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The Cold War, Walter Lippman



Consider These Questions


Walter Lippman (1889-1974), a widely read essayist and journalist, published a series of articles called The Cold War in 1947. The publication spoke out against the policy of containment held by President Truman and Mr. "X" and popularized the term "Cold War," which was first introduced by Truman advisor Bernard Baruch in a congressional debate in April 1947. Mr. "X" was the author of an article printed in Foreign Affairs called "The Sources of Soviet Conduct." Mr. "X" -- later revealed to be George F. Kennan, director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff -- defined the policy of containment that the United States should employ towards Soviet expansion.

It will be evident, I am sure, to the reader who has followed the argument to this point that my criticism of the policy of containment, or the so-called Truman Doctrine, does not spring from any hope or belief that the Soviet pressure to expand can be "charmed or talked out of existence." I agree entirely with Mr. X that we must make up our minds that the Soviet power is not amenable to our arguments, but only "to contrary force" that "is felt to be too strong, and thus more rational in the logic and rhetoric of power."

My objection, then, to the policy of containment is not that it seeks to confront the Soviet power with American power, but that the policy is misconceived, and must result in a misuse of American power. For as I have sought to show, it commits this country to a struggle which has for its objective nothing more substantial than the hope that in ten or fifteen years the Soviet power will, as the result of long frustration, "break up" or "mellow." In this prolonged struggle the role of the United States is, according to Mr. X, to react "at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points" to the encroachments of the Soviet power.

The policy, therefore, concedes to the Kremlin the strategical initiative as to when, where and under what local circumstances the issue is to be joined. It compels the United States to meet the Soviet pressure at these shifting geographical and political points by using satellite states, puppet governments and agents which have been subsidized and supported, though their effectiveness is meager and their reliability uncertain. By forcing us to expend our energies and our substance upon these dubious and unnatural allies on the perimeter of the Soviet Union, the effect of the policy is to neglect our natural allies in the Atlantic community, and to alienate them.

They are alienated also by the fact that they do not wish to become, like the nations of the perimeter, the clients of the United States in whose affairs we intervene, asking as the price of our support that they take the directives of their own policy from Washington. They are alienated above all by the prospect of war, which could break out by design or accident, by miscalculation or provocation, if at any of these constantly shifting geographical and political points the Russians or Americans became so deeply engaged that no retreat or compromise was possible. In this war their lands would be the battlefield. Their peoples would be divided by civil conflict. Their cities and their fields would be the bases and the bridgeheads in a total war which, because it would merge into a general civil war, would be as indecisive as it was savage.

We may now ask why the official diagnosis of Soviet conduct, as disclosed by Mr. X's article, has led to such an unworkable policy for dealing with Russia. It is, I believe because Mr. X has neglected even to mention the fact that the Soviet Union is the successor of the Russian Empire and that Stalin is not only the heir of Marx and of Lenin but of Peter the Great, and the Czars of all the Russias.

For reasons which I do not understand, Mr. X decided not to consider the men in the Kremlin as the rulers of the Russian State and Empire, and has limited his analysis to the interaction of "two forces": "the ideology inherited by the present Soviet leaders from the movement in which they had their political origin" and the "circumstances of the power which they have now exercised for nearly three decades in Russia."

Thus he dwells on the indubitable fact that they believe in the Marxian ideology and that "they have continued to be predominantly absorbed with the struggle to secure and make absolute the power which they seized in November 1917." But with these two observations alone he cannot, and does not, explain the conduct of the Soviet government in this postwar era–that is to say its aims and claims to territory and to the sphere of influence which it dominates.The Soviet government has been run by Marxian revolutionists for thirty years; what has to be explained by a planner of American foreign policy is why in 1945 the Soviet government expanded its frontiers and its orbit, and what was the plan and pattern of its expansion. That can be done only by remembering that the Soviet government is a Russian government and that this Russian government has emerged victorious over Germany and Japan.

Having omitted from his analysis the fact that we are dealing with a victorious Russia–having become exclusively preoccupied with the Marxian ideology, and with the communist revolution–it is no wonder that the outcome of Mr. X's analysis is nothing more definite, concrete and practical than that the Soviets will encroach and expand "at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points." Mr. X's picture of the Soviet conduct has no pattern. It is amorphous. That is why his conclusions about how we should deal with the Soviets have no pattern, and are also amorphous.

