What was the Truman Doctrine?

Gerardo Ortiz, Stephen Benz
  • Author
    Gerardo Ortiz

    Gerardo Ortiz is currently earning an MS in Instructional Design & Technology from Full Sail. He earned a BA in Secondary English Education, specializing in Spanish learners, from the University of Puerto Rico. He has been certified by the DE of PR and has been teaching for the better part of ten years. Most of his experience has been with high schoolers, but he's taught elementary school, tutored college and instructed adults.

  • Instructor
    Stephen Benz

    Stephen has a JD and a BA in sociology and political science.

What was the Truman Doctrine? Learn about the Truman Doctrine significance and importance, containment policy, and the overall goal of the doctrine. Examples of the Truman Doctrine in use are provided. Updated: 07/28/2021

Table of Contents


What was the Truman Doctrine?

The Truman Doctrine was a widely influential American foreign policy by United States President Harry S. Truman. The doctrine was presented to Congress initially in 1947 regarding the United States' position on communism, vowing to stop its spread, provide monetary aid, and other support to South Eastern European countries that he believed were vulnerable to Soviet influence. The Truman Doctrine provided the philosophical underpinnings for the U.S. prosecution of the Cold War and remained a core tenant of U.S. and Soviet relations until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In the years following World War II, the doctrine was created; most of the world found itself in a state of geopolitical turmoil, meaning countries faced problems with borders, government(s), and infrastructure. Strong nations found themselves to be supremely strong; weak nations were desperately impoverished and dangerously vulnerable.

The geopolitical dichotomy sparked the rapid spread of the "Communist Manifesto," Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels created. Despite the book having been published almost a hundred years prior, this book essentially spreads the idea of equitable earnings and distribution of resources administered by the working class, which is deemed the backbone of society.

Containment Policy: Definition

The definition of containment policy is to contain the expansion of opposing ideology, influence, or power. It is believed this policy was inspired by the writings of diplomat and political scientist George F. Kennan, who concluded the Soviets were, by nature, expansionists and needed to be contained.

Soviet expansionism at the end of the previous World War. Russian revolutionaries, also known as Bolsheviks, were led by Vladimir Lenin. Lenin took advantage of the disorder and instability in his country and implemented a communist government based on the philosophy of sociologist Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. A prolonged and bloody civil war ensued, one riddled in collateral damage and the death of innocent Russian civilians. Eventually, Lenin's "Red Army" prevailed over allied forces of monarchy, capitalism, and democratic socialism, known as the "White Army." After the Bolshevik Revolution, Marxism-Leninism spread to the neighboring countries such as Ukraine, forming the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, compromising: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, and others. This expansion would have also included Greece and Turkey had the containment policy not been applied; logistical support was provided to both countries.

Lenin's successor, Joseph Stalin, was of a similar mindset; determined to hold on to power, make communism a success, and prove Marx's theories true, Stalin ruled with a level of brutality that surpassed his iron-fisted mentor and predecessor. Stalin proved to be a merciless dictator. Stalin's ruthlessness further confirmed the need for the Truman Doctrine and its policy of containment.

The Soviets were allied with the United States during WWII. However, given the ruins most of Europe found itself, it was the perfect time for remaining super powers, which is a term reserved for countries with the most significant socio-economic, cultural, and military infrastructure, to expand their respective sphere of influence. The Soviet Union's sphere of influence was known as the Iron Curtain and extended to Central and Eastern Europe, Cuba, Laos, and others. The U.S. sphere of influence currently includes the mainland, its territories, and allies: Puerto Rico, Guam, Canada, U.K., and others.

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  • 0:49 Historical Background
  • 1:59 Mr. X
  • 2:42 The Truman Doctrine
  • 3:27 What Was Containment?
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U.S. sphere of influence, aka First World (Blue), the Soviet Iron Curtain aka Second World (Red), the neutral Third World (Green)

What was the Goal of the Truman Doctrine?

The goal of the Truman Doctrine was to contain and prevent the communist sphere of influence in governments around the world, specifically around Asia and Europe, and prevent the Soviet Union (USSR) from growing.

Following the conflict in Greece and Turkey, Truman would further add to the policy in 1948-49, avowing to prevent communism from taking over in those countries.

The Truman Administration

Following the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt while in office, Vice President Harry S. Truman was sworn in during WWII in 1945. Truman had served as vice president for fewer than three months and now had to start taking affirmative action as president in the face of war.

Given that the USSR and the U.S. were allies during the end of the War, pre-Truman Doctrine foreign policy was more liberal. Truman gave the USSR the benefit of the doubt once the Soviets agreed not to spread Communism to the unstable European governments. Much to the chagrin of his administration, Truman's foreign policy was not as hands-on as it could have been and allowed the Soviets to go back on their promise and establish a puppet government in Poland.

During the rest of his first year as president, Truman showed firmness by ordering the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leading to the surrender of Japan and the end of the Second World War. The following year, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited the U.S. where he delivered a speech known as the Iron Curtain speech where he was adamant that the U.S. and U.K. join forces to prevent the growing threat of communist ideology.

Crisis in Turkey

During the Cold War-era, Turkey became pressured by the Soviet Union into granting them clear passage through the Turkish Straits, prompting it be called the Turkish Straits crisis, which allowed Soviet navy ships to cross more efficiently into the Aegean Sea and then the Mediterranean. Turkey did not give in but could not hold the Soviet Union off themselves; they received the same logistical support as Greece. With the support, the Turks managed to stave off falling into the sphere of influence of the Soviets and continued supporting the policy of containment through the Truman Doctrine. Assisting Turkey was crucial in solidifying the need for the Truman Doctrine and its containment policy, requiring Turkey to be a member of NATO since 1952.

The Crisis in Greece

Much like in Spain in 1936, a civil war erupted in Greece 10 years later, during World War II. The Greek Civil War caused internal conflict in Greece over which side of the war to support. A few years prior, in 1941, the German occupation of Greece forced the local government to flee, allowing the ability for opposing factions to seize control of the government. Some civilians remained loyal to the previous capitalist monarchy, and others were part of the Greek communist party. Left-leaning factions in Greece were left only with logistical support from smaller communist governments like Yugoslavia. The conflict ended years later in 1949 and was finalized in 1952 with the incorporation of Greece into North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

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Frequently Asked Questions

How did Truman Doctrine affect the Cold War?

The speech in which President Truman presented his doctrine was considered the start date of the Cold War. The Truman Doctrine served as the U.S. strategy during the Cold War and served as a milestone in US foreign policy and foreign affairs.

What was the Truman Doctrine also known as?

The Truman Doctrine is a term usually used interchangeably with the U.S. Policy of Containment. This term was inspired by diplomat George F. Kennan who felt that communism needed to be "contained."

What was the major purpose of the Truman Doctrine?

The major purpose of the Truman Doctrine was to control the growth of the USSR and the spread of Communism to other countries.

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