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Sources of Soviet Conflict

The Policy of Containment
The United States during the 1940s and 1950s
faced a new and emerging threat on the world
stage: the Soviet Union. Our ally in World
War II just a few years prior, America went
from lauding the bravery of “Uncle Joe”
(Josef Stalin) and his brave soldiers to
vilifying them as communist subversives who
sought to take over the world.

The U.S. State Department has put together a Soviet Task Force to evaluate the Russian threat to our
shores. You are a member of this task force. Your team's job will be three-fold. First, you will analyze
why the United States and Soviet Union have a mutual animosity toward each either (i.e. what is the
source of the conflict). Second, you and your team will develop a theoretical strategy to deal with the
Russians. Finally, you will advise the President with the best way to implement your strategy around
the globe.

Some research on these topics has already been compiled, so you will be doing a combination of
original thinking and summary of State Department and C.I.A. reports. I do not think you need to be
reminded of the stakes in this war: Just remember the images of Tsar Bomba, and think about the
possibility of such a nuclear device being dropped on a major American city. Millions would be dead.

Step One: Identifying Sources of Soviet Conflict
Complete the chart and answer the questions below.

United States Soviet Union
Economic System
Political System

1. According to The Communist Manifesto, what is the stated goal of Communism? Why should
this make the United States nervous? And why are the two systems incompatible?

2. According to George Kennan, is Russia in a hurry to implement their policies? Why or why
not? What does he recommend the United States do in response?

3. Both George Kennan and Winston Churchill (in the “Iron Curtain” speech) said that the
Russians respond to one thing. What is that thing? What are two ways that we can
demonstrate/use it?
Step Two: Develop a Theoretical Strategy
Now that we know the source of the conflict between the Americans and Russians, and some of Russia's characteristics, it is time to develop
a strategy.
The flowchart below will help you develop a theoretical strategy to help fight the Soviet Union. Think carefully about what will happen at
each step, and complete the flowchart to reach a conclusion. Use class discussions and the information from the “Long Telegram” to help.
No Invasion Invasion

Three options Option 1: Do Nothing
What is the result of
this choice? Why?
Benefits Drawbacks
Option 3: Containment
According to Kennan, what is containment?

Option 2: Diplomacy
How could the United States Benefits
use diplomacy to please the
Soviet Union? What would
we do?

Benefits Drawbacks

Drawbacks The President wants a strategy that will both increase our power and not risk nuclear war. Which of
these strategies best meets these criteria and why?
Step 3: Implement the Strategy Around the Globe
As an adviser to the President, you have been given the task of
evaluating the nations that should best be part of the United
States’ new “containment” strategy. Your selections will be sent
to the C.I.A. For further analysis, with the initial implementation
of our covert containment strategy occurring within a year.

The country does not have an endless supply of money, so it is
up to you to pick the nations that best work for containment.
Below are five countries that have been identified as potential
targets for a containment operation. Your job will be to pick the
best two places in which the U.S. should launch undercover
operations to halt the flow of communism and make the world
safe. Your choices should be sensible, and backed with sound
reasoning. Remember, our objective is to “box in” the Soviet Union and contain its attempts to spread
communism into the most important regions of the globe. Good luck.

1. Cuba: Cuba is an island nation less than 100 miles off the coast of Florida. This puts every
major city well within range of any missiles that might end up there. Further, many American
companies still own land and factories on the island. However, the Cubans do not forget that
America broker her promises about Cuban independence after the Spanish-American War,
meaning that we will likely be unpopular on the island.

2. Iran: This Middle Eastern country has something that we definitely need; oil. The country is
strategically important (at the crossroads of Europe and Asia), which would make it a prize the
Russians would seek as well. However, the black gold underneath its land is the ticket. The
United States would have a supreme advantage if we could ensure that the spigots remain on.
Once again, however, the United States is not very well liked in the region, meaning that any
attempt to gain control would require a substantial amount of resources and would likely anger
the population.

3. Greece: An ancient nation, and the birthplace of Western civilization, Greece is now under the
threat of communist incursion. Strategic importance in the Mediterranean would give the U.S.
access to the Middle East, and provide a base of operations to monitor North Africa. The
downside is that the country is well to the east of any other democratic countries, meaning that
we would be penetrating deep into Soviet territory, making tensions rise.

