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George F. Kennan
Head and shoulders portrait of a balding man, wearing a suit and tie.
Ambassador to the Soviet Union

In office
May 14, 1952 – September 19, 1952
Preceded by Alan G. Kirk
Succeeded by Charles E. Bohlen
Ambassador to Yugoslavia

In office
May 16, 1961 – July 28, 1963
Preceded by Karl L. Rankin
Succeeded by Charles Burke Elbrick
Personal details
Born George Frost Kennan
(1904-02-16)February 16, 1904
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Died March 17, 2005(2005-03-17) (aged 101)
Princeton, New Jersey
Spouse(s) Annelise Sorensen
Alma mater Princeton University (Bachelors)
Profession Diplomat
Political scientist

George Frost Kennan (February 16, 1904 – March 17, 2005) was an American adviser, diplomat, political scientist, and historian, best known as "the father of containment" and as a key figure in the emergence of the Cold War. He later wrote standard histories of the relations between Soviet Union and the Western powers. He was also a core member of the group of foreign policy elders known as "The Wise Men".

In the late 1940s, his writings inspired the Truman Doctrine and the U.S. foreign policy of "containing" the Soviet Union, thrusting him into a lifelong role as a leading authority on the Cold War. His "Long Telegram"[1] from Moscow in 1946 and the subsequent 1947 article "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" argued that the Soviet regime was inherently expansionist and that its influence had to be "contained" in areas of vital strategic importance to the United States. These texts quickly emerged as foundation texts of the Cold War, expressing the Truman administration's new anti-Soviet Union policy. Kennan also played a leading role in the development of definitive Cold War programs and institutions, notably the Marshall Plan.

Soon after his concepts had become U.S. policy, Kennan began to criticize the foreign policies that he had seemingly helped launch. Subsequently, prior to the end of 1948, Kennan was confident the state of affairs in Western Europe had developed to the point where positive dialogue could commence with the Soviet Union. His proposals were discounted by the Truman administration and Kennan's influence was marginalized, particularly after Dean Acheson was appointed secretary of state in 1949. Soon thereafter, U.S. Cold War strategy assumed a more assertive and militaristic quality, causing Kennan to lament over what he believed was as an aberration of his previous assessments.

In 1950, Kennan left the Department of State—except for two brief ambassadorial stints in Moscow and Yugoslavia—and became a leading realist critic of U.S. foreign policy. He continued to be a leading thinker in international affairs as a faculty member of the Institute for Advanced Study from 1956 until his death at age 101 in March 2005.

He was a member of the Founding Council of the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford.[2]


Early life and career

Kennan was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Kossuth Kent Kennan, a lawyer specializing in tax law, and Florence James Kennan. Mrs. Kennan died two months later due to peritonitis from a ruptured appendix, though Kennan long believed that she died after giving birth to him.[3] The boy always lamented not having a mother; he was never close to his father or stepmother. However he was close to his older sisters. He attended St. John's Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin, and arrived at Princeton University in the second half of 1921.[4] Unaccustomed to the "elite" atmosphere of the Ivy League, the shy and introverted Kennan found his undergraduate years difficult and lonely.[5] After receiving his bachelor's degree in 1925, Kennan considered applying to law school, but decided it was too expensive and instead opted to apply to the newly formed Foreign Service.[6][7] He passed the qualifying examination, and after seven months of studying at the Foreign Service School in Washington, he took on his first post, as a vice consul in Geneva, Switzerland. Within a year, he was transferred to a post in Hamburg, Germany. In 1928 Kennan considered leaving the Foreign Service to go back to school when he was selected for a linguist training program that would give him three years of graduate-level study without having to leave the service.[6]

In 1929 Kennan began his program on history, politics, culture, and the Russian language at the University of Berlin's Oriental Institute. In doing so, he would follow in the footsteps of his grandfather's younger cousin, George Kennan (explorer), who had been a leading 19th-century expert on Imperial Russia and author of Siberia and the Exile System, a well-received 1891 account of the Czarist prison system.[8] During the course of his diplomatic career, Kennan would master a number of other languages, including German, French, Polish, Czech, Portuguese, and Norwegian.[7]

In 1931 Kennan was stationed at the legation in Riga, Latvia, where, as third secretary, he worked on Soviet economic affairs. From his post, Kennan "grew to mature interest in Russian affairs".[9] When the U.S. opened diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union in 1933 following the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Kennan accompanied U.S. ambassador William C. Bullitt to Moscow. By the mid-1930s, Kennan was among the core of professionally trained Russian experts on the staff of the U.S. embassy in Moscow, along with Charles E. Bohlen and Loy W. Henderson. These officials had been influenced by the long-time head of the State Department's division of East European Affairs, Robert F. Kelley.[10] They believed that there was little basis for cooperation with the Soviet Union, even against potential adversaries.[11] Meanwhile, Kennan closely followed Stalin's Great Purge, which would profoundly affect his outlook on the internal dynamics of the Soviet regime for the rest of his life.[9]

Kennan found himself in strong disagreement with Joseph E. Davies, Bullitt's successor as ambassador to the Soviet Union, who was indifferent[citation needed] to the Great Purge and other aspects of Stalin's rule. Kennan carried no sway over Davies's decisions, and the ambassador even suggested that Kennan be transferred out of Moscow for "his health".[9][citation needed] Kennan again contemplated resigning from the service, but instead decided to accept the Russian desk at State Department in Washington.[12] By September 1938, Kennan had been reassigned to a post at the legation in Prague. Following the fall of the Czechoslovak Republic to Nazi Germany at the outbreak of World War II, Kennan was assigned to Berlin. There, he supported the United States' Lend-Lease policy, but warned against displaying any notion of American support for the Soviet Union, which he considered to be an unfit ally. He was interned in Germany for six months after the United States had entered the war in December 1941.[13]

