In 1947, U.S. President Harry Truman outlined a policy that changed the world forever. The implications were vast and in this article I’ll be explaining the world changing consequences of the Truman doctrine.
I’ll begin by providing a brief history before explaining what it was and what it’s consequences were.
History and reasons for the doctrine
Having just come out of the most devastating war in human history, president Truman was eager to make a difference. He wanted to build a new world order that rested on integrated laws, systems and markets. Liberal democracies and capitalistic countries were a big part of his agenda and he pushed for these during the Potsdam conference. You can imagine how frustrated he was after meeting Stalin.
Joseph Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union. Having driven the Nazis out of his country and all the way back to Germany he wanted to reduce any chance of such a thing happening again. Having driven the Nazis back, the Soviet’s jumped at the opportunity and occupied the eastern European countries.
When Truman pushed Stalin to relinquish his grasp, Stalin is said to have cut him off. First with the word ‘net’ and then with the word ‘no’.
The incident triggered a series of events that would eventually result in ‘the Truman doctrine’
What was the Truman Doctrine?
In 1946 a civil war in Greece between British and Communist backed forces triggered what many in the United States feared. Truman worried that if one country fell to communism, it would have a knock on effect across the globe.
In response, the President created the Truman Doctrine to provide economic and military aid to countries threatened by communism. For Truman this was of the upmost importance. Having already been warned about the futility of working with the Soviet’s by figures like Churchill and Kennan, he made the firm decision to contain the Soviet Union.
What were the consequences of the Truman Doctrine?
According to Oxford University Press, critics and defenders of the Truman doctrine tend to agree that the move marked a significant turning point in U.S foreign policy. They also argue that U.S intervention in Vietnam was a logical and even inevitable consequence of the plan. The consequences of the Truman doctrine can be summarised into 4 basic points:
- Increased U.S involvement in world affairs
- The Marshall Plan
- Cold War with the Soviets
Greater U.S involvement in world affairs
Before The Truman doctrine, the U.S was, generally speaking, an isolated country. Yes, it had intervened in both WWI and II, but only reluctantly. Woodrow Wilson had campaigned for greater U.S involvement after world war one but was defeated by congress. Most Americans didn’t want anything to do with Europe or in fact, the rest of the world for that matter.
Come the end of the second world war and the situation becomes very different. America had become the most powerful country in the world, both militarily and economically.
They realized that whether they liked it or not, the world was becoming more interconnected. By neglecting this, they risked more unprecedented assaults like the one at Pearl Harbour.
The advent of nuclear weapons also prompted greater U.S involvement. In January 1946, President Truman, during a Navy Day Celebration, remarked that “the highest hope of the American people, is that world co-operation for peace will soon reach such a state of perfection, that atomic weapons of destruction can definitely be outlawed forever.” As such, the biggest consequence of the Truman Doctrine was the way it prompted U.S involvement in the world.
The Marshall Plan
Shortly after the doctrine’s announcement, U.S Secretary of State George C Marshall followed it up with his own plan. Like Truman, Marshall feared communist contagion and sought to support Europe economically.
The result was the European Recovery, or, as it is perhaps better known, the Marshall Plan. Through it, Europe gained the support it needed to modernize it’s economy along American lines and open it up to new opportunities for international trade.
The Cold War
Whilst Truman avoided mentioning Stalin or the Soviet Union during his doctrinal announcement, he still alarmed the Communist leader. Having come off the back of Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech, Stalin had grown increasingly suspicious of the western world’s intent.
Whilst some have argued for the cold war’s inevitability, others insist that it was anything but. Some have pointed to Stalin being more interested in defending his country than he was in spreading communism. As a result, and because of the way Stalin interpreted it, the Truman Doctrine may have either unnecessarily or pre-emptively, prompted the cold war.
When making the doctrine public, Truman remarked 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 pressure.’
His actions would very much support his claim. In 1949, America, along with many of the western European countries formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO. This was a military alliance designed to prevent Soviet military expansion.
Amongst it’s most notable laws was article 5 which stipulated that an attack on one is an attack on all and that members would take action they deem necessary to support an ally.
The alliance and article are still in place today and it is perhaps the longest consequence of the Truman Doctrine.
The Truman doctrine marked a decisive turning point in U.S and world history. Had it not been for the doctrine then the world we know today may have ceased to exist. Countries like the U.K, France and, back then, Western Germany, may have become communist and the second half of the 20th century would have played out differently. In saying that, the Soviet system still may have suffered from it’s various problems and it’s collapse may still have come as it did in 1989.
In a time in which Russia is invading Ukraine and tensions are rising between the U.S and China the doctrine is more important than ever and it’s consequences may be valuable lessons for anyone interested in foreign policy.