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Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security (Galaxy Books)

4.7 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195030976
ISBN-10: 0195030974
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Editorial Reviews


"Excellently organized, a good focused survey of American foreign policy strategies during the cold war."--Tanya Charwick, Ohio State University

"A welcome contribution to the literature of the subject and should become a point of departure for scholars of modern American foreign policy."--Review of Politics

"Deserves the attention of every student of foreign affairs."--Foreign Service Journal

"A superb and timely overview of the evolution of U.S. national security policy since the close of World War II."--Orbis

"A work of truly distinguished scholarship that makes an invaluable contribution of American policy towards the Soviet Union since World War II."--Alexander L. George, Stanford University

About the Author

John Lewis Gaddis is the Robert A. Lovett Professor of History at Yale university, a winner of the Bancroft Prize, and a preeminent expert on the Cold War.

Product Details

  • Series: Galaxy Books
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (February 4, 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195030974
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195030976
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.9 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,136,927 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Strategies of Containment, by John Lewis Gaddis, is a description of the evolving strategy of containment that was the basis of US policy toward the Soviet Union from 1946 through 1989. Gaddis traces the concept of containment from its inception by George F. Kennan through the modifications applied by five administrations and assesses the strengths, weaknesses, and effectiveness of each version. This book is more than another chronology of the cold war; it provides deep insights into strategic thinking and is essential reading for any serious student of the cold war. Here's a brief summary:

Kennan's Original Doctrine of Containment

* Identify and defend vital interests based on the centers of industrial strength - Britain, Western Europe, Japan -don't try to defend the entire world.
* Use all instruments of power: economic, diplomatic, political, and cultural power as well as military power. Rebuilding the economic vitality of the above areas is a high priority.
* Seek to divide the communist world. Our primary adversary is the Soviet Union. Other communist countries, if not actively supporting Soviet policy, may be led to serve as quasi-allies by depriving the Soviets of their support.
* General war with the Soviets is unlikely, so we can afford to take risks. We can limit our defense spending and not try to defend the world. A point defense of our vital interests is probably adequate.
* Define threats in light of US vital interests, not in terms of Soviet capabilities

Truman and NSC-68

* The policies articulated in NSC-68 moved toward a perimeter defense covering the entire world rather than a point defense of vital interests.
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Format: Paperback
I do not believe there is a finer overview of post-World War II American foreign policy than this important book. As a work of history as opposed to political science, it is well-suited for any reader who cares about America's relationship with the world. Gaddis explains containment as it was originally envisioned by George Kennan and then goes on to show the fluctuations between symmetrical and asymmetrical policies up through the Carter administration. He first describes each policy stance--its antecedents, influences, and applications--then describes the applicability of that policy in reality. He shows how Kennan's conception of containment was quickly lost in the enactment of NSC 68 by the Truman administration and the U.S. involvement in Korea. He describes Eisenhower's "New Look" as a shift back to a policy wherein America drew distinctions between conflicts it would and would not react to, relying heavily on the nuclear option in an all-or-nothing containment strategy. Then he dissects the "flexible response" policy of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, ascribing much importance to their Keynesian economic outlooks in convincing them that America could response to any and all threats while still growing the domestic economy. After the debacle of Vietnam, Gaddis does a wonderful job of describing the détente policies of Nixon and Kissinger.
The most important conclusion he draws is that economic realities and domestic politics seemingly play an integral part in America's oscillating policies over time. To be more exact, the perception of means largely steers policy. Eisenhower adopted an asymmetrical policy, relying on the nuclear threat while decreasing the nation's conventional forces, because he feared the effects of overspending.
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Format: Paperback
This great book by John Lewis Gaddis is a rare achievement in the field. It is a necessarily dense assessment of American post-war foreign policy but, at the same time, immensely readable and enjoyable. The focus of the book, as implied by its title, is a deep exploration of the containment strategy as originally authored by George Kennan during his stint in Russia for the State Department. Gaddis explains the origins of containment quite well, but the real genius of the book is the way he takes us on a logical examination of the strategy's evolution into the heart of the Cold War. A nice surprise is learning how American leaders misunderstood the real intentions of George Kennan himself, resulting in military investments of which Kennan did not approve. A particularly fascinating section of the book is Gaddis's descriptions of the Nixon-Kissinger strategy of opening the doors to China as a means of gaining leverage against the Soviets. In these areas Gaddis walks a high-wire balance of strict academia and joyous intrigue. Gaddis doesn't approach this material from any particular political viewpoint, but rather with his own brand of sharp and steely reason. This book truly is a masterpiece and a must-read for anybody serious about American foreign policy. It is the stuff of genius, the core of which is Gaddis's crafty work of combining political science with poetry.
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Anyone interested in learning how US foreign policy is created should start with this important and well-written book. Gaddis examines the post war search for ways in which the various administrations attempted to come up with a strategy to deal with the Soviet Union. Of course this was the primary center piece of foreign policy and it was the prism by which all other actions, all around the world, were viewed.
What is interesting to me is that each administration sought to embrace some new measure once it took office. What Gaddis makes plain is that despite the rhetoric, what they ended up doing, without exception is to rely on the basic rules of containment established under Truman. For all the talk about "New Looks" and "Flexible Responses," "Rolling Back Communism" and "Detente" new presidential adminstrations were left to fall back on the methods and processes that were developed under Truman and refined somewhat under Eisenhower.
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