September 12, 2009


Friends, Not Allies: THE HAWK AND THE DOVE: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War By Nicholas Thompson (MARK ATWOOD LAWRENCE, NY Times Book Review)

The end of the cold war brought relief, even joy, for most Americans. With the crumbling of the Eastern bloc in 1989, more than four decades of anxiety seemed to be over. One of the few discordant voices came, surprisingly, from George Kennan, the former United States diplomat who had devised the “containment” policy widely considered responsible for the Western triumph. “I believe it would have happened earlier,” Kennan lamented less than a month after Germans began chipping holes in the Berlin Wall, “if we had not insisted on militarizing the rivalry.” [...]

Kennan rose to prominence in 1946, when the Truman administration urgently wanted to understand the reasons for Soviet hostility to the West. The senior United States diplomat at the embassy in Moscow, Kennan offered eloquent and forcefully argued answers. Soviet belligerence sprang from a mix of Marxist ideology and old-fashioned power-­mongering, he said. He then proposed that Washington adopt a policy not of directly confronting Moscow but of frustrating it by opposing Communists wherever they threatened to expand their influence beyond their borders. Over the long term, Kennan predicted, constant frustration would cause the Soviet system to mellow and then collapse.

Thus was born the policy of containment, which became the cornerstone of national security for the rest of the cold war. [...]

Yet, as Thompson emphasizes, acceptance of containment also brought Kennan disappointments that haunted him until his death in 2005. Kennan believed that the Soviet Union, however repugnant, posed little military threat to the West and urged that the United States rely mostly on economic and political means to resist Communist expansion.

...then we should have welcomed Soviet expansion, which, because Mr. Kennan was right about the unworkability of their system, was really just over-expansion. Containment was the worst option.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 12, 2009 7:23 AM
blog comments powered by Disqus