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George Kennan's Telegram
February 22, 1946
By early 1946, just a few months after World War II ended, several
statements from the U.S. and the Soviet Union contributed to the rapidly
deteriorating relationship between the two countries. One of them was a
telegram sent back to Washington on February 22, 1946 by George Kennan, the
American chargé d'affaires in Moscow. It warned that according to the post war
Soviet view there could be "no permanent peaceful coexistence" with the
The charge in the Soviet Union (Kennan) to the Secretary of State
Moscow, February 22, 1946-9 p.m.
[Received February 22-3:52 p.m.]
I apologize in advance for this burdening of telegraphic channel; but questions
involved are of such urgent importance, particularly in view of recent events,
that our answers to them, if they deserve attention at all, seem to me to
deserve it at once. There follows
Part 1: Basic Features of Post War Soviet Outlook, as Put Forward by
official propaganda Machine, Are as Follows:
(a) USSR still lives in antagonistic "capitalist encirclement" with
which in the long run there can be no permanent peaceful coexistence. As
stated by Stalin in 1927 to a delegation of American workers:
"In course of further development of international revolution there will emerge
two centers of world significance: a socialist center, drawing to itself the
countries which tend toward socialism, and a capitalist center, drawing to
itself the countries that incline toward capitalism. Battle between these two
centers for command of world economy will decide fate of capitalism and of
communism in entire world."
(b) Capitalist world is beset with internal conflicts, inherent in
nature of capitalist society. These conflicts are insoluble by means of
peaceful compromise. Greatest of them is that between England and US.
(c) Internal conflicts of capitalism inevitably generate wars. Wars
thus generated may be of two kinds: intra-capitalist wars between two
capitalist states, and wars of intervention against socialist world. Smart
capitalists, vainly seeking escape from inner conflicts of capitalism, incline
(d) Intervention against USSR, while it would be disastrous to those who
undertook it, would cause renewed delay in progress of Soviet socialism and
must therefore be forestalled at all costs.
(d) Intervention against USSR, while it would be disastrous to those who
undertook it, would cause renewed delay in progress of Soviet socialism and
must therefore be forestalled at all costs.
(e) Conflicts between capitalist, states, though likewise fraught with
danger for USSR, nevertheless hold on great possibilities for advancement of
socialist cause, particularly if USSR remains militarily powerful,
ideologically monolithic and faithful to its present brilliant leadership.
(f) It must be borne in mind that capitalist world is not all bad. In
addition to hopelessly reactionary and bourgeois elements, it includes (1)
certain wholly enlightened and positive elements united in acceptable
communistic parties and (2) certain other elements (now described for tactical
reasons as progressive or democratic) whose reactions, aspirations and
activities happen to be "objectively" favorable to interests of USSR. These
last must be encouraged and utilized for Soviet purposes.
(g) Among negative elements of bourgeois-capitalist society, most
dangerous of all are those whom Lenin called false friends of the people,
namely moderate-socialist or social-democratic leaders (in other words,
non-Communist left-wing). These are more dangerous than out-and-out
reactionaries, for latter at least march under their true colors, whereas
moderate left-wing leaders confuse people by employing devices of socialism to
serve interests of reactionary capital.
So much for premises. To what deductions do they lead from standpoint of
Soviet policy? To following:
(a) Everything must be done to advance relative strengths of USSR as
factor in international society. Conversely, no opportunity must be missed to
reduce strength and influence, collectively as well as individually, of
(b) Soviet efforts, and those of Russia's friends abroad, must be
directed toward deepening and exploiting of differences and conflicts between
capitalist powers. If these eventually deepen into an "imperialist" war, this
war must be turned into revolutionary upheavals within the various capitalist
(c) "Democratic-progressive" elements abroad are to be utilized to
maximum to bring pressure to bean on capitalist governments along lines
agreeable to Soviet interests.
(d) Relentless battle must be waged against socialist and
social-democratic leaders abroad.
Part 2: Background of Outlook
Before examining ramifications of this party line in practice there are certain
aspects of it to which I wish to draw attention.
