Containment policy

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Containment Policy was a U.S. Cold War international relations policy to attempt to prevent, by diplomatic, economic, or military means, the spread of communism from nations where it was existing to other nations.

The policy and its name were developed by George Kennan who was the Truman Administration's charge d'affaires (acting head) of the U.S. embassy in Moscow. Kennan's policy came from what is known as the "Long Telegram",[1] or, as the article appeared pseudonymously in Foreign Affairs, "The Sources of Soviet Power". Kennan's basic premise was that the Soviet ideology was based on a dialectic in which they were destined to win, so they would take a long view. While they would push for local victory, they would rarely treat confrontations as existential.


During the Cold War, opponents proposed a more "victory" strategy, one of the keys, for example, in the Truman-Macarthur confrontation. Nevertheless, Dwight D. Eisenhower, although this has become more obvious after more documents have been declassified, essentially kept the policy. Supporting the French in Indochina was limited in 1954, and tied to French support for NATO and other containment in Europe.

Under John F. Kennedy, more aggressive anticommunism, as with Cuba, came into being, although he stayed more limited, as with Laos, than did Lyndon B. Johnson. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger moved to the detente position, while the Reagan Administration chose a more aggressive rollback policy.

New applications

A variety of analysts suggest post-Cold War alternatives. [2]

Andrew Bacevich has proposed containment of radical Islamism.[3] Leaving the analogy to Communism as a secular religion implicit, he describes the conflict between theocratic and non-theocratic models to be fundamentally insoluble by force. "A strategy should emphasize three principles: decapitate, contain and compete. An approach based on these principles cannot guarantee perpetual peace. But it is likely to be more effective, affordable and sustainable than a strategy based on open-ended war." Decapitation is essentially the counterterrorist raiding doctrine.


  1. George F. Kennan, Memoirs, 1925-1950
  2. James J. Marquardt, Grand Strategy and the Next President of the United States, Colby College
  3. Jon Wiener (28 August 2008), "Obama's Limits: An Interview With Andrew Bacevich", The Nation