Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Point Four Program (1949)

Foreign aid program of President Harry S. Truman, announced in January 1949 and first funded beginning in 1950. As the Cold War deepened in 1947–1948, the Truman administration sought ways to keep communist influences out of the developing world. A major part of this effort would become direct and indirect assistance to nations of the developing world in the form of technical assistance, loans, investments, and the like. The Point Four Program marked an attempt to fulfill those goals and acted as a sort of Marshall Plan to poorer nations. Point Four, however, was on a scale far less grand than that of the Marshall Plan. The program received its name because it was the fourth point of Truman's foreign policy initiatives enunciated in his 20 January 1949 inaugural address.

The Point Four Program began in earnest in early 1950. As policymakers weighed their options as to what types of aid should be emphasized, a consensus soon emerged that saw technical assistance to the developing world as the single best way to effect change there. The focal point of such aid would be in the areas of education, agriculture, public health, and medical care. The U.S. government relied principally on the private sector to plan and build necessary infrastructure, which it would reimburse in cash, tax credits, or other types of incentives. All but a small amount of the aid that went to the Point Four Program was administered bilaterally—between the United States and recipient nations—through the U.S. Department of State's Technical Cooperation Administration.

The Point Four Program was, in the end, rather limited in scope. It had no sooner gotten off the ground when the Korean War began in June 1950. The war shifted the focus from international aid programs such as Point Four to rearmament and military readiness. What's more, a good deal of Point Four assistance tended to be funneled into military and military support programs in recipient nations rather than to education, health care, or agriculture.

The advent of Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidency in 1953 marked the practical end of the Point Four Program as a stand-alone entity. Eisenhower, who eschewed handing out large amounts of foreign aid (at least in his first term), ordered the Point Four Program absorbed into general foreign assistance programs. Although Point Four's immediate legacy was quite modest, it did set the stage for future programs such as the International Finance Corporation (1956), the Inter-American Development Bank (1961), and the Alliance for Progress (1961).

Paul G. Pierpaoli Jr.


Further Reading
Mack, Robert T., Jr. Raising the World's Standard of Living: The Coordination and Effectiveness of Point Four, United Nations Technical Assistance, and Related Programs. New York: Citadel Press, 1953.
 

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