What was the Truman Doctrine?
The Truman Doctrine was beginning to be formulated in 1946, when George Kennan, US ambassador in Moscow, wrote a ‘long telegram’ claiming that Soviet power was growing, and that the US should follow a policy of ‘containment’ to stop Russian ‘salami tactics’. In September 1946, Clark Clifford, Truman’s most trusted adviser, recommended that America ‘support and assist all democratic countries which are in any way menaced by the USSR’.
Then, in February 1947, the British government announced that it could no longer afford to keep its soldiers fighting Communist rebels in Greece. So, on 12 March 1947, President Truman warned Congress that, without help, Greece would fall to Communism. Nearby Turkey, he added, was in a similar situation. He introduced an idea that if America let one country fall to Communism, all the countries round about would follow (this was later called the ‘domino theory’). Truman said that the Cold War was a choice between freedom and oppression. Therefore, Americans would have to abandon their decision not to get involved in European affairs; America was OBLIGED to get involved: ‘I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.’
Thus Truman’s Speech overturned the Monroe Doctrine and led directly to the Marshall Plan. It set a precedent for the principle of ‘collective security’ – building up a network of allies and friendly states to which the US gave military aid free of charge – and NATO. In America, it whipped up the ‘Red Scare’ of the 1950s. In Russia, it convinced the Soviets that America was indeed attacking Soviet Communism.
Many historians say also that the Truman Doctrine included the policy of ‘containment’ – his speech is sometimes called ‘Truman’s containment speech’ The idea here is, as Clark Clifford said in 1972: ‘we were concerned about preventing Soviet control of larger areas of the world than they already controlled’.
However, Truman’s speech in 1947 did not mention the word – or the idea – ‘containment’, and most of the $338 million he sent to Greece in the next year went on dive bombers and napalm bombs. In fact, there were many in the Truman administration (e.g. Paul Nitze and John Foster Dulles) who wanted actively to oppose the Soviets and, in 1947, Truman formed the CIA, told the Russian ambassador he was not welcome in Washington, and said that America was prepared to fight for peace. On 15 May 1947, Truman said that: ‘We hope that in years ahead more and more nations will come to know the advantages of freedom and liberty.’
Thus is it arguable that the Truman Doctrine was not just a policy of ‘containment’ but, as a modern American University suggests: ‘an American challenge to Soviet ambitions throughout the world’.