Foreign PolicyForeign Policy

Is Cold War inevitable?

By Michael Hirsh

23 Jan 2023 · 13 min read

Editor's Note

The U.S. diplomat who came up with America's Cold War "containment strategy" believed the Cold War could have been avoided with diplomacy. An FP columnist argues we should heed that lesson today.

Even at the advanced age of 94, George Kennan was still arguing that the Cold War hadn’t been inevitable—that it could have been avoided or, at least, ameliorated. A decade after that 44-year conflict ended, Kennan, the somewhat dovish father of the United States’ Cold War containment strategy, contended in a letter to his more hawkish biographer, John Lewis Gaddis, that while Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was alive, an early way out might have been possible.

The so-called Stalin Note from March 1952—an offer from Moscow to hold talks over the shape of post-World War II Europe—showed that the United States had ignored the possibilities of peace accomplished through “negotiation, and especially real negotiation, in distinction from public posturing (italics original),” Kennan wrote in 1999.

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