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Week In Review: Commentary and Analysis, 97-03-11

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By Chris P. Ioannides <>


March 12, 1997, marks the 50th anniversary since the pronouncement of the Truman Doctrine. This was a historic doctrine, indeed. When President Truman pronounced his doctrine on March 12, 1947, it came in the midst of the Greek civil war and aimed at the containment of Soviet expansionism. A regional crisis, the Greek civil war and its repercussions in the Balkans, served as the springboard for the American policy to contain communism on a global scale. As such, the Truman Doctrine shaped US foreign policy vis a vis Soviet communism for over 40 years. Economic, political and military means were to be used for this policy of containment starting in Greece in 1947.

The Truman Doctrine, through the American economic and military aid, allowed Greece to defeat the armed communist movement, EAM-ELAS. This doctrine also enabled Greece and Turkey to become part of the western security system, the NATO alliance. The prevention of Greece from becoming part of the communist bloc, constitutes the single most significant contribution of the United States, through the Truman Doctrine, to Greece. In the aftermath of the collapse of communism in Europe, one can only imagine what it would have meant if Greece became communist in 1947. Where would Greece be today? Certainly, Greece would not have been a member of the European Union; it would not enjoy the freedoms that does today; and it would not have been the prosperous society that it is today. Had Greece become communist in 1947, perhaps it would look today like Bulgaria where there are people going hungry. And it is Greece that is sending food and medicine to Bulgaria today, in order to assist this friendly country in its hour of need.

Had it not been for the Truman Doctrine, then the course of Greece's national issues (ta ethnica themata) would have followed a very different course. A case in point is the Cyprus issue that has dominated Greek politics and Greek-Turkish relations for over 40 years. Had Greece been communist, its is unlikely that the nationalist EOKA movement, seeking enosis-union of Cyprus with Greece, would have taken place. The point is that developments in the Eastern Mediterranean would have followed quite a different course. What course exactly, one can only speculate.

At the same time, the Truman Doctrine affected seriously Greece's domestic dynamics and its foreign policy. Domestically, the Truman Doctrine enabled the United States to exercise critical influence on the country's affairs. Royal rule was consolidated and along with it the armed forces acquired a decisive -- behind the scenes -- role in politics. All these led to political excesses against the left primarily. The army's role, especially, led Greece to adventures. The most serious domestic action of the army was to take power in a military coup in 1967. This dictatorship ended in disaster in July 1974, when the Athens junta overthrew Cypriot President Makarios. Turkey seized this as an excuse and invaded Cyprus. It still occupies the northern part of the Cyprus Republic.

Thinking simplistically, one might surmise that the Truman Doctrine led to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Historical dynamics are not necessarily linear and work differently, however. What can be said, is that the Truman Doctrine caused a certain political dynamic in Greece which followed its own logic. In turn, this logic produced a foreign policy which subordinated Greece's national interests to the broader allied interests. These interests incorporated a Greek alliance with Turkey in the framework of NATO. The subordination, by logical necessity, of Greek national interests to the allied interests, rendered problematic an effective Greek foreign policy especially vis a vis Turkish aggressiveness.

Such a foreign policy was the inevitable by-product of the divisive nature of Greek politics from 1950 to 1974. The Greek civil war, came in the immediate aftermath of the German Nazi occupation that left Greece devastated. As such, the civil war had left a very deep scar in Greek society. Civil wars do that as brother kills-literally--brother. The American civil war ended over 130 years ago, but some of its echoes still linger on in our society. The Greek civil war ended only 48 years ago. The memories are there, but Greek society has been able, at last, to heal the wounds of this fratricidal war. But this did not come about without a price, while the process of healing took almost a generation. It took 25 years (1950-1974) for Greeks to put behind them the civil war trauma. During this period, domestic ideological and political divisions, right versus left, nationalist-minded versus communists, paralyzed the country and its leadership at critical moments and rendered them unable to confront the real national issues, Cyprus, Greek-Turkish relations, protection of the Patriarchate and the Greek minority in Turkey, protection of the Greeks of Albania. All the major crises in Greek-Turkish relations occurred at a time when Greece was experiencing domestic turmoil, in 1955, 1964, 1967, and in 1974.

Given all this, how can someone assess the Truman Doctrine 50 years later? There is no doubt that the Truman Doctrine has exercised a most decisive influence on Greek domestic and foreign affairs. This doctrine inaugurated the U.S.-Greek alliance which evolved to become what it is today: Solid, and based on a more equitable basis. The Truman doctrine also enabled Greece to become integral part of the West and its multifaceted institutions, from NATO to the European Union to the Western European Union. Domestically, the Truman Doctrine gave Greece the critical assistance it needed for economic reconstruction which, in the final analysis produced today's prosperity. Politically, the consequences of the Truman Doctrine were rather mixed. The country did not become a communist totalitarian state. But the doctrine, or its application rather, condoned or even facilitated a certain political climate that led to abuse of power and to contentious politics. Eventually, democracy itself became the victim when the military dictatorship was established in 1967. Domestic political feuding and the subordination of the national interests of a small country such as Greece to broader allied interests, were combined to produce a foreign policy that failed the country at critical moments.

On balance, and taking into account the collapse of communism and where the former Balkan communist countries find themselves today, one might argue that the Truman Doctrine has been beneficial to Greece, indeed. Today the country is a genuine democracy and enjoys the fruits of prosperity. But the benefits of the Truman Doctrine did not come without a price which at times was quite heavy.

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