Kennan and Containment, 1947 – Office of the Historian
George F. Kennan, a career Foreign Service officer, formulated the policy of “containment,” the United States’ basic strategy for fighting the Cold War (1947-1989) with the Soviet Union.
Kennan’s ideas, which became the basis of the Truman administration’s foreign policy, first came to public attention in 1947 in the form of an anonymous contribution to Foreign Affairs magazine, the so-called “Article X “. “The main element of any US policy toward the Soviet Union,” Kennan wrote, “must be a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansionary tendencies.” to that end, he called for countering “Soviet pressure against the free institutions of the Western world” through the “skillful and vigilant application of counterforce at a constantly changing series of geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and maneuvers of the Soviets”. policy.” Such a policy, Kennan predicted, “would promote tendencies that must eventually find their way out in the breakup or gradual softening of Soviet power.”
Kennan’s policy was controversial from the start. columnist walter lippmann attacked article x for failing to differentiate between vital and peripheral interests. The United States, Kennan’s article implied, should confront the Soviet Union and its communist allies whenever and wherever they risked gaining influence. In fact, Kennan advocated defending above all else the world’s major centers of industrial power against Soviet expansion: Western Europe, Japan, and the United States. Others criticized Kennan’s policy as being too defensive. In particular, John Foster Dulles declared during the 1952 election campaign that United States policy should not be one of containment, but rather the “retreat” of Soviet power and the eventual “liberation” of Eastern Europe. Even within the Truman administration there was a break in contention between Kennan and Paul Nitze, Kennan’s successor as director of the policy planning staff. Nitze, who saw the Soviet threat primarily in military terms, interpreted Kennan’s call for “the skillful and vigilant application of counterforce” to mean the use of military power. By contrast, Kennan, who viewed the Soviet threat as primarily political, advocated above all else economic assistance (for example, the Marshall Plan) and “psychological warfare” (overt propaganda and covert operations) to counter expansion. of Soviet influence. In 1950, Nitze’s conception of containment prevailed over Kennan’s. nsc 68, a policy document prepared by the national security council and signed by truman, called for a drastic expansion of the united states. military budget. the document also expanded the scope of containment beyond the defense of major centers of industrial power to encompass the entire world. “In the context of the current polarization of power,” he said, “a defeat of free institutions anywhere is a defeat everywhere.”
Despite all the criticism and various political defeats Kennan suffered in the early 1950s, containment in the more general sense of blocking the expansion of Soviet influence remained the basic strategy of the United States throughout the Cold War. On the one hand, the United States does not retreat into isolationism; On the other, he did not move to “roll back” Soviet power, as John Foster Dulles briefly argued. It is possible to say that each post-Truman administration, up until the collapse of communism in 1989, adopted a variation of Kennan’s containment policy and made it its own.