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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Analysis and Critique of Evolving US Strategies in the Cold War
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...
Published on March 22, 2008 by Leonard J. Wilson

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars comprehensive survey of Cold War doctrines
This is a good, if extremely pedestrian academic study of the notion of containment. It is interesting in that it show how, from its conception by George Kennan, it get bent out of shape as it is put into practice by warring bureaucrats. Kennen, the famous "X" in the Foreign Affairs article that introduced the idea, had a very nuanced conception of how to help the USSR...
Published on April 18, 2012 by Robert J. Crawford


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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Analysis and Critique of Evolving US Strategies in the Cold War, March 22, 2008
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This review is from: Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War (Paperback)
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.
* Primary emphasis was switched to military power and to the entire spectrum of war
* US interests were redefined in response to perceived threats (anything that is threatened must be an interest).
* US strategy became based on a symmetric response to threats - responding in the same time, place, and with the same means as the adversary (e.g., the Korean War).

Eisenhower, Dulles, and the New Look

* Eisenhower's guiding philosophy was that defense is not just defeating the enemy - it is the preservation of our economic and political systems.
* Spending too much on defense could destroy these systems by leading to either inflation or the imposition of autocratic controls. He reduced the defense budget by 33% from Truman's last year and held it at about that level for eight years.
* Alliances relied on allies for ground forces with the US providing Air and Naval support.
* The nuclear threat became the cornerstone of deterrence across the spectrum of conflict - with goal of avoiding war - in belief that any war was all too likely to escalate to nuclear.
* Asymmetric response to threats - response need not be in same place or using same methods as Soviet threat
* Anti-colonial Conundrum: The communists are fomenting wars of national liberation while the US is trying to rebuild Europe (the colonial powers). If the US backs decolonization, it undermines the European allies it is trying to rebuild. If the US backs the colonial powers, it loses any chance of support from the colonies. The Soviets really put us in a no-win position on this issue.

Kennedy, Johnson, and Flexible Response

* Kennedy and Johnson return to NSC-68 reasoning by lowering threat of nuclear response and replaced it with flexible response, requiring a direct, symmetric response to threats - a respond in same time and place using the same means.
* These administrations applied a circular logic: Threats create interests which demand responses which require capabilities even where no interest previously had been identified. This was articulated in the "bear any burden, pay any price" rhetoric.
* This strategy necessitated greater reliance on military response versus economic, political, etc which increased demands on the defense budget.
* Kennedy abandoned Eisenhower's commitment to a balanced budget and relied on Keynesian fiscal policy to stimulate the economy. Spending was predicated on the potential of the economy rather than its actual performance. Lack of budgetary constraints led to inability to prioritize, to distinguish the essential from the peripheral, the feasible from the infeasible which encouraged more "bear any burden, pay and price' reasoning because it wasn't real money.
* Flexible response led to graduated escalation in Viet Nam which became "never enough to defeat the enemy, just enough to prolong the war". Stakes were repeatedly raised to prevent the humiliation of a defeat but this only made the eventual defeat more humiliating.
* Calibrated escalation yielded the initiative to the enemy - allowed him to define the terms of conflict. Deterrence can be made effective only if the adversary can be made to doubt that he can retain control of the situation. Taking the nuclear option away encouraged adversaries to call our bluff.

Nixon, Kissinger and Détente

* Nixon and Kissinger moved the US government from a bi-polar to a multi-polar world view by positing the existence of five significant power centers: US, USSR, Western Europe, China, and Japan. They recognized that these five power centers were far from equal. Only the US and USSR were superpowers able to exert substantial influence via military, economic, political, or diplomatic means. This strategy was a return to the balance of power envisioned by Kennan.
* In the military arena, they focused on sufficiency rather than superiority over the Soviet Union and sought to persuade Brezhnev that a similar policy would be in his country's best interest as well. Sufficiency won the logical argument over superiority because the latter invariably provoked the other side into matching every military advance, producing and endless and unwinnable arms race.
* Conceptually, Kissinger and Nixon changed the country's strategic definition of US interests and threats to those interests. For most of the interval between Kennan and Nixon-Kissinger, the US strategic view had started with the USSR, its capabilities and intentions, then identified the impact these capabilities could have. These impacts became viewed as threats and US interests were defined as anything thus threatened. Nixon and Kissinger reversed the logical flow, much as Kennan did, starting with the identification of US interests, independent of any adversary. They then identified as an adversary an entity with capability and intent to harm these interests.
* Again returning to Kennan's approach, Nixon-Kissinger sought to use negotiations to influence Soviet behavior. They took a long-term approach to negotiations, discarding the tendency of previous administrations from Roosevelt on to use negotiations and agreements with the Soviets for domestic political purposes. They discarded the approach of seeking agreements on specific areas where they could be reached and adopted a strategy of linkage - maintaining that Soviet unwillingness to negotiate in good faith on military and strategic issues of importance to the US would result in US refusal to accommodate Soviet desires for economic and trade relations and recognition of the post war division of Europe.
* The next step in the Nixon-Kissinger strategy was to seek an accommodation with China to reduce US-Chinese tensions and, thereby, free China to take a more assertive stance in its own dealings with the USSR. This was a return to Kennan's goal of dividing communism and redefined our prime enemy as the Soviet Union

