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The Communism and Its Containment in Truman's Doctrine

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Table of contents

  1. Moscow involvement and the importance of the Soviet Satellites
  2. The Institution of the Truman Doctrine
  3. How the Truman Doctrine was successful
  4. Where the Truman Doctrine failed
  5. Conclusion

Gformer reliance on British supplies (The Truman Doctrine: Containing Communism with Modernity). It can be argued that it was the combination of political and economic vulnerability that led to increased foreign intervention in Greece, which is true because the EAM/ELAS, the EDES, and the KKE needed foreign assistance to overcome the other.

Moscow involvement and the importance of the Soviet Satellites

Meanwhile in the Soviet Union, Stalin took a more conservative approach at assisting the EAM/ELAS, as opposed to how the British did with the EDES. Though he was more than motivated to expand Soviet spheres of influence into Greece, Stalin did not want to provoke the United States. This was because he knew that Soviet assistance to the Greek communists would be breaking the Percentages Agreement made at Yalta, which guaranteed free elections in Greece (Kennedy, 859).

Instead, Moscow took advantage of its eastern bloc countries, most notably, Yugoslavia, as a way to avoid direct involvement. The Soviets strategically utilized Yugoslavia to dispense propaganda to all of Greece, such as the pro-communist “Free Greece” radio, and the Soviet “Izvestia” newspaper (Marantzidis, 45). Moreover, Yugoslavia administered a plethora of weapons, ammunition, and provisions to KKE forces (Marantzidis, 32). Yugoslavia was not the only puppet to Stalin’s plan however. Located just north of Greece, both Albania and Bulgaria supported the Communist Greeks. Albania, for example, agreed to have four hundred KKE cadres take refuge in their country, and later facilitated the transfer of the Greek communist camps to the Balkan Guerilla camps, preventing EDES authorities from putting down the accumulation of communist forces (Marantzidis, 25). Indeed, the EDES forces, who controlled southern Greece, were quickly encroached upon by the three soviet satellites who supported the communist agenda.

The reason why Stalin refrained from marching the Red Army into Greece to take out the EDES is complex and largely disagreed upon. As historian Bruce Kuniholm suggests, Stalin was unsure of the strength of the communist party in Greece. If the party was strong, then Stalin wouldn’t need to take direct action. However, if the party was weak, more involvement would be needed, thus drawing U.S attention (Kuniholm, 105). Although it can be argued that Stalin did not take direct action in Greece because he did not want to provoke the United States, this is only partially true, as it was more so the fact that Stalin was unsure what type of influence would be needed. This is supported by Kuniholm’s theory, of a cautionary Stalin in Greece. Simply put, Stalin was less concerned with a set strategy in Greece, and more so concerned with not provoking the United States. This supports the evidence which asserts that Stalin relied on satellite strength in supporting the communist uprising, rather than direct involvement.

Although Stalin relied heavily on the eastern bloc countries in his pursuit of a communist Greece, that is not to say that he had no control over what each country did. Indeed, Stalin ensured every political decision was made under Soviet advisement. The first example of this is seen in the “Lakes (Limnes) Plan”, which was drafted in April 1947 and approved by the KKE in September the same year. This created a 50,000 to 60,000 troop army to take control over northern Greece, using Thessaloniki (the second largest city in Greece) as a foothold. Though the plan was created by the KKE and its Eastern Bloc allies, it had to be approved by the Soviet Communist Party’s Central Committee (The Truman Doctrine and the beginnings of Global Strategy).

Approving plans was not the only way Moscow gained control over Greece’s communist forces. Moscow also held secret meetings with the KKE, giving their forces strategies and advice. The Soviet Union suggested a two-pronged strategy to their Greek counterparts, urging them to continue political agitation and to prepare for frequent armed struggle (Marantzidis, 26). Often, the KKE disagreed with Soviet advice, and Stalin was unprepared for this type of resistance. For example, when the Central Committee suggested the use of caution in certain conflicts with the EDES, the KKE would instead opt for more force. When the Central Committee continued to urge the Greek communists to be cautious, so as not to provoke the attention of the U.S, some agitated Greek communists leaders fought to seize power and demand direct support from the Soviet Union.

