Many self-identified realist, liberal, and constructivist scholars contend that ideology played a critical role in generating and shaping the United States' decision to confront the Soviet Union in the early Cold War. A close look at the history reveals that these ideological arguments fail to explain key aspects of U.S. policy. Contrary to ideological explanations, the United States initially sought to cooperate with the Soviet Union, did not initially pressure communist groups outside the Soviet orbit, and later sought to engage communist groups that promised to undermine Soviet power. The U.S. decision to confront the Soviets stemmed instead from the distribution of power. U.S. policy shifted toward a confrontational approach as the balance of power in Eurasia tilted in favor of the Soviet Union. In addition, U.S. leaders tended to think and act in a manner consistent with balance of power logic. The primacy of power over ideology in U.S. policymaking—given the strong liberal tradition in the United States and the large differences between U.S. and Soviet ideology—suggests that relative power concerns are the most important factors in generating and shaping confrontational foreign policies.

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