In September 1942, Kennan was assigned as a counselor in Lisbon, where he begrudgingly took on an administrative role handling intelligence and base operations. In January 1944, he was sent to London, where he served as counselor of the U.S. delegation to the European Advisory Commission, which worked to prepare Allied policy in Europe. There, Kennan grew even more disenchanted with the State Department, which he believed was ignoring his qualifications as a trained specialist. However, within months of entering the post, he was appointed deputy chief of the U.S. mission in Moscow, upon request by W. Averell Harriman, the ambassador to the Soviet Union.[14]

Cold War

The "long telegram"

In Moscow, Kennan again felt that his opinions were being ignored by Harry S. Truman and policymakers in Washington. Kennan tried repeatedly to persuade policymakers to abandon plans for cooperation with the Soviet Union in favor of a sphere of influence approach in Europe to reduce the Soviets' power there. Kennan believed that a federation needed to be established in western Europe to counter Soviet influence and power in the region and to compete against the Soviet stronghold in eastern Europe.[15]

Kennan served as deputy head of the U.S. mission in Moscow until April 1946. Near the end of that term, the Treasury Department requested that the State Department explain recent Soviet behavior, such as its disinclination to support the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.[7] Kennan responded on February 22, 1946, by sending a lengthy 5,500-word telegram (sometimes cited as being over 8,000 words) from Moscow to Secretary of State James Byrnes outlining a new strategy on how to handle diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.[1] At the "bottom of the Kremlin's neurotic view of world affairs is the traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity". Following the Russian Revolution, this sense of insecurity became mixed with communist ideology and "Oriental secretiveness and conspiracy".[16]

Soviet behavior on the international stage depended chiefly on the internal necessities of Joseph Stalin's regime; according to Kennan, Stalin needed a hostile world in order to legitimize his autocratic rule. Stalin thus used Marxism-Leninism as a "justification for [the Soviet Union's] instinctive fear of the outside world, for the dictatorship without which they did not know how to rule, for cruelties they did not dare not to inflict, for sacrifice they felt bound to demand...Today they cannot dispense with it. It is the fig leaf of their moral and intellectual respectability".[16]

The solution was to strengthen Western institutions in order to render them invulnerable to the Soviet challenge, while awaiting the mellowing of the Soviet regime.[17]

Kennan's new policy of containment was that Soviet pressure had to "be contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counterforce at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points".[18]

This dispatch brought Kennan to the attention of Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, a leading advocate among Truman's inner circle of a hard-line approach to relations with the Soviets, the United States' former wartime ally. Forrestal helped bring Kennan back to Washington, where he served as the first deputy for foreign affairs at the National War College and then strongly influenced his decision to publish the "X" article.[7][19]

The goal of his policy was to withdraw all the U.S. forces from Europe. The settlement reached would give the Kremlin sufficient reassurance against the establishment of regimes in Eastern Europe hostile to the Soviet Union, tempering the degree of control over that area that the Soviet leaders felt it necessary to exercise.[20]

Meanwhile, in March 1947, Truman appeared before Congress and used Kennan's warnings in the "long telegram" as the basis of what became known as the Truman Doctrine. "I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures."[21]


Head and shoulders portrait of a dignified man in his forties, wearing a suit and tie.

Kennan in 1947

Unlike the "long telegram", Kennan's well-timed article appearing in the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs under the pseudonym "X", entitled "The Sources of Soviet Conduct", did not begin by emphasizing "traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity";[16] instead it asserted that Stalin's policy was shaped by a combination of Marxist–Leninist ideology, which advocated revolution to defeat the capitalist forces in the outside world and Stalin's determination to use the notion of "capitalist encirclement" as a fig leaf legitimizing his regimentation of Soviet society so that he could consolidate his political power.[22] Kennan argued that Stalin would not (and moreover could not) moderate the supposed Soviet determination to overthrow Western governments. Thus,

"the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.... Soviet pressure against the free institutions of the Western world is something that can be contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counterforce at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and manoeuvers of Soviet policy, but which cannot be charmed or talked out of existence."[23]

His new policy of containment declared that Soviet pressure had to "be contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points".[18] The goal of his policy was to withdraw all the U.S. forces from Europe. "The settlement reached would give the Kremlin sufficient reassurance against the establishment of regimes in Eastern Europe hostile to the Soviet Union, tempering the degree of control over that area that the Soviet leaders felt it necessary to exercise".[20]

Kennan further argued that the United States would have to undertake this containment alone but if it could do so without undermining its own economic health and political stability, the Soviet party structure would undergo a period of immense strain eventually resulting in "either the break-up or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power".[24]

The publication of the "X" article soon triggered one of the more intense debates of the Cold War. Walter Lippmann, a leading U.S. journalist and commentator on international affairs, strongly criticized the "X" article.[25] Lippmann argued that Kennan's strategy of containment was "a strategic monstrosity" that could "be implemented only by recruiting, subsidizing and supporting a heterogeneous array of satellites, clients, dependents, and puppets".[26] Lippmann argued that diplomacy was the key towards improving relations with the Soviets; he suggested that the U.S. withdraw its forces from Europe and reunify and demilitarize Germany.[27] Meanwhile, word soon leaked out that "X" was indeed Kennan. This information gave the "X" article the status of an official document expressing the Truman administration's new policy toward Moscow.[28]