The Institution of the Truman Doctrine

Fearing a Soviet takeover in Greece, President Harry Truman knew immediate action was necessary. Unfortunately for Truman, it would arguably be difficult to gain public support for an intervention in Greece, as U.S citizens had grown to enjoy the thriving wartime economy created by WWII (Kennedy). Americans were in no rush to be thrust into a war they knew nothing about, and Truman too believed a third world war was to be avoided at all costs, which meant that his actions needed to appear pro-freedom, but not anti-communist (shallow waves and deeper currents). Furthermore, the U.S now had an obligation to the policies of the United Nations, and had to ensure that they were as non-antagonistic as possible towards the Soviet Union, who had also been acting carefully under the same guidelines. If the United States acted hostile towards the Soviet Union, or pushed for a democratic government in Greece, then Stalin could have easily brought up imperialism charges on Washington. ((The truman doctrine and the beginnings of global strategy).

Nevertheless, Truman devised a plan which would undermine Soviet action in Greece. In order to avoid a violation of the UN charter, or loss of public support, President Truman did not act militaristically and instead worked to win over the Greeks by improving the opinion on Democracy. The blueprint that carried out Truman’s plans in Greece became known as the Truman Doctrine. The Truman Doctrine was strategically crafted to carry out pro-democracy propaganda, through various anti-communist papers, and concurrently gave Greece the economic assistance it desperately needed. In order to avoid imperialism charges, the EDES sent a formal request for United States’ assistance (The truman doctrine and the beginnings of global strategy). With the UN pressure to remain anti-imperialistic subdued, Truman formally announced his policy of containment in a speech on 12 March 1947. In his speech, Truman asserted that not only was the Greek military “Poorly equipped” and in need of “…supplies and equipment if it is to restore the authority of the government throughout Greek territory” but more importantly he proclaimed that the UN could not handle the issue due to a lack of funds( The Truman Doctrine) In order to gain public support for a Greek intervention, Truman needed to show the American people why involvement was necessary, stating that “the situation is an urgent one requiring immediate action, and the United Nations and its related organizations are not in a position to extend help of the kind that is required” ( The Truman Doctrine)

Truman also asserted that U.S involvement in Greece would be temporary, which not only helped to gain public support, but was in tandem a way to tame Soviet suspicion of a takeover of Greece. However, Truman stated with certainty that the goal of the U.S in Greece was to “help free peoples to maintain their free institutions and their national integrity against aggressive movements that seek to impose upon them totalitarian regimes”(The Truman Doctrine). This was, however, a direct attack towards Soviet communist pressure on Greece. Lastly, Truman declared that the goal of the Truman Doctrine was to give financial support to Greece and train officials in Greece to run the country without fear.

Ironically, the intervention in Korea in 1950 relied heavily on United Nations forces, despite arguably being a soviet and U.S conflict, not a Soviet-UN conflict. The intervention in Korea was similar to Greece in that in both proxy wars, communist forces worked to take over western forces. Furthermore, in both Greece and Korea, the communist forces gained support from Soviet allies. In Korea, Kim Il Sung was supported by the Chinese Communist party, while the Greek KKE and EAM/ELAS were supported by the eastern bloc satellite countries. It can be argued that the United States’ lack of United Nations military help was ultimately beneficial in fighting the Greek Civil War, which is true because in Korea, the use of the UN military was not nearly as useful as anticipated. Indeed, the Korean War, by 1953 resulted in a draw. Thus, it can clearly be seen that even when the UN was equipped to give military support, like in the Korean War, it was rendered useless against overpowering Soviet forces. Though the Korean War had occurred later than the Greek Civil war, in 1950, when the UN was better established, it still did not benefit from its military.

