By Arthur I. Cyr
“To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war,” said Winston Churchill in 1954, supporting the principle of nations negotiating. Those wise words from a principal war leader with distinctive credentials are worth keeping in mind as the crisis in Ukraine escalates. This great leader made the comment during the early years of the Cold War, after effective cooperation between the Western allies and the Soviet Union to defeat Nazi Germany had collapsed. Escalating discord over aspects of the occupation of the defeated nation evolved into the Cold War.
Moscow’s efforts to force Britain, France and the United States out of Berlin provided the immediate spark for the four-decades of conflict. The Korean War made the Cold War global. The Cuban Missile Crisis underscored the always proximate danger of nuclear Armageddon. The Cold War can be traced through conflict, crisis and war, but was essentially rooted in different conceptions of society and relations between nations. Soviet leaders “are not like us” wrote American diplomat George Kennan in his book “Realities of American Foreign Policy,” published in the same year Churchill made his declaration in favor of negotiation over war. Kennan, expert on Germany and Russia, was among the most perceptive of the Cold War U.S. policy analysts, an always ardent student. The containment policy he defined guided United States policies toward the Soviet Union and other communist powers from the administrations of Harry Truman through George H.W. Bush.
He focused on traditional prudent realist diplomacy, including unavoidably conflicting national interests. He emphasized Soviet and U.S. leaders vary markedly in experiences and outlook; particularly brutal total war informed Moscow’s worldview. Their fundamentally unproductive system – if restrained – would eventually collapse and our relations with friendly nations were relatively more important. Kennan headed the policy planning staff of the State Department during the Truman administration, when containment became formally established as the foundation of the U.S. approach to the Soviet Union. He became a target of conservatives, even as President Dwight Eisenhower used him to confirm containment.