X Article


Image:George F. Kennan 1947.jpg, George F. Kennan in 1947. The "X Article" is an article, formally titled "The Sources of Soviet Conduct", written by George F. Kennan under the pseudonym "X", published in the July 1947 issue of ''Foreign Affairs'' magazine. The article widely introduced the term "containment" and advocated for its strategic use against the Soviet Union. The piece expanded on ideas expressed by Kennan in a confidential February 1946 telegram, formally identified by Kennan's State Department number, "511", but informally dubbed the "long telegram" due to its length. Kennan composed the long telegram to respond to inquiries about the implications of a February 1946 speech by Joseph Stalin. Though the speech was in line with previous statements by Stalin, it provoked fear in the American press and public, with ''Time (magazine) , Time'' magazine calling it "the most warlike pronouncement uttered by any top-rank statesman since Victory over Japan Day, V-J Day". The long telegram explained Soviet motivations by pointing to the history of Russian rulers and their ideology of Marxism–Leninism, viewing the rest of the world as hostile in order to justify their continued hold on power despite lacking popular support. Washington bureaucrats quickly read the confidential message, accepting it as the best explanation of Soviet behavior. The reception elevated Kennan's reputation within the State Department as one of the government's foremost Soviet experts. After hearing him speak about Soviet foreign relations to the Council on Foreign Relations in January 1947, international banker R. Gordon Wasson suggested to Kennan that he write an article in ''Foreign Affairs'' expressing his views. Repurposing a piece he had submitted to United States Secretary of the Navy, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal in late January 1947, Kennan's role in government precluded him from publishing under his name. After receiving approval from his superiors, he submitted the article under the pseudonym "X". Expressing similar sentiments to that of the long telegram, the piece was strong in its anti-communism, introducing and outlining a basic theory of containment. The article was widely read and, though it does not mention the Truman Doctrine, having mostly been written before Truman's speech, it quickly became seen as an expression of the doctrine's policy. The impact of the article is disputed, having been called "the diplomatic doctrine of the era", while others write that its impact in shaping governmental policy has been overstated.


Joseph Stalin, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, General Secretary and de facto leader of the Soviet Union, spoke at the Bolshoi Theatre on 9 February 1946, the night before the symbolic 1946 Soviet Union legislative election, 1946 Supreme Soviet election. The speech did not discuss foreign policy, but instead made pledges to expand industry. He justified the expansion by pointing to Marxism–Leninism, Marxist–Leninist theory, warning that capitalism possessed a predisposition towards conflict. Stalin's speech provoked fear in the American press and public, with ''Time (magazine), Time'' magazine calling it "the most warlike pronouncement uttered by any top-rank statesman since Victory over Japan Day, V-J Day." George F. Kennan, then working for the US State Department as ''chargé d'affaires'' in Moscow, found the speech routine and reflective of previous statements from Stalin. With this in mind, he issued only a quick summary of the speech for the State Department. Despite the familiar statements from Stalin, the context in which they were made – including the Soviet Union's recent rejection of Bretton Woods system, Bretton Woods and evidence of Atomic spies, atomic espionage in the United States and Canada – alarmed officials in Washington. In a 1982 interview, former diplomat Elbridge Durbrow expressed that Stalin's speech had in effect said, "to hell with the rest of the world." President of the United States, US President Harry S. Truman, Harry Truman was confused by the Soviet's policies, at times appearing belligerent and at others exercising self-restraint. Leaders were increasingly coming to the conclusion that the existing ''quid pro quo'' strategy was ineffective against the Soviets, but had no replacement strategy. Durbrow and other diplomat H. Freeman Matthews – both readers of Kennan's earlier telegrams – were confused by Kennan's relative silence about the speech. On 13 February, Matthews drafted a message, signed by United States Secretary of State, Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, asking for an analysis. The message described the press and public's reaction having been, "to a degree not hitherto felt", and expressed: "We should welcome receiving from you an interpretive analysis of what we may expect in the way of future implementation of these announced policies." W. Averell Harriman, having recently return from his List of ambassadors of the United States to Russia, ambassadorship to the Soviet Union, spoke to Kennan and encouraged him to write a thorough analysis.

