From: Council on Foreign Relations
In 1922, the world was dealing with the aftershocks of a calamitous war, and the United States was haltingly assuming a larger role in world affairs. Foreign Affairs published its first issue that September. The magazine’s aim, wrote its first editor, was to “promote the discussion of current questions of international interest.” It would display “a broad hospitality to divergent ideas,” so long as contributions were “competent and well informed, representing honest opinions seriously held and convincingly expressed.”
In 2022, the world is once again consumed by crisis, and the United States is once again struggling to define its proper role in world affairs. As our 100th anniversary approaches, Foreign Affairs remains as committed as ever to fostering debate about “current questions of international interest,” with “divergent ideas . . . representing honest opinions seriously held and convincingly expressed.” Yet we’re also taking the opportunity to reflect on the past.
Every week until September, this newsletter will share noteworthy essays from the Foreign Affairs archive, paywall free and open for all to read. These essays provide both a glimpse into the most consequential foreign policy debates of the last century and insight into the most important challenges of today. Some of these essays are remarkable because they were influential, some because they were prophetic, some because their substance is as illuminating now as it was when they first published—or, in the case of this week’s essay, all three.
“The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” published in our July 1947 issue under the byline “X,” established a framework for Cold War strategy that would define U.S. policy for decades. In it, George Kennan—whose authorship was publicly confirmed several years after publication—laid out a rich analysis of the Soviet Union’s worldview and power, as well as a recommendation for strategists: the United States could manage the challenge from Moscow with “a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.”
Today, with “Russian expansive tendencies” once again at the center of global politics—even as the United States grapples with a global pandemic, climate change, a new great-power challenger in China, and much more—Kennan’s essay remains fascinating reading, every page offering a relevant lesson or warning. In the decades since it was published, there have been countless attempts to revise or repurpose Kennan’s framework or to put forward an alternate framework that would prove as definitive as his did—with limited success. But one of Kennan’s most important conclusions requires little or nothing in the way of edits or updates: “To avoid destruction the United States need only measure up to its own best traditions and prove itself worthy of preservation.”
Thank you for reading. We hope you’ll stay with us as we celebrate 100 years of Foreign Affairs.