By contrast with Mr. X, it may be useful to call in another expert, a distinguished political geographer, Professor Robert Strausz-Hupe of the University of Pennsylvania, whose article on "The Western Frontiers of Russia" appeared in the July issue of The Review of Politics, quarterly published by the University of Notre Dame:

"The mosaic of treaties and agreements, which forms the legal basis of Russian territorial acquisitions, is composed of strangely assorted pieces. Its general, although somewhat crude, shape was first revealed by the Soviet-German Secret Protocol of August 23, 1939. This document allocated Estonia and Latvia to the Soviet Union and established the demarcation line of the German-Soviet occupation of Poland. The Additional Protocol of September 28 transferred Lithuania to the Soviet orbit and expressed German agreement to the cession by Rumania of Bessarabia to the U.S.S.R. The latter transaction was consummated in the Soviet-Rumanian Agreement of June 28, 1940. The Soviet-Polish Treaty of August 1945 confirms, except for minor deviations, the arrangements agreed upon in the two Soviet-German Protocols. The Rumanian Peace Treaty of 1947 expressly reaffirms the validity of the Soviet-Rumanian Agreement of 1940. The parties to these transactions represent the most diverse ideologies and allegiances, none of which the Soviet Union permitted to interfere with its pursuit of strategic objectives. Where its frontiers were concerned the Soviet Union managed to overlook the distinction between friend and foe, fascism and democracy, Slav and non-Slav."

"Considered as a whole, this strange patchwork of title deeds, bound together by the military might of the Soviet Union, annuls the defeat of 1917. It restores Russia to the geographical positions held by the last Romanovs. The Baltic Republics and Bessarabia reverted–as, writing nearly twenty years ago, Isaiah Bowman predicted–to Russian domination; the territorial clauses of the Peace Treaty with Finland, outright cession of the Karelian Isthmus and Petsamo Province, and lease of a naval base at Porkkla-Udd, reinstate Russia actually, although not formally, in her pre-1917 positions on the Baltic and Arctic coasts; and Russian magnanimity towards Poland is rewarded by valuable gains in East Prussia, Bukovina and the Carpathians. The total area acquired by Russia between 1945 and 1947 is approximately as large as the total area lost between 1917 and 1921. Russia has redeemed the hostages she gave to defeat, revolution and national self-determination."

"The western frontiers of the Soviet Sphere of Influence coincide so closely with those Czarist Russia planned to draw after the defeat of the Central Powers that Czarist and Soviet policies appear to differ as regards methods only. From inter-Allied agreements concluded during World War I and the published statements of leading public figures, notably Russian and Czech, emerges the Czarist Government's Grand Design for eastern Europe: the frontier of Russian Poland was to have been pushed westward towards Stettin, bringing within the Russian Empire the Polish provinces of Germany and Austria; the north-eastern provinces of Hungary were to be ceded to Russia and a Greater Serbia and Greater Rumania were to receive additional territories carved from Hungary, leaving the latter country a small state wedged between Serbia (Yugoslavia), Rumania and a Kingdom of the Czechs ruled by a Russian Prince; and Russia was to receive the European possessions of Turkey inclusive of the Straits. The aggregate of annexed territories, protectorates, alliances and Pan-Slav affiliations would have extended Russian influence to the Oder River, the Alps, the Adriatic and the Aegean. The Czarist project, cleansed of the dynastic and social pre-conceptions of Czardom, took shape in the system of annexed territories, occupation zones, friendly regimes and ideological affiliations which constitutes the Soviet sphere of influence in Europe. It is only at the Straits that the Soviet Government failed to attain the goals set by its predecessors."

This explains, as Mr. X's analysis does not, the pattern and plan, not merely the generalized fact, of Soviet expansion, and also the causes and the issues of the diplomatic conflict in the postwar period–1945-1947.

The westward expansion of the Russian frontier and of the Russian sphere of influence, though always a Russian aim, was accomplished when, as, and because the Red Army defeated the German army and advanced to the center of Europe. It was the mighty power of the Red Army, not the ideology of Karl Marx, which enabled the Russian government to expand its frontiers. It is the pressure of that army far beyond the new frontiers which makes the will of the Kremlin irresistible within the Russian sphere of influence. It is the threat that the Red Army may advance still farther west–into Italy into western Germany, into Scandinavia–that gives the Kremlin and the native communist parties of western Europe an abnormal and intolerable influence in the affairs of the European continent.

