Long Telegram to Washington
February 22, 1946)

George F. Kennan

Questions to Consider

  1. According to George Kennan, what is the political ideology of the Soviet leaders, and how does this affect postwar relations with the United States?
  2. What does Kennan believe are the purposes of Soviet foreign activities?
  3. How should the United States respond to the Soviet Union?  Why?
  4. Why is containment significant to understanding Cold War activities.

        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 vast exposed plain in neighborhood of fierce nomadic peoples.  To this was added, as Russia came into contact with economically advanced West, fear of more competent, more powerful, more highly organized societies in that area.  But this latter type of insecurity was one which afflicted rather Russian rulers than Russian people;  for Russian rulers have invariably sensed that their rule was relatively archaic inform, fragile and artificial in its psychological foundation, unable to stand comparison or contact with political systems of Western countries.  For this reason 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.

        It was no coincidence that Marxism, which had smoldered ineffectively for half a century in Western Europe, 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.  After establishment of Bolshevist regime, Marxist dogma, rendered even more truculent and intolerant by Lenin's interpretation, became a perfect vehicle for sense of insecurity with which Bolsheviks, even more with previous Russian rulers, were afflicted.  In this dogma, with its based 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 sacrifices they felt bound to demand....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.  Basically this is only the steady advance of uneasy Russian nationalism, a centuries old movement in which conceptions of offense and defense are inextricably confused.  But in new guise of international Marxism, with its honeyed promises to a desperate and war torn outside world, it is more dangerous and insidious than ever before....

On official plane we must look for the following:
     (a) 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.
     (b) 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, if and as concealed Soviet political power is extended to new areas....
     (c) 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 not the mechanism for a permanent and stable world society founded on mutual interest and aims of all nations, but an arena in which aims just mentioned can be favorably pursued....
     (d) 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 in so far as this policy is successful, there will be created a vacuum which will favor Communist-Soviet penetration.  Soviet pressure for participation in trusteeship arrangements thus represents, in my opinion, a desire to be in a position to complicate and inhibit exertion of Western influence at such points rather than to provide major channel for exerting of Soviet power....
     (e) 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 Germany, Argentina, Middle Eastern countries, etc.
     (f) In international economic matters, Soviet policy will really be dominated by pursuit of autarchy for Soviet Union and Soviet-dominated adjacent areas taken together....Soviet foreign trade may be restricted largely to Soviet's own security sphere, including occupied areas in Germany, and that a cold official shoulder may be turned to principle of general economic collaboration among nations.
     (g) With respect to cultural collaboration, lip service will likewise be rendered to desirability of deepening cultural contacts between peoples, but this will not in practice be interpreted in any way which could weaken security position of Soviet peoples...
     (h) Beyond this, Soviet official relations will take what might be called "correct" course with individual foreign governments, with great stress being laid on prestige of Soviet Union and its representatives and with punctilious attention to protocol, as distinct from good manners....

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.  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 nationalism.  In 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.  Finally, it is seemingly inaccessible to considerations of reality in its basic reactions.  For it, the vast fund of objective fact about human society is not, as with us, the measure against which outlook is constantly being tested and re-formed, but a grab bag from which individual items are selected arbitrarily and tendentiously to bolster an outlook already preconceived.  This is admittedly not a pleasant picture.  Problem 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.  It should be point of departure from which our political general staff work at present juncture should proceed.  It should be approached with same thoroughness and care as solution of major strategic problem in war, and if necessary, with no smaller outlay in planning effort. I cannot attempt to suggest all answers here.  But 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.  And this is factor which it is within our power to influence.
     (3) Success of Soviet system, as form of internal power, is not yet finally proven.  It has yet to be demonstrated that it can survive supreme test of successive transfer of power from one individual or group to another....In Russia, party has now become a great and -- for the moment -- highly successful apparatus of dictatorial administration, but it has ceased to be a source of emotional inspiration.  Thus, internal soundness and permanence of movement need not yet be regarded as assured.
     (4) All Soviet propaganda beyond Soviet security sphere is basically negative and destructive.  It should therefore be relatively easy to combat it by any intelligent and really constructive program.

        For these reasons I think we may approach calmly and with good heart problem of how to deal with Russia.  As to how this approach should be made, I only wish to advance, by way of conclusion, following comments:
     (1) Our first step must be to apprehend, and recognize for what it is, 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.
     (2) We must see that our public is educated to realities of Russian situation.  I cannot over-emphasize importance of this.  Press cannot do this alone.  It must be done mainly by Government, which is necessarily more experience and better informed on practical problems involved....
     (3) Much depends on health and vigor of our own society.  World communism is like malignant parasite which feeds only on diseased tissue.  This is point at which domestic and foreign policies meet.  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 Moscow worth a thousand diplomatic notes and joint communiques....
     (4) We 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 peoples, in Europe at least, are tired and frightened by experiences of past, and are less interested in abstract freedom than in security.  They are seeking guidance rather than responsibilities.  We should be better able than Russians to give them this.  And unless we do, Russians certainly will.
     (5) Finally we must have courage and self-confidence to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society.  After all, the greatest danger that can befall us in coping with this problem of Soviet communism, is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping.