The Charge in the Soviet Union (Kennan) to the Secretary of State
Moscow, February 22, 1946--9
pm [Received February 22-3: 52 pm]
In February 1946, the State Department cabled the US Moscow Embassy, and asked for an analysis of the Soviet position, viz,:
Basic features of post-war Soviet outlook.
Background of this outlook
Its projection in practical policy on official level.
Its projection on unofficial level.
Practical deductions from standpoint of
They received back an 8,000-word telegram from George Kennan, an Embassy official. This has become known as 'the Long Telegram', and it said exactly what the American government wanted it to.
hated Communism and the Soviet government. However, he had
Kennan’s telegram has been criticised by some historians for not giving enough weight to Soviet belief in Communism. This is not strictly true. Kennan wrote:
purposes must always be solemnly clothed in trappings of Marxism, and no
one should underrate importance of dogma in Soviet affairs.
However, he saw Soviet ideology as being layered over the top of more ancient Russian values - the desire to exclude the foreign world and destroy it:
bottom of Kremlin's neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and
instinctive Russian sense of insecurity …
they have always feared foreign penetration, feared direct contact between
Western world and their own, feared what would happen if Russians learned
truth about world without or if foreigners learned truth about world
within. And they have
learned to seek security only in patient but deadly struggle for total
destruction of rival power, never in compacts and compromises with it.
said Kennan, had just strengthened Russian fear of the West, and given
this dogma, with its basic altruism of purpose, they found justification
for their instinctive fear of outside world, for the dictatorship without
which they did not know how to rule, for cruelties they did not dare not
to inflict, for sacrifice they felt bound to demand. In the name of
Marxism they sacrificed every single ethical value in their methods and
tactics. Today they cannot dispense with it.
leaders are driven [by?] necessities of their own past and present
position to put forward which [apparent omission] outside world as evil,
hostile and menacing, but as bearing within itself germs of creeping
disease and destined to be wracked with growing internal convulsions until
it is finally killed by rising power of socialism and yields to new and
better world. This thesis provides justification for that increase
of military and police power of Russian state, for that isolation of
Russian population from outside world, and for that fluid and constant
pressure to extend limits of Russian police power which are together the
natural and instinctive urges of Russian rulers.
result was, Kennan argued, a
Kennan prophecies (with remarkable accuracy) the
Internal policy devoted to increasing in every way strength and prestige
of Soviet state: intensive military-industrialization; maximum development
of armed forces; great displays to impress outsiders; continued
secretiveness about internal matters, designed to conceal weaknesses and
to keep opponents in dark.
Wherever it is considered timely and promising, efforts will be made to
advance official limits of Soviet power. …
Russians will participate officially in international organizations where
they see opportunity of extending Soviet power or of inhibiting or
diluting power of others.
Toward colonial areas and backward or dependent peoples, Soviet policy
will be directed toward weakening of power and influence and contacts of
Western nations, …
Russians will strive energetically to develop Soviet representation in,
and official ties with, countries in which they sense Strong possibilities
of opposition to Western centers of power. This applies to such
widely separated points as
In international economic matters, Soviet policy will really be dominated
by pursuit of autarchy for
In fact, ALL these policies were pursued by the Soviet Union long into the 1980s.
also prophesied, less accurately, that the
Efforts will be made in such countries to disrupt national self
confidence, to hamstring measures of national defense, to increase social
and industrial unrest, to stimulate all forms of disunity.…
Everything possible will be done to set major Western Powers against each
In general, all Soviet efforts on unofficial international plane will be
negative and destructive in character, designed to tear down sources of
strength beyond reach of Soviet control. …
Although America in particular, and Britain to a degree, both feared Communist infiltration, and there were regular spy-scares, in fact, Communism never managed to undermine Western governments in the way that Kennan feared.
5: [Practical Deductions From Standpoint of US Policy]
The most important part of Kennan’s document is his conclusion, in which he outlined beliefs which were to become the basis of American policy for the next twenty years.
Firstly, he started by stating that the Communist threat was huge and that there could be no accommodation with the Soviets – the US could never work with a Soviet government, because the Soviet government was intractably determined to destroy America:
summary, we have here a political
force committed fanatically to the belief that with US there can be no
permanent modus vivendi [way of
living together] that it is desirable and necessary that the internal
harmony of our society be disrupted, our traditional way of life be
destroyed, the international authority of our state be broken, if
Soviet power is to be secure. This
political force has complete power of disposition over energies of one of
world's greatest peoples and resources of world's richest national
territory, and is borne along by deep and powerful currents of Russian
addition, it has an elaborate and far flung apparatus for exertion of its
influence in other countries, an apparatus of amazing flexibility and
versatility, managed by people whose experience and skill in underground
methods are presumably without parallel in history.
it is seemingly inaccessible to considerations of reality in its basic
of how to cope with this force in [is] undoubtedly
greatest task our diplomacy has ever faced and probably greatest it will
ever have to face….
However, Kennan believed that the Soviet threat could be defeated, and also defeated without a world war. In this way, Kennan can be considered the prophet of the Cold War:
I would like to record my conviction that
problem is within our power to solve -- and that without recourse to any
general military conflict.
Kennan considered that, despite the danger, ‘Gauged against Western World as a whole, Soviets are still by far the weaker force.’ Also, in a remarkable prophecy, he suggested that the Soviet system of government would eventually collapse:
of Soviet system, as form of internal power, is not yet finally proven.
It has yet to be demonstrated that it can survive … internal soundness
and permanence of movement need not yet be regarded as assured.
Above all, Kennan stated that the Soviets – although they might take every possible opportunity to extend Soviet power where allowed, and to test Western resolve where they were opposed – WOULD back down against a show of force. This idea, developed by the American government, eventually turned into the Truman Doctrine, and the policy of containment:
power … does not work by fixed plans. It
does not take unnecessary risks. Impervious
to logic of reason, it is highly sensitive to logic of force. ….
therefore stated his belief that, if the
depends on health and vigor of our own society. World
communism is like malignant parasite which feeds only on diseased tissue…
Every courageous and
incisive measure to solve internal problems of our own society, to improve
self-confidence, discipline, morale and community spirit of our own
people, is a diplomatic victory over
must formulate and put forward for other nations a much more positive and
constructive picture of sort of world we would like to see than we have
put forward in past. It
is not enough to urge people to develop political processes similar to our
own. Many foreign