October 16, 1949) was fought between the Greek government's Hellenic Army and the Democratic Army of Greece, which was the army of Communist Party of Greece.
▶ The Greek government was supported and backed by the United Kingdom and the United States, whereas the Greek communist army was backed by Albania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia.

▶ This Civil War resulted in the victory of the Greek National Army.

Truman Doctrine

▶ In 1947, 'Truman Doctrine' was put into action with the intention to thwart the spread of communism by supporting both Greece and Turkey so that neither would yield to Soviet demands.
▶ In 1948, diplomat George Kennan's article 'X Article' espoused the idea of the containment policy, asserting that the spread of communism in the countries surrounding USSR, posed a threat to the national security of the US.
▶ In April 1948, the US set the 'The Marshal Plan' program into motion by proving economic aid to help rebuild the economy of war-torn countries of Europe so that they would be able to build conducive political and social conditions for free institutions to flourish and successfully impede the spread of communism.

Spread of Communism in North Korea

▶ On September 2, 1945, the Empire of Japan surrendered from the Korean Peninsula, thereby, ending the World War II.
This led to the southern half of the peninsula being temporarily occupied by the US military and the northern part being controlled by the Soviet forces. The 38th parallel was demarcated as the official zone of control between the two halves of the Korean peninsula.
▶ In 1949, the National Republican Government of China was defeated in the Civil War (1927 - 1949) against the Communist rebels, and the country was declared as the People's Republic of China. The new government in China was pro-North Korea and made its stand clear on the matter of providing their support.
▶ On June 25, 1950, the Korean War broke out between the Republic of Korea (South) and communist-governed Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North).
▶ The United States along with twenty countries of the United Nations gave their support to South Korea, while the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China provided aid to North Korea.

▶ The war ended in July 27, 1953 and led to the creation of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

The Domino Theory and American Involvement in Vietnam

▶ The theory also propagated the possibility that, if South Vietnam was overtaken by communism, its neighboring countries, such as Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Burma would fall under communism as well.
Given the fact that communist movements had already cropped up as minor uprisings in these countries, the possibility of communism gaining more popularity was not unfounded.
▶ Vietnam was perceived as a key domino country in Southeast Asia, because it was from there that Japan chose to initiate their attacks on Malaya, Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, and southern Singapore during its Vietnam occupation in 1941.
▶ The British and French feared that the same strategic advantage and regional dominance may cause the spread of communism from Vietnam to the areas around it. There were also fears that the victory of communism in Vietnam would make Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, and other lands until the Suez Canal into defensive states.
Secondly, it could also force the hand of frontline countries, such Japan to make political compromises with the communists.
▶ The domino theory was used extensively by the US between the 1950s - 1980s to justify its act of supporting Ngo Dinh Diem's non-communist regime in South Vietnam against the communist Viet Minh regime in North Vietnam. It also became the basis for the American involvement in the Vietnam War (Second Indochina War) that lasted for two decades (1955 - 75).
▶ The American involvement in the Vietnam war was in continuation of their containment strategy, that aimed to thwart the spread of communism.
▶ The Vietnamese communist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam as a communist state immediately after the surrender of Japan from Vietnam. On September 2, 1945, he publicly declared Vietnam to be independent from France.
▶ This declaration of independence by Ho Chi Minh did not go down well with the United States and the United Kingdom, nor did the Soviet Union support this decision. The allies of World War II wished that Vietnam remain under the governance of France.
▶ This led to an all-out Anti-French Resistance War on December 19, 1946 in French Indochina, against Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh regime by the French who were being backed by the British forces. In 1950, the US President Harry S. Truman sanctioned $10 million in military assistance for anti-communist efforts in Indochina.
▶ The Vietnam War resulted in the victory of communist North Vietnam and the annexation of South Vietnam,
along with the withdrawal of American troops.

▶ Both North and South Vietnam were reunited under one communist government, which is the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

The Laotian Civil War

▶ The Laotian Civil War (November 9, 1953 - December 2, 1975) was fought between the communist nationalist group of Pathet Lao and the Royal Lao Government of the Kingdom of Laos.
▶ The Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Soviet Union, and China supported the Pathet Lao, while the Kingdom of Laos was supported by United States, Republic of Vietnam, and Thailand.

▶ This war resulted in the victory of the Pathet Lao and the inception of the Lao People's Democratic Republic.

The Khmer Rouge Period - Cambodia

▶ The Khmer Rouge Period comprised the rule of several communist leaders belonging to the Communist Party of Kampuchea between 1975 to 1979.

▶ During this period, Cambodia was renamed as 'Democratic Kampuchea' by the Khmer Rouge and was also known as the period of Cambodian Genocide/Holocaust.
▶ The Khmer Rouge came to power after winning the Cambodian Civil War against Khmer Republic, which had been declared a republic on October 9, 1970 by General Lon Nol and Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak.
▶ The United States and Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) were allies of the Khmer Republic, whereas the Democratic Kampuchea was supported by Viet Cong (National Liberation Front) and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam).
▶ The Khmer Rouge were soon overpowered by their own allies, in the Cambodian-Vietnamese War (April 30, 1977 - October 23, 1991).
▶ This war was fought between two communist powers, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and Democratic Kampuchea, and resulted in the decade-long occupation of Cambodia.

▶ On September 26, 1989, the Vietnamese occupation of Kampuchea ended with the withdrawal of its troops.
Even though the domino theory did not go as anticipated in Southeast Asia, communism and Marxist-Leninist authorities spread during the 1970s in various countries. This was nothing less than a massive wave, whose currents were charged with communist ideologies.
The various nations where communism and Marxist-Leninist authorities spread, were: Chile, Nicaragua, Grenada, El Salvador, Guatemala, Angola, Afghanistan, Benin, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Madagascar, Tanzania, Zambia, and Rhodesia.