The Cold War

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How did the Long Telegram (1946) affect the USA and USSR alliance?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In truth, there wasn't much left to the war-time alliance between the United States and the USSR by the time that Kennan wrote his famous telegram. Tensions between the two countries had been growing, especially as the Soviet Union began flexing its muscles in Europe. The possibility of armed conflict seemed an ever-present prospect. However, Kennan took the long view. In an age of atomic warfare, he knew just how catastrophic a war between the two superpowers would be. With that in mind, he laid the foundations for the United States' strategy for the remainder of the Cold War—containment.

Kennan had no illusions about the dangers of Communism nor of the Soviet Union's "expansive tendencies" as he called them. But he felt that the best way to counter the Soviet threat was not through armed confrontation—not directly, at any rate—but through the robust application of counter-force. Such force would be diplomatic, economic, and institutional. America's allies would be staunchly supported in their efforts to resist the spread of Communism. Primarily this would come through substantial packages of economic assistance, such as through the Marshall Plan and the massive full-scale industrialization of Japan. Covert operations and psychological warfare would also have a major role to play in the coming confrontation. Anti-communist propaganda would now become a major priority for the United States, especially in allied countries where the threat of a communist takeover was most acute, such as Italy.

Although critics railed against what they saw as Kennan's appeasement of the Soviet Union, the strategy set out in the Long Telegram formed the basis of the United States' approach to the Cold War. Successive generations of policy-makers saw containment as a useful practical tool for dealing the Soviet threat, a middle way between the twin extremes of isolationism and an active rolling back of international communism.

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Michael Koren eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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After World War II ended, the United States and the Soviet Union had major differences regarding the spread of communism. We didn’t want communism to spread while the Soviet Union wanted to spread it. This led to the Cold War, which is a period of confrontations and competitions between countries.

In response to the potential spread of communism, George Keenan, a Foreign Service officer, wrote a telegram that was about 8,000 words long regarding how we should deal with this threat. This was called the Long Telegram.

There were several major points of this telegram. Keenan said that communism was a flawed system and would eventually fail. It may take many years to fail, but it would eventually fail. Therefore, we didn’t need to go to war to defeat the Soviet Union. We needed to be patient. He also believed we would never reach a permanent settlement with the Soviet Union. He felt the Soviet Union would never trust any other countries. What we needed to do was to develop policies to keep communism where it was and to prevent it from spreading. He felt the Soviet Union would back down when faced with a strong response from the noncommunist world. This led to the development of the containment policy. Later, other policies were also developed to work to prevent the spread of communism.

The Long Telegram was an important influence on our foreign policy regarding dealing with the spread of communism after the end of World War II.

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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By the time that George Kennan wrote the “Long Telegram” the US-USSR alliance was pretty well dead already.  Stalin had already given his “two camps” speech.  The US public had already found out about Soviet spies stealing atomic bomb secrets.  This was not a good relationship at that point.

Even so, Kennan’s telegram played a part in further destroying the alliance.  Kennan argued in the telegram that the Soviets were expansionist and should not be trusted.  He argued that the US should take the lead in trying to prevent the spread of communism.  By writing the telegram, Kennan helped to influence American decision-makers to see the Soviets as an enemy that needed to be contained.  This further damaged the already very weak alliance between the two countries.

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