Reagan

Reagan continued the return to Kennan's original concept of containment:
* Adopt an asymmetric strategy - don't let the enemy determine the time, place, and terms of conflict
* Apply economic, political, diplomatic, and moral power more than military power. A prime example was his Berlin speech: "Mr. Gorbachev! Tear down this wall!" He put the Soviets in the same kind of no-win position that they had inflicted on Eisenhower over colonialism in the 1950s by setting the Eastern Europeans at odds with the Kremlin.
* He recognized that Soviet system was bankrupt financially, intellectually, morally and turned up the pressure until it collapsed.
* Reagan was also lucky. Kennan had hoped to transform the Soviet Union with the help of a new generation of Russian leaders. Gorbachev turned out to be the leader Kennan had hoped for. He and Reagan together ended the cold war and transformed the Soviet Union from a totalitarian system to one that might have evolved into a more liberal one had the 1991 coup d'état not destroyed it first.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An authoritative overview of U.S. foreign policy, April 16, 2002
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. Kennedy wanted to distance himself from the previous adminstration, and his liberal economic outlook convinced him that the American economy could be grown and controlled in such a way as to provide the funds for increasing both military and domestic spending, which would allow him to meet any threat any where at any time. This symmetrical policy, continued by Johnson, led America into a war in the wrong place at the wrong time against the wrong enemy. Nixon, naturally, wanted to distance himself from Johnson, and he also faced great constraints in public perception and Congressional distaste for increased military spending--under such constraints, he and Kissinger decided on a policy of détente with the Soviet Union, a policy that was effective to some degree but was ineffective in many ways (especially lesser regional conflicts). Carter's foreign policy was a blundering tightwalk between symmetry and asymmetry and was basically no policy at all. Gaddis is fairly objective in his assessment of the oscillating course of foreign policy, pointing out the successes as well as the failures of each strategy. He does not discuss every single incident because it would be impossible to cover everything in detail, so some issues I was interested in, such as Greek policy in 1948, the Bay of Pigs invasion, Khrushchev's shoe-thumping speeach at the U.N., the Iranian hostage crisis, to name a few, were barely mentioned, but his overall synthesis and communication of ideas is illuminating. I learned a great deal from reading this book. I only wish the book had been written more recently than 1982, so it could have concluded with a study of how Ronald Reagan actually won the Cold War.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Stunning Foreign Policy Book, April 27, 2000
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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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best work on post WWII foreign policy, December 16, 2002
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M. A Newman (Alexandria, VA United States) - See all my reviews
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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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A welcome scrutiny of history with the advantage of post-Cold War hindsight, November 7, 2005
This review is from: Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War (Paperback)
Now in a revised edition, Strategies Of Containment: A Critical Appraisal Of American National Security Policy During The Cold War is a revised and expanded edition of Bancroft Prize winner and Cold War expert John Lewis Gaddis' classic on understanding the history of containment as a policy, its role in bringing the Cold War to an end, and its possible value or pitfalls in the future. Originally published during the Regan presidency when the Soviet Union was still a superpower, Strategies Of Containment includes a greatly expanded chapter on Reagan, Gorbachev, and the completion of containment, as well as a new epilogue. A welcome scrutiny of history with the advantage of post-Cold War hindsight.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Cold and the Soft War, November 1, 2010
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This review is from: Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War (Paperback)
This book describes how the US responded to the Soviet Union that turned from ally to ideological adversary after World War II. John Lewis Gaddis gives a convincing interpretation of the various phases of the Cold War until the collapse of the Soviet Union. The concept of containment described US policy. No direct confrontation was sought, but the Soviet Union should be kept within bounds. George Kennan's description of the Soviet Union as a repressive government that required an external enemy to justify its existence determined early US policy. Kennan argued that the US should use the arsenal of democracy, i.c. economic progress to win the ideological war. A huge military build-up would undermine economic advance. Economic aid given to Western Europe would immunize it against communism. But, policies of self determination run counter to advances of communism in Eastern Europe and Asia that seemed irreversible. This evoked a new strategy of flexible response in the 1960s. The US would give military assistence to its allies in their struggle with armed minorities and outside pressure. The dire effects of increased military spending were denied in Keynesian theories of stimulating economic growth through government spending. However, flexible symmetric response gave the initiative to the other side. The Vietnam debacle signalled the end of this policy. It left the US weakened with high inflation and low growth. The balance of power seemed to tilt in favor of communism in Asia and Africa. The Kissinger/Nixon policy of detente wanted to restore the balance by controlling Soviet behavior through a system of economic rewards and military punishments. However, this policy turned out to be opportunistic and nihilistic in its execution. Reagan restored confidence by proclaiming that the US had the future in the information age. Inflation was curbed and economic growth soared. The US could easily outspend the Soviet Union on arms, but would use it to build up a defense shield. His policy went back to the Kennan doctrine that the Soviet Union would succumb due to the inferiority of its economic model.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cold War History of Containment - by the foremost historian of the Cold War, June 18, 2008
This review is from: Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War (Paperback)
John Lewis Gaddis is probably the foremost historian of the Cold War.

