The government of the USA was deeply unhappy at the spread of communism to Eastern Europe. Traditionally American foreign policy was based on isolationism: having as little to do as possible with international politics. The Soviet take-over forced American politicians to think again and to reject traditional thinking.
How did the USA react to the Soviet take-over of Eastern Europe?
After 1945 the USA moved away from isolationism and became active throughout the world. Eventually the USA built up its own 'sphere of interest': a group of pro-American states that included all of the world's richest industrialized countries.
1946: Cold War attitudes develop
Relations between the USA and the Soviet Union deteriorated throughout 1946:
• The Americans were very critical of Soviet policy in Iran. Soviet troops were in the north of Persia, now Iran, at the end of the war. Under wartime agreements they were supposed to withdraw in March 1946. The US government suspected that this was the first step towards a Soviet take-over of part of Iran. They criticized the Soviet occupation at the United Nations. Stalin gave in and withdrew his troops.
• The Council of Foreign Ministers met in Paris in April 1946. The American representative, Byrnes, blocked every Soviet proposal and criticized Soviet policy in Eastern Europe.
• The Soviet navy wished to send ships through the Black Sea Straits and to set up naval bases in the area. Turkey felt threatened by these plans and in August 1946 the US government blocked the Soviet plans. The Americans made it clear that they would use force to resist any Soviet move. American warships were sent to the area to warn off the Soviets.
The crisis of 1947
American policy took shape in the crucial year of 1947. At the beginning of the year there was an economic crisis in Western Europe. The harvest in 1946 was poor and there was food shortage in many places. The winter was unusually fierce and people were cold as well as hungry.
In Britain, unemployment was soaring and food rationing was more severe than it had been during the war. In Germany, people were close to starvation. Millions of refugees had fled to western Germany and this added to the shortage of fuel, food and jobs.
In France and Italy discontent led to massive support for the local communist parties; unless conditions improved there was a real possibility that the communists could come to power. By early 1947 it was clear to the US government that their friends in Western Europe could not cope alone. Some Americans had hoped that the return of peace would allow the USA to go back to its isolationist policy. Truman and his advisers realized that this was not possible.
The Truman Doctrine
In February 1947 the British government sent a dramatic message to Washington - Britain could no longer afford to pay for troops in Greece and Turkey. Unless America replaced Britain in Greece and Turkey these countries could easily come under Soviet control.
Truman decided to offer American financial help to Greece and Turkey. He went further and declared that American support was available for any people who wanted to fight communism. This became known as the Truman Doctrine. It was based on the idea of containment - the USA would use its wealth and power to stop or contain the spread of communism.
Through the Truman Doctrine, the USA had rejected 'isolationism'. America had announced to the world that it would play a leading part in world politics. In Greece and Turkey the doctrine was successful. The communist side was defeated in the Greek Civil War by 1949, and Turkey remained part of the Western pro-American group of countries. Initially, 'the doctrine' was applied in Europe and the Middle East. Eventually, it was extended to the whole world and led to war in Korea and Vietnam.