What Was the Domino Theory?

Domino Theory was a analogous political term used in the mid-20th century to explain the spread of communism across the world.

In response to the communist wave that was sweeping the Indo China region, this theory was used to justify the actions of the USA government. The threat of communism spreading across this region after the communist revolution in China had President Truman draw his doctrine of action. It was later called the Truman doctrine and successive administrations used it to fight communism. The word ‘domino’ refers to a tile divided into two squares each having 0 to 6 dots. These items are used in the game of dominoes. When they are placed in close proximity in an upright posture and you push one against the other, they all fall uniformly on top of each other.

Background of the Domino Theory

Placed into a political perspective, it means that a country will react or expected to react to events in a neighboring country hence the term domino effect. There was a concern in the West after the end of World War II in 1945. In Europe, the Soviet Union had brought communism to the doorsteps of the west in Berlin. Most of Eastern and Central Europe was under the direct influence of the USSR which was the socialist superpower. This situation was captured brilliantly by the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in a speech in 1946. The "iron curtain" was the term Churchill used to describe the rising influence of the USSR. The Iran crisis of 1946 prompted Harry Truman to formulate his now famous Truman doctrine.

Truman’s doctrine was designed to use the financial might of the USA to fight the Soviet influence in particular Greece and Turkey.The doctrine stated the willingness of the Americans to help a country which was under the threat of communism. The formation of NATO in 1949 is owed to this doctrine which was the foundation of American Foreign policy. It was the events of Indo China that saw America get involved in trying to roll back the gains made by the communists. America had severed off diplomatic ties with China after the communist takeover in 1949. In 1950 American and allied forces fought a bitter three-year war with communist forces in Korea that ended in a stalemate. The Korean War saw the creation of two countries that still oppose each other in ideology. North Korea which is communist and South Korea which is Capitalist.

The Spread of Communism

The defeat of the French in Indochina by communist forces in 1954 forced them to withdraw and the region was divided by into four regions. These regions still had active pro-communism activities, especially in Vietnam. The fear was that once communism prevailed here it would compromise American allies like Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Japan, and the Philippines into communism as well. President Kennedy in 1960 intervened in Vietnam to prevent South Vietnam from falling to the communist North. The struggle morphed into a full-scale military affair that ended in 1975 when the USA withdrew and the south collapsed under the North Vietnamese assault. The country was unified under the banner of communism.

Neighboring countries like Laos and Cambodia soon followed suit giving precedence to the domino effect. However, the communist domino did not succeed in countries like Indonesia and Philippines since the communist effort was concentrated in Vietnam at that point. The CIA was actively involved in undermining the communist influence in Indonesia with its role in the ouster of President Surkano. The domino effect was also experienced in South America, Africa and in Central Asia i.e. Afghanistan. In South America, the proponents of communism were Augusto Che Guevara. Cuba also supported the communist movements even after Guevara’s death in Bolivia. The CIA worked hard to undermine these movements in Chile and other countries by sponsoring coups and revolutions. The failed Bay of Pigs incident in 1962 highlights the CIA determination to stop the communist influence.

There was direct military intervention in some countries in South America by the USA. The Reagan administration invaded Grenada in 1983 and aided leftist movements in Central America. Reagan also funded the Afghan resistance in Afghanistan in response to the Soviet Union invasion that helped the communist government. There was funding for anti-communist movements in Angola and Cambodia. The struggle for independence in Africa, in particular, the violent struggle in Rhodesia and Mozambique, is an example was the domino effect. The Rhodesian regime led by Ian Smith was facing a guerilla struggle from forces that were being armed by the USSR. In Mozambique the Portuguese were fighting the FRELIMO, which was being funded by the USSR. Furthermore the establishment of pro-communist regimes in Africa, such as Tanzania, was a strong indicator of the domino effect. It nearly succeeded in Congo until the intervention of the CIA which saw the ousting of Lumumba.

Modern Day Examples of Domino Theory

The Arab spring is also an example of the domino effect. The effect of the toppling of Tunisia’s dictatorial regime in 2011 by demonstrations quickly spread around North Africa and the Middle East. Soon the regimes of Egypt and Libya had fallen and the regimes in Arab countries were in danger of being toppled. Syria is still engulfed in a civil war and countries around the world have had to undertake social reforms just to avoid the Arab spring type uprisings.

The terror attacks on September 11, 2001, created a domino effect around the world with international airports around the world taking precautions. This was after the discovery that hijackers were able to take control of the planes with knives. Governments also began to take terrorism seriously and crackdowns began on extremist groups too. The threat of terrorism is still there today with the radical group called Islamic State launching attacks in Europe today. As a result of any attack today the domino effect still affects Europe with tighter patrols and security screenings happening.

The outbreak of epidemics like Ebola brought a domino effect in Africa and around the world. It led to heightened screening at airports around the world for travelers from West Africa. It also mobilized medical efforts to find a cure for the debilitating disease. It was similar to the efforts to spread awareness about the HIV and AIDS in the eighties.


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