Will George Kennan’s forebodings about NATO expansion be realised?


Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported: “Poland and the United States will announce the deployment of U.S. ground forces to Poland as part of an expansion of NATO presence in Central and Eastern Europe in response to events in Ukraine.

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“That was the word from Poland’s defense minister, Tomasz Siemoniak, who visited The Post Friday after meeting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon on Thursday.

“Siemoniak said the decision has been made on a political level and that military planners are working out details. There will also be intensified cooperation in air defense, special forces, cyberdefense and other areas. Poland will play a leading regional role, “under U.S. patronage”.

George Kennan, American adviser, diplomat, political scientist and historian, was known as “the father of containment”

george kennan 2002He opposed the Clinton administration’s war in Kosovo and its expansion of NATO (the establishment of which he had also opposed half a century earlier), expressing fears that both policies would worsen relations with Russia.He was quoted by Strobe Talbott as insisting that NATO enlargement would be a “strategic blunder of potentially epic proportions”.

In the 50s Kennan (opposite, 2002) left the Department of State and – after two ambassadorial appointments in Moscow and Yugoslavia – became a leading critic of U.S. foreign policy, opposing the building of the hydrogen bomb.

US military policies: “unthought-through, vainglorious and undesirable”.

American diplomacy coverAt the age of 98 he warned that launching an attack on Iraq would amount to waging a second war that “bears no relation to the first war against terrorism” and declared efforts by the Bush administration to link al Qaeda with Saddam Hussein were “pathetically unsupportive and unreliable” – as a Pentagon study acknowledged in 2008 – undercutting the Bush administration’s central case for war with Iraq. Kennan went on to say:

“Anyone who has ever studied the history of American diplomacy, especially military diplomacy, knows that you might start in a war with certain things on your mind as a purpose of what you are doing, but in the end, you found yourself fighting for entirely different things that you had never thought of before…. In other words, war has a momentum of its own and it carries you away from all thoughtful intentions when you get into it. Today, if we went into Iraq, like the president would like us to do, you know where you begin. You never know where you are going to end.

He urged the U.S. government to withdraw from its public advocacy of democracy and human rights, saying that the tendency to see ourselves as the center of political enlightenment and as teachers to a great part of the rest of the world struck him as being as “unthought-through, vainglorious and undesirable”.


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