The Cold War and U.S. Diplomacy Bear: The Truman Doctrine

The United States of America has been a major policy shaper in the world as regards international relations. More often than not, the occupant of the Oval Office has been required, in his capacity as president, to make major decisions with far-reaching effects in the international arena. Top security officials and advisors aid him by rendering the necessary advice, but the final decision lies with him. The direction and path along which he ‘sails’ his country have often been the basis of a doctrine associated with him, and which shapes American foreign policy. Such doctrines often dictate diplomatic policies and approaches. Here, the Truman Doctrine is examined.

President Harry Truman will always remain one of the most influential figures in the history of the United States of America and that of the world in general. Historians have argued that the Cold War started during the Truman reign, perhaps because that was when the containment policy began (Bostdorff, 2008). This was a policy meant to stop further expansion of the Soviet Union and thus reduce its sphere of influence.

It should be noted that in the period that followed the end of World War I, relations between the Soviet Union and the United States of America changed (McGhee, 1989). Previously they had been wartime allies but then became Cold War adversaries. At that time, the breakdown of Allied co-operation in Germany, Soviet imperialism in Eastern Europe and its delayed withdrawal from Iran provided the backdrop of growing tensions for the Truman Doctrine. Truman had become personally concerned and suspicious in dealing with the Soviet Union at the Potsdam Conference. The Soviets had been scheduled to pull out of Iran in early March 1946 but their reluctance to do this reinforced his concern. The ‘Iron Curtain’ speech delivered by Winston Churchill on developments in Europe a few days later gave him another reason to act.

Perhaps one of the most significant developments prior to the formulation of the Truman Doctrine was the famed ‘Long Telegram’ by Kennan who was, at that time, an American diplomat in Moscow. It predicted that the only way the Soviets would respond was if force was applied and a general long-term strategy of containment adopted so as to limit their geographical expansion (Harris, 2013). For many years, the British had been supporting Greece but they were now faced with bankruptcy. As a result they were forced to reduce their involvement and instead asked the US to take over its role. In December 1946, Prime Minister Tsaldaris visited Washington, seeking American assistance. His plea was not granted until the U.S State Department officially formulated a plan that would see Turkey and Greece be given aid that would help cool their long-standing rivalry. In March 1947, the president (Truman) appeared before Congress. Using Kennan’s Containment Policy as the basis, he came up with what became to be commonly known as the Truman Doctrine.

In his address to Congress, Truman said the Doctrine was to support free people who were resisting subjugation attempts by armed minorities or simply fighting against foreign pressures. He argued that in coercing free people, these ‘totalitarian regimes’ were a threat to international peace in general and the national security of the United States in particular (Harris, 2013). As the Greek Civil War was going on that time, he argued that Greece and Turkey needed help immediately, lest they fall into communism hands, and such a development would have grave consequences in the entire region. Despite Turkey and Greece being rivals historically, it was important that they both be helped equally as this would go a long way in easing tensions between them. Following Truman’s plea, the insecurity of the region was recognized by American policy makers. They feared that if Greece fell to communism, then Turkey would not last long either. Similarly, Turkey becoming under communism control would mean Greece was greatly endangered (Harris, 2013). In this view, Truman received the support of Republicans who controlled both houses of the Congress at that time to pass the necessary legislation.

As a result, Greece received $400 million of U.S economic and military aid (Lalaki, 2012). This is what helped Greece defeat guerilla forces controlled by the Greek Communist Party (KKE) after government forces were repeatedly defeated between 1946 and 1948.In addition, the U.S dispatched military aid to help Turkey retain control of Dardanelles, a very strategic passage between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, whose control the Soviet Union demanded (McGhee, 1989). This Doctrine was the first in a series of containment measures by the United States. It was to be followed later in 1950 by the NSC-68, a top secret security plan signed by Truman that shifted foreign containment policy from passive to active.

The Truman Doctrine formed the basis of American Cold War policy around the world. It endured because it addressed head-on a broader cultural insecurity as far as life in a modern globalized world was concerned. Through it, Washington was able to deal with the domino effect of communism. Its media-sensitive presentation enabled it win a wider bipartisan support, and American economic power was mobilized to help stabilize and modernize unstable regions without necessarily using direct military intervention. Modernization programs and other nation-building activities were brought to the forefront in foreign policy. In efforts to keep nations from communist influence, the doctrine was used as a metaphor for intervention through emergency aid (Bostdorff, 2008). However, it is important to note that this much attention on foreign aid shifted focus from local issues that needed to be addressed. This is to say that there were Americans that time that needed more aid than foreigners but they did not get the attention they needed because much focus was on foreign matters, majorly how to contain the spread of communism. The doctrine further stretched the national budget of the United States since the government was so much involved in foreign nation-building and offering economic and military aid.

In conclusion, much of the U.S foreign policy was based on the Truman Doctrine, even long after his reign. It was applied in the years that followed to fight communism influence even in remote Africa. One would be right to say most third-world countries benefited greatly from this doctrine.


Bostdorff, D. M. (2008). Proclaiming the Truman Doctrine: The Cold War call to arms. College Station: Texas A & M University Press.

Harris, W. D., Combat Studies Institute (U.S.)., & Command and General Staff College (U.S.),. (2013). Instilling aggressiveness: US advisors and Greek combat leadership in the Greek Civil War, 1947-1949.

Lalaki, D. E. S. P. I. N. A. (December 01, 2012). On the Social Construction of Hellenism Cold War Narratives of Modernity, Development and Democracy for Greece. Journal of Historical Sociology, 25, 4, 552-577.

McGhee, G. C. (1989). 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.

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