On 22 February 1946, George Kennan authored the most consequential telegram in modern diplomatic history. He was then the deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Moscow. The US State Department had asked him for a tell-all cable on the future of the Soviet Union.
‘Here was a case where nothing but the whole truth would do,’ Kennan noted. It led him to compose ‘a telegram of some eight thousand words – all neatly divided, like an eighteenth-century Protestant sermon’. The effect was nothing short of startling. As he himself noted, ‘my reputation was made. My voice now carried.’
Kennan had set out the rationale for containment. Over the next four decades, the strategy was adapted and changed, depending on who was elected to power in the United States. The objective was to limit Soviet expansionism.
There is an urgent need for countries across the world to find meaning in strategy once again. China’s forceful advance, the near-complete breakdown in China-US relations, the threat and opportunities of emerging technologies, the import of cybersecurity, coupled with the fragmenting effects of a less-globalised world are plainly noticeable.