Kennan had not intended the "X" article as a prescription for policy.[29] For the rest of his life, Kennan continued to reiterate that the article did not imply an automatic commitment to resist Soviet "expansionism" wherever it occurred, with little distinction of primary and secondary interests. The article did not make it clear that Kennan favored employing political and economic rather than military methods as the chief agent of containment.[30] "My thoughts about containment" said Kennan in a 1996 interview to CNN, "were of course distorted by the people who understood it and pursued it exclusively as a military concept; and I think that that, as much as any other cause, led to [the] 40 years of unnecessary, fearfully expensive and disoriented process of the Cold War".[31]

In addition, the administration made few attempts to explain the distinction between Soviet influence and the international Communist movement to the U.S. public. "In part, this failure reflected the belief of many in Washington", writes historian John Lewis Gaddis, "that only the prospect of an undifferentiated global threat could shake Americans out of their isolationist tendencies that remained latent among them".[32]

In a PBS television interview with David Gergen in 1996, Kennan again reiterated that he did not regard the Soviets as primarily a military threat, noting that "they were not like Hitler". In Kennan's view, this misunderstanding:

"all came down to one sentence in the "X" article where I said that wherever these people, meaning the Soviet leadership, confronted us with dangerous hostility anywhere in the world, we should do everything possible to contain it and not let them expand any further. I should have explained that I didn't suspect them of any desire to launch an attack on us. This was right after the war, and it was absurd to suppose that they were going to turn around and attack the United States. I didn't think I needed to explain that, but I obviously should have done it."[33]

The "X" article meant sudden fame for Kennan, who became the father of the government's containment doctrine overnight, leading him to write in his memoirs, "My official loneliness came in fact to an end...My reputation was made. My voice now carried."[34]

Influence under Marshall

Between April 1947 and December 1948, when George C. Marshall was secretary of state, Kennan was more influential than he was at any other period in his career. Marshall valued his strategic vision and had him create and head what is now called the Policy Planning Staff, the State Department's internal think tank.[35] Kennan became the first director of policy planning.[36][37] Marshall relied heavily on him to prepare policy recommendations.[38]

As an intellectual architect of the Marshall Plan, Kennan helped launch the pillar of economic and political containment of the Soviet Union. Although Kennan regarded the Soviet Union as too weak to risk war, he nonetheless considered it an enemy capable of expanding into Western Europe through subversion, given the popular support for Moscow-controlled Communist parties in Western Europe, which remained demoralized by the devastation of the Second World War. To counter this potential source of Soviet influence, Kennan's solution was to direct economic aid and covert political help to Japan and Western Europe to revive Western governments and prop up international capitalism; by doing so the United States would help to rebuild the balance of power. In June 1948, Kennan proposed covert support of left-wing parties not oriented toward Moscow and to labor unions in Western Europe in order to engineer a rift between Moscow and working-class movements in Western Europe.[3]

As the United States was launching the Marshall Plan, Kennan and the Truman administration hoped that the Soviet Union's rejection of Marshall aid would place strains on its relations with its Communist allies in Eastern Europe.[3] Kennan was proposing a series of efforts to exploit the schism between Moscow and Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslavia. Kennan proposed conducting covert action in the Balkans aimed at further eroding Moscow's influence.[39]

The administration's new vigorously anti-Soviet policy also became evident when, at Kennan's suggestion, the U.S. changed its long-standing hostility to Francisco Franco's fascist regime in Spain in order to secure U.S. influence in the Mediterranean. Kennan had observed in 1947 that the Truman Doctrine implied a new view of Franco. His suggestion heralded the turn in U.S.–Spanish relations, which ended in close military cooperation after 1950.[40]

Differences with Acheson

Kennan's influence rapidly declined under Secretary of State Dean Acheson, the successor of the ailing George Marshall in 1949 and 1950.[41][42] Acheson did not regard the Soviet "threat" as chiefly political, and he saw the Berlin blockade starting in June 1948, the first Soviet test of a nuclear weapon in August 1949, the Communist revolution in China a month later, and the beginning of the Korean War in June 1950 as evidence of his view. Truman and Acheson decided to delineate the Western sphere of influence and to create a system of alliances backed by conventional and nuclear weapons.

This policy was written as NSC-68, a classified report issued by the United States National Security Council in April 1950 and written by Paul Nitze, Kennan's successor as director of policy planning.[43] Kennan and Charles Bohlen, another State Department expert on Russia, fought over the wording of NSC-68, which emerged as the blueprint for waging the Cold War.[44] Kennan rejected the idea that Stalin had a grand design for world conquest implicit in Nitze's report and argued that he actually feared overextending Russian power. Kennan even argued that NSC-68 should not have been drafted at all, as it would make U.S. policies too rigid, simplistic, and militaristic. Acheson overruled Kennan and Bohlen, backing up the view of the Soviet menace in NSC-68.[45]

Kennan opposed the building of the hydrogen bomb and the rearmament of Germany, which were policies backed up by the assumptions of NSC-68.[46][47] During the Korean War (which began when North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950), when rumors started circulating in the State Department that plans were being made to advance beyond the 38th parallel into North Korea, a move that Kennan considered highly dangerous, he engaged in intense arguments with Assistant Secretary of State for the Far East Dean Rusk, who apparently supported Acheson's goal to forcibly unite the Koreas.[48]

