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The Truman Doctrine was an international relations policy set forth by the U.S. President Harry Truman in a speech[1] on March 12, 1947, which stated that the U.S. would support Greece and Turkey with economic and military aid to prevent them from falling into the Soviet sphere.[2] Historians often consider it as the start of the Cold War, and the start of the containment policy to stop Soviet expansion.[3] President Harry S. Truman told Congress the Doctrine was "to support free people who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures."[4] Truman reasoned, because these "totalitarian regimes" coerced "free peoples", they represented a threat to international peace and the national security of the United States. Truman made the plea amid the crisis of the Greek Civil War (1946–1949). He argued that if Greece and Turkey did not receive the aid that they urgently needed, they would inevitably fall to communism with grave consequences throughout the region. Because Turkey and Greece were historic rivals, it was necessary to help both equally, even though the threat to Greece was more immediate.

For years Britain had supported Greece, but was now near bankruptcy and was forced to radically reduce its involvement. In February 1947, Britain formally requested the United States take over its role in supporting the Greek government.[5]

The policy won the support of Republicans who controlled Congress and involved sending $400 million in American money, but no military forces, to the region. The effect was to end the Communist threat, and in 1952 both countries (Greece and Turkey) joined NATO, a military alliance that guaranteed their protection.[6]

The Doctrine was informally extended to become the basis of American Cold War policy throughout Europe and around the world.[7] It shifted American foreign policy toward the Soviet Union from détente (a relaxation of tension) to a policy of containment of Soviet expansion as advocated by diplomat George Kennan.

Regional crisis

In 1946-47, the United States and the Soviet Union moved from being wartime allies to Cold War adversaries. During that time, Soviet imperialism in Eastern Europe, its delayed withdrawal from Iran, and the breakdown of Allied cooperation in Germany provide the backdrop of escalating tensions for the Truman Doctrine; the U.S. response has been much debated by historians.[7] Truman himself had first become suspicious in dealing with the Soviets at the Potsdam Conference,[8] the Soviet reluctance to withdraw from Iran on schedule in early March 1946, reinforced his concern. A few days later, Churchill delivered his “Iron Curtain” speech about developments in Europe.[9]

To Truman, with growing unrest in Greece, it began to look like a pincer movement against the oil-rich areas of the Middle East and the warm-water ports of the Mediterranean.[10] Truman was critical of Secretary of State Byrnes, both over being "left in the dark" about the Moscow conference, and that Iran had not been on the agenda. In a subsequent letter to him, Truman wrote "I think we ought to protest with all vigor... against the Russian program in Iran. ... Unless Russia is faced with an iron fist and strong language another war is in the making. Only one language do they understand...I do not think we should play compromise any longer...I am tired of babying the Soviets."[9] On 30 January 1946 the UN Security Council approved Resolution 2 concerning the Soviet withdrawal from Iran; Resolutions 3 and 5 were also approved in April and May.

In February 1946, Kennan, an American diplomat in Moscow, sent his famed "Long Telegram", which predicted the Soviets would only respond to force and that the best way to handle them would be through a long-term strategy of containment, that is stopping their geographical expansion. After the British warned that they could no longer help Greece, and following Prime Minister Tsaldaris's visit to Washington in December 1946 to ask for American assistance,[11] the U.S. State Department formulated a plan. Aid would be given to both Greece and Turkey, to help cool the long-standing rivalry between them. In March 1947, President Truman appeared before Congress and used Kennan's Containment policy as the basis for what became known as the Truman Doctrine.

To pass any legislation Truman needed the support of the Republicans, who controlled both houses of Congress. The chief Republican spokesman Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg strongly supported Truman and overcame the doubts of isolationists such as Senator Robert A. Taft.

American policy makers recognized the instability of the region, fearing that if Greece was lost to Communism, Turkey would not last long. Similarly, if Turkey yielded to Soviet demands, the position of Greece would be endangered.[12] That is, it was a regional domino effect threat that guided the American decision. Greece and Turkey were strategic allies important for geographical reasons as well, for the fall of Greece would put the Soviets on a particularly dangerous flank for the Turks, and strengthen the Soviet Union's ability to cut off allied supply lines in the event of war.[13]

The Truman Doctrine was the first in a series of containment moves by the United States, followed by economic restoration of Western Europe through the Marshall Plan and military containment by the creation of NATO in 1949. President Truman made the proclamation in an address to the U.S. Congress on March 12, 1947, amid the crisis of the Greek Civil War (1946–1949). Truman insisted that if Greece and Turkey did not receive the aid that they needed, they would inevitably fall to Communism with consequences throughout the region.

In 1950, Truman signed the top-secret policy plan NSC-68, which shifted foreign policy from passive to active containment. The document differed from Kennan's original notion of containment outlined in the "X" article, containing much harsher anti-Communist rhetoric. NSC-68 explicitly stated that the Communists planned for world domination.


In the second stage of the civil war in December (The Dekemvriana), the British helped prevent the seizure of Athens by the National Liberation Front (EAM), controlled effectively by the Greek Communist Party (KKE). In the third phase (1946–1949), guerrilla forces controlled by the Greek Communist Party (KKE) fought against the internationally recognized Greek government which was formed after 1946 elections boycotted by the KKE. The British realized that the Greek leftists were being directly funded by Josip Broz Tito in neighboring Yugoslavia; the Greek communists received little help directly from the Soviet Union, while Yugoslavia provided support and sanctuary.[14] By late 1946 the weakening British economy meant the British could no longer support Greece, and so London asked the U.S. to step in.[15]

The U.S. Congress in May 1947, responding to Truman's plea, granted Greece $400 million in military and economic aid. Increased American aid helped defeat the KKE, after interim defeats for government forces from 1946 to 1948.