Strategies of Containment provides a complete basic overview of the subject of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War. It is specifically a history of the U.S.'s containment policy toward the Soviet Union and the Communist-bloc and its evolution over time.

It begins with U.S. diplomat George Kennan's famous memomorandum or "long telegram" from the Soviet Union which provided the guide for interpreting the intentions of the Soviet that was used by the State Department and the Executive Branch in formulating U.S. foreign policy towards the Soviet Union and the Communist-bloc nations - especially during the early stages of the Cold War. If a U.S. foreign service officer or other U.S. official wanted to understand the Soviet Union's foreign policy or history and the considerations which would impact the Soviet leadership's behavior - he or she was directed to read it.

The initial assessment by Kennan and his subsequent use of the term "containment" in a Foreign Affairs magazine for the first time, was controversial and volumes have been written on what he meant.

His approach basically was to advise against a wholesale reordering of the world order based on U.S. values which would cause consternation in the Soviet leadership and trigger Soviet defensive diplomatic (and potentially more drastic measures) in opposing the new international framework.

Kennan wanted diversity in the international system, to allow the Soviet Union to participate within it, and not undermine or be alienated from it, and thus transformed by it over time. The history of the Soviet Union's participation in the UN and its institutions confirms his analysis.

Kennan initially argued for a particularist approach as opposed to a universalist approach. He also argued for strong point as opposed to wide-scale perimeter opposition to expanding Soviet spheres of influence.

Kennan's writings set the stage for an interpretation of Soviet behavior and intentions. He studied Soviet and Russian history and knew that the Soviet Union would seek to build buffer zones between it and any potential adversary. The Napolean invasion, Germany's invasion, etc. as well as the Crimean War, and the Russo-Japanes War of 1905, and the U.S. and European intervention in the Russian civil war, all shaped the Soviet leadership's thinking.

Kennan wanted to restore a balance of power at the interface between the East and West in the European theater as well as in Asia, but without contesting every Soviet move for influence along its borders and without alienating the Soviet Union from the new international order.

Truman subsequently instituted a policy review process that led to NSC-68 which expressly stated that the U.S. policy was to promote U.S. values of freedom and human dignity. Containment then moved into the shape of a perimeter-type defensive strategy in which Soviet moves on its periphery for political and military influence was to be contested.

The book then describes U.S. national security policy and how U.S. containment evolved over time into Eisenhower's "New Look" policy in which no further Soviet expansion of its power into other nations was to be uncontested and then later into "flexible response" under Kennedy and Johnson and then detente under Kissinger.

The book is an excellent introduction to the Cold War, the U.S. policy of containment and its evolution.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, for a class-required reading, November 27, 2013
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This review is from: Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War (Paperback)
I had to read this book for my American History Class. Now, when you are assigned a book, it automatically becomes a boring chore, and you cannot sit back and enjoy it. But that didn't stop me from sitting back and enjoying it.

Now, I could have enjoyed it more, but I found Gaddis really engaging and knowledgable with his analysis of containment in the Cold War. I am extremely interested in history, and the more you learn, the more you build on what you know. History is finite, but the knowledge you can gain from it is infinite. This book opened my eyes to the various strategies of containment throughout the Cold War, something you don't usually go over in your average class. Intriguing.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A classic, April 14, 2004
By 
Donald Padou (Washington, DC United States) - See all my reviews
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This book is still useful even 20 years after publication. Gaddis view US policy toward the USSR as a pendulum that swings between"symmetrical" and "asymmetrical" approaches. The periods are split into: Kennan's original containment, NSC-68, Eisenhower's "New Look", JFK and Nixon's détente. There is a coda covering Carter, but it is less helpful.
The symmetrical approach confronts the USSR wherever the USSR chooses to probe. In this approach, wherever the Soviets seek to advance is, by their very actions, a US interest. In contrast, the asymmetrical view seeks to identify those areas that are inherently vital US interests and protect those.
The first seeks to build a fence (containment) around the Soviets. The second approach builds its fences around US interests and lets the USSR do what it wants - within reason - elsewhere. Heck, why let them do that? The answer is "means." Gaddis stresses the point that US means are not unlimited. The US must balance means and ends and this leads to the pendulum swings.
The reasons I do not give the book the last star are: It does not cover the Carter-Reagan-Bush era and Smith over draws the magnitude of the swings. The book makes it sound like there were tremendous differences between the various administrations and does not pay enough attention to the essential consistency of US Cold War strategy. Smith acknowledges this in a retrospective on his own book available at the Hoover Institute web site.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Review, May 28, 2001
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Amazon Customer "BJ" (SILVER SPRING, MARYLAND, United States) - See all my reviews
I bought this book based on a recommendation from a professor. I wanted to get a good review of US containment strategy and I certainly got that. It is a very detailed accout of how the strategy developed in the US after WWII and how that strategy manifested itself though the following Presidential administrations. I am reading it quite carefully because it is so very educational. I have already recommended it to others who have a similar interest in US containmnet strategy.
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