Kennan lost influence with Acheson, who in any case relied much less on his staff than Marshall had. Kennan resigned as director of policy planning in December 1949 but stayed in the department as counselor until June 1950.[49] Acheson replaced Kennan with Nitze in January 1950, who was far more comfortable with the calculus of military power. Afterwards, Kennan accepted an appointment as Visitor to the Institute for Advanced Study from fellow moderate Robert Oppenheimer, Director of the Institute.[50]

Despite his influence, Kennan was never really comfortable in government. He always regarded himself as an outsider and had little patience with critics. W. Averell Harriman, the U.S. ambassador in Moscow when Kennan was deputy between 1944 and 1946, remarked that Kennan was "a man who understood Russia but not the United States".[51]

Ambassador to the Soviet Union

In December 1951, President Truman nominated Kennan to be the next United States ambassador to the Soviet Union. His appointment was strongly supported in the Senate.[52]

At the time U.S.–Soviet tensions had moved beyond the point at which diplomacy could play a significant role. In many measures (to Kennan's consternation) the priorities of the administration focused more on solidifying alignments against the Soviets than negotiating differences with them.[52] In his memoirs, Kennan recalled, "So far as I could see, we were expecting to be able to gain our objectives...without making any concessions though, only 'if we were really all-powerful, and could hope to get away with it.' I very much doubted that this was the case."[53]

At Moscow, Kennan found the atmosphere even more regimented than on his previous trips, with police guards following him everywhere, discouraging contact with Soviet citizens.[54] At the time, Soviet propaganda charged the U.S. with preparing for war, which Kennan did not wholly dismiss. "I began to ask myself whether ... we had not contributed ... by the overmilitarization of our policies and statements ... to a belief in Moscow that it was war we were after, that we had settled for its inevitability, that it was only a matter of time before we would unleash it."[55]

In September 1952, Kennan made a misstatement that cost him his ambassadorship. In an answer to a question at a press conference, Kennan compared his conditions at the ambassador's residence in Moscow to those he had encountered while interned in Berlin during the first few months of the Second World War. While his statement was not unfounded, the Soviets took it as an implied analogy with Nazi Germany. The Soviets then declared Kennan persona non grata and refused to allow him to re-enter the Soviet Union. Kennan acknowledged in retrospect that it was a "foolish thing for me to have said".[56]

Kennan and the Eisenhower administration

Kennan returned to Washington, where he became embroiled in disagreements with Dwight D. Eisenhower's hawkish secretary of State, John Foster Dulles.[57] Even so he was able to work constructively with the new administration. In the summer of 1953 President Eisenhower asked Kennan to chair the first of a series of top-secret teams, dubbed Operation Solarium, examining the advantages and disadvantages of continuing the Truman administration's approach of containment and of seeking to "roll back" existing areas of Soviet influence. Upon completion of the project, the president appeared to endorse the group's recommendations.[58][59]

By lending his prestige to Kennan's position, the president tacitly signaled his intention to formulate the strategy of his administration within the framework of its predecessor's, despite the misgivings of some within the Republican Party.[60] The critical difference between the Truman and Eisenhower approaches to containment had to do with Eisenhower's concerns that the United States could not indefinitely afford high military spending.[61] The new president thus sought to minimize costs not by acting whenever and wherever the Soviets acted (a strategy designed to avoid risk) but rather whenever and wherever the United States could afford to act.

Ambassador to Yugoslavia

During John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential election campaign Kennan wrote to the future president to offer some suggestions on how his administration should improve the country's standing in the world, in light of Soviet and Chinese efforts to break down the Americans and their Western alliances. Kennan wrote, "What is needed is a succession of ... calculated steps, timed in such a way as not only to throw the adversary off balance but to keep him off it, and prepared with sufficient privacy so that the advantage of surprise can be retained."[62] He also urged the administration to "assure a divergence of outlook and policy between the Russians and Chinese," which could be accomplished by improving relations with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev who had wanted to distance himself from the Communist Chinese.[63] He wrote, "We should...without deceiving ourselves about Khrushchev's political personality and without nurturing any unreal hopes, be concerned to keep him politically in the running and to encourage the survival in Moscow of the tendencies he personifies". In addition, he recommended that the United States work toward creating divisions within the Soviet bloc by undermining its power in Eastern Europe and supporting the independent propensities of satellite governments.[63] Although Kennan had not been considered for a position by Kennedy's inner circle of advisers, the president himself offered Kennan the choice of ambassadorship in either Poland or Yugoslavia. Kennan was more interested in Belgrade, so he accepted Kennedy's offer and took his post in Yugoslavia in May 1961.[63]

Kennan was tasked with trying to strengthen Yugoslavia's stance against the Soviets and to encourage other states in the Eastern bloc to pursue autonomy from the Soviets. Kennan found his ambassadorship in Belgrade to be much improved from his experiences in Moscow a decade earlier. He commented, "I was favored in being surrounded with a group of exceptionally able and loyal assistants, whose abilities I myself admired, whose judgment I valued, and whose attitude toward myself was at all times...enthusiastically cooperative...Who was I to complain?"[63] Kennan found the Yugoslav government treated the American diplomats politely and warmly, a sharp contrast from the way in which he was treated in Moscow. He wrote that the Yugoslavs "considered me, rightly or wrongly, a distinguished person in the U.S., and they were pleased that someone whose name they had heard before was being sent to Belgrade".[64]