At the conclusion of World War II, Stalin demanded partial control of the Dardanelles, a strategic passage between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Since British assistance to Turkey had ended in 1947, the U.S. dispatched military aid to ensure that Turkey would retain chief control of the passage. Turkey received $100 million in economic and military aid. The postwar period from 1946 started with a "multi-party period" and the Democratic Party government of Adnan Menderes.[16]

Long-term policy and metaphor

The Truman Doctrine underpinned American Cold War policy in Europe and around the world. The doctrine endured because it addressed a broader cultural insecurity regarding modern life in a globalized world. It dealt with Washington's concern over communism's domino effect, it enabled a media-sensitive presentation of the doctrine that won bipartisan support, and it mobilized American economic power to modernize and stabilize unstable regions without direct military intervention. It brought nation-building activities and modernization programs to the forefront of foreign policy.[7]

The Truman Doctrine became a metaphor for emergency aid to keep a nation from communist influence. Truman used disease imagery not only to communicate a sense of impending disaster in the spread of communism but also to create a "rhetorical vision" of containing it by extending a protective shield around non-communist countries throughout the world. It echoed the "quarantine the aggressor" policy Franklin Delano Roosevelt sought to impose to contain German and Japanese expansion in 1937--("quarantine" suggested the role of public health officials handling an infectious disease). The medical metaphor extended beyond the immediate aims of the Truman Doctrine in that the imagery combined with fire and flood imagery evocative of disaster provided the United States with an easy transition to direct military confrontation in later years with communist forces in Korea and Vietnam. By presenting ideological differences in life or death terms, Truman was able to garner support for this communism-containing policy.[17]

See also

Special Message to Congress on Greece and Turkey

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  1. listen to speech
  2. "Special Message to the Congress on Greece and Turkey: The Truman Doctrine." Truman Library Public Papers, 12 March 1947. Web. May. 2010. <>
  3. Fraser J. Harbutt, The Cold War era (Wiley-Blackwell, 2002) pp 19–20
  4. Michael Beschloss (2006). Our Documents: 100 Milestone Documents From The National Archives. Oxford University Press. pp. 194–99. ISBN 9780195309591. 
  5. Alan Bullock, Ernest Bevin: Foreign Secretary pp 368–9; Arnold Offner, Another Such Victory: President Truman and the Cold War, 1945–2002 (2002) p 197; Denise M. Bostdorff, Proclaiming the Truman Doctrine (2008) p 51
  6. George McGhee, The U.S.-Turkish-NATO Middle East Connection: How the Truman Doctrine and Turkey's NATO Entry Contained the Soviets in the Middle East, (1990)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Dennis Merrill, "The Truman Doctrine: Containing Communism and Modernity," Presidential Studies Quarterly, March 2006, Vol. 36(1) pp. 27–37. ISSN 0360-4918 online edition
  8. ”when ... Stalin objected to Churchill’s proposal for an early allied withdrawal from Iran, that is, ahead of the agreed upon schedule”, set at the earlier Teheran Conference. George Lenczowski, American Presidents and the Middle East. Duke University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-8223-0972-6., p.10, citing Harry S Truman, Memoirs, Vol. 1: Years of Decision (1955), p.380
  9. 9.0 9.1 Lenczowski, American Presidents and the Middle East, p.10-11, citing Harry S Truman, Memoirs, Vol. 1: Years of Decision (1955), p.523; 551-52.
  10. Painter 2012, p. 29: "Although circumstances differed greatly in Greece, Turkey, and Iran, U.S. officials interpreted events in all three places as part of a Soviet plan to dominate the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Mention of oil was deliberately deleted from President Harry S. Truman's March 12, 1947, address before Congress pledging resistance to communist expansion anywhere in the world; but guarding access to oil was an important part of the Truman Doctrine."
  11. Freeland, Richard M. (1970). The Truman Doctrine and the Origins of McCarthyism. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.. pp. g. 90. 
  12. Spalding, Elizabeth Edwards (2006). The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, Containment, and the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism. The University Press of Kentucky. pp. 64. 
  13. McGhee, George (1990). The US-Turkish-NATO Middle East Connection: How the Truman Doctrine Contained the Soviets in the Middle East. St. Harry’s Press. pp. g. 21. 
  14. Bærentzen, Lars, John O. Iatrides, and Ole Langwitz. Smith. Studies in the History of the Greek Civil War, 1945–1949. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum, 1987. 276. Google Books. Web. 28 Apr. 2010. online
  15. Bullock, Ernest Bevin: Foreign Secretary (1983) ch 8
  16. Barın Kayaoğlu, "Strategic imperatives, Democratic rhetoric: The United States and Turkey, 1945–52." Cold War History, Aug 2009, Vol. 9(3) pp. 321–345
  17. Robert L. Ivie, "Fire, Flood, and Red Fever: Motivating Metaphors of Global Emergency in the Truman Doctrine Speech." Presidential Studies Quarterly 1999 29(3). pp. 570–591.


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