THE NUCLEAR DELUSION: Soviet-American Relations in the Atomic Age by George F. Kennan
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THE NUCLEAR DELUSION: Soviet-American Relations in the Atomic Age

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Some 35 years ago, scholar/diplomat Kennan (writing as ""Mr. X"") outlined the policy of containment in a celebrated Foreign Affairs article; of late, he's been in the headlines for musing on the possibility of a reduction in nuclear stockpiles. Actually, this collection of ""occasional"" writings from the past three decades shows Kennan as consistently pragmatic. In the immediate postwar period, he wrote a paper for Secretary of State Acheson in which he argued, on the eve of the hydrogen bomb's development, that the US should not treat nuclear weapons like any other weapons--to do so would twist our strategic thinking out of shape; instead, we should consider their use to have been a mistake, and renounce their future use. Today, he urges that the US propose a 50 percent reduction in the nuclear arsenals of the two superpowers; this reduction, he argues, would not weaken security--20 percent of our current weapons cache is sufficient for deterrence--and might begin to turn the arms race around. Nuclear weapons are only one of Kennan's concerns; he sees even a conventional war, fought with modern conventional weapons, to be a scenario for destruction. As an antidote, Kennan advocates a realistic assessment of US-Soviet relations: Washington should accept the fact of the Soviet government, and accept Soviet behavior as characteristic of a great power. In this regard, Kennan maintains that, through the Marshall Plan, the US created the underpinnings of an independent Europe that effectively checked (or contained) Soviet influence. At that point, relations might have been stabilized; and Europe might eventually have been demilitarized. Instead, the Europeans and the US mistakenly viewed the Soviets as a military threat, and created NATO. Kennan still thinks the USSR is not expansionary; he interprets the move into Afghanistan as a traditional great-power quest for border security. So he advocates a kind of detente: the US should seek specific agreements with Moscow, rather than ill-defined statements of intent (like the Helsinki Agreements or SALT), and relations should reflect the areas of agreement and disagreement between any two great powers, not a presumption of fundamental hostility. Kennan can't be accused of being a weak-spined liberal or a badly informed fellow traveler. He is a conservative who fears war; and though his advice has not always been taken, he's still trying. An essential contribution to current debates.

Pub Date: Oct. 28th, 1982
Publisher: Pantheon