Kennan found it difficult to conduct his job in Belgrade. President Josip Broz Tito and his foreign minister, Koča Popović, began to suspect that Kennedy would embrace an anti-Yugoslav policy during his term. Tito and Popović saw Kennedy's decision to observe Captive Nations Week as an indication that the United States would support anticommunist liberation efforts in Yugoslavia. Tito also believed that the CIA and the Pentagon were the true directors of American foreign policy. Kennan attempted to restore Tito's confidence in the American foreign policy establishment but his efforts were compromised by a series of diplomatic blunders and crimes, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and the U-2 spy incident.[64]

Relations between Yugoslavia and the United States quickly began to break down. In September 1961, Tito held a conference of nonaligned nations, where he delivered speeches that the U.S. government interpreted as being pro-Soviet. According to historian David Mayers, Kennan argued that Tito's perceived pro-Soviet position was in fact a ploy to "buttress Khrushchev's position within the Politburo against hardliners opposed to improving relations with the West and against China, which was pushing for a major Soviet–U.S. showdown". This position also earned Tito "credit in the Kremlin to be drawn upon against future Chinese attacks on his communist credentials".[65] While politicians and government officials expressed growing concern over Yugoslavia's relationship with the Soviet Union, Kennan believed that the country had an "anomalous position in the Cold War that objectively suited U.S. purposes".[66] Kennan also believed that within a few years, Yugoslavia's example would lead states in the Eastern bloc to demand more social and economic autonomy from the Soviets.[66]

By 1962, Congress had passed legislation to deny financial aid grants to Yugoslavia, to withdraw the sale of spare parts for Yugoslav warplanes, and to revoke the country's most favored nation status. Kennan strongly protested the legislation, arguing that it would only result in a straining of relations between Yugoslavia and the U.S.[67] Kennan came to Washington in the summer of 1962 to lobby against the legislation but was unable to elicit a change from Congress. President Kennedy supported Kennan in private but remained noncommittal in public, as he did not want to jeopardize his slim majority support in Congress on a potentially contentious issue.[67] With the outlook of U.S.–Yugoslav relations getting progressively worse, Kennan tendered his resignation as ambassador in late July 1963.[68]

Academic career and later life

In 1957 Kennan was invited by the BBC to give the annual Reith Lectures—a series of six radio lectures, which were titled Russia, the Atom and the West. For these, Kennan explored the history, impact, and possible consequences of relations between Russia and the West.

After the end of his brief ambassadorial post in Yugoslavia in 1963, Kennan spent the rest of his life in academe, becoming a leading realist critic of U.S. foreign policy.[49] Having spent 18 months as a scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study between 1950 and 1952, Kennan permanently joined the faculty of the Institute's School of Historical Studies in 1956.[69] During his career there, Kennan wrote seventeen books and scores of articles on international relations. He won the Pulitzer Prize for History,[70] the National Book Award for Nonfiction,[71] the Bancroft Prize, and the Francis Parkman Prize for Russia Leaves the War, published in 1956.[51] He again won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award[72] in 1968 for Memoirs, 1925–1950.[73] A second volume, taking his reminiscences up to 1963 was published in 1972. Among his other works were American Diplomacy 1900–1950, Sketches from a Life, published in 1989, and Around the Cragged Hill in 1993.[74]

His properly historical works amount to a six-volume account of the relations between Russia and the West from 1875 to his own time; the period from 1894 to 1914 was planned but not completed. He was chiefly concerned with:

  • The folly of the First World War as a choice of policy; he argues that the costs of modern war, direct and indirect, predictably exceeded the benefits of removing the Hohenzollerns.
  • The ineffectiveness of summit diplomacy, with the Conference of Versailles as a type-case. National leaders have too much to do to give any single matter the constant and flexible attention which diplomatic problems require.
  • The Allied intervention in Russia of 1918–19. He was indignant with Soviet accounts of a vast capitalist conspiracy against the world's first worker's state, some of which do not even mention the World War; he was equally indignant with the decision to intervene as costly and harmful. He argues that the interventions,by arousing Russian nationalism, may have ensured the survival of the Bolshevik state.


Political realism formed the basis of Kennan's work as a diplomat and diplomatic historian and remains relevant to the debate over American foreign policy, which since the 19th century has been characterized by a shift from the Founding Fathers' realist school to the idealistic or Wilsonian school of international relations. In the realist tradition, security is based on the principle of a balance of power, whereas the Wilsonian view (considered impractical by realists) relies on morality as the sole determining factor in statecraft. According to the Wilsonian approach the spread of democracy abroad as a foreign policy is key and morals are universally valid. During the Presidency of Bill Clinton, American diplomacy reflected the Wilsonian school to such a degree that those in favor of the realist approach likened President Clinton's policies to social work. According to Kennan, whose concept of American diplomacy was based on the realist approach, such moralism without regard to the realities of power and the national interest is self-defeating and will lead to the erosion of American power.[75]

In his historical writings and memoirs, Kennan laments in great detail the failings of democratic foreign policymakers and those of the United States in particular. According to Kennan, when American policymakers suddenly confronted the Cold War, they had inherited little more than rationale and rhetoric "utopian in expectations, legalistic in concept, moralistic in [the] demand it seemed to place on others, and self-righteous in the degree of high-mindedness and ourselves".[76] The source of the problem is the force of public opinion, a force that is inevitably unstable, unserious, subjective, emotional, and simplistic. Kennan has insisted that the U.S. public can only be united behind a foreign policy goal on the "primitive level of slogans and jingoistic ideological inspiration".[77]

Containment in 1967, when he published the first volume of his memoirs, involved something other than the use of military "counterforce". He was never pleased that the policy he influenced was associated with the arms build-up of the Cold War. In his memoirs, Kennan argued that containment did not demand a militarized U.S. foreign policy. "Counterforce" implied the political and economic defense of Western Europe against the disruptive effect of the war on European society.[78] Exhausted by war, the Soviet Union posed no serious military threat to the United States or its allies at the beginning of the Cold War but rather an ideological and political rival.[79]

