127. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Relevance of the Truman Doctrine to Current Situation (U)

As you consider options regarding the situation in Southwest Asia, I would like to recall for you an earlier crisis which in my judgment has some striking parallels with the present challenge we face in Afghanistan, in that region and globally. I have in mind the events which led up to the promulgation of the Truman Doctrine, announced by Truman in his message to Congress on March 12, 1947.2 (C)

Truman’s message responded to what he perceived to be a clear and present danger. It was the threatened collapse under Soviet pressure of two countries which at the time were at the outer limits of American consciousness—Greece and Turkey. Communist governments had been established with the aid of Soviet troops throughout the Balkans. Greece was in the midst of a civil war, instigated in the main by communist-led insurgents. Concurrently, Moscow was putting pressure on Ankara to revise the Montreaux Convention to prevent access of non-Black Sea powers into the Black Sea, and had raised claims of sovereignty against two areas in Turkey. (C)

All this in a region which prior to 1947 had been a British sphere of influence of little or no strategic interest to the United States. Within this country there was strong sentiment for a rapid U.S. disengagement from all of Europe and a return to isolationism. Truman was also under considerable pressure from a number of politicians, especially Henry Wallace, who argued that the U.S. should undertake more strenuous efforts to cooperate with Moscow. (C)

Against this background, the United States received an urgent message in late February 1947 that the British intended to cease aid to Greece and Turkey within six weeks.3 The issue, as Truman, Acheson [Page 350] and Marshall prophetically realized was not simply the question of aiding Greece and Turkey, although that was a startling enough idea at the time. They also were among the first in the post World War II period to recognize the importance of buttressing regional security and sending Moscow an unmistakable signal that the United States was determined to protect not only old vital interests but new ones as well, and to resist Soviet pressure. (U)

Truman’s message was a turning point in U.S. foreign policy. Specifically he:

—announced that it was the policy of the United States to support free peoples who were resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures;

—requested Congress to provide authority for assistance to Greece and Turkey in the amount of $400 million;

—asked Congress to authorize the detail of American civilian and military personnel to Greece and Turkey to assist in the task of reconstruction and to help supervise the use of U.S. financial and material support;

—asked Congress for authority to provide for the instruction and training of select Greek and Turkish personnel; and

—asked Congress to provide authority to permit the rapid and effective use in terms of needed commodities, supplies and equipment, of any funds that they authorized. (U)

(The relevant excerpt from Truman’s speech is at Tab A.)4

This speech marked the beginning of one of the most creative periods of U.S. diplomacy. Most importantly, it signalled the intention of the U.S. to abandon its past hesitancy and to assume a more activist role internationally. Without this rapid and resolute action on our part, the Soviet Union would have continued to increase its pressure on Turkey and in Greece, and the evolution of Southern Europe and the Middle East would undoubtedly have been quite different. (U)

Today we face a Soviet challenge in an area of the world which is only a little more unfamiliar to most Americans than were Greece and Turkey in 1947. As in 1947, the West looks to us because only we can provide the necessary leadership and resources to turn back the Soviet threat to our interests in the region and beyond. As in 1947, a U.S. public formerly weary of war and international responsibility is increasingly ready to respond to a call for a more active American role in the world to protect our vital interests, as the President defines them. There are, however, two sharp differences between the present Soviet challenge [Page 351] in South Asia and the threat in 1947. The Soviet intervention in the present case is both more blatant and more brutal than in 1947, and the Gulf is unquestionably more vital to Western interests today than were Greece and Turkey 30 years ago. (C)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Office File, Country Chron File, Box 1, Afghanistan: 1980. Confidential. Sent for information. Carter initialed “C” in the top right corner. The memorandum was attached as Tab I to a January 2 memorandum from Blackwill and Larrabee to Brzezinski recommending that Brzezinski sign the memorandum to Carter. An unknown hand wrote “1–2–80 ZB signed memo to Pres,” at the bottom of the page.
  2. For the text of Truman’s address to Congress, see Public Papers: Truman, 1947, pp. 176–180.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. V, The Near East and Africa, Documents 24 and 34.
  4. Attached but not printed.