A Message from President Heather A. Conley

We Celebrate the Marshall Plan at 75 and GMF at 50

June 11, 2022
5 min read
Photography by Karlin Villondo Photography

The “world situation is very serious.”  

Indeed.  These words though were uttered exactly 75 years ago this week by U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall as he described a growing European humanitarian and economic crisis which had been fueled by “the physical loss of life, the visible destruction of cities, factories, mines, and railroads…”  To counter this looming crisis, Marshall proposed a bold policy that was “against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos” and was designed to restore “the confidence of the European people in the economic future of their own countries and of Europe as a whole.” His remedy: a $13.2 billion ($130 billion in today’s dollars) American humanitarian and reconstruction initiative for 16 Western European countries. The policy became known as the Marshall Plan.

Recently, the president of a European nation–experiencing daily loss of life as well as the total destruction of its cities, industrial capacity, and infrastructure–drew directly from Marshall’s 1947 speech, warning again of a looming threat from “hunger, poverty, despair and chaos.” This time, the cause was Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression against the Ukrainian people and a subsequent global food crisis. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s remedy: a bold recovery plan that in part calls for the adoption of Ukrainian cities, regions, and industries by the international community to facilitate the economic revitalization of Ukraine through a United24 (for all 24 Ukrainian regions) online platform.  The relevance of the Marshall Plan endures as the outline of a modern Marshall Plan for Ukraine begins to unfold.

Both Secretary Marshall and President Zelenskyy understood and spoke to the most powerful force that conquers fear and overcomes aggression: hope and the determination that there will be a better tomorrow. 

Providing hope does not come without sacrifice or risk. Like today, in 1947 the United States was experiencing high inflation and industrial challenges which led some Americans to doubt the benefits of the Marshall Plan. Time-limited, well-organized, and policy-driven (requiring greater European economic integration), the Marshall Plan was an act of generosity, but also one of farsighted American self-interest.  This success can be replicated and civil society mobilized to provide hope to the Ukrainian people as we focus on reconstruction and the revitalization of their war-torn country and Eastern Europe as a whole.

Hope and the critical importance of the transatlantic relationship to the United States were imprinted in the very DNA of the original Marshall Plan.

Hope and the critical importance of the transatlantic relationship to the United States were imprinted in the very DNA of the original Marshall Plan. These elements are the North Star of the organization dedicated to its memory, founded 50 years ago on June 5th: The German Marshall Fund of the United States. In the half century since, our work has been dedicated to building a strong and enduring transatlantic partnership.

It has been an extraordinary six months for GMF.  The organization has leapt into action in response to the largest land war in Europe and the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War. We are striving to address the immediate security and humanitarian impacts of the war as well as the long term-implications, from rebuilding Ukraine to the expansion of NATO.  We organized a high-level study tour to Kyiv and Warsaw immediately prior to the outbreak of the war which helped shaped transatlantic policies in response to the conflict. With the support of our closest government and foundation partners, GMF began to disburse more than $3 million to civil society organizations in and around Ukraine.  Members of our community stepped forward to donate to our first ever public appeal, making it possible for GMF to rapidly disburse emergency funds from the GMF Hope Fund to GMF staff, alumni, and friends in Ukraine. Our scholars have made over 5,600 media appearances and interviews to analyze the crisis and the global community’s response.  We have hosted more than 50 discussions with European and American leaders to deepen understanding of the economic and security implications of the crisis.  We have increased global awareness of Russia and China’s disinformation tactics in relation to the war.  And we have hosted our first in-person Marshall Memorial Fellows since the pandemic to build the next generation of transatlantic leaders.

But, perhaps most importantly, we know that our most critical work as an organization lies ahead: to bring forward the spirit of the Marshall Plan to support Ukraine’s economic recovery as well as to shape and advance new transatlantic policy approaches toward the Indo-Pacific, technology and innovation or strengthening NATO’s eastern flank, to name but a few.  Many of these topics will be discussed at the 2022 session of our flagship conference Brussels Forum, Winning the Strategic Future – In the Spirit of the Marshall Plan beginning on June 27th and concluding on 29th.  We will be back in person but are enhancing our online presence so please do join us virtually.  Along with Brussels Forum, please also join us as we partner in the NATO Public Forum on the margins of the NATO Madrid Summit on June 29th and be on the lookout on GMF’s social media channels for that viewing information.

And finally, we have thoroughly enjoyed celebrating and honoring 50 years of GMF grantmaking, leadership programs, and policy initiatives and the amazing staff and alumni that made it possible over the past several weeks.  I hope you have noticed our special anniversary logo; it has special meaning. To your left, you will see half of the Marshall Plan shield emblem that was stamped on every shipment of aid sent from the United States to Europe. This half shield represents GMF’s historic mission of completing the work of the Marshall Plan but looks toward GMF’s continued mission of developing new policy ideas, fostering a new generation of transatlantic leadership, and, just as the Marshall Plan did 75 years ago, providing hope in a time of crisis. As Marshall noted, the world situation was serious but there was a bold and consequential remedy.  

With deep respect for our history, understanding of the importance of our mission and great enthusiasm for our future, thank you for your support and your partnership!