In the 1960s, Kennan criticized U.S. involvement in Vietnam, arguing that the United States had little vital interest in the region.[80] In Kennan's view, the Soviet Union, Britain, Germany, Japan, and North America remained the arenas of vital U.S. interests. In the 1970s and 1980s, he emerged as a leading critic of the renewed arms race as détente was scrapped.[81]

In 1989 President George H. W. Bush awarded Kennan the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. Yet he remained a realist critic of recent U.S. presidents, urging the U.S. government to "withdraw from its public advocacy of democracy and human rights", saying that the "tendency to see ourselves as the center of political enlightenment and as teachers to a great part of the rest of the world strikes me as unthought-through, vainglorious and undesirable".[51][82] These ideas were particularly applicable to U.S. relations with China and Russia. Kennan opposed the Clinton administration's war in Kosovo and its expansion of NATO (the establishment of which he had also opposed half a century earlier), expressing fears that both policies would worsen relations with Russia.[83] He described NATO enlargement as a "strategic blunder of potentially epic proportions".[84]

Kennan remained vigorous and alert in the last years of his life, although arthritis had him using a wheelchair. In his later years, Kennan concluded that "the general effect of Cold War extremism was to delay rather than hasten the great change that overtook the Soviet Union".[85] At 98 he warned of the unforeseen consequences of waging war against Iraq. He warned that launching an attack on Iraq would amount to waging a second war that "bears no relation to the first war against terrorism" and declared efforts by the Bush administration to link al Qaeda with Saddam Hussein "pathetically unsupportive and unreliable". Kennan went on to warn:

Anyone who has ever studied the history of American diplomacy, especially military diplomacy, knows that you might start in a war with certain things on your mind as a purpose of what you are doing, but in the end, you found yourself fighting for entirely different things that you had never thought of before.... In other words, war has a momentum of its own and it carries you away from all thoughtful intentions when you get into it. Today, if we went into Iraq, like the president would like us to do, you know where you begin. You never know where you are going to end.[86]

In February 2004 scholars, diplomats, and Princeton alumni gathered at the university's campus to celebrate Kennan's 100th birthday. Among those in attendance were Secretary of State Colin Powell, international relations theorist John Mearsheimer, journalist Chris Hedges, former ambassador and career Foreign Service officer Jack F. Matlock, Jr., and Kennan's biographer, John Lewis Gaddis.[87]

Use of Institutions

Kennan was critical of the United States' attempt to extend their influence abroad through the use of institutions. From his perspective, attempting to extrapolate their domestic politics to other nations through international regimes was a dangerous proposition. Kennan states, "In the first place, the idea of the subordination of a large number of states to an international juridicial regime, limiting their possibilities for aggression and injury to other states, implies that these are all states like our own, reasonably content with their international borders and status, at least to the extent that they would be willing to refrain from pressing for change without international agreement."[88] Rather than tying their hands to other states by investing our power in institutions, he advocated keeping power on the national level and focusing on maintaining the balance of power abroad to protect the United States' domestic security interests.

Death and legacy

Kennan died on March 17, 2005, at age 101 at his home in Princeton, New Jersey. He was survived by his wife Annelise, whom he married in 1931, and his four children, eight grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.[7] Annelise died in 2008 at the age of 98.[89]

In an obituary in the New York Times, Kennan was described as "the American diplomat who did more than any other envoy of his generation to shape United States policy during the cold war" to whom "the White House and the Pentagon turned when they sought to understand the Soviet Union after World War II".[7] Of Kennan, historian Wilson D. Miscamble remarked that "[o]ne can only hope that present and future makers of foreign policy might share something of his integrity and intelligence".[83] Foreign Policy described Kennan as "the most influential diplomat of the 20th century". Henry Kissinger said that Kennan "came as close to authoring the diplomatic doctrine of his era as any diplomat in our history", while Colin Powell called Kennan "our best tutor" in dealing with the foreign policy issues of the 21st century.[90]

During his career, Kennan received a number of awards and honors. As a scholar and writer, Kennan was a two-time recipient of both the Pulitzer Prizes and the National Book Award, and had also received the Francis Parkman Prize, the Ambassador Book Award and the Bancroft Prize. Among Kennan's numerous other awards and distinctions were the Testimonial of Loyal and Meritorious Service from the Department of State (1953), Princeton's Woodrow Wilson Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Nation's Service (1976), the Order of the Pour le Mérite (1976), the Albert Einstein Peace Prize (1981), the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (1982), the American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal (1984), the American Whig-Cliosophic Society's James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service (1985), the Franklin D. Roosevelt Foundation Freedom from Fear Medal (1987), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1989), the Distinguished Service Award from the Department of State (1994), and the Library of Congress Living Legend (2000). Kennan had also received 29 honorary degrees and was honored in his name with the George F. Kennan Chair in National Security Strategy at the National War College and the George F. Kennan Professorship at the Institute for Advanced Study.[91][92][93]

Historian Wilson D. Miscamble argues that Kennan played a critical role in shaping the foreign policies of the Truman administration. He also states that Kennan did not hold a vision for either global or strongpoint containment; he simply wanted to restore the balance of power between the United States and the Soviet Union.[94] Like historian John Lewis Gaddis, Miscamble concedes that although Kennan personally preferred political containment, his recommendations ultimately resulted in a policy directed more toward strongpoint than to global containment.[95]


Kennan deplored the Hispanicization of the United States. Noting the large-scale Mexican immigration in the Southwest, Kennan in 2002 saw "unmistakable evidences of a growing differentiation between the cultures, respectively, of large southern and southwestern regions of this country, on the one hand", and those of "some northern regions". In the former, "the very culture of the bulk of the population of these regions will tend to be primarily Latin-American in nature rather than what is inherited from earlier American traditions...Could it really be that there was so little of merit [in America] that it deserves to be recklessly trashed in favor of a polyglot mix-mash?"[96]

Biographies of Kennan

Lee Congdon's George Kennan: A Writing Life was an intellectual biography of Kennan published by ISI Books.[97]

Another biography George F. Kennan: An American Life was written by John Lewis Gaddis and published in 2011 by Penguin.


