The Truman Doctrine and the Cold War

President Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson set the United States on a cold war course that began with the formulation of the Truman Doctrine in 1947 and didn't end until eight presidents later with the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Harry Truman Library

The Truman Doctrine was a key part of the Cold War, both in how this conflict of posturing and puppets began, and how it developed over the years. The doctrine was policy to "support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures," and announced on March 12th, 1947 by US President Harry Truman, making the doctrine US government policy for decades.

The Start of the Truman Doctrine

The doctrine was dreamed up in response to crises in Greece and Turkey, nations which Americans believed were in danger of falling into the Soviet sphere of influence. The US and the USSR had been in alliance during the Second World War, but this was to defeat a common enemy in the Germans and the Japanese. When the war ended and Stalin was left in control of Eastern Europe, which he had conquered and intended to subjugate, the US realized the world was left with two superpowers, and one was as bad as the Nazis they had just defeated and far stronger than before. Fear was mixed with paranoia and a little bit of guilt. A conflict was possible, depending on how both sides reacted... and they produced one.

While there was no realistic way to free Eastern Europe from Soviet domination, Truman and the US wanted to stop any further countries falling within their control, and the president's speech promised monetary aid and military advisors to Greece and Turkey to stop them buckling. However, the doctrine was not just aimed at these two, but expanded worldwide as part of the Cold War to cover assistance to all nations threatened by communism and the Soviet Union, involving the US with western Europe, Korea, and Vietnam among others.

A major part of the doctrine was the policy of containment. The Truman Doctrine was developed in 1950 by NSC-68 (National Security Council Report 68) which assumed the Soviet Union was trying to spread its power across the whole world, decided that the US should stop this and advocated a more active, military, policy of containment, fully abandoning previous US doctrines like Isolationism. The resulting military budget rose from $13 billion in 1950 to $60 billion in 1951 as the US prepared for the struggle.

Good or Bad?

What did this mean, in practice? On the one hand, it meant the US involving themselves in every region of the world, and this has been described as a constant battle to keep freedom and democracy alive and well where they are threatened, just as Truman announced. On the other, it is becoming increasingly impossible to look at the Truman doctrine without noticing the terrible governments who were supported, and the highly questionable actions taken by the free west, in order to support opponents of the Soviets. 

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Wilde, Robert. "The Truman Doctrine and the Cold War." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Wilde, Robert. (2023, April 5). The Truman Doctrine and the Cold War. Retrieved from Wilde, Robert. "The Truman Doctrine and the Cold War." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).