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Containment of the Soviet Union

Excerpt from How America Got It Right, by Bevin Alexander, pages 143-44

The Moscow Conference [March 1947] marked the final U.S. effort to cooperate with the Soviet Union. American leaders were convinced at last that Russia was incorrigible. From this point on, they saw the dispute with Communism as a sort of Manichaean contest between the forces of light and the diabolical powers of darkness.

The policy adopted to deal with this new world formed around the “long telegram” written on February 22, 1946, by George F. Kennan, chargé at the Moscow embassy. Kennan held that the Soviet Union and its satellites could be “contained” within their present boundaries and that, over time, internal and external stress would sap Russia’s strength and end Russia’s aggressive ambitions.

Kennan believed that the Soviet leaders were obligated to depict the United States as menacing in order to give them an excuse to rule their people by repression, the only method they understood. This inherent conflict between Moscow and the West meant that the two sides could never permanently resolve their differences. That is why the West could only contain Soviet expansionist efforts....

In the new orthodoxy of containment, the United States would resist all future Soviet expansion but not liberate areas already under Kremlin control. Kennan recommended applying counter force to the Russians at every point. For example, the United States should set up bases at strategic points around the peripheries of the Soviet empire. These would protect sea lanes and provide stations for long-range bombers. Surrounding the Soviet Union, Kennan wrote, would incite “the traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity,” the root of the “Kremlin’s neurotic view of world affairs.” This paranoia would induce the leaders to concentrate more and more resources on nonproductive military forces and less on better living standards for the people.

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