First, it does not represent natural outlook of Russian people. Latter are, by
and large, friendly to outside world, eager for experience of it, eager to
measure against it talents they are conscious of possessing, eager above all to
live in peace and enjoy fruits of their own labor. Party line only represents
thesis which official propaganda machine puts forward with great skill and
persistence to a public often remarkably resistant in the stronghold of its
innermost thoughts. But party line is binding for outlook and conduct of
people who make up apparatus of power-party, secret police and Government-and
it is exclusively with these that we have to deal.
Second, please note that premises on which this party line is based are for
most part simply not true. Experience has shown that peaceful and mutually
profitable coexistence of capitalist and socialist states is entirely possible.
Basic internal conflicts in advanced countries are no longer primarily those
arising out of capitalist ownership of means of production, but are ones
arising from advanced urbanism and industrialism as such, which Russia has thus
far been spared not by socialism but by her own backwardness. Internal
rivalries of capitalism do not always generate wars; and not all wars are
attributable to this cause. To speak of possibility of intervention against
USSR today, after elimination of Germany and Japan and after example of recent
war, is sheerest nonsense. If not provoked by forces of intolerance and
subversion "capitalist" world of today is quite capable of living at peace with
itself and with Russia. Finally, no sane person has reason to doubt sincerity
of moderate socialist leaders in Western countries. Nor is it fair to deny
success of their efforts to improve conditions for working population whenever,
as in Scandinavia, they have been given chance to show what they could do.
Falseness of these premises, every one of which pre-dates recent war, was amply
demonstrated by that conflict itself. Anglo-American differences did not turn
out to be major differences of Western World. Capitalist countries, other than
those of Axis, showed no disposition to solve their differences by joining in
crusade against USSR. Instead of imperialist war turning into civil wars and
revolution, USSR found itself obliged to fight side by side with capitalist
powers for an avowed community of aims.
Nevertheless, all these theses, however baseless and disproven, are being
boldly put forward again today. What does this indicate? It indicates that
Soviet party line is not based on any objective analysis of situation beyond
Russia's borders; that it has, indeed, little to do with conditions outside of
Russia; that it arises mainly from basic inner-Russian necessities which
existed before recent war and exist today.
At bottom of Kremlin's neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and
instinctive Russian sense of insecurity. Originally, this was insecurity of a
peaceful agricultural people trying to live on vast exposed plain in
neighborhood of fierce nomadic peoples. To this was added, as Russia came into
contact with economically advanced West, fear of more competent, more powerful,
more highly organized societies in that area. But this latter type of
insecurity was one which afflicted rather Russian rulers than Russian people;
for Russian rulers have invariably sensed that their rule was relatively
archaic in form, fragile an artificial in its psychological foundation, unable
to stand comparison or contact with political systems of Western countries.
For this reason they have always feared foreign penetration, feared direct
contact between Western world and their own, feared what would happen if
Russians learned truth about world without or if foreigners learned truth about
world within. And they have learned to seek security only in patient but
deadly struggle for total destruction of rival power, never in compacts and
comprises with it.
It was no coincidence that Marxism, which has smouldered ineffectively for half
a century in Western Europe, caught hold and blazed for first time in Russia.
Only in this land which has never known a friendly neighbor of indeed any
tolerant equilibrium of separate powers, either internal of international,
could a doctrine thrive which viewed economic conflicts of society as insoluble
by peaceful means. After establishment of Bolshevist regime, Marxist dogma,
rendered even more truculent and intolerant by Lenin's interpretation, became a
perfect vehicle for sense of insecurity with which Bolsheviks, even more than
previous Russian rulers, were afflicted. In this dogma, with its basic
altruism of purpose, they found justification for their instinctive fear of
outside world, for the dictatorship without which they did not know how to
rule, for cruelties they did not dare not to inflict, for sacrifices they felt
bound to demand. In the name of Marxism they sacrificed every single ethical
value in their methods and tactics. Today they cannon dispense with it. It is
fig leaf of their moral and intellectual respectability. Without it they would
stand before history, at best, as only the last of that long succession of
cruel and wasteful Russian rulers who have relentlessly forced country on to
ever new heights of military power in order to guarantee external security of
their internally weak regimes. This is why Soviet purposes must always be
solemnly clothed in trappings of Marxism, and why no one should underrate
importance of dogma in Soviet affairs. Thus Soviet leaders are driven [by?]
