Our Moment: The 70th Anniversary of the Marshall Plan

3 min read
Photo credit: George C. Marshall International Center

A Letter from GMF's President Karen Donfried

Dear friends,

This is GMF’s moment. Today marks the 70th anniversary of the speech George Marshall, then Secretary of State, gave at Harvard University, laying the foundation for what came to be known as the Marshall Plan.

Looking back can sometimes help us see the present more clearly. Today the Marshall Plan is described as one of most successful examples of a foreign assistance program. But we forget how contentious it was back in 1947. We forget that U.S. officials had to spread out across the country to make the case for the Plan to war-weary Americans, who wanted to focus inward, rather than provide substantial support to help a devastated Europe recover. The Marshall Plan laid the foundation for both a strong transatlantic relationship and a unifying Europe that we have come to take for granted over the ensuing seven decades. That gospel truth is now being questioned.

Every day, GMF’s eight offices deliver on our critical mission of strengthening transatlantic cooperation in the spirit of the Marshall Plan. The United States and Europe form the essential core of the rules-based order that we built together after World War II. The principles of that order – democratic systems of government, free market economies, rule of law, and rights of the individual – define “the spirit of the Marshall Plan.” GMF focuses not only on the external challengers to that international order, but also on the internal challenges of nationalism, populism, and distrust in established institutions roiling our domestic debates. We seek to contribute to helping both sides of the Atlantic come together around a shared agenda that can be translated into common action.

GMF is answering this challenge with what it does best: producing compelling analysis and programming to influence policymakers, building vibrant civil society, and engaging the next generation of transatlantic leaders. We are both doubling down on existing work and actively pursuing new projects. We are also stepping up our efforts to help explain each side of the Atlantic to the other in response to our new transatlantic reality. Europeans are exhibiting a voracious appetite for understanding political, economic and social trends in the United States. We are seeking to decode the United States for our European partners by leveraging, in particular, our alumni and urban policy networks and thus increasing GMF’s reach. At the same time, we continue to make the case for why a strong relationship with Europe matters to Americans living far away from Washington, DC, or New York.

GMF was created on the 25th anniversary of the Marshall Plan thanks to a generous gift from the then West German government. The Marshall Plan, which has become a synonym for a strong transatlantic partnership, set European integration as a key objective, defining it as in the interest both of Europe and the United States. As we celebrate the anniversary of the Marshall Plan and of GMF, our aim is not solely to celebrate and remember American leadership based on enlightened self-interest. We also want to highlight and interpret the relevance of GMF’s mission to today’s world.

Lately transatlantic ambition has been in short supply. Ambition was the fuel behind Marshall’s vision. Between 1948 and 1951, the United States provided $13.3 billion ($150 billion in 2017 dollars) to 16 European countries. The appropriation for 1949 alone totaled about 12% of the U.S. federal budget. None of that was preordained. GMF strives to be an engine of transatlantic ambition today.

We look forward to continuing to involve you in our work. Help us design, make possible, and implement a new transatlantic future that isn’t rooted in nostalgia, but rather remembers the past to better meet today’s formidable challenges. Each of us has an important role in articulating the relevance of sustained transatlantic ties to our time. Our ability to effect change is multiplied when we work together. Our time to act is now.


Karen Donfried