Truman Doctrine Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Following World War II, President Harry S. Truman declared that the United States would use its resources to aid nations resisting Soviet encroachment and to contain Soviet expansion. He thus articulated the cornerstone of the next forty years of U.S. foreign policy, setting the terms of U.S. participation in the Cold War.

Summary of Event

Soon after the conclusion of World War II, the United States was faced with the necessity of finding a new principle to guide its foreign policy. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s concept of a global postwar peace based on cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union had proven to be ineffective. The Soviet army occupied most of eastern and central Europe and made it clear that the Soviet Union would not tolerate independent regimes there. Despite the agreements made at the Yalta Conference, Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator, unilaterally imposed communist regimes on Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. Soviet Union;expansionism The protests of the United States and Great Britain did not alter this policy of Soviet control. Furthermore, the Soviet government attempted to expand into areas where it had no military control, including Greece, Turkey, and Iran. [kw]Truman Doctrine (Mar. 12, 1947) [kw]Doctrine, Truman (Mar. 12, 1947) Truman Doctrine (1947) Cold War;advent U.S.-Soviet relations[U.S. Soviet relations];Truman Doctrine Soviet-Western relations[Soviet Western relations];Truman Doctrine Truman Doctrine (1947) Cold War;advent U.S.-Soviet relations[U.S. Soviet relations];Truman Doctrine Soviet-Western relations[Soviet Western relations];Truman Doctrine [g]North America;Mar. 12, 1947: Truman Doctrine[02000] [g]United States;Mar. 12, 1947: Truman Doctrine[02000] [c]Cold War;Mar. 12, 1947: Truman Doctrine[02000] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Mar. 12, 1947: Truman Doctrine[02000] Truman, Harry S. [p]Truman, Harry S.;Cold War Kennan, George F. Marshall, George C. [p]Marshall, George C.;European Recovery Program Stalin, Joseph [p]Stalin, Joseph;Cold War Byrnes, James Francis Churchill, Winston [p]Churchill, Winston;Cold War Wallace, Henry A.

In confronting these emergencies, the United States at first attempted ad hoc measures that, although essentially successful in achieving their immediate objectives, failed to establish policy guidelines for the postwar world. In Iran, for example, the Soviet Union refused to withdraw its occupation forces and made demands through diplomatic channels for exclusive oil and mineral rights. The United States and Great Britain joined in a strong protest, which implied the threat of Western military assistance to counter Soviet pressure. In March, 1946, Soviet troops began a complete withdrawal, and the Iranian government succeeded in stabilizing its rule.

In the case of Turkey, the Soviet Union sent several diplomatic notes in 1945 and 1946 that demanded the cession of border territory and a joint administration of the Dardanelles. These demands were to be ratified in a treaty that also would provide for the leasing of navy and army bases in the Dardanelles to the Soviets to implement joint control. Following a second Soviet note, the United States sent a strong naval fleet into the Mediterranean, the first U.S. warships to be sent into those waters during peacetime since 1803. A week later, Great Britain joined the United States in rejecting Soviet demands on Turkey. Meanwhile, in Greece, only extensive British military and economic aid prevented a complete collapse of the war-torn country and a coup d’état by communist guerrillas.

Following extensive domestic debate, the United States formally abandoned its traditional peacetime isolationist approach to world affairs and adopted a long-range policy intended to deal with Soviet expansionism. One position in the debate was dramatized by Winston Churchill, the former prime minister of Great Britain, in a speech at Fulton, Missouri, in early 1946. There, with President Harry S. Truman on the platform, Churchill characterized the Soviet Union as an expansionist state that would react only to a strong counterforce. Soviet expansion, Churchill believed, could be prevented only by a collaboration between the United States and Great Britain to preserve the independence of Europe and to prevent the extension of what came to be called the “Iron Curtain.”

A contrasting attitude was expressed by Secretary of Commerce Henry A. Wallace, who declared that only U.S.-Soviet cooperation could prevent another war. He pointed out that the Soviet desire for control of areas on its borders was understandable and reasonable, and that the United States had long acted to secure its own hemispheric security. Substantial segments of U.S. public opinion supported either Churchill or Wallace. However, the State Department sought a middle ground. Rejecting both the Soviet-expansion position of Churchill and the sphere-of-influence concept of Wallace, Secretary of State James Francis Byrnes urged that the Soviet Union adopt a more cooperative diplomatic policy. The United States, he said, should pursue a policy of firmness and patience and wait for the Soviets to see the reasonableness of negotiation. It appeared to many, including President Truman, that the United States was the one that was always being reasonable, not the Soviet Union. By 1947, the administration had adopted the position that the revolutionary postulates of the Soviet regime made traditional diplomacy impossible.

The first step in the development of the new policy toward the Soviet Union came in response to the continuing Soviet threat to Greece and Turkey. In February, 1947, Great Britain informed the U.S. State Department that the British government could no longer continue to support the regime in Greece. Great Britain, like all of Western Europe, was suffering from grave economic problems. As the British Empire retreated, the United States stepped forward. Within the next few weeks, President Truman decided that the independence of Greece and the recovery of Europe were crucial to the security of the United States.

On March 12, 1947, the president appeared before a joint session of Congress and presented what became known as the Truman Doctrine. He outlined the desperate situation in both Greece and Turkey and called upon the American people to “help free peoples to maintain their free institutions and their national integrity against aggressive movements that seek to impose upon them totalitarian regimes.” Most important, he pointed out, was the fact that such totalitarian aggression was a direct threat to the security of the United States. In response, Congress appropriated $400 million for economic aid to both Greece and Turkey. Additionally, the president was authorized to dispatch civilian and military advisers to help both nations defend their sovereignty.