4. Korea: A small peninsula just south of China, Korea is not a manufacturing or resource hotbed,
having been substantially destroyed during its occupation by Japan during World War II. It
does have the strategic advantage of being close to China (which is also a communist country),
making it an asset.

5. Viet Nam: This tiny sliver of a nation, also south of China, is made up of dense jungle and
yields much of the world’s rice and coffee crop. It is located on the ocean, meaning that sea
ports and maritime bases are possible from its shores (with easy access to the Soviet Union),
although bases already established in Japan would be closer.


Greece Korea

Iran Viet Nam
From: Soviet Union Task Force, United States State Department
To: Office of the President of the United States of America

Mr. President,

A careful analysis of the data has revealed several key pieces of information about which you should be

The roots of the conflict between the United States and Soviet Union are primarily about _______________

We evaluated three possible responses to the Soviet threat, and have determined that __________________
is the best course of action because _____________________________________________________________________
It is better than our other alternatives because __________________________________________________________

Finally, we have advised the C.I.A. to implement our strategy at the following two locations, for the
reasons specified:
Country 1: _______________________________________
Our reasoning is that ____________________________________________________________________________________

Country 2: _______________________________________
Our reasoning is that ____________________________________________________________________________________
“The Sources of Soviet Conduct”
Foreign Affairs, 1947
by X [George Kennan]

“....[I]t is clear that the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must
be that of long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive
tendencies. It is important to note, however, that such a policy [should not use] threats or
blustering or [pointless] gestures of outward "toughness." While [Russia] is basically flexible in
its reaction to political realities, it is by no means [unresponsive] to considerations of prestige.
Like almost any other government, it can be placed by [pointless] and threatening gestures in
a position where it cannot afford to yield even though this might be dictated by its sense of
realism. The Russian leaders are keen judges of human psychology, and as such they are
highly conscious that loss of temper and of self-control is never a source of strength in
political affairs. They are quick to exploit such evidences of weakness.…

It is clear that the United States cannot expect in the foreseeable future to enjoy political
intimacy with the Soviet regime. It must continue to regard the Soviet Union as a rival, not a
partner, in the political arena. It must continue to expect that Soviet policies will reflect no
abstract love of peace and stability, no real faith in the possibility of a permanent happy
coexistence of the socialist and capitalist worlds, but rather a cautious, persistent pressure
toward the disruption and weakening of all rival influence and rival power.

Balanced against this are the facts that Russia, as opposed to the western world in general, is
still by far the weaker party, that Soviet policy is highly flexible, and that Soviet society may
well contain deficiencies which will eventually weaken its own total potential. This would of
itself warrant the United States entering with reasonable confidence upon a policy of firm
containment, designed to confront the Russians with unalterable counter-force at every point
where they show signs of encroaching upon he interests of a peaceful and stable world.

Thus the Kremlin has no compunction about retreating in the face of superior forces. And
being under the compulsion of no timetable, it does not get panicky under the necessity for
such retreat. Its political action is a fluid stream which moves constantly, wherever it is
permitted to move, toward a given goal. Its main concern is to make sure that it has filled
every nook and cranny available to it in the basin of world power. But if it finds unassailable
barriers in its path, it accepts these philosophically and accommodates itself to them. The
main thing is that there should always be pressure, unceasing constant pressure, toward the
desired goal. There is no trace of any feeling in Soviet psychology that that goal must be
reached at any given time.”
The Communist Manifesto
Terms to know before reading:
bourgeois: capitalists; factory owners
proletariat: factory workers

The distinguishing feature of Communism is not the
abolition of property generally, but the abolition of
bourgeois property. But modern bourgeois private property
is the final and most complete expression of the system of
producing and appropriating products, that is based on class
[conflict], on the exploitation of the many by the few.
In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be
summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private

The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from
the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e.,
of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces
as rapidly as possible.
Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of [violent]
inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production...

In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement
against the existing social and political order of things.
In all these movements, they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the
property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time.
Finally, they labour everywhere for the union and agreement of the democratic
parties of all countries.
The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare
that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social
conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians
have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.

Working Men of All Countries, Unite!