The "long telegram"

Kennan probably wrote out rough drafts of a message before dictating a final version to his secretary, Dorothy Hessman, on 22 February 1946. Finishing late at night, he took the message to the Mokhovaya Street, Mokhovaya code room in Moscow and had it telegraphed back to Washington. The message was quickly dubbed the "long telegram" because, at a little over 5,000 words, it was the longest telegram ever sent in the history of the State Department. Identified as "511" by Kennan's State Department number, the message is divided into five sections, covering the Soviet Union's background, current features, future prospects and the implications these would have for the United States. It opens with an apology for its length but qualifies the necessity of responding to all the then pressing concerns at once. Kennan begins by laying out the world from the Soviet perspective, splitting it into socialist and capitalist sectors. The alliance between the United States and Great Britain was destined to fail, and would either lead to war between them or a joint attack on the Soviet Union. The Soviets believed they would ultimately prevail in such a conflict, but would need to grow their strength and exploit the capitalist's tendency towards conflict amongst one another in the meantime. Kennan described these ideas as absurd, pointing out that capitalist countries were not failing and were not always in conflict. Further, he described the idea that the United States and Great Britain would deliberately enter into a war against the Soviets as the "sheerest nonsense". The Soviet leaders reached these illogical sentiments, he explained, because, "... at the bottom of the Moscow Kremlin, Kremlin's view of world affairs is a traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity." The authority of previous Russian rulers was "archaic in form, fragile and artificial in its psychological foundation, unable to stand comparison or contact with political systems of western countries." This understanding of Russian history was joined with the ideology of Marxism-Leninism. Their obstinacy in dealing with the West was born out of necessity; seeing the rest of the world as hostile provided an excuse "for the dictatorship without which they did not know how to rule, for cruelties they did not dare not to inflict, for sacrifices they felt bound to demand." Until the Soviet Union either experienced consistent failures or their leader was persuaded that they were negatively impacting their nation's interest, the West could not expect any reciprocity from the Soviets. The Soviet government, Kennan continued, could be understood as occupying two distinct spaces: an official, visible government and another operating without any official acknowledgement. While the former would participate in international diplomacy, the latter would attempt to undermine the capitalist nations as much as possible, including efforts to "disrupt national self confidence, to hamstring measures of national defense, to increase social and industrial unrest, to stimulate all forms of disunity." He concludes that the Soviets ultimately have no expectation of reconciliation with the West. Kennan concludes not by offering specific courses of action, but instead offers more general solutions, such as the necessity of maintaining courage and self-confidence in interactions with the Soviets. Managing the threat would require "the same thoroughness and care as solution of major strategic problem in war, and if necessary, with no smaller outlay in planning effort." Comparing them to Nazi Germany, he points out that the Soviets were much more patient and often risk averse. Being weaker than the West, not having regular procedures for replacing leaders, having absorbed too many territories, failing to inspire its people and being overly reliant on negative propaganda meant "we may approach calmly and with good heart [the] problem of how to deal with Russia." Kennan emphasizes the need of educating the American public about the threat of international communism. Keeping Western society strong was important to ward off the expansive tendencies of communism: "The greatest danger that can befall us in coping with this problem of Soviet communism, is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping."

Impact of the "long telegram"