necessities of their own past and present position to put forward a dogma which
[apparent omission] outside world as evil, hostile and menacing, but as bearing
within itself germs of creeping disease and destined to be wracked with growing
internal convulsions until it is given final coup de grace by rising
power of socialism and yields to new and better world. This thesis provides
justification for that increase of military and police power of Russian state,
for that isolation of Russian population from outside world, and for that fluid
and constant pressure to extend limits of Russian police power which are
together the natural and instinctive urges of Russian rulers. Basically this
is only the steady advance of uneasy Russian nationalism, a centuries old
movement in which conceptions of offense and defense are inextricably confused.
But in new guise of international Marxism, with its honeyed promises to a
desperate and war torn outside world, it is more dangerous and insidious than
It should not be thought from above that Soviet party line is necessarily
disingenuous and insincere on part of all those who put it forward. Many of
them are too ignorant of outside world and mentally too dependent to question
[apparent omission] self-hypnotism, and who have no difficulty making
themselves believe what they find it comforting and convenient to believe.
Finally we have the unsolved mystery as to who, if anyone, in this great land
actually receives accurate and unbiased information about outside world. In
atmosphere of oriental secretiveness and conspiracy which pervades this
Government, possibilities for distorting or poisoning sources and currents of
information are infinite. The very disrespect of Russians for objective
truth-indeed, their disbelief in its existence-leads them to view all stated
facts as instruments for furtherance of one ulterior purpose or another. There
is good reason to suspect that this Government is actually a conspiracy within
a conspiracy; and I for one am reluctant to believe that Stalin himself
receives anything like an objective picture of outside world. Here there is
ample scope for the type of subtle intrigue at which Russians are past masters.
Inability of foreign governments to place their case squarely before Russian
policy makers-extent to which they are delivered up in their relations with
Russia to good graces of obscure and unknown advisers whom they never see and
cannot influence-this to my mind is most disquieting feature of diplomacy in
Moscow, and one which Western statesmen would do well to keep in mind if they
would understand nature of difficulties encountered here.
Part 3: Projection of Soviet Outlook in Practical Policy on Official
We have now seen nature and background of Soviet program. What may we expect
by way of its practical implementation?
Soviet policy, as Department implies in its query under reference, is conducted
on two planes: (1) official plane represented by actions undertaken officially
in name of Soviet Government; and (2) subterranean plane of actions undertaken
by agencies for which Soviet Government does not admit responsibility.
Policy promulgated on both planes will be calculated to serve basic policies
(a) to (d) outlined in part 1. Actions taken on different planes
will differ considerably, but will dovetail into each other in purpose, timing
On official plane we must look for following:
(a) Internal policy devoted to increasing in every way strength and
prestige of Soviet state: intensive military-industrialization; maximum
development of armed forces; great displays to impress outsiders; continued
secretiveness about internal matters, designed to conceal weaknesses and to
keep opponents in dark.
(b) Wherever it is considered timely and promising, efforts will be made
to advance official limits of Soviet power. For the moment, these efforts are
restricted to certain neighborhood points conceived of here as being of
immediate strategic necessity, such as Northern Iran, Turkey, possible
Bornholm. However, other points may at any time come into question, if and as
concealed Soviet political power is extended to new areas. Thus a "friendly"
Persian Government might be asked to grant Russia a port on Persian Gulf.
Should Spain fall under Communist control, question of Soviet base at Gibraltar
Strait might be activated. But such claims will appear on official level only
when unofficial preparation is complete.
