It was 75 years ago. American diplomat George Kennan dispelled Washington’s illusions about the nature of Russia from Stalin and, for two years, formulated the essentials of American foreign policy.
George Frost Kennan, an American diplomat in Moscow, was irritated by the policy of his president, Franklin Roosevelt. It was February 1946 and the Allies were working out their post-war policy in Yalta. Kennan considered the concessions made by the United States to Stalin naive, as he did not believe that the policy of cooperation between the two systems would last long after World War II.
Eight thousand words on Soviet politics
For several months, Kennan tried to warn his country’s political leadership against Stalin. But nobody paid any attention to him. His role as an insignificant diplomat changed radically the day the Soviet Union rejected membership of the World Bank. Without understanding anything, the Finance Secretariat sought more information from its embassy in Moscow. As the ambassador was not, Kennan himself dictated the telegram of reply to the secretary, on February 22, 1946.
The document contained 8,000 words and made serious warnings to Stalin’s expansionist intentions. To prevent the telegram from being seen by unauthorized people, he divided it into five parts. In Kennan’s opinion, Moscow aimed to expand Soviet borders and would take advantage of any international organization that gave it the opportunity to expand its power, to the detriment of others. “In short, this is a political motivation fanatically linked to the belief that it is not possible to work with the Americans in the long term,” concluded Kennan.
American policy reorientation
At that time, the White House was already occupied by Harry Truman. The new president was far more skeptical than his predecessor of Soviet policy. And after the “long telegram”, then, American policy has completely changed in relation to Moscow. Instead of cooperation, Truman spoke of restraint. The Cold War was beginning, and in 1950, Kennan was still convinced that foreign policy towards the Soviet Union could not be cautious enough.
Kennan also wrote a memo that focused on relations between the United States and Latin America. According to the German historian Knud Krakau, “support for authoritarian and dictatorial regimes – which were in abundance in Latin America – was openly and explicitly suggested to the American government, as long as anti-communists manifested themselves”.
Later criticism of the arms race
The Cold War and the nuclear threat sparked doubts in Kennan. He started to feel misunderstood. His intention with the long telegram had been political, not military. In October 1982, he received the German Free Trade Peace Prize for his criticisms of the arms race.
Upon receiving the award, he asked: “Could it really be that we intend to make these conditions last for an unlimited time? And this with the only argument that we need nuclear weapons for intimidation? I cannot believe it. The antinuclear movement, although intellectually primitive and its foolishness and naivete, seems to me a natural reaction to this situation! “
Unlike his “long telegram”, Kennan had also begun to criticize the American government.