The next step in this new policy was to bring the same consideration to bear upon Western Europe, an even more critical area. There is debate over the degree to which U.S. economic aid to postwar Europe was motivated by the desire to contain Soviet influence in Western Europe. Nevertheless, to proponents of the new internationalism in U.S. foreign policy, it seemed axiomatic that if aid to Greece and Turkey could be justified by their strategic importance, the United States must aid other European countries where the situation was equally desperate. Great Britain was suffering from the wartime destruction of its factories and the loss of its capability to export manufactured goods. Germany was in ruins and virtually incapable of feeding its population. In France and Italy, the Communist Party had wide support within the industrial laboring class and was working by both overt and covert means for a radical change in the government of both countries. A further difficulty was that the winter of 1946-1947 was the most severe experienced by Europeans for generations.

From a military viewpoint, new weaponry made it essential that European control of the Atlantic gateways be in friendly hands. In terms of trained technicians, industrial capacity, and raw materials, Western Europe was a potential giant worth keeping in the U.S. camp. These factors led to an announcement by the new secretary of state, George C. Marshall, at Harvard University in June, 1947, of what came to be known as the Marshall Plan Marshall Plan Foreign aid, U.S.;Marshall Plan : If the European countries could develop a cooperative approach to their economic problems, Marshall said, the United States would assist in their recovery.

Congress eventually authorized a grant of $17 billion to the Organization for European Economic Cooperation over a four-year period. A total of about $13 billion was actually spent. Although aid was offered to all European nations, including the Soviet Union, the Soviet-dominated areas were not permitted to cooperate, because doing so would have required revealing Soviet economic secrets and sacrificing Soviet economic control. Success of the Marshall Plan emerged quickly; in 1952, Europe exceeded its prewar production figures by some 200 percent.

A discussion of the theory behind the policy embodied in the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan appeared in an unsigned article on the subject of containment in the July, 1947, issue of Foreign Affairs. The author, it was later disclosed, was George F. Kennan, a high-ranking member of the State Department. Kennan’s essay proposed that the antagonism that existed between the United States and the Soviet Union was merely the logical extension of certain basic Soviet assumptions. The United States, Kennan maintained, could count on Soviet hostility, because the rhetoric of the Bolshevik Revolution demanded war against capitalist states. World War II had submerged this antagonism only temporarily. “These characteristics of Soviet policy,” he wrote, “like the postulates from which they flow, are basic to the internal nature of Soviet power, and will be with us . . . until the nature of Soviet power is changed.”

The immediate question, Kennan insisted, was how the United States should counter this new ideological crusade that threatened to engulf Europe. In Kennan’s view, the United States should adopt a policy of “long-term, patient, but firm and vigilant containment.” To counter the Soviet policy, the United States should adopt a long-range course of diplomacy toward the Soviet Union and pursue it consistently. This containment, or the counterapplication of force wherever Soviet expansion threatened, had a negative aspect, because it put a tremendous burden on U.S. consistency and steadfastness. On the positive side, through containment, the United States could help work changes within the Soviet system and help modify the revolutionary zeal of the regime. If expansionist dynamics were constantly frustrated, Kennan reasoned, the forces must be expended within the system itself, and this would mean some modification of totalitarian control.

Significance

Although the Truman Doctrine, strictly speaking, applied only to Greece and Turkey, its importance went well beyond the fate of those two countries. Truman’s speech of March 12, 1947, represented the first tentative articulation of the policy of containment later placed in print by Kennan. The doctrine was a commitment to utilize the economic resources of the United States—as well as its military expertise in the form of advisers and trainers—to resist Soviet expansion and aggression in Europe. The Truman Doctrine thus represented the first proactive statement made by a U.S. president of the principles that guided the United States during the Cold War. Combined with Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech, it represents one of the founding Western foreign policy statements of that war. The principles enunciated by Truman were followed for decades thereafter, shaping the history of the second half of the twentieth century. Truman Doctrine (1947) Cold War;advent U.S.-Soviet relations[U.S. Soviet relations];Truman Doctrine Soviet-Western relations[Soviet Western relations];Truman Doctrine

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Acheson, Dean. Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department. New York: Norton, 1969. Written by Truman’s last secretary of state, an often poignant, immensely interesting accounting of the years during which United States foreign policy shaped the postwar world.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gaddis, John Lewis. The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947. New ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. History of U.S.-Soviet relations during World War II and the postwar period, up to and including the announcement of the Truman Doctrine. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jeffery, Judith S. Ambiguous Commitments and Uncertain Policies: The Truman Doctrine in Greece, 1947-1952. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2000. Study focused on Greece of the effects of the Truman Doctrine upon the nation it was originally designed to help. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jones, Howard.“A New Kind of War”: America’s Global Strategy and the Truman Doctrine in Greece. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. A detailed analysis of the effect of the containment policy on politics in its first beneficiary.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jones, Joseph M. The Fifteen Weeks (February 21-June 5, 1947). New York: Viking Press, 1955. A good account of the crucial weeks during which the Truman administration committed itself to first the containment doctrine and then the Marshall Plan.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lieberman, Sanford R., et al., eds. The Soviet Empire Reconsidered. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1994. Many of the generally excellent essays address the impact of the containment policy on postwar Soviet foreign policy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McGhee, George Crews. The U.S.-Turkish-NATO Middle East Connection: How the Truman Doctrine Contained the Soviets in the Middle East. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. An excellent regional study of containment at work.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rees, David. The Age of Containment: The Cold War, 1945-1965. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1967. A view of the coldest days of the Cold War from a British perspective.

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