June marks the 70th anniversary of the European Recovery Program, better known as the Marshall Plan. It was one of the most successful U.S. foreign policy initiatives of the 20th century, praised by Winston Churchill as “the most unselfish act by any great power in history”.
In the late 1940s, recovery from the devastation of the Second World War proved to be extraordinarily difficult for the economically devastated countries of Europe. Two years after the war ended, Europe still had a long way to go just to catch up to pre-war agricultural and industrial output. Unemployment was high and food shortages persisted, further slowing down the recovery.
In an effort to stabilize Europe and restore its industrial and agricultural production, the United States initiated the Marshall Plan, named after then-Secretary of State George Marshall. Between April 1948 and December 1951, the United States poured $13 billion in direct investment into 17 Western European countries, including former foes Germany and Italy. In today’s money, that’s around $130 billion. East European countries were also offered aid but had to decline it on orders of the Soviet Union.
The investment jump-started Western Europe's heavy-industry base, provided jobs for millions of people, stabilized the economic and political systems and raised the Gross National Product of the Marshall Plan countries by 15 to 25 percent. By 1951, it was clear that the initiative had met its objective of “restoring the confidence of the European people in the economic future of their own countries and of Europe as a whole”, and Western Europe was well on the way to a bright future.
“The Marshall Plan not only helped Europe recover and spurred rapid economic growth; it laid the foundation for the long-term peace and prosperity that both the United States and Europe have enjoyed for nearly three-quarters of a century,” said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
“Perhaps more importantly, the Marshall Plan laid the foundation for the transatlantic bond and partnership that has helped Europe remain whole, free, at peace, and prosperous. Today, as we face new threats to our security, unity, and prosperity, the Marshall Plan reminds us of what is possible when the United States and Europe work together.”