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Truman Doctrine: Facts, Significance, and Summary

Akshay Chavan Feb 29, 2020
The Truman Doctrine influenced US approach towards the Soviet Union for almost 40 years. Are you wondering what was the purpose of this doctrine, or if it was a cause of the Cold War? This post answers such questions, as it deals with the summary, important facts, and historical significance of the Truman Doctrine of 1947.

Did You Know?

The Truman Doctrine is considered by many to be the actual declaration of the Cold War.
The end of the Second World War sparked tensions between USA and the Soviet Union. The two had been allies during the war, and had negotiated the division of post-war Europe. One of the most important promises made was that democracy would be established in all the liberated nations.
However, the USSR reneged on its promise, and established communist governments in almost all of Eastern Europe, much to the chagrin of Britain and USA.
It also delayed the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Northern Iran till 1946, and instead pressurized the country to give it concessions to oil fields, all the while allowing Azerbaijani separatism. Moreover, the Soviet Union refused to sign the 1946 Baruch Plan, which called for nuclear disarmament.
What really upped the ante was the Greek civil war, which was allegedly fostered by the Soviets, to set up a communist government. At around the same time, in 1946, the USSR wanted control of the Dardanelles Strait which belonged to Turkey.
As the British power was on the wane, the US realized that they had to step in and protect Greece and Turkey. However, this would require a change in their foreign policy, which tended towards non-interference in wars. In this context, America began following the Truman Doctrine from 1947.

Important Facts About the Truman Doctrine

● US President Harry Truman delivered his famous speech to Congress, on March 12, 1947. This would set the stage for a new American foreign policy, called the Truman Doctrine.
● In his address, Truman asked Congress to approve political, military, and economic aid worth $400 million, to both, Greece and Turkey, to protect them from communism and to bolster democracy.

● Congress approved his proposal in two months, and it was signed into law on May 22, 1947.
● As a result of this doctrine, Greece was provided with an aid of $338 million. Half of this included food and economic aid, while the other half was spent on military aid, especially on dive bomber aircraft and napalm bombs.

● From the $100 million aid given to Turkey, $80 million was spent on military supplies, $4.5 million on constructing roads, and the remaining on food and the economy.
● This doctrine was successful on both counts, as Greece was able to decisively defeat the communists in its north by 1949, while Turkey was able to stand up to the Soviet pressure in the Dardanelles. Moreover, both countries joined NATO in 1952, which guaranteed military intervention in case of an attack on them.


The Truman Doctrine was borne out of the power struggle between the Soviet Union and USA after the end of the Second World War. Though the president did not specifically mention the culprit in his speech, it was an obvious reference to the Soviets, who were thought to be behind all the unrest in Europe at the time.
After the war, most nations of Eastern Europe were ruled by communist governments, which were controlled by the Soviet leader Stalin from Moscow. When the Greek monarchy faced resistance from communist fighters, USA incorrectly thought that the terrorists received support from Stalin himself.
It was later found that Josip Tito, the communist leader of Yugoslavia, who had broken off from Stalin in 1946, was behind the unrest. The defeat of the Greek communists, was, in part, due to the US aid, and also because towards 1949 Tito had ceased financing them.
Following World War 2, a large part of the Soviet Navy was stationed in the Black Sea, to the North of Turkey. They wanted to access the Mediterranean, but for this, they needed access to a narrow strait of water called the Dardanelles, which was in Turkey's territory. This is why the USSR began pressurizing Turkey.
The US feared that control over the Mediterranean would give a strategic advantage to the Soviet Navy, helping it to choke Allied supply lines in case of a war.
Before the two World Wars, Great Britain was the dominant colonial power of the world. However, the two wars drained it to such an extent, that it informed USA in February 1947 that it wouldn't be able to assist Greece and Turkey after March 31.
This created fears in the US that the power vacuum formed after the British withdrawal may cause communism to spread to these countries, which may harm US interests in the region. Besides, the US wished to take over as the world's dominant superpower from the British.
The Truman Doctrine marked a shift in US policy from isolationism, i.e., not intervening in wars outside the Western Hemisphere, to limited interventionism, where the US intervenes in wars which may harm its interests, a policy which continues to this day.
The US President's speech was not taken well by the Soviet Union, who protested to the UN that the US was violating an agreement signed in December 1946, where UN members pledged not to use international aid as a political tool.
In his speech, Truman popularly compares the capitalist and communist forms of government, saying that the former represents the voice of the majority where individual freedoms are guaranteed, while the latter involves oppression and fixed elections.
He created an 'us-versus-them' comparison to possibly obtain support from the US public, who generally preferred non-involvement in wars. This would lead to the Red Scare in the country in 1950.
Many historians call Truman's speech as the starting point of the Cold War, which would influence US foreign policy for the next 40 years or so.
While some say this doctrine aimed to only check further spread of communism to other countries without any aggression towards Soviet territory, others feel that it set the tone for a more aggressive policy, as many American senators wanted USA to directly take on the Soviets.
The US Ambassador to the Soviet Union, George Kennan, sent an ominous telegram to the US State Department in February 1946, which basically warned that the Soviet Union had plans for world domination. It considered capitalism as its enemy, and the US should only treat it as a political rival. This played a major role in formulating the Truman Doctrine.
To allay the fears over the enormous expenditure of $400 million, which was unusual during times of peace, Truman called the amount 'little more than one tenth of one percent' of the $381 billion spent by the country to fight World War 2. According to him, such an amount was a valid investment to maintain world peace.
Another reason for the development of the Truman Doctrine was the 'Domino Effect', as explained to the president by Undersecretary Dean Acheson, a fortnight before the speech. According to Acheson, if even one country was taken over by the communists, all the others would soon follow like a row of dominoes.
This is why the US entered the Korean and Vietnam Wars, when communism threatened to take over these countries.
This doctrine directly resulted in the Marshall Plan, which was passed by Congress in 1948. This was another policy to contain the spread of communism, by providing financial aid to both, communist as well as non-communist countries of Europe.
The US developed a policy to create a world alliance of friendly countries by helping them financially and militarily. This ultimately led to the development of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. Members of this organization agree to defend each other militarily when facing an invasion.


On March 12, 1947, US President Harry S. Truman addressed a joint session of Congress. In his speech, he highlighted the hardships suffered by Greece during the Second World War, and how its economy had been totally devastated as a result.
Despite a couple of years having passed by, the country had not been able to take the path to progress, despite the democratically-elected government trying its best.
One of the main problems facing the Greeks was an armed rebellion by communist fighters in the northern part of the country, which could not be dealt with by its ill-equipped army. The ensuing strife did not let the economy recover, and, as a result, Greece did not have enough funds even for the import of essential commodities like clothing and seeds.
The president named Turkey as another victim of aggression, which, despite being relatively unscathed by the World War, now needed assistance to protect the integrity of its borders. Truman said that, since Great Britain and the United Nations couldn't provide the required help, it was time for the US to offer its support.
He sought support from Congress for his plan to offer $400 million worth of military and economic resources, together with the allocation of trained personnel for assistance to Greece and Turkey, at the request of their respective governments.
The Truman Doctrine was originally intended for Greece and Turkey. Whether it helped these two countries is a hotly-debated topic, since both countries set up repressive, right-wing governments, following American aid. However, it surely conveyed the message to the USSR, that its efforts to spread communism, would no longer go unchecked.