'Containment, Then and Now'

January 12, 1986

It is with some trepidation that I write this letter, critical of George Kennan's article (Opinion, Dec. 29), "Containment, Then and Now," because as a college student in 1946 his "anonymous X" paper was required reading in one of our courses, and he was viewed as the guru regarding the Soviet Union.

But many years have passed and much has happened. Unfortunately, Kennan examines the end points of this interval and does not discuss how we got from "then" to "now," as if the path is irrelevant. Such an examination might vitiate his thesis that "what most needs to be contained now is not so much the Soviet Union as the weapons race itself."

But one cannot forget Soviet postwar truculence (the Berlin blockade) and its imposition of political/military control over Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland, not to speak of its intrusion into a remote hemisphere, as in Cuba, or its most recent excursion into Afghanistan--the litany is necessarily brief.

I find it hard to see all of these events as simply "ideological-political" threats. I also remember our precipitous demobilization after World War II, not matched by the Soviet Union, and subsequent anxieties as we watched the U.S.S.R progress from a ravaged country to a dangerous opponent with the pretentions of a great power.

Therefore, it is with disappointment that I see Kennan point his finger inwardly and say that we "need to contain ourselves"--i.e. our environmental destructiveness, our tendency to live beyond our means, our budgetary deficit, and our immigration. As desirable as these objectives are they have little relevance to either our political or weapons competition with the Soviet Union, and they ignore Soviet ambitions.

There is little question that the "arms race" is self-propelling now that it is in full stride. But this is not a sufficient condition for asserting that it is the cause of our problems. Much of the instability in the world, that accrues from the so-called arms race, is a consequence of the high technology that is involved; which shortens response times and does not allow for as much human control as heretofore.

Alas, technology cannot be made to move in reverse. And, it does not follow that simple numerical reductions in weaponry will significantly relieve our insecurities, or make the world a safer place.

The problem is not the arms r ace, per se--it remains what it has been since the end of World War II--a deep philosophical and political disagreement between East and West, with the former expanding its influence and power, while the latter practices accommodation, and until recently not much in the way of "containment."

Putting the perspective of the last 40 years in soft focus by focusing mainly at the beginning and end of that interval does not present us with a clear picture of the reality.


Rancho Palos Verdes

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