How the Truman Doctrine was successful

The Truman Doctrine was successful in its short-term goals. One of the Doctrine’s primary short-term goals was to expel communist forces from Greece, to keep them from completely crippling the economy through overspending. During the civil war, the GNA was in constant conflict with the KKE, which left the EDES and the GNA lacking in materials that were once distributed by the British. Knowing that without supplies there was no way the EDES would put down the EAM/ELAS, Truman established the financial aid program under the Truman Doctrine. By 1 April 1947, $400 million in economic aid was approved. The U.S sent a plethora of goods, including AT-6 Training planes, 19 minesweepers, 1 patrol craft, 19 landing craft, 1 landing ship dock, 14 aircraft engines as well as weapons, ammunition, food, and clothes to the GNA forces(The Truman Doctrine and the beginnings of Global Strategy). Arguably the most critical part to the success of the Doctrine in Greece was the strict Money Loaning process. Washington ensured that all funds were allocated correctly to all U.S ran Greek banks, so that there was little chance for exploitation by Greek purchasing agencies, and to keep the loans out of the hands of the guerilla forces ((The Truman Doctrine and the beginnings of Global Strategy). Truman aimed to guarantee that all supplies were utilized as directed, so not a penny of U.S money was wasted.

Armored with war supplies, the GNA felt new confidence in fighting the KKE. However, the U.S faced even greater pressure from Soviet Propaganda. Indeed, the Soviets filtered communist propaganda through the “Izvestia” at a greater rate, claiming that U.S involvement was an act of “capitalist encirclement”. In order to counter this, the U.S released a public information program, which helped assure Greek Citizens that U.S engagement in Greece was solely economic, and not imperialistic, to help create the opportunity for free elections (The Truman Doctrine and the beginnings of Global Strategy). It can be argued that Moscow increased its propaganda efforts in Greece because it felt that they would lose their grasp on the Greek people, which is true because once the EDES received financial assistance, they gained the upper hand in the war. This was in part because Moscow had stretched itself too thin geographically in trying to obtain too much of the eastern bloc too quickly. At the same time, the Soviets had also begun to branch out into East Asia more, primarily in Korea. Ultimately, this was a fatal move by Moscow, as they soon began to lose their grip on Greece.

Despite Secretary of State Dean Acheson fear that the Doctrine was “military in background but really not military in action”, arguably the economic aid and limited military strategizing was all that was needed to push the KKE out of the interior of the country. Indeed, with the renewal of supplies and the backing of U.S forces, the EDES were able to push further north, and the will of the KKE broke (The Truman Doctrine and the beginnings of Global Strategy). By the time the KKE had been expelled from the interior of Greece, the U.S had gained control of all major ports. Realizing the U.S had gained strong foothold and there was no longer a way to counter attacks, the Greek Communist Broadcasting Station announced the end of hostilities, with many fleeing to Albania and Yugoslavia.

One of the key reasons why the U.S was successful in Greece was the weakening of the relationship between Moscow, the satellite suppliers, and the Greek Guerillas. As mentioned previously, Moscow and the KKE often disagreed on how much force was necessary, which ultimately led to the KKE to making regrettable and rash outbreaks of force (shallow waves and deeper currents) Furthermore, the relationship between Moscow and Yugoslavia weakened as its leader, Josip Tito, gradually sought more independence from Soviet hegemony, assisting Greece in its forceful endeavours against the western army (Britannica). In what is known as the Tito-Stalin split, Stalin pulled Yugoslav support from Greece and Moscow early 1948, thus withdrawing a key source of supplies to the guerilla forces (Britannica). This action reflected Stalin’s insecurity in his regime, and consistent paranoia, as he no longer trusted the alliance made between the KKE and Yugoslavia. This lack of trust and fear of a Yugoslav desertion ultimately contributed to the weakening of his grip on Greece, as Western ideals increased in popularity. Conversely, it can be argued that the true cause of the Greek rejection of Communism originated from the overall post-war Soviet weakness and internal communist contradiction, as well as the decrease in support to the EAM/ELAS when U.S forces had an edge-up (Containing communism with modernity). This argument is only partially true, as although these factors contributed greatly to the Greek rejection of communism, if it had not been for Stalin’s lack of trust in his Soviet satellites, then there would not have been a decrease in support for the EAM/ELAS.