On American foreign policy

Matthews sent Kennan a cable praising the telegram, describing it as "magnificent", adding, "I cannot overestimate its importance to those of us here struggling with the problem." Byrnes praised it as well, writing he had read it "with the greatest interest" and describing it as "a splendid analysis". Harriman was less enthused, calling it "fairly long, and a little bit slow reading in spots." He nonetheless sent a copy to United States Secretary of the Navy, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal. Forrestal was largely responsible for the spread of the long telegram, sending copies across Washington. It gained a larger readership than was typical for a classified document, with readers including List of ambassadors of the United States to Cuba, ambassador to Cuba Raymond Henry Norweb, Henry Norweb, British diplomat Frank Roberts (diplomat), Frank Roberts, General of the Army (United States), General George C. Marshall and President Truman. The long telegram was quickly read and accepted by Washington bureaucrats as the best explanation of Soviet behavior. Policymakers, military officials and intelligence analysts generally came to understand that the Soviet Union's primary foreign policy goal was world domination under a Communist state. Historian John Lewis Gaddis writes that the ultimate impact of the long telegram is that it "became the basis for United States strategy toward the Soviet Union throughout the rest of the Cold War", and that it "won [Kennan] the reputation of being the government's foremost Soviet expert". In 1967, Kennan reflected "My reputation was made. My voice now carried." In mid-April 1946, at Forrestal's insistence Kennan received an appointment in the National War College as Deputy for Foreign Affairs. The Truman administration quickly accepted Kennan's conclusions, understanding that the Soviet's had no reasonable grievances with the West and would never cooperate with capitalist states. It was therefore senseless to try and address the Soviet's concerns, leaving a policy of containing Russian interests as the best response. Historian Louis Halle writes that the timing of the long telegram's appearance was important, "[coming] right at a time when the Department... was floundering about, looking for new intellectual moorings." He continues that the telegram served as "a new and realistic conception to which it might attach itself." Gaddis and historian Wilson D. Miscamble both believe that Halle overstates Kennan's impact on State Department thinking, emphasizing that the Department was already moving towards a more adversarial position against the Soviets, though Miscamble concedes, "there can be no doubt that Kennan's cable exercised a catalytic effect upon departmental thinking especially as regards the possibility of the United States achieving any non-adversary relationship with the Soviet Union." Offering a different perspective, Matthews notes in a 12 March 1946 letter that the administration had already moved in the direction of not catering to Soviet interests before the long telegram, pointing to a speech Byrnes delivered on 28 February, drafted before Byrnes had read Kennan's message. In the speech, Byrnes explains: "We will not and we cannot stand aloof if force or threat is used contrary to the purposes of the [United Nations] Charter.... If we are to be a great power we must act as a great power, not only in order to ensure our own security but in order to preserve the peace of the world." Matthews explains that long telegram would instead serve as the administration's rationale for subsequent actions. Historian Melvyn P. Leffler points out that before the long telegram had circulated widely, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had already resolved in February 1946 that "collaboration with the Soviet Union should stop short not only of compromise of principle but also of expansion of Russian influence in Europe and in the Far East.

On the Soviet Union

Though the long telegram was a classified document, it circulated widely enough that a copy leaked out to Soviet intelligence. Stalin was among its readers and called on his List of ambassadors of Russia to the United States, American ambassador, Nikolai Vasilevich Novikov, Nikolai Novikov, to send a similar telegram from Washington, D.C., Washington to Moscow. Ghostwriter, Ghostwritten by Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Soviet Union), Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, the piece was sent on 27 September 1946. Representative of Stalin's opinions, Novikov's telegram argued in part: "The foreign policy of the United States reflects the imperialistic tendencies of American monopolistic capitalism, [and] is characterized... by a striving for world supremacy.", quoted in . America would attempt to achieve supremacy by cooperating with Great Britain, but their cooperation was "plagued with great internal contradictions and cannot be lasting... It is quite possible that the Near East will become a center of Anglo-American contradictions that will explode the agreements now reached between the United States and England." Kennan provided commentary on Novikov's telegram in a 1991 piece for the journal ''Diplomatic History (journal), Diplomatic History''. He wrote in part, "These poor people, put on the spot, produced the thing," but "it was only a way of saying to their masters in Moscow: 'How true, sir!.

''Foreign Affairs'' article


On 7 January 1947, Kennan spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations, based at the Harold Pratt House in New York City. The theme of the meeting was "Soviet Foreign Relations", presented to a small group and designated as "Source (journalism)#"Speaking terms", not for attribution". Kennan did not prepare a written speech, having given dozens of similar talks in the years before. In his talk, he discussed the Soviet leader's perspectives on the rest of the world, rooted in both their Marxist-Leninist ideology and Russian history. The Soviets justified their dictatorship by pointing to external enemies, most of which were imaginary. For change to occur, the United States and its allies would need to "contain" the Soviets in a "non-provocative way". International banker R. Gordon Wasson attended the discussion and was impressed by Kennan, suggesting that the Council revise the talk for publication in their journal ''Foreign Affairs''. Journal editor Hamilton Fish Armstrong had not attended the discussion but requested on 10 January that Kennan revise his talk into an article. Kennan responded to Armstrong in a 4 February letter, writing, "I really can not write anything of value on Russia for publication under my own name. If you would be interested in an anonymous article, or one under a pen name,... I might be able to make the necessary arrangements." Armstrong replied on 7 March, agreeing to Kennan's suggestion, writing that the "disadvantage of anonymity" was outweighed by the potential importance of the article. Taking time off from the State Department, Kennan worked as a lecturer at the National War College. His work left him little time to write a new essay, so he searched for previous work to repurpose. In January 1946, Forrestal had asked Kennan for an analysis of a piece by Smith College professor Edward F. Willett entitled "Dialectical Materialism And Russian Objectives". Kennan was unimpressed with the work, but decided that rather than denigrating the piece he would instead publish a new analysis. The paper, titled "Psychological Background of Soviet Foreign Policy", was around six-thousand words. In late-January 1946, he sent it to Forrestal, who described it as "extremely well-done", sending it on to General Marshall. In a 10 March letter to John T. Connor, an aide of Forrestal, Kennan inquired as to whether it would be appropriate to publish this piece anonymously to ''Foreign Affairs''. Forrestal agreed, as did the State Department's Committee on Unofficial Publications. Kennan made several minor corrections to the piece, along with scratching his name out and writing "X" in its place. He added a note on authorship, writing: "The author of this article is one who has had long experience with Russian affairs, both practically and academically, but whose position makes it impossible for him to write about them under his own name." Armstrong published Kennan's piece under the title "The Sources of Soviet Conduct", removing Kennan's note and leaving only the "X" as an identifier.