  • "X" (July 1947). "The Sources of Soviet Conduct". pp. 566–582. Digital object identifier:10.2307/20030065. ISSN 0015-7120. JSTOR 20030065. 
  • Kennan, George F. (1951). "American Diplomacy, 1900–1950". Chicago: University of Chicago Press. OCLC 466719. 
  • Kennan, George F. (1954). "Realities of American Foreign Policy". Princeton: Princeton University Press. OCLC 475829. 
  • Kennan, George F. (1956). "Russia Leaves the War". Princeton: Princeton University Press. OCLC 1106320. 
  • Kennan, George F. (1956), "The Sisson Documents," Journal of Modern History v. 28 (June, 1956), 130-54
  • Kennan, George F. (1958). "The Decision to Intervene". Princeton: Princeton University Press. OCLC 1106303. 
  • Kennan, George F. (1958). "Russia, the Atom, and the West". New York: Harper. OCLC 394718. 
  • Kennan, George F. (1961). "Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin". Boston: Little, Brown and Company. OCLC 253164. 
  • Kennan, George F. (1967). "Memoirs: 1925–1950". Boston: Little, Brown and Company. OCLC 484922. .
  • Kennan, George F. (1968). "From Prague after Munich: Diplomatic Papers, 1938–1940". Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-05620-X. 
  • Kennan, George F. (1968). "Democracy and the Student Left". Boston: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0090950706. 
  • Kennan, George F. (1971). "The Marquis de Custine and his "Russia in 1839"". Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-05187-9. 
  • Kennan, George F. (1972). "Memoirs: 1950–1963". Boston: Little, Brown and Company. OCLC 4047526. .
  • Kennan, George F. (1978). "The Cloud of Danger: Current Realities of American Foreign Policy". London: Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-132140-9. 
  • Kennan, George F. (1979). "The Decline of Bismarck's European Order: Franco-Russian Relations, 1875–1890". Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-05282-4. 
  • Kennan, George F. (1982). "The Nuclear Delusion: Soviet-American Relations in the Atomic Age". New York: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-394-52946-4. 
  • Kennan, George F. (1984). "The Fateful Alliance: France, Russia, and the Coming of the First World War". New York: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-394-53494-8. 
  • Kennan, George F. (1989). "Sketches from a Life". New York: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-394-57504-0. 
  • Kennan, George F. (1993). "Around the Cragged Hill: A Personal and Political Philosophy". New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-31145-7. 
  • Kennan, George F. (1996). "At a Century's Ending: Reflections 1982–1995". New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-31609-2. 
  • Kennan, George F. (2000). "An American Family: The Kennans, the First Three Generations". New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-05034-3. 