Ultimately, these factors contributed greatly to the success of the Truman Doctrine. The internal weakness in Stalin’s regime, paired with the failing alliance between Yugoslavia, Moscow, and the KKE, consequently gave U.S forces a better advantage against the KKE. this advantage arguably was what allowed the doctrine to thrive mostly on economic support as opposed to military support. The KKE was indeed far less capable of defending themselves without the backing of their allies.

Where the Truman Doctrine failed

Although the Truman Doctrine was clearly successful in its short-term goal of expelling Soviet hegemony and communist forces from Greece, it was less-so victorious in its long-term goals, as the U.S had hoped Greece would be able to function on its own after the civil war. Greece ultimately remained a poor, agricultural society. Though the Truman Doctrine created the infrastructure necessary for industrialization, despite all of the economic aid, the U.S only helped the EDES just enough to remove the Soviet influence. Moreover, the U.S questioned if Greece was stable enough to fight off potential future communist antagonizers. (shallow waves and deeper currents) It can be argued that the building of infrastructure and the creation of energy projects was beneficial in helping the Greeks defend themselves, which is true because industrialization was achieved by the 1960’s, which eventually stabilized the economy. Thus, the fact that Greece was still an agricultural society was less of a failure of the Doctrine.

It has also been argued that the Truman Doctrinemade the situation in Greece much worse. One of the greatest failures of the Truman Doctrine was that it did not instill long-term economic stability that benefitted the citizens of Greece. This can be seen in the fact that by September 1949 at the end of the Civil War, the cost of living had increased 254 times than before the war started. Likewise, 2,400,000 people were seen nearing starvation (Source). If the Truman Doctrine was entirely successful in repelling subversive communist influences then arguably the United States would have paid more attention to the economic state, an economic assistance plan. Moreover, due to the uprooting of citizens from their homes during the constant fighting, an influx of 700,000 refugees led to urban locations facing severe economic depression. A consequence of this depression was street vending and black marketing, which did little to bolster the already weak economy, and crippled improvement efforts (Source).

Although it can be argued that the United States’ involvement in Greece instituted a humiliating and controlling regime, this is not true, as the U.S government created the Vandenburg Amendment to the Truman Doctrine, which ensured that the U.S would withdraw from Greece if the EDES made a request on behalf of the people’s vote, or if the U.S completed its mission in Greece, or failed to do so. Being that there was no formal request to remove the U.S assistance, then arguably the U.S involvement was more so beneficial than damaging.


The Truman Doctrine was clearly victorious in containing communism in Greece. Indeed, the fragility of the alliance between Stalin and the Soviet satellites, the replenishing of war supplies for the EDES, and the strength in U.S strategy ultimately resulted in the triumph of Democracy. If it had not been for such weaknesses in the Soviet Strategy, for example, pawning off the Eastern bloc countries as assistance to the KKE, then the U.S would not have been nearly as successful in repelling communist forces. Thus, the U.S gained an advantage being that the Soviets did not resort to direct control. Arguably, if the Soviet Union had utilized the Red Army, or increased financial assistance to the EAM/ELAS, then the communist forces could have potentially defeated the EDES and the U.S. The Truman Doctrine itself was triumphant in containing communism as it gave just enough economic assistance that it overpowered the counter assistance to the communist guerillas. Furthermore, it provided political stability and military direction which enabled the EDES to compete with the EAM/ELAS attempts to undermine them. Inevitably, the Truman Doctrine gave rise to controversy, as it has been argued that Truman should have first resorted to the UN, and instead therefore acted in order to spread U.S hegemony. However, this argument does not acknowledge the fact that the U.S established boundaries with the Vandenburg amendment. The U.S faced further controversy as some suggested that the doctrine instilled a controlling regime that left Greece in a weak economic state. However, this argument similarly does not recognize that the U.S was an integral part in the building of infrastructure that ultimately gave the Greeks the means to industrialize. Likewise, it was in fact not the responsibility of the U.S to create such a reliance on the economic assistance of the U.S, as leaving the Greek people after the end of the civil war did eventually lead to industrialization in the 1960’s. Ultimately, while there are a multitude of interpretations of the responsibility of the Truman Doctrine, the notion that the doctrine was successful in containing communism is irrefutable.

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