(c) Russians will participate officially in international organizations
where they see opportunity of extending Soviet power or of inhibiting or
diluting power of others. Moscow sees in UNO not the mechanism for a permanent
and stable world society founded on mutual interest and aims of all nations,
but an arena in which aims just mentioned can be favorably pursued. As long at
UNO is considered here to serve this purpose, Soviets will remain with it. But
if at any time they come to conclusion that it is serving to embarrass or
frustrate their aims for power expansion and if they see better prospects for
pursuit of these aims along lines, they will not hesitate to abandon UNO. This
would imply, however, that they felt themselves strong enough to split unity of
other nations by their withdrawal, to render UNO ineffective as a threat to
their aims or security, and to replace it with an international weapon more
effective from their viewpoint. Thus Soviet attitude toward UNO will depend
largely on loyalty of other nations to it, and on degree of vigor, decisiveness
and cohesion with which these nations defend in UNO the peaceful and hopeful
concept of international life, which that organization represents to our way of
thinking. I reiterate, Moscow has no abstract devotion to UNO ideals. Its
attitude to that organization will remain essentially pragmatic and tactical.
(d) Toward colonial areas and backward or dependent peoples, Soviet
policy, even on official plane, will be directed toward weakening of power and
influence and contacts of advanced Western nations, on theory that in so far as
this policy is successful, there will be created a vacuum which will favor
Communist-Soviet penetration. Soviet pressure for participation in trusteeship
arrangements thus represents, in my opinion, a desire to be in a position to
complicate and inhibit exertion of Western influence at such points rather than
to provide major channel for exerting of Soviet power. Latter motive is not
lacking, but for this Soviets prefer to rely on other channels than official
trusteeship arrangements. Thus we may expect to find Soviets asking for
admission everywhere to trusteeship or similar arrangements and using levers
thus acquired to weaken Western influence among such peoples.
(e) Russians will strive energetically to develop Soviet representation
in, and official ties with countries in which they sense strong possibilities
of opposition to Western centers of power. This applies to such widely
separated points as Germany, Argentina, Middle Eastern countries, etc.
(f) In international economic matters, Soviet policy will really be
dominated by pursuit of autarchy for Soviet Union and Soviet-dominated adjacent
areas taken together. That, however, will be underlying policy. As far as
official line is concerned, position is not yet clear. Soviet Government has
shown strange reticence since termination hostilities on subject foreign trade.
If large scale long term credits should be forthcoming, I believe Soviet
Government may eventually again do lip service, as it did in 1930's to
desirability of building up international economic exchanges in general.
Otherwise I think it possible, Soviet foreign trade may be restricted largely
to Soviet's own security sphere, including occupied areas in Germany, and that
a cold official shoulder may be turned to principle of general economic
collaboration among nations.
(g) With respect to cultural collaboration, lip service will likewise be
rendered to desirability of deepening cultural contacts between peoples, but
this will not in practice be interpreted in any way which could weaken security
position of Soviet peoples. Actual manifestations of Soviet policy in this
respect will be restricted to arid channels of closely shepherded official
visits and functions, with superabundance of vodka and speeches and dearth of
(h) Beyond this, Soviet official relations will take what might be
called "correct" course with individual foreign governments, with great stress
being laid on prestige of Soviet Union and its representatives and with
punctilious attention to protocol, as distinct from good manners.
Part 4: Following May Be Said as to What We May Expect by Way of
Implementation of Basic Soviet Policies on Unofficial, or Subterranean Plane,
i.e. on Plane for Which Soviet Government Accepts no Responsibility
Agencies utilized for promulgation of policies on this plane are following:
1. Inner central core of Communist Parties in other countries. While many of
persons who compose this category may also appear and act in unrelated public
capacities, they are in reality working and closely together as an underground
operating directorate of world communism, a concealed Comintern45 tightly coordinated and directed by Moscow.
It is important to remember that this inner core is actually working on
underground lines, despite legality of parties with which it is associated.