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Keene, George. "Photocopy of Long Telegram -- Truman Library". Telegram, George Kennan to George Marshall February 22, 1946. Harry S. Truman Administration File, Elsey Papers. Retrieved 27 June 2011. 
  2. "Founding Council | The Rothermere American Institute". Rothermere American Institute. Retrieved 2012-11-22. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Gaddis 1990, p. 199.
  4. Isaacson & Thomas 1986, p. 73.
  5. Lukacs 2007, p. 17.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Miscamble 2004, p. 22.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Weiner & Crossette 2005.
  8. Miscamble 2004, pp. 22–23.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Miscamble 2004, p. 23.
  10. Bennett, Edward Moore (1985). "Franklin D. Roosevelt and the. Search for Security: American–Soviet Relations, 1933–39". Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources. p. 24. ISBN 0-8420-2247-3. 
  11. Gaddis 1990, pp. 117–143.
  12. Paterson 1988, p. 122.
  13. Paterson 1988, p. 123.
  14. Paterson 1988, pp. 123–124.
  15. Miscamble 2004, p. 24.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Kennan, George F. (February 22, 1946). "The Long Telegram". Retrieved July 30, 2009. 
  17. Kennan 1967, pp. 292–295.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Nash, Gary B. "Containment Defined." The American People. Creating a Nation and a Society. 6th ed. New York: Pearson Education, 2008. 825.
  19. LaFeber 2002, p. 69.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Grodzins, Morton, and Eugene Rabinowitch. The Atomic Age; Scientists in National and World Affairs. Articles from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 1945-1962. Vol. 43. New York: Basic, 1963.Ser. 9. 17-18.
  21. "President Harry Truman's Address Before a Joint Session of Congress, March 12, 1947". Retrieved July 29, 2009. 
  22. "X" 1947, pp. 566–582.
  23. "X" 1947, pp. 575–576.
  24. "X" 1947, p. 582.
  25. LaFeber 2002, pp. 70–71.
  26. Lippmann, Walter (1947). "The Cold War: A Study in U.S. Foreign Policy". New York: Harper. pp. 18, 21. OCLC 457028. 
  27. Miscamble 1992, p. 66.
  28. Paterson 1988, p. 131.
  29. Mayers 1990, p. 112.
  30. For Kennan's critique of the "X" article and an account of the circumstances surrounding its publication, see Memoirs: 1925-1950, pp. 354-367.
  31. "An interview with George Kennan: Kennan on the Cold War". April 1, 2009. Retrieved July 30, 2009. 
  32. Gaddis 1990, p. 200.
  33. "Online NewsHour: George Kennan". PBS. Retrieved July 30, 2009. 
  34. Kennan 1967, p. 295.
  35. Miscamble 2004, p. 26.
  36. Hixson 1989, p. 51.
  37. Miscamble 1992, p. 39.
  38. Miscamble 1992, pp. 43–74.
  39. Hixson 1989, p. 85.
  40. Forrestal 1951, p. 328.
  41. Brinkley, Douglas (1994). "Dean Acheson: The Cold War Years, 1953–71". New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 76. ISBN 0-300-06075-0. 
  42. Miscamble 2004, pp. 30–31.
  43. Miscamble 1992, p. 309.
  44. McCoy, Donald R. (1984). "The Presidency of Harry S. Truman". Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. p. 214. ISBN 0-7006-0252-6. 
  45. LaFeber 1997, p. 96.
  46. Wells, Samuel F., Jr. (1979). "Sounding the Tocsin: NSC 68 and the Soviet Threat". pp. 116–158. Digital object identifier:10.2307/2626746. ISSN 0162-2889. JSTOR 2626746. 
  47. Mayers 1990, p. 147.
  48. LaFeber 2002, p. 113.
  49. 49.0 49.1 Miscamble 2004, p. 31.
  50. Hixson 1989, p. 117.
  51. 51.0 51.1 51.2 Smith 2005.
  52. 52.0 52.1 Gaddis 1990, p. 211.
  53. Kennan 1967, pp. 107–110.
  54. Kennan 1967, pp. 112–134.
  55. Kennan 1967, p. 134.
  56. Kennan 1967, p. 159.
  57. Mayers 1990, p. 205.
  58. Gaddis 1990, p. 218.
  59. Mayers 1990, pp. 223–224.
  60. Gaddis 1990, pp. 218–219.
  61. Gaddis 1990, p. 219.
  62. Mayers 1990, p. 207.
  63. 63.0 63.1 63.2 63.3 Mayers 1990, p. 208.
  64. 64.0 64.1 Mayers 1990, p. 209.
  65. Mayers 1990, p. 210.
  66. 66.0 66.1 Mayers 1990, p. 212.
  67. 67.0 67.1 Mayers 1990, p. 213.
  68. Mayers 1990, pp. 214, 216.
  69. Mayers 1990, p. xiv.
  70. "History". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-03-17.
  71. "National Book Awards – 1957". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-17. (With acceptance speech by Kennan.)
  72. "National Book Awards – 1968". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-17.
  73. Hixson 1989, p. 221.
  74. Mayers 1990, p. 376.
  75. Richard Russell, "American Diplomatic Realism: A Tradition Practised and Preached by George F. Kennan," Diplomacy and Statecraft, Nov 2000, Vol. 11 Issue 3, pp 159–83
  76. Kennan 1972, pp. 70–71.
  77. Urban 1976, p. 17.
  78. Kennan 1967, p. 358.
  79. "George Kennan, architect of the Cold War, dies at 101". Associated Press. March 18, 2005. Retrieved August 5, 2009. 
  80. Anderson, David L. (1991). "Trapped by Success". New York: Columbia University Press. p. xi. ISBN 0-231-07374-7. 
  81. Miscamble 2004, p. 33.
  82. In an interview with the New York Review of Books in 1999
  83. 83.0 83.1 Miscamble 2004, p. 34.
  84. Talbott 2002, p. 220.
  85. Zinn, Howard (2003). "A People's History of the United States". New York: HarperCollins. p. 592. ISBN 0-06-052842-7. 
  86. Eisele, Albert (September 26, 2002). "George Kennan Speaks Out About Iraq". History News Network. Retrieved August 5, 2009. 
  87. Engerman, David C. (February 29, 2004). "The Kennan century: Debating the lessons of America's greatest living diplomat". The Boston Globe. 
  88. George Kennan (1951). American Diplomacy. pp.97
  90. O'Hara, Carolyn (March 2005). "Cold Warrior". Foreign Policy. Retrieved August 16, 2009. 
  91. "Kennan's Legacy". Institute for Advanced Study. June 11, 2007. Archived from the original on April 23, 2008. Retrieved August 16, 2009. 
  92. "American Academy of Arts and Letters – Award Winners: Gold Medal". American Academy of Arts and Letters. Retrieved August 16, 2009. 
  93. "Library of Congress to Honor "Living Legends"". Library of Congress. April 14, 2000. Retrieved August 16, 2009. 
  94. Miscamble 1992, pp. 118, 353.
  95. Pelz, Stephen (December 1994). "The Sorrows of George F. Kennan". p. 712. ISSN 0048-7511. 
  96. Bill Kauffman, Free Vermont, The American Conservative December 19, 2005.
  97. ISI books listing about Congdon's book


Further reading

  • John Lukacs (editor with the introduction), George F. Kennan and the Origins of Containment, 1944–1946 : the Kennan-Lukacs Correspondence (Columbia, Mo. : University of Missouri Press, 1997).
  • John Lewis Gaddis, "George F. Kennan: An American Life" (New York, New York: Penguin Press, 2011).

External links

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