What was the Truman Doctrine?

The Truman Doctrine is known as the American foreign policy that sought to contain the spread of communism worldwide at the beginning of the Cold War. It is named after President Harry Truman and was based on offering economic and military assistance to countries to prevent them from falling into the Soviet orbit. The Democratic president presented his doctrine on March 12, 1947, when he addressed the United States Congress seeking financial support for Greece and Turkey. Truman’s ideas defined American foreign policy throughout the conflict against the USSR and inspired the creation of projects such as the Marshall Plan or NATO.

The USSR, the new American threat in the Cold War

The origin of the Truman doctrine is located in the twilight of World War II. The death of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in April 1945 precipitated the arrival of his vice president, Harry Truman, to the White House. Truman inherited a country that was still at war with Japan and that also had to lead the construction of the post-war world order. Its debut on the international scene occurred at the Potsdam Conference of July-August 1945, the last meeting that brought together the leaders of the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union at the end of the war.

In the German city of Potsdam, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill—replaced by Clement Attlee after losing the election—Truman and Stalin agreed to the fragmentation of Germany, the establishment of the new Polish border, and war reparations. The meeting revealed tensions between the Allied powers.

The main point of friction was the atomic bomb. Truman landed in Germany knowing that he had the first nuclear weapon in history and did not hesitate to use it against Hiroshima and Nagasaki to provoke the unconditional surrender of Japan and send a warning to Stalin. The nuclear bombing marked the beginning of the era of the so-called balance of terror, a theory according to which both powers dissuaded each other from attacking each other and which characterized relations between the United States and the USSR during the Cold War.

Truman Doctrine, a policy of containment of communism

The outbreak of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union forced Truman to redefine his foreign policy. The Democratic leader followed the containment policy formulated by the American diplomat George Kennan in his famous Long Telegram February 1946. Kennan, deputy head of the American diplomatic mission in Moscow, maintained the need to stop the spread of communism beyond the Iron Curtain, which separated the socialist bloc from the rest of Europe.

After the Second World War, the countries of Western Europe were in an extremely precarious situation. The aftermath of the conflict had plunged European states into an economic, political and social crisis from which the communist parties could benefit. This situation was especially delicate in Greece and Türkiye. In the first, the monarchical Government had been waging a civil war against the communist guerrillas since 1946. As for the second, the United States feared that the USSR would take control of the strategic Turkish Straits, the connection point between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.

Faced with this situation, Truman decided to materialize his new doctrine by requesting Congress to approve an economic and military aid plan for both countries worth four hundred million dollars. The president needed the support of Republicans to carry out his proposals, so he gave an apocalyptic speech in which he emphasized the global danger of communism. The support of congressmen for this initiative promoted the paradigm shift in American foreign policy. The Truman doctrine was consolidated months later with the Marshall Plan, a technical and economic assistance program that allowed the reconstruction and economic reactivation of Western Europe. The culmination of the containment plan came in 1949 with the creation of NATO, the military alliance between the United States and Western Europe.

Interventionism and anticommunism, the legacy of the Truman doctrine

The Truman Doctrine determined United States foreign policy throughout the Cold War. The fear of the spread of communism extended American interventionism to any corner of the planet, as seen in the Korean and Vietnam wars or the coup d’état in Chile in 1973. Washington’s fervent anti-communism also left internal consequences such as McCarthyism , the political persecutions carried out against anyone suspected of defending leftist ideas in the United States in the 1950s.