"The Sources of Soviet Conduct"

Kennan's piece opens with a description of how the Soviet leaders were shaped by Marxism-Leninism, serving as the "pseudo-scientific justification" for why Stalin and the other leaders ought to remain in power despite lacking popular support. At times quoting Edward Gibbon's ''The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'', he writes that the Soviet leaders "aggressive intransigence" against the outside world compelled them "to chastise the contumacy" which they had provoked. To maintain power, the Soviet leaders would need to maintain the illusion of external threats: The Soviets, however, were not prepared to attempt an immediate overthrow of the West, it being implicit in their ideology that capitalism would inevitably fail. They would instead turn their focus to the long-term goal of "[filling] every nook and cranny available to it in the basin of world power." To oppose them, the United States would need long-term strategies to Containment, contain Soviet expansionary ambitions. Containment against the Soviets, Kennan explains, would require an application of "counter-force" along shifting points of geographical and political interests. This "perimeter defense" concept, wherein all geographic area were considered of equal importance, required the United States "to confront the Russians with unalterable counter-force at every point where they show signs of encroaching upon the interests of a peaceful and stable world." Containment would prove its success in the long-term because the Soviet economy was rudimentary and the government leadership lacked procedures for orderly succession. Any disruption in Soviet politics held the possibility of "[changing the state] overnight from one of the strongest to one of the weakest and most pitiable of national societies." Containment was particularly suited for use against the Soviets, Kennan thought, because of their Marxist-Leninist ideology, which encourages a patience not evident with leaders like Napoleon or Hitler. He continues: "... the Kremlin is under no ideological compulsion to accomplish its purposes in a hurry. Like the Church, it is dealing in ideological concepts which are of long-term valididty... It has no right to risk the existing achievements of the revolution for the sake of vain baubles of the future." The end result of containment would allow for "either the break-up or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power.", quoted in . The indefinite frustration the Soviets were bound to face would necessitate their adjustment to the reality of their situation. The strategy would require the United States to manage its own issues successfully, with Kennan concluding: "To avoid destruction the United States need only measure up to its own best traditions and prove itself worthy of preservation as a great nation. Surely, there was never a fairer test of national quality than this.

Impact of the ''Foreign Affairs'' article


Armstrong wrote to Kennan in May 1947, writing, "It's a pleasure for an editor to deal with something that needs practically no revision.... I only wish for your sake as well as for ours that it could carry your name." The piece was due for inclusion in ''Foreign Affairs'' next issue, July 1947. The long delay between its writing and publication – some five months – resulted in the piece not discussing recent communist uprisings in Greece and Turkey, nor any mention of the Truman Doctrine. The magazine did not circulate widely with a little over 19,000 subscribers and a then expensive cover price of $1.25 (). The July issue did not deviate from these trends until journalist Arthur Krock wrote a column in ''The New York Times'' on 8 July. In it, he writes that the main thrust of "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" was "exactly that adopted by the American government after appeasement of the Kremlin proved a failure",, quoted in . and that the piece's author had clearly studied the Soviet Union "at the closest range possible for a foreigner." Krock concludes that the author's views "closely resemble those marked 'Top Secret' in several official files in Washington." Krock's column resulted in a rush for copies of ''Foreign Affairs''. He had not identified Kennan as "X" in his column, but proved responsible for revealing Kennan's identity; Forrestal had let Krock see the draft copy sent to ''Foreign Affairs'', still containing Kennan's name at its end. Other diplomats suspected Kennan's authorship due to the piece's distinct prose as well as the quoting of Edward Gibbon. As the rumor spread, the State Department offered no comment. The ''Daily Worker'', the newspaper of the Communist Party USA, Communist Party of the United States, broke the story on Kennan's identity, with a headline on 9 July reading: "'X' Bared as State Dep't Aid : Calls for Overthrow of Soviet Government". Kennan's role in the State Department lent the article the authority of an official policy declaration. Though he had not intended for the article to be a comprehensive statement on American foreign policy, a piece in the 21 July issue of ''Newsweek'' explained that the "X" article provided a rationale for both the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan and "[charted] the course that this country is likely to pursue for years to come." Marshall, concerned by the amount of attention both Kennan and the article were drawing, spoke with Kennan in a private meeting. Kennan's explanation that the article had been "cleared for publication by the competent official committee" satisfied Marshall, "[b]ut it was long, I suspect, before he recovered from his astonishment over the strange ways of the department he now headed."

