The Return of Containment
Throughout the Cold War, George Kennan's policy of containment shaped the West's approach to the Soviet Union. At a time when Russia is bombing Aleppo, occupying parts of Ukraine, and meddling in Western politics, a new containment doctrine is needed.
VENICE – “The main element of any US policy towards the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment,” the US diplomat George Kennan wrote in 1947 in a Foreign Affairs article, famously signed “X.” Replace “Soviet Union” with “Russia,” and Kennan’s “containment policy” makes perfect sense today. It is almost as if, in nearly 70 years, nothing has changed, even as everything has.
Of course, the Soviet Union has been, one might say, permanently contained. But Russia is showing the same “expansive tendencies” of which Kennan warned. In fact, today, the level of trust between Russia and the “West” is at its lowest point since at least the end of the Cold War. According to Vitaly I. Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, the current tensions “are probably the worst since 1973,” when the Yom Kippur War brought the United States and the Soviet Union closer to a nuclear confrontation than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Such pessimism is warranted. This year alone, the sources of discord with Russia have multiplied and deepened. Russia has withdrawn from a number of nuclear agreements, and the Kremlin recently placed Iskander missiles, which can transport medium-range nuclear devices, in Kaliningrad, near the Polish border.