Kennan's Long Telegram and NSC-68: A Comparative Theoretical Analysis

By Fakiolas, Efstathios T. | East European Quarterly, January 1998 | Go to article overview

Kennan's Long Telegram and NSC-68: A Comparative Theoretical Analysis


Fakiolas, Efstathios T., East European Quarterly


INTRODUCTION

An attempt is made in this paper to examine in comparative perspective two official documents of great historic value from the point of their influence both on the onset of the Cold War, and on the shaping of the United States (US) grand strategy in the post-war era: the "Long Telegram" written by George Kennan, charge d'affaires in Moscow, in February 22, 1946, and the "National Security Memorandum No. 68" (NSC-68) on "United States Objectives and Programs for National Security" written by a Joint State-Defense Department Committee, under the supervision of Paul Nitze, Director of the Policy Planning Staff, in April 14, 1950.

Before proceeding to some methodological remarks, we should recall that the Long Telegram was sent to Washington shortly after Stalin's speech about the inevitability of conflict with the capitalist powers, and the capitalist encirclement of the Soviet Union; this should be added to the Iranian and Greek crises, as well as to refusal of the Soviet Union to enter the newly established International Monetary Fund and World Bank. NSC-68 was drafted following the explosion of a Soviet atomic device and the "loss" of China.

Additionally, we should be cognizant of three theoretical strands that have been developed in regard to the origins of the Cold War. The traditional or orthodox view, which assigns primary responsibility to endemic Soviet expansionism; the revisionist school of thought, which focuses on the aggressiveness of American policy against the Soviet Union; and the post-revisionist version, which questions the monolithic approach of the preceding arguments, suggesting a more "synthetic" approach.(1)

With respect to how we go about our study that is, the methodological approach to the subject matter, our inquiry resides in the theoretical method. As compared to a conceptual treatment or to a conventional historical analysis, the theoretical approach, when favored as a broad-gauge, general research method, allows scholars to gain a more focused understanding of developments and, thereby, to provide more comprehensive explanations of connections between variables. This is not to say that historical or conceptual methods are atheoretical. We merely mean that theory can be treated as a separate type of method to analysis.

The evolution of paper's argument rests on the narrow, specialised method of structured, focused comparison of the Long Telegram and NSC-68,(2) which are taken as separate case studies. The comparative investigation of the two official reports on the basis of the controlled comparison method is the very substantive core of this paper. We purport to focus, through the lens of a certain theoretical framework, both on examining and explaining the real perspective of each document.

In this context, we make explicit use of the disciplined-configurative mode of analysis, which bears many resemblances to the interpretative case study.(3) This type of controlled comparison of case studies applies some established theoretical hypotheses and generalisations for the purposes of description and explanation. Alternatively, we analyse the two reports in terms of theoretically relevant propositions so as to shed light on, describe and explain the perspective that each of them was intended to set forward. Our attempt is by no means purely descriptive in the traditionally historical sense; nor does it move entirely in a theoretical vacuum. Instead, it is indeed guided by a theoretical setting with the aim of capturing the richness and explaining the major elements of the historical reality. The principal motivation behind our study is a theory exercise and application in order that a focused understanding of the perspective of each document might result. Thus, some useful dividends about the origins of the Cold War might be produced.

We select realism to highlight the Long Telegram and NSC-68. We regard it as the most appropriate theoretical tool so as the theoretical research method to be carried out. …

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