Walter Lippmann's critique

Political commentator Walter Lippmann responded to the article, published in the ''New York Herald Tribune'' across fourteen different columns, the first which appeared on 2 September 1947. Lippmann's analysis was widely read and collected in a 1947 book. Lippmann critiqued the article as having presented a "strategic monstrosity", providing the Soviets with the initiative in any conflict, resulting in the United States depending on "a coalition of disorganized, disunited, feeble or disorderly nations, tribles and factions." Lippmann incorrectly concluded that Kennan's article had inspired the Truman Doctrine, which Lippmann opposed. Kennan's article was completed in late January 1947 and Truman announced his Doctrine in a 12 March 1947 speech. Despite this chronology, Gaddis writes: "there is no evidence that it influenced the drafting of that address and abundant evidence that Kennan had sought to remove the language in it to which Lippmann later objected." For Lippmann, however, the piece was "not only an analytical interpretation of the sources of Soviet conduct. It is also a document of primary importance on the sources of American foreign policy – of at least that part of it which is known as the Truman Doctrine." Because of the rushed nature in which Kennan had written the article, he regretted some views expressed within and agreed with some of Lippmann's critiques. Though Kennan did not send the final draft of the piece until 11 April – a month after the announcement of the Truman Doctrine – he did not revise it despite having qualms with sections of the Doctrine. Kennan's position in the State Department made hesitant offering any public clarification, not offering a response until the publishing of the first volume of his memoirs in 1967.

Long term

"The Sources of Soviet Conduct" widely introduced the term "containment". Reflecting on the article in his 1979 memoir, Henry Kissinger writes, "George Kennan came as close to authoring the diplomatic doctrine of his era as any diplomat in our history." Gaddis writes that Kennan's silence to Lippmann's critiques resulted in the idea of containment becoming "synonymous, in the minds of most people who knew the phrase, with Truman's doctrine." Gaddis further writes that some have misinterpreted Kennan's views by placing undue emphasis on the "conspicuous but misleading 'X' article." In the article, Kennan uses refers to "counterforce" rather than "counter-pressure" and does not explain its meaning, something in his memoirs he admitted led to confusion for readers. Kennan reassessed his views on perimeter defense after the article was published, instead shifting to the idea of "strongpoint defense" with defense instead focused on particular areas. In Kennan's memoirs he recalled that his "entire diplomatic experience took place in rather high northern latitudes." Thomas Borstelmann writes that Kennan's few experiences outside of Europe contributed to his detestation of the people of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America: "He tended to lup them together as impulsive, fanatical, ignorant, lazy, unhappy, and prone to mental disorders and other biological deficiencies." In the first of his memoirs, published in 1967, Kennan links Soviet despotism to its leaders "attitude of Oriental secretiveness and conspiracy.", quoted in . In a 1942 lecture, he explained that the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 revealed the Russians were not "westernized" but instead "17th century semi-Asiatic people." Borstelmann further writes that Kennan's perspectives on race were not unique to him but were instead common in his contemporary American policymaking circles.






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Journal and newspaper articles

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Further reading


See also

* "A National Strategic Narrative" by Mr. Y, also known as the Y Article, which was later inspired by the "X Article" * Martin Malia, whose essay on the decline of the Soviet Union, "To the Stalin Mausoleum", was published under the pseudonym "Z"

External links

"The Novikov Telegram. Russian response to Kennan"

Stalin's warning for the future
CNN short on Stalin's 9 February 1946 speech, featuring an interview with Kennan. {{Spoken Wikipedia, X_Article.ogg, date=2012-12-17 1947 in international relations 1947 documents Academic journal articles Cold War history of the United States Soviet Union–United States relations Works originally published in Foreign Affairs