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Cold War Q’s:  The Soviet Long Game and the Policy of Containment


The origins of the Cold War were in the uneasy alliance between the US and the Soviet Union during WW2. The aim of both nations was to destroy Germany, which alone stood in all of Europe to confront the wave of Marxist-Communism washing over the continent. Spain’s Civil War was a prelude to WW2, and there Franco was victorious. Germany and Italy were under pressure from the Communists, and both Hitler and Mussolini used Fascism to strike back. Hitler united Germany in the style of Bismarck before him, which neither France nor England viewed favorably. The Soviet Union’s ambitions for westward imperialism were also threatened by German rehabilitation and expansion since the crushing defeat under the Versailles Treaty. The US entered WW2 on the Western Front while the Soviets, the Germans and the half-million non-German volunteers of the Waffen SS battled it out on the Eastern Front for the future of Europe (Degrelle). The spoils of war were claimed at Potsdam, but from there on the relationship between the US and the Soviet Union deteriorated steadily. It had never been rooted in anything other than the need to rout Germany. Once that objective had been achieved, a need for alliance was no longer. Who would control Europe was the question that remained and the two powers vying for control were the US and the Soviet Union—and the divide was Berlin.

The US also made a bold show of power by dropping two atomic bombs on Japan at the end of the war—a demonstration of force meant to show dominance to the Soviets (Stone, Kuznick). The Soviets, naturally, did not take the message well and felt compelled to take part in an arms race that further stoked the flames of Cold War. The Marshall Plan, the US’s economic aid program to Europe, further stoked the flames, and the Soviet attempt to blockade West Berlin was the response to what the Soviets saw as Western meddling in the Soviet’s hard-won territory. The US responded with the Berlin Airlift, which led to the Soviets erecting the Berlin Wall as a direct message to the US to stay out of its affairs. Kennedy’s bombastic speech at the Berlin Wall in 1963 and the Cuban Missile Crisis prior to that all contributed to the Cold War bursting onto the scene like a fully-formed Athena out of the head of Zeus.

Was it inevitable that it should come about? Considering the aims and methods of the two nations, yes—for both went about foreign policy in much the same manner, using money, bribes, arms deals, political influence, soft power, proxy armies and the like to spread their influence. The world was up for grabs at mid-century and the two superpowers were on a collision course now that the global world order had been upset by the destruction caused during WW2. The ideologies of the US and the Soviet Union were dissimilar only superficially: the Soviet Union was Communist; the US proclaimed democracy. Yet they had been allies against the Axis for geopolitical gain. The US had its own Communist sympathizers and FDR had ushered in American socialism prior to the war. The US today resembles more and more every year the character of the Soviet Union at its zenith under Stalin. What caused the clash of these two nations and the rise of the Cold War was simply the fact that both were engaged in what they saw as a zero sum game of geopolitical dominance. In this zero sum game, there could be only one winner, and when the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of the 1980s, the US…the Vietnam War and the Cold War.

Kennan’s Long Telegram is basically a prelude to NSC-68 even if unintentionally. If NSC-68 talks about the need to roll back Soviet influence, Kennan’s telegram states that the Soviet aim is to pit capitalist countries against one another—a divide and conquer strategy: “Everything possible will be done to set major Western Powers against each other. Anti-British talk will be plugged among Americans, anti-American talk among British. Continentals, including Germans, will be taught to abhor both Anglo-Saxon powers. Where suspicions exist, they will be fanned; where not, ignited.” To combat this divide-and-conquer strategy, however, Kennan recommended patience and calmness: he recommended education of the public about the strategies of the Soviet Union and viewed the Soviet system as much weaker than that of the capitalistic West. He viewed Soviet propaganda as relatively easy to dismantle through a concerted and constructive effort on the part of the West. He did not advocate war, as he thought that would be more destructive.

However, the recommendations of NSC-68 took the insight of Kennan’s telegram to heart and dismissed the recommendations. Instead of patience and calmness, NSC-68 recommends action, laying the foundation for rearmament and containment. Kennan essentially described the Soviet ambition and hoped for a peaceful way forward; Acheson et al. embraced Kennan’s description of that ambition but upped the ante by arguing that the Soviets were not simply going to wait around for the West to collapse but rather had achieved nuclear armament, which meant the West better get going on shoring up leaders around that world in pivotal places (like Korea and Vietnam) so as to combat the influence and power of the Soviet Union. NSC-68 wanted action, including military action, whereas the Long Telegram recommended a calmer approach to countering the Soviet long-game, namely by using propaganda to fight propaganda. NSC-68 was not a…

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