Today's date:
Spring 1986

Our Vital Interests Today

George F. Kennan - As the leading Soviet expert in the US State Department in the 1940s, George Kennan was the original architect of the postwar strategy of "containment of communism." In 1952, be served as Ambassador to Moscow. We asked Kennan to once again define America's vital interests as he sees them in 1986.

The New Assumptions Of Our National Security Strategy
We should base our national security strategy on the assumption that the three greatest dangers we now face are the following:

The danger of nuclear war, or indeed of any war at all among major industrial powers, arising by accident or misunderstanding, from the anxieties and compulsions engendered by the nuclear weapons race, or from any other cause.

The danger of a proliferation of nuclear weaponry, or other forms of the weapons of mass destruction, into irresponsible political hands.

The long-term dangers of serious pollution and distortion of our natural environment by increasing industrialization, urbanization and over-population.

All of these dangers appear to me to be much more serious today than any injuries Moscow has any idea of inflicting, or would be likely to inflict, on us by direct action.

On Separating The Threat Of "World Communism" From The Threat Of The Soviet Union
World communism has ceased to be a united movement and the Soviet Union has ceased to be a serious ideological threat. In this sense, "spreading international communism," as we knew it in the late 1940s, is no longer a reality of our time. More dangerous are the numerous outcroppings, in various parts of the world, of a fanatical religious-political fundamentalism - not a united movement but one which, if not confronted with firm and decisive resistance, can have a seriously unsettling effect on civilized life everywhere.

Our Vital National Interests Today
Our principal vital interests at this time are:

1. Reduction of the danger of nuclear war or of any war among major industrial powers. In my opinion, the best approach to the achievement of this aim would be (a) an effort to agree with the Russians on a comprehensive test ban treaty; (b) acceptance of the principle of a complete demilitarization of outer space; and (c) an effort to achieve a drastic reduction of existing nuclear arsenals, followed by a freeze at the resulting levels and by negotiations for further reductions. We need to contain not so much the Soviet Union as the arms race itself.

2. Preventing any and all further proliferation of nuclear weaponry. Success in this endeavor presupposes progress on arms control between us and the Russians. It is absurd to suppose that other countries are going to accept permanent restraints in developing such weapons so long as the two superpowers continue to develop them without visible limit.

3. Achieving so high a degree of unilateral national action and international collaboration in environmental matters so as to reverse the trend towards the deterioration of our global natural environment as a support-system for human life. I doubt that much progress can be made in the direction of effective international collaboration in environmental matters if the effort is carried forward only in bodies with universal membership, acting on the basis of unanimous consent. I would favor, in place of this, agreements arrived at, initially, only among the major industrial and mercantile countries and formally restraining only them alone, but open to adherence, in the course of time, by other countries as well.

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