The Diplomat on January 28, 2016 published an article by Geopolitician Francis P. Sempa on US diplomat George F. Kennan’s Long Telegram and China policy. This lengthy telegram in 1946 analyzed the motivations of Soviet/Russian foreign policy and recommended a general policy approach that came to be known as “containment.” The result was that Kennan was appointed head of a new Policy Planning Staff at the State Department. Kennan and his staff were charged with taking a long-term view of American foreign policy based on current trends in international relations in the context of fundamental American geopolitical interests. Excerpts below:
The Truman administration codified containment in a series of National Security Directives, including most famously NSC-68, and responded accordingly to Soviet moves in Berlin and the Eastern Mediterranean, and North Korea’s invasion of South Korea. The unpopular Korean War stalemate and the “loss” of China to the communists brought renewed criticism of containment, and the 1952 Eisenhower presidential campaign, led by the soon-to-be Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, called for replacing containment with a policy of “rolling-back” the Soviet empire. Eisenhower and his successors, however, hewed generally to the policy of containment throughout the Cold War, which is a testament to the practical realism and farsightedness of Kennan’s policy analysis.
Seventy years later, the United States faces geopolitical challenges from China in the South China Sea, East China Sea, Central Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region, and from Russia again in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The United States has responded to these challenges with talk of a pivot or rebalance to Asia, improved diplomatic relations with Southeast Asian nations threatened by China, and general condemnation of Russia’s moves in Ukraine and Syria, but as yet there has been no long-term policy analysis and recommendations to rival Kennan’s Long Telegram.
It is time for some unknown diplomat in Beijing or obscure policymaker in the State Department or National Security Council to replicate George Kennan’s Long Telegram to provide insight and long-term guidance to American leaders faced with the contemporary Sino-Russian challenges.
The new Kennan should have an appreciation for America’s fundamental geopolitical interests in commanding the seas and oceans and ensuring the political pluralism of the Eurasian landmass.
China’s rise, Europe’s decline, Russia’s revival, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, the spread of Islamic radicalism, and the relative shift in power from Europe to Asia present a challenge to what Walter Russell Mead has called the Anglo-American maritime world order that has broadly organized the global geopolitical environment since the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
Kennan wrote in 1946: “It is not enough to urge [countries] to develop political processes similar to our own,” rather it is necessary to “formulate and put forward for other nations a much more positive and constructive picture of [the] sort of world we would like to see” and “have [the] courage and self-confidence to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society.”
Francis P. Sempa is the author of Geopolitics: From the Cold War to the 21st Century (Transaction Books) and America’s Global Role: Essays and Reviews on National Security, Geopolitics and War (University Press of America). He is also a contributor to Population Decline and the Remaking of Great Power Politics (Potomac Books). He has written on historical and foreign policy topics for Joint Force Quarterly, American Diplomacy, the University Bookman, The Claremont Review of Books, The Diplomat, Strategic Review, the Washington Times and other publications. He is an attorney, an adjunct professor of political science at Wilkes University, and a contributing editor to American Diplomacy.
Comment: One can only agree that it is not enough with a “pivot to Asia” policy for the United States. No doubt, at least initially, a policy of containment in relation to China is needed. The global economic importance of China is diminishing and another great power in Asia, India, may be ready to take over the role of China. America was a leading supporter of the Chinese revolution of 1911 and of the attempts of President Chiang Kai-shek to modernize the Republic of China between the world wars. The ultimate goal for Western China policy must be a liberal democratic China free from Marxism-Leninism.