the “Long telegram” by George Kennan – a single document, that made US policy for decades

Telegram, George Kennan to James Byrnes, February 22, 1946. Harry S. Truman Administration File, Elsey Papers.

This is a front page of one of the most influential pieces of history, the “Long telegram”.

The Telegram was sent In February 1946 in response to a request made by US Department of Treasury to US Embassy in Moscow as to why USSR did not support newly created World Bank and IMF. It was composed by then minister-counselor in the embassy George Kennan, an expert on Soviet Union. In the telegram he gave his conspicuous account on the state of things in SU, including its philosophy behind the foreign policy and, more importantly, its weaknesses. “According to Kennan, the Soviet Union did not see the possibility for long-term peaceful coexistence with the capitalist world. It was its ever-present aim to advance the socialist cause…” (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Telegram#The_Long_Telegram). Among the reasons, he pointed out, was that Stalin needed the people of SU to view the outside World as hostile to justify his autocratic policies. In Section five Kennan pointed to the weaknesses of the Soviet system, which he suggested to exploit in the U.S. foreign policies. He argued that the Soviet regime was inherently unstable, that Soviet’s aggressive foreign policies were not aligned with their economic situation, and, therefore, the US should not directly confront, but leave the SU alone, until it falls apart on its own. So, instead of confronting it, Kennan suggested to prevent SU’s further expansion of its power around the World, by containing it, and, in the long run, waiting till SU rots from inside.
This telegram had far-reaching consequences for the US foreign policy for decades to come. It defined the policy of Containment, and reoriented the US to try to affect internal processes and people of SU to escalate the collapse of the system. Some people consider this telegram as a mark for the beginning of the Cold War. If it did not happen, the US foreign policy towards SU would have been different, and today’s World might have been very different. At the very worse, we might have fought a WWIII or have been extinct. On the other hand, the SU could have evolved into something else.