The Origins of the Cold War: The Truman Doctrine, NATO, the Marshall Plan

Allies during the Second World War, the United States and the Soviet Union had

extremely different visions for the future of the world at the war’s conclusion. Fearful of the far-reaching influence that the Soviet Union could have in Europe and Asia, the United States eventually implemented a policy that sought to limit the expansion of communism abroad known as containment. A mere five months after the end of World War II, George Kennan, a State Department official, sent an 8,000-word message from the U.S. embassy in Moscow to the Treasury department in Washington, D.C. in February 1946. This message, known as the “Long Telegram,” detailed Soviet opinion and was the basis for American foreign policy and military decision-making for the next thirty years. According to Kennan, Soviet leaders believed that the only way to protect their country was to “destroy ‘rival’ nations and their influence over weaker nations.” (1) He further revealed that the Soviet Union, a totalitarian bureaucracy, would be unable to accept the prospect of a peaceful coexistence with the United States. Finally, he advised the American government to contain Soviet influence to the regions where it already existed and to prevent its political expansion into new areas.

Across the globe, throughout the immediate years following the war, Great Britain

remained busy occupying Greece and assisting the authoritarian government there in

combating Greek communists. However, by March 1947, the British government could no

longer afford to give their support to the royalists in Greece and anti-communists in Turkey and withdrew from the area. (2) Alarmed by Soviet demands for a base in the Bosporus, the United States instantly stepped in with the Truman Doctrine. This dogma offered American backing to Greece and Turkey in three key ways: 1) financial aid, 2) weaponry, and 3) troops to train their militaries and reinforce their governments against communism. Eventually, the Truman Doctrine was extended to include any state attempting to withstand a communist takeover and was a very important piece of Cold War policy.

Another important factor that contributed to containment was the economy. While the

American economy flourished by 1946, the situation in Europe was the opposite, allowing for

communism to thrive. The end of the war resulted in the partitioning of Europe into East and

West. Indeed, Germany itself was formally divided into the states of the Federal Republic of

Germany (F.D.R., or West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (G.D.R., or East

Germany). (3) This division of the continent, though representative of the victors of the war and their beliefs, did nothing to alleviate the estimated $1 trillion spent during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Additionally, global decolonization hindered the ability of European countries to recover as they no longer had access to the raw materials and manpower of those colonies. Even more, these newly independent entities easily fell prey to the woos of communism. Thus, motivated by economic, political, and humanitarian factors, President Truman and Secretary of State George C. Marshall proposed the European Recovery Program to Congress. The plan provided over $13 billion to European nations between its implementation in April 1948 and its termination in 1951. To receive this service, nations had to simply work together (effectively combating communism) and spend the majority of the money on American goods.

Unsurprisingly, the Soviet Union promptly rejected the Marshall Plan, as it came to be

known, and forbade other communist states of Eastern Europe to accept the aid as well. In fact, the Soviets went so far as to cut off all land traffic from West Germany into West Berlin on June 24, 1948. (4) The year-long blockade that followed sparked the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the distinguished Berlin airlift. The operation itself eventually made some 20,000 flights and carried 1.5 million tons of goods into the city. (3) NATO, established in April 1949, cemented the relationships between the western powers who participated in the war and operated on the basis of collective security. Certainly, since its founding, it has become one of the fixed points of international relations.

Finally, the advent of nuclear weapons played a factor in international affairs and a huge

role in setting off the Cold War. The Atomic Age began with the U.S. Manhattan Project and the subsequent bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945. This superiority led to an imbalance between the powers of the world and the United States’ refusal to share information launched not only a nuclear arms race, but a space race.


(1) Scott P. Corbett et al., U.S. History (Houston: OpenStax, 2017).

(2) “The Reconstruction of Europe after the Second World War,” in 8.3.3: Reconstruction of Western Europe, 8.3: Consequences, Unit 8: The Second World War and the New World Order, HIST 103: World History in the Early Modern and Modern Eras (1600-Present) (Washington, D.C.: Saylor Foundation, 2014),

(3) “World War II,” in International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, edited by William A. Darity, Jr., Vol 9, 2nd ed (Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA,2008): 147-151.

(4) “The Origins of the Cold War,” in 8.3.2: United States and USSR Emerge as Global Superpowers, 8.3: Consequences, Unit 8: The Second World War and the New World Order, HIST 103: World History in the Early Modern and Modern Eras (1600-Present) (Washington, D.C.: Saylor Foundation, 2014),

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Anna Darelli-Anderson

Anna Darelli-Anderson

University of Utah

Department of Surgery

Office of Surgical Education

30 N. 1900 E. 3B110 

Salt Lake City, UT 84132


© 2020 by Anna Darelli-Anderson

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