2. Rank and file of Communist Parties. Note distinction is drawn between these
and persons defined in paragraph 1. This distinction has becomes much sharper
in recent years. Whereas formerly foreign Communist Parties represented a
curious (and from Moscow's standpoint, often inconvenient) mixture of
conspiracy and legitimate activity, now the conspiratorial element has been
neatly concentrated in inner circle and ordered underground, while rank and
file-no longer even taken into confidence about realities of movement-are
thrust forward as bona fide internal partisans of certain political tendencies
within their respective countries, genuinely innocent of conspiratorial
connection with foreign states. Only in certain countries where communists are
numerically strong do they now regularly appear and act as a body. As a rule
they are used to penetrate, and to influence or dominate, as case may be, other
organizations less likely to be suspected of being tools of Soviet Government,
with a view to accomplishing their purposes through [apparent omission]
organizations, rather than by direct action as a separate political party.
3. A wide variety of national associations or bodies which can be dominated or
influenced by such penetration. These include: labor union, youth leagues,
women's organizations, racial societies, religious societies, social
organizations, cultural groups, liberal magazines, publishing houses, etc.
4. International organizations which can be similarly penetrated through
influence over various national components. Labor, youth, and women's
organizations are prominent among them. Particular, almost vital, importance
is attached in this connection to international labor movement. In this,
Moscow sees possibility of sidetracking western governments in world affairs
and building up international lobby capable of compelling governments to take
actions favorable to Soviet interests in various countries and of paralyzing
actions disagreeable to USSR.
5. Russian Orthodox Church, with its foreign branches, and through it the
Eastern Orthodox Church in general.
6. Pan-Slav movement and other movements (Azerbaijan, Armenian, Turcoman, etc.)
based on racial groups within Soviet Union.
7. Governments or governing groups willing to lend themselves to Soviet
purposes in one degree or another, such as present Bulgarian and Yugoslav
Governments, North Persian regime, Chinese Communists, etc. Not only
propaganda machines but actual policies of these regimes can be placed
extensively at disposal of USSR.
It may be expected that component parts of this far-flung apparatus will be
utilized, in accordance with their individual suitability, as follows:
(a) To undermine general political and strategic potential of major
western powers. Efforts will be made in such countries to disrupt national
self confidence, to hamstring measurers of national defense, to increase social
and industrial unrest, to stimulate all forms of disunity. All persons with
grievances, whether economic or racial, will be urged to seek redress not in
mediation and compromise, but in defiant violent struggle for destruction of
other elements of society. Here poor will be set against rich, black against
white, young against old, newcomers against established residents, etc.
(b) On unofficial plane particularly violent efforts will be make to
weaken power an influence of Western Powers of [on] colonial backward,
or dependent peoples. On this level, no holds will be barred. Mistakes and
weaknesses of western colonial administration will be mercilessly exposed and
exploited. Liberal opinion in Western countries will be mobilized to weaken
colonial policies. And while latter are being encouraged to seek independence
of Western Powers, Soviet dominated puppet political machines will be
undergoing preparation to take over domestic power in respective colonial areas
when independence is achieved.
(c) Where individual governments stand in path of Soviet purposes
pressure will be brought for their removal from office. This can happen where
governments directly oppose Soviet foreign policy aims (Turkey, Iran), where
they seal their territories off against Communist penetration (Switzerland,
Portugal), or where they compete too strongly, like Labor Government in
England, for moral domination among elements which it is important for
Communists to dominate. (Sometimes, two of these elements are present in a
single case. Then Communist opposition becomes particularly shrill and
(d) In foreign countries Communists will, as a rule, work toward
destruction of all forms of personal independence, economic, political or
moral. Their system can handle only individuals who have been brought into
complete dependence on higher power. Thus, persons who are financially
independent-such as individual businessmen, estate owners, successful farmers,
artisans and all those who exercise local leadership or have local prestige,
such as popular local clergymen or political figures, are anathema. It is not
by chance that even in USSR local officials are kept constantly on move from
one job to another, to prevent their taking root.
(e) 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-Saxton powers. Where suspicions exist, they will be fanned; where
not, ignited. No effort will be spared to discredit and combat all efforts
which threaten to lead to any sort of unity or cohesion among other [apparent
omission] from which Russia might be excluded. Thus, all forms of
international, organization not amenable to Communist penetration and control,
whether it be the Catholic [apparent omission] international economic concerns,
or the international fraternity of royalty and aristocracy, must expect to find
themselves under fire from many, and often [apparent omission].
