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George Frost Kennan, charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow,
drafted his "long telegram" in February 1946 in response to an urgent
request by the State Department for clarification of Soviet conduct.
Kennan addressed possible motives behind the Soviet Union's refusal
to join the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He also
indicated why Stalin publicly denounced capitalism.
The 8,000-word cable became famous for both its length and content,
recommending a policy of containment that would dominate U.S. policy
toward the U.S.S.R. for a generation.
Excerpts from Kennan's Long Telegram:
Answer to Dept's 284, Feb. 3, involves questions so intricate, so delicate, so strange to our form of thought, and so important to analysis of our international environment that I cannot compress answers into single brief message without yielding to what I feel would be dangerous degree of oversimplification. I hope, therefore, Dept will bear with me if I submit in answer to this question five parts, subjects of which will be roughly as follows:
(1) Basic features of postwar Soviet outlook.
(2) Background of this outlook.
(3) Its projection in practical policy on official level.
(4) Its projection on unofficial level.
(5) Practical deductions from standpoint of US policy.
I apologize in advance for this burdening of telegraphic channel; but questions involved are of such urgent importance, particularly in view of recent events, that our answers to them, if they deserve attention at all, seem to me to deserve it at once. There follows:
Part 1: Basic Features of Post War Soviet Outlook, as Put Forward
by Official Propaganda Machine, Are as Follows:
a. USSR still lives in antagonistic "capitalist encirclement" with
which in the long run there can be no permanent peaceful coexistence.
Capitalist world is beset with internal conflicts, inherent in nature
of capitalist society. ...
Internal conflicts in capitalism inevitably generate wars ... intra-capitalist wars between two capitalist states, and wars of intervention against socialist world. ...
Intervention against USSR, while it would be disastrous to those who undertook it, would cause renewed delay in progress of Soviet socialism and must therefore be forestalled at all costs. ...
Conflicts between capitalist states, though likewise fraught with danger
for USSR, nevertheless hold out great possibilities for advancement of
socialist cause. ...
Part 2: Background of Outlook
... First, it does not represent natural outlook of Russian people.
Latter are, by and large, friendly to outside world, eager for experience
of it, eager to measure against it talents they are conscious of possessing,
eager above all to live in peace and joyful fruits of their own labor.
Party line only represents thesis which official propaganda machine
puts forward ... to a public often remarkably resistant in ... its innermost
Second, please note that premises on which this party line is based
are for most part simply not true. Experience has shown that peaceful
and mutually profitable coexistence of capitalist and socialist states
is entirely possible. Basic internal conflicts in advanced countries are
no longer primarily those arising out of capitalist ownership of means
of production, but are ones arising from advanced urbanism and industrialism
as such, which Russia has thus far been spared not by socialism but
only by her own backwardness. Internal rivalries of capitalism do not
always generate wars; and not all wars are attributable to this cause.
At bottom of Kremlin's neurotic view of world affairs is traditional
and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity. Originally, this was insecurity
of a peaceful agricultural people trying to live on a vast exposed plain
in neighborhood of fierce nomadic peoples. To this was added ... fear
of more competent, more powerful, more highly organized societies in the
West. But this latter type of insecurity was one which afflicted Russian
rulers rather than Russian people. ... 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. ... It was no coincidence that
Marxism ... caught hold and blazed for first time in Russia. Only in
this land which had never known a friendly neighbor or indeed any tolerant
equilibrium of separate powers, either internal or international, could
a doctrine thrive which viewed economic conflicts of society as insoluble
by peaceful means. ...
Part 3: Projection of Soviet Outlook in Practical Policy on Official Level
... On official plane we must look for following:
Internal policy devoted to increasing in every way strength and prestige of Soviet state: ... 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. For the moment, these efforts
are restricted to certain neighboring points conceived of here as being
of immediate strategic necessity, such as northern Iran, Turkey, possibly
Bornholm. However, other points may at any time come into question.
Russians will participate officially in international organizations
where they see opportunity of extending Soviet power or of inhibiting
or diluting power of others. Moscow sees in UNO United Nations Organization
not the mechanism for a permanent and stable world society founded on
mutual interest and aims of all, but an arena in which aims just mentioned
can be favorably pursued. As long as UNO is considered here to serve this
purpose, Soviets will remain in it. ... Its attitude to that organization
will remain essentially pragmatic and tactical.
Toward colonial areas and backward or dependent peoples, Soviet policy,
even on official plane, will be directed toward weakening of power and
influence and contacts of advanced Western nations, on theory that insofar
as this policy is successful, there will be created a vacuum which will
favor Communist-Soviet penetration. ...
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. ...
In international economic matters, Soviet policy will really be dominated
by pursuit of autarchy for Soviet Union and Soviet-dominated adjacent
areas taken together. ... I think it possible Soviet foreign trade may
be restricted largely to Soviet's own security sphere. ...
Part 4: Following May Be Said as to What We May Expect by Way of Implementation of Basic Soviet Policies on Unofficial, or Subterranean Plane, i.e., on Plane for Which Soviet Government Accepts no Responsibility
To undermine general political and strategic potential of major Western powers ...
On unofficial plane particularly violent efforts will be made to weaken
power and influence of Western Powers on colonial backward, or dependent
Where individual governments stand in path of Soviet purposes pressure will be brought for their removal from office. ...
In foreign countries Communists will, as a rule, work toward destruction
of all forms of personal independence -- economic, political,
or moral. Their system can handle only individuals who have been brought
into complete dependence on higher power. ...
Everything possible will be done to set major Western Powers against each other. ...
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. This is only in line with basic Soviet instinct that there can be no compromise with rival power and that constructive work can start only when Communist power is dominant...
Part 5: Practical Deductions from Standpoint of US Policy
In summary, we have here a political force committed fanatically to
the belief that with US there can be no permanent modus vivendi, 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. ...
In addition, Soviet power 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 who experience and skill
in underground methods are presumably without parallel in history. ...
I would like to record my conviction that problem is within our power to solve -- and that without recourse to any general military conflict. And in support of this conviction there are certain observations of a more encouraging nature I should like to make:
(1) Soviet power, unlike that of Hitlerite Germany, is neither schematic nor adventuristic. It does not work by fixed plans. It does not take unnecessary risks. Impervious to logic of reason, and it is highly sensitive to logic of force: For this reason it can easily withdraw -- and usually does -- when strong resistance is encountered at any point. Thus, if the adversary has sufficient force and makes clear his readiness to use it, he rarely has to do so. If situations are properly handled there need be no prestige engaging showdowns.
(2) Gauged against Western world as a whole, Soviets are still by
far the weaker force. Thus, their success will really depend on degree
of cohesion, firmness and vigor which Western world can muster. ...
For these reasons I think we may approach calmly and with good heart problem of how to deal with Russia. ...
Our first step must be to apprehend ... the nature of the movement with which we are dealing. We must study it with same courage, detachment, objectivity, and same determination not to be emotionally provoked or unseated by it, with which doctor studies unruly and unreasonable individual.
We must see that our public is educated to realities of Russian situation. ... I am convinced that there would be far less hysterical anti-Sovietism in our country today if realities of this situation were better understood by our people. ... It may be also be argued that to reveal more information on our difficulties with Russia would reflect unfavorably on Russian American relations. ... But I cannot see what we would be risking. ...
Much depends on health and vigor of our own society. World communism
is like malignant parasite which feeds only on diseased tissue. ...
We must formulate and put forward for other nations a much more positive and constructive picture of world we would like to see than we have put forward in past. ...
Finally we must have courage and self-confidence to cling to our own
methods and conceptions of human society. ...