Truman Administration

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The present essay endeavors to examine the subtle shift in American foreign policy within the Truman administration, as a response to the Soviet threat. When attempting to analyze US Cold War national security policy, strategies revolve around a central concept, that of containment. In the context of the competition between these two major poles of power, USA focused on finding adequate political approaches so as to restrain the Soviet Union’s expansionist policy, marked by the spread of Marxist-Leninist ideology.

Without any doubt, one of the most notable shifts in the national security strategy of containment consisted in the perception of available means. Those who believed US means were limited tended towards a more asymmetric response in correlation with the Red danger, while those administrations who believed the American economy could produce the necessary means on demand tended towards symmetric responses, preferring a more spontaneous approach towards the Soviet Union.

Regarding the Truman Doctrine, it refers especially to economic and financial actions undertaken by USA so as to safeguard democracy throughout the Greek and Turkish territories, as they were majorly influenced by Communist terrorist acts directed against the government. In a speech in front of the Congress, Truman asked for the approval of US$400 million in support for Greece and Turkey, as well as the authorization of sending American civil and military personnel to supervise financial aid and train Greek personnel.

Among USA’s foreign policy primary objectives following the end of the War was the necessity to abolish the totalitarian desires of countries such as Germany and Japan, against which USA previously engaged in war. However, the Soviet line of action made it also to became a threat, as totalitarian regimes were forced upon states (Poland, Romania, Bulgaria), thus violating the Yalta Agreement. There is no denying that USA saw this as an opportunity to gain allies right in the heartland of totalitarian regimes. Under the guise of wanting to ensure an ongoing stability within Europe, American interests go far beyond.

As such, it can be considered that America was interested in promoting an open society, characterized by a free flow of capital. However, it is not to say that Eastern Europe was indispensable to the Unites States. But one cannot deny that “control over strategic points within these states and over their resources would represent a significant addition to the war potential of an adjacent great power.” In a speech before the Congress, Truman declared: “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.”

Moreover, Truman oriented his political approach towards the creation of an economic merger between the U.S. and British occupation zones, which was announced on May 29, 1947, under the concept of “German Bizonia”. Along with a new US policy, these measures were intended to end Germany’s punitive period and to make its economy self-sufficient. Apart from helping Greece and Turkey economically, USA also became the promoter of the Marshall Plan, in an effort to provide massive aid to a war-devastated Western Europe. In their effort to suppress the internal sources of conflict that the Communists were taking advantage of in the promotion of their ideology, along with their courageous attempts to rebuild the industrial spheres affected by war, the United States endeavored to set an example of economy-based policy having priority to military-oriented ones. In other words, USA would rather help Europe reconstruct its national economies, than help them against the Soviet Union.

Notwithstanding USA’s intentions, both the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan entailed an acceleration of the Soviet necessity for a response. Accordingly, this resulted in the Berlin crisis, which “had arisen as a result of ( ) actions on the part of the Western Powers”. On June 24, 1948, Soviet occupation forces in the Eastern zone blocked Allied road and rail access to the Western zones of Berlin. There were some voices within the Truman administration in favor of sending an armed convoy along the access routes to assert Allied rights, but neither the Joint Chiefs nor the British and French were prepared to risk war. Instead, the United States responded with an enormous airlift to keep western Berlin supplied with food, fuel, and medicine.

Although undoubtedly influenced by his predecessors, Wilson and Roosevelt, Harry Truman did not continue previously developed theories, but instead, he coined a liberal internationalist theory that correlated national interests with foreign policy resolutions. Truman continued up to some extent Wilson’s speech, in the sense that he militated for the abolition of unjustified military actions, acts of imperialism or political decisions based on the balance of powers. But the difference sets in when interpreting the means to acquire such an internationalization of freedom on a global scale. While for Wilson, this could be achieved through the establishment of a single international organization (the League of Nations), Truman was more inclined to believe in collective defense (NATO).


Brown Jr., W.; Opie, R. (1954), American Foreign Assistance, Washington DC: The Brookings Institution, p. 124-131.

Department of State Bulletin, Vol. 19, 1947, p. 831, available online at:, [25.05.2012].

Department of State Bulletin, Vol. 19, 1947, p. 831-832, available online at:, [25.05.2012].

Drew, S. Nelson; Nitze, Paul H. (1994), NSC-68 forging the strategy of containment, Washington DC: National Defense University Press, p. 6-17.

Edwards Spalding, Elizabeth (2006), The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, Containment, And the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism, Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, p. 9-13.

Evans, G. and Newnham, J. (1998), The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations, London: Penguin Books, p. 546.

Gaddis, John Lewis (1982), Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 59-126.

Gillon, Steven M. (2007), The American Paradox: A History of the United States Since 1945, Wadsworth: Cengage Learning, p. 7.

Goodhart, A. (1951), The North Atlantic Treaty of 1949, Recueil des Cours, p. 218-219.

Jones, Howard (1989), A New Kind of War: America's Global Strategy and the Truman Doctrine in Greece, New York: oxford University Press, p. 36.

Kaufman, Joyce P. (2010), A Concise History of U.S. Foreign Policy, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, p. 83.

Leffler, Melvyn P. (1994), “National Security and US Foreign Policy” in Leffler, Melvyn P.; Painter, David S., Origins of the Cold War: An International History, London: Routledge, p. 32-34.

Leffler, Melvyn P. (1992), A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War, Stanford: Stanford University Press, p. 50.

Mayers, David (1988), George Kennan and the Dilemmas of US Foreign Policy, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 113, 305.

Miscamble, Wilson D. (1992), George F. Kennan and the Making of American Foreign Policy, 1947-1950, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, p. 32.

The Institute for Economic Democracy, NSC-68, the Master Plan for the Cold War, available online at:, [26.05.2012].

Truman, Harry (1998), “The Truman Doctrine” in Tuathail, Gearóid Ó; Dalby, Simon; Routledge, Paul, The Geopolitics Reader, London: Routledge, p. 58-60.

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