75th Anniversary of the Long Telegram
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This February marks the 75th anniversary of the Long Telegram. The telegram, written by George F. Kennan, detailed what he perceived to be the Soviet view of the world and the confrontation between capitalism and communism. His analysis subsequently became the foundation for the U.S. policy of containment toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War. To mark the anniversary of this document, our panel considered the legacy of the Long Telegram for U.S. and Russian foreign policy and the enduring lessons to be learned from Kennan’s analysis of U.S.-Soviet relations.
Read our 2019 publication, edited by Kennan Institute Director Matthew Rojansky and Catholic University Professor Michael Kimmage, titled A Kennan for Our Times: Revisiting America's Greatest 20th Century Diplomat in the 21st Century. The book highlights the enduring legacy of George F. Kennan and features a collection of scholarly and personal essays as well as interviews with four previous directors of the Office of Policy Planning at the U.S. Department of State, which George F. Kennan established.
Watch our latest Kennan Xplainer video on The Long Telegram here for a brief history of this document and its historical significance.
“The Long Telegram did have a profound effect on US decision-makers. For some it crystallized what they had for some time suspected. Kennan had forcibly repudiated many of the premises under which the Roosevelt administration had dealt with Stalin. Kennan the diplomat had proclaimed the dangers of diplomacy and accommodation in his analysis and that fell on many receptive ears.”
“Vladimir Putin has created a new national idea—a hybrid ideology we could call it—but it’s not designed to have universal appeal. Rather, the idea of Russian exceptionalism ‘Russkiy Mir’—Russia as a leader of the conservative international, a bulwark against chaos and regime change and a protector of traditional values, is designed to appeal to the millions of Russian speakers who live outside of Russia in the post-Soviet space, or in the West or elsewhere, and also to non-Russian conservatives in the West and beyond to Euro-skeptics, to Leftists as well around the world who dislike America.”
“The Kremlin today would prefer to look into Russian-American relations of 2021 as something very close to the Soviet-American relations of 1945. This is something which gives the Kremlin the feeling of greatness, the feeling of [a] much bigger influence than it actually possess in the contemporary world.”
“It looks like the contemporary aim—or contemporary goal—of Russian foreign policy is to reestablish if not the world of 1945, at least the essence of Russian-American relations that used to be during the Kennan Long Telegram.”
“When looking at Russia and China together at the moment, the challenge the West faces is not its overextension, and an excess of unwanted involvement, as was true in 1946. It is—by contrast—a relative lack of involvement in many parts of the world. So here I would point to Central Asia, the south Caucuses, large parts of Asia, and also Africa—where more trade, more investment, more military ties, more vaccine diplomacy might be desired from the West by individual countries, but in many areas you’ll see the West choosing not to commit itself very deeply which frames the problem not of Western colonialism but of Western passivity and inaction.”
“Putin has answered a popular call in Russia, not for hostility with the West, but for geopolitical autonomy from the West. To that degree, Putin can use his propaganda machine to reinforce a message which already exists and this is very different—and I would argue much more effective—than the propagation of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism in 1946.”
“The world is no longer bipolar—it is multipolar. America cannot contain Russia or China when other major countries are unwilling to follow the American lead. And for these countries the alternative to American hegemony—or leadership, as a Biden administration would have it—are not all obviously worse. China’s centrality to the global economy makes countries reluctant of falling behind America’s efforts to constrain China’s economic advance."
“The United States needs to deal with its domestic problems. It needs to know what it wants. It needs to demonstrate that its coping effectively with its domestic problems and the responsibility of a world power. It needs to exude the spiritual vitality capable of holding its own among the intellectual currents of the present world. Now as we all know, that hardly describes the United States today. But it is just those qualities that are ultimately the foundation of American success in the world, and that conviction to my mind, is a central legacy of Kennan’s work.”
Professor, History and International Relations; Director, Department Development Partnership Program, Academic Director of the IMARES program, European University at St. Petersburg, Russia
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