In political science, rollback is the strategy of forcing a change in the major policies of a state, usually by replacing its ruling regime. It contrasts with containment, which means preventing the expansion of that state; and with détente, which means a working relationship with that state. Most of the discussions of rollback in the scholarly literature deal with United States foreign policy toward Communist countries during the Cold War. The rollback strategy was tried, but was not successful in Korean War and in Cuba in 1961. The political leadership of the United States discussed the use of rollback during the uprising of 1953 in East Germany and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, but decided against it to avoid the risk of Soviet Union intervention or a major war.
Rollback of governments hostile to the U.S. took place in World War II (against Italy 1943, Germany 1945 and Japan 1945), Afghanistan (against the Taliban 2001) and Iraq (against Saddam Hussein 2003). When directed against an established government rollback is sometimes called "regime change".
Instead of military rollback, the U.S. began a program of long-term psychological warfare to delegitimize Communist and pro-Communist regimes and help insurgents. These attempts began as early as 1945 in Eastern Europe, including efforts to provide weapons to independence fighters in the Baltic States and Ukraine. Another early effort was against Albania in 1949, following the defeat of Communist forces in the Greek Civil War that year. In this case, a force of agents was landed by the British and Americans to try to provoke a guerrilla war, but it failed. The operation had already been betrayed to the Soviets by the British double-agent Kim Philby, and led to the immediate capture or killing of the agents..
The Truman administration saw the Soviet Union as the main adversary and began discussing how to launch coordinated political, non-military actions to roll back its presence in Eastern Europe without a hot war.Peter Grose, Operation Rollback: America's Secret War Behind the Iron Curtain (2001).Gregory Mitrovich, Undermining the Kremlin: America's Strategy to Subvert the Soviet Bloc, 1947-1956 (Cornell UP, 2000). The rollback policy failed. Historian Stephen Long argues that the key policy makers, especially the State Department's Policy Planning Staff, failed to devise a coherent strategy. Furthermore Long blames the disordered bureaucracy that impaired and strategically dislocated the operations planned by the Office of Policy Coordination.Stephen Long, "Strategic Disorder, the Office of Policy Coordination and the Inauguration of US Political Warfare against the Soviet Bloc, 1948–50." Intelligence and National Security 27.4 (2012): 459-487.
Rollback strategies proved most successful in undermining the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s..
In 1954, the Pentagon wanted President Dwight D. Eisenhower to endorse a rollback strategy in Asia against Soviet advances. No, He replied, "the time of a significant rollback was far in the future."
The 1952 Republican Party's national platform reaffirmed this position; when Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected, he appointed Dulles as Secretary of State. Eisenhower adviser Charles Douglas Jackson coordinated psychological warfare against Communism. Radio Free Europe, a private agency funded by Congress, broadcast attacks on Communism directed at Eastern Europe.. A strategic alternative to rollback was containment, and the Eisenhower Administration adopted containment through National Security Council document NSC 162/2 in October 1953; this effectively abandoned the rollback efforts in Europe.
Eisenhower relied on clandestine CIA actions to undermine hostile small governments and used economic and military foreign aid to strengthen governments supporting the American position in the Cold War. A successful rollback was the CIA's Operation Ajax in August 1953, in collaboration with the British, which assisted the Iranian military in their anti-democratic restoration of the Shah..
Both Eisenhower and Dulles focused more attention on the Suez Crisis which, due to the Protocol of Sèvres, unfolded simultaneously. The Suez Crisis played an extremely important role in hampering the US response to the crisis in Hungary. The problem was not, contrary to widespread belief, that Suez distracted US attention from Hungary, but that it made the condemnation of Soviet actions very difficult. As Vice President Richard Nixon later explained: "We couldn't on one hand, complain about the Soviets intervening in Hungary and, on the other hand, approve of the British and the French picking that particular time to intervene against Gamal Abdel Nasser."
The "rollback" movement gained significant ground, however, in the 1980s, specifically against the Soviet Union, as the Reagan administration urged on by The Heritage Foundation and other influential conservatives began to channel weapons to movements such as the Mujahedin in Afghanistan, the Contras in Nicaragua and others in anti-communist armed movements Angola, Cambodia and other nations, and launched a successful invasion of Grenada in 1983 to protect American residents and reinstate constitutional government following a coup by what Reagan called "a brutal gang of leftist thugs,"—this invasion was presented as a dramatic example of rolling back a Communist government in power.
Reagan's interventions in the Third World came to be known as the Reagan Doctrine. It was applied especially to pro-Communist regimes in Central America, as in Grenada and Nicaragua, and was also extended to Angola, Afghanistan, and Cambodia.
Critics argued that the Reagan Doctrine led to so-called blowback and an unnecessary intensification of Third World conflict. On the other hand, in the various rollback battlefields, the Soviet Union made major concessions and eventually had to abandon the Soviet-Afghan war. Jessica Martin writes, "Insofar as rollback is concerned, American support for rebels, especially in Afghanistan, at the time helped to drain Soviet coffers and tax its human resources, contributing to that nation's overall crisis and eventual disintegration."
This rollback strategy played out in Third World nations that the Soviets had penetrated. Together with heavy pressure on the Soviet military, exemplified by the Star Wars missile defense system, the Soviet system cracked, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Nationalistic unrest in the USSR exploded in 1989, as all of the Eastern European satellites broke free and rolled back Communism relatively peacefully, with the exception of the violent revolution in Romania. East Germany merged with West Germany.
Between 1988 and 1991, the fifteen Soviet Socialist Republics declared their laws superior to those of the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union ceased to exist on December 26, 1991, as Communism was rolled back across all of Europe.
Similarly, Bush opposed the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, labeling the regime as part of an "axis of evil", which also included Iran and North Korea. Additionally, the administration believed Hussein possessed nuclear weapons. As a result, in March 2003, the U.S. military invaded Iraq and overthrew Hussein's regime.