(f) In general, all Soviet efforts on unofficial international plane
will be negative and destructive in character, designed to tear down sources of
strength beyond reach of Soviet control. This is only in line with basic
Soviet instinct that there can be no compromise with rival power and that
constructive work can start only when Communist power is dominant. But behind
all this will be applied insistent, unceasing pressure for penetration and
command of key positions in administration and especially in police apparatus
of foreign countries. The Soviet regime is a police regime par excellence,
reared in the dim half world of Tsarist police intrigue, accustomed to think
primarily in terms of police power. This should never be lost sight of in
gauging Soviet motives.
Part 5: [Practical Deductions From Standpoint of U.S. Policy]
In summary, we have here a political force committed fanatically to the belief
that with U.S. there can be no permanent modus vivendi, that it is
desirable and necessary that the internal harmony of our society be disrupted,
our traditional way of life be destroyed, the international authority of our
state be broken, if Soviet power is to be secure. This political force has
complete power of disposition over energies of one of world's greatest peoples
and resources of world's richest national territory, and is borne along by deep
and powerful currents of Russian nationalism. In addition, it has an elaborate
and far flung apparatus for exertion of its influence in other countries, an
apparatus of amazing flexibility and versatility,, managed by people whose
experience and skill in underground methods are presumably without parallel in
history. Finally, it is seemingly inaccessible to considerations of reality in
its basic reactions. For it, the vast fund of objective fact about human
society is not, as with us, the measure against which outlook is constantly
being tested and re-formed, but a grab bag from which individual items are
selected arbitrarily and tendentiously to bolster an outlook already
preconceived. This is admittedly not a pleasant picture. Problem of how to
cope with this force in [is] undoubtedly greatest task our diplomacy has
ever faced and probably greatest it will ever have to face. It should be point
of departure from which our political general staff work at present juncture
should proceed. It should be approached with same thoroughness and care as
solution of major strategic problem in war, and if necessary, with no smaller
outlay in planning effort. I cannot attempt to suggest all answers here. But
I would like to record my conviction that problem is within our power to
solve-and that without recourse to any general military conflict. And in
support of this conviction there are certain observations of a more encouraging
nature I should like to make:
(1) Soviet power, unlike that of Hitlerite Germany, is neither schematic nor
adventuristic. It does not work by fixed plans. It does not take unnecessary
risks. Impervious to logic of reason, and it is highly sensitive to logic of
force. For this reason it can easily withdraw-and usually does-when strong
resistance is encountered at any point. Thus, if the adversary has sufficient
force and makes clear his readiness to use it, he rarely has to do so. If
situations are properly handled there need be no prestige-engaging showdowns.
(2) Gauged against Western World as a whole, Soviets are still by far the
weaker force. Thus, their success will really depend on degree of cohesion,
firmness and a vigor which Western World can muster. And this is factor which
it is within our power to influence.
(3) Success of Soviet system, as form of internal power, is no yet finally
proven. It has yet to be demonstrated that it can survive supreme test of
successive transfer of power from one individual or group to another. Lenin's
death was first such transfer, and its effects wracked Soviet state for 15
years. After Stalin's death or retirement will be second. But even this will
not be final test. Soviet internal system will now be subjected, by virtue of
recent territorial expansions, to series of additional strains which once
proved severe tax on Tsardom. We here are convinced that never since
termination of civil war have mass of Russian people been emotionally farther
removed from doctrines of Communist Party than they are today. In Russia,
party has now become a great and-for the moment-highly successful apparatus of
dictatorial administration, but it has ceased to be a source of emotional
inspiration. Thus, internal soundness and permanence of movement need not yet
be regarded as assured.
(4) All Soviet propaganda beyond Soviet security sphere is basically negative
and destructive. It should therefore be relatively easy to combat it by any
intelligent and really constructive program.
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