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Criticism of George Kennan’s policy of containment


Criticismof George Kennan’s policy of containment


Criticismof George Kennan’s Policy of Containment

Betweenthe late 1940s and 1980s, the United States of America was involvedin the cold war and they applied the policy of containment to fightthe communist Soviet Union. This policy was brought forward by GeorgeF. Kennan, who was an influential Foreign Service officer by thetime. In his position, he devised the idea of containment towards theend of the 1940’s. According to Kennan, this policy was to curtailthe spread of soviet power and communist ideologies to other weakernations through political and economic means (Bernstein, 2002).

However,the policy was faced with criticism. According to Bernstein (2002),the containment policy supported the Truman doctrine which wasapplied by the current administration and which was criticized bymany intellectuals for trying to bring fear to the American people,supporting totalism and even risking war against the Soviet Union. Itwas argued that this policy did not understand how the Sovietsbehaved and its recommendations were not valid. Kennan’s policy wasaccused for not making a clear cut difference between regional andstate interests. According to him the USA was supposed to suppressSoviet Union and its communist’s friends in any part of the worldwhere there was a chance for them gaining interest even though theUSA did not have any interest in such areas (US Department of StateOffice of the Historian, n.d).

Thesecond criticism of Kennan’s containment policy was that it wasseen as being too defensive. The critics did not see the containmentpolicy as a solution to fighting the Soviet Union and liberatingother countries at risk of being converted into communists, butinstead apply their rollback policy which meant using force anddestroying the Soviet Union itself instead of strengthening othercountries. In doing so it would be easy to bring liberation to othercountries and avoid control of the communists (US Department of StateOffice of the Historian, n.d).

Kennanadvocated for economic assistance to other countries since he feltthat the major threat posed by the Soviet Union was politically basedbut some of his critics differed with this since they argued that thesoviet’s threat was in terms of military. Bernstein (2002) arguesthat other critics advocated for a return to isolationism whereby theAmerica should almost cut ties with other nations and concentrate onher own affairs.

Kennanwas criticized by a respected columnist Walter Lippmann, who accusedhis policy for not differentiating between state and regionalinterests and for not giving a clear cut procedure on how the conceptof containment was going to be applied in the rest of the world(Bernstein, 2002).

Lippmannaccused Kennan’s policy of being inaccurate and did not recognizethe limits of the America power. He came up with his own alternativepolicy of disengagement which advocated for the removal of theAmerica military from other countries cooling down the tensions inthese countries and making life better for other people (Bernstein,2002). He stressed on diplomacy to bring peace and coexistencebetween the American and the soviets. This however was seen as thecause of the Second World War and some other critics did not advocatefor the withdrawal of the American army. During his interpretation ofKennan’s policy, he ironically ended up helping the publicunderstand more about the concept of containment.

JohnFoster Dulles and Paul Nitze were the other major critics of Kennan.Foster used the early 1950s election campaigns to fight the policy ofcontainment arguing that it was too defensive and USA should fightthe communist themselves instead of supporting the rest of the world(Bernstein, 2002). His strategy was not valid or supported since itwas feared that the Soviets could retaliate by fighting back and thiscould result into the third world war since by the early 1950s theywere thought to be possessed nuclear weapons.

PaulNitze was working in Truman’s administration and he succeededKennan as the director of policy planning. He differed with Kennan inthat the major threat posed by the Soviets was in terms of militaryand not political as foreseen by Kennan and that`s why the USAmilitary was supposed to be used to fight the Soviets and not fundingthe other nations economically (Bernstein, 2002). In the early 1950she came up with his policy called the NSC 68 which was to push forexpansion of the US military funding to support military operationseverywhere and thump up USA control and defeat the soviet powerspread. Later this policy was not advocated since the governmentcould not support such huge budgets constantly (US Department ofState Office of the Historian, n.d).

Thepolicy of Isolationism was advocated by conservative Republicans whoincluded the former president Herbert Hoover and senator Robert A.Taft. This would mean USA failing to associate itself with the restof the world and this was seen as the cause of world war two by someother critics meaning third world war would rooming by doing so(Bernstein, 2002).

Eventhough the Kennan’s policy faced criticism, at the end it was themost valid strategy of fighting the cold war at that time. The USAadministration applied the policy until the communist were defeatedin the late 1980s.The governments that followed thereafter continuedfighting communism by applying the policy of containment by GeorgeKennan in their own context until communism came to an end.


Bernstein,J. (2002). Containment.Retrieved from,

&lthttp://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Containment.aspx&gtApril 29, 2014

U.S.Department Of State Office Of The Historian. (N.d). MILESTONES1945-

1952.Kennan and containment, 1947.Officeof the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, United States Departmentof States. Retrieved from,&lthttp://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/kennan&gtApril 29, 2014