Therefore, the immediate and the decisive problem of our relations with the Soviet Union is whether, when, on what conditions the Red Army can be prevailed upon to evacuate Europe.

I am contending that the American diplomatic effort should be concentrated on the problem created by the armistice–which is on how the continent of Europe can be evacuated by the three non-European armies which are now inside Europe. This is the problem which will have to be solved if the independence of the European nations is to be restored. Without that there is no possibility of a tolerable peace. But if these armies withdraw, there will be a very different balance of power in the world than there is today, and one which cannot easily be upset. For the nations of Europe, separately and in groups, perhaps even in unity, will then, and then only, cease to be the stakes and the pawns of the Russian-American conflict.

The material cause and reason of the conflict will have been dealt with.

The terms of the problem were defined at Yalta in the winter of 1945. There, with a victory over Germany in sight, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin made a military settlement which fixed the boundaries where the converging armies were to meet, and were to wait while the governments negotiated the terms of peace which would provide for the withdrawal of the armies. The crucial issue in the world today is whether the Yalta military boundary, which was intended to be provisional for the period of the armistice, is to become the political boundary of two hostile coalitions.

The Yalta line registered an agreed estimate by Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin as to what would be the actual military situation at the close of hostilities. They knew that the Red Army would be in Warsaw, Bucharest, Budapest, Belgrade and Sofia. So Churchill and Roosevelt recognized that the military boundary for the armistice would place eastern Europe within the Soviet sphere. The British, on the other hand, were in Athens; the British-Americans were in Italy: therefore, Stalin recognized that Italy and Greece would be within the British and American sphere. The Americans, it was evident, were paramount in the Pacific and would play the leading part in the defeat of Japan. So the United States was recognized as the paramount power in Japan. There was some doubt as to where the Red Army and the western armies would meet in Germany and Austria. The Yalta line was, therefore, the result of a combined military estimate of where they would probably find themselves when the German resistance had finally been crushed. Actually the Americans advanced beyond that line. But at Yalta it was by no means certain that they would reach that line, and there is excellent authority for saying that Mr. Churchill felt he had made as good a bargain as British-American military prospects warranted.

The Yalta line in the Far East was settled on the same basis–that is to say, on an agreed estimate of the balance of power at the close of hostilities. There has been, I believe, a misunderstanding about this in the United States. The concessions made to Stalin by Roosevelt and Churchill have been represented as being the price they paid for Soviet intervention in the Japanese war. The concessions, it is then said, were unnecessary. For Japan was already defeated or would soon have been, what with the blockade, the air raids and the atomic bomb, and therefore no price need have been paid for Soviet participation.

Now it may be true, probably it is true, that Roosevelt and the American military command overestimated the strength of Japan, and that in agreeing to the Soviet claims they thought they were paying a price that had to be paid if the Japanese war was to be won completely and fairly soon. But, in fact, the Russians were in a position to occupy the territory they asked for and more besides, whether or not they entered the war. Their armies were on the borders of Manchuria and northern China, and ours were not. The concessions which Roosevelt and Churchill made to Stalin in the Far East were less than the Soviet Union had the power to take by its own force. Nothing was in fact conceded to Stalin that Roosevelt and Churchill could, if they had been put to the test, have been able to withhold.

The Yalta military boundary was the datum line from which the diplomatic settlement of the war had necessarily to begin. It was, I believe, at this juncture that American diplomacy became confused, lost sight of the primary and essential objective, and became entangled in all manner of secondary issues and disputes in the Russian borderlands.

The British and the Americans, of course, could not accept the permanent division of the European continent along the Yalta line. They could not accept a settlement in which Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria would lose all independence and become incorporated as Soviet republics in the U.S.S.R. They had a debt of honor to the countless patriots in those lands. They realized that if the frontiers of the Soviet system were extended as far west as the middle of Germany and Austria, then not only Germany and Austria but all western Europe might fall within the Russian sphere of influence and be dominated by the Soviet Union.

Thus for the best of reasons and with the best of motives they came to the conclusion that they must wage a diplomatic campaign to prevent Russia from expanding her sphere, to prevent her from consolidating it, and to compel her to contract it. But they failed to see clearly that until the Red Army evacuated eastern Europe and withdrew to the frontiers of the Soviet Union, none of these objectives could be achieved.

Had they seen clearly the significance of the military situation, they would not have committed the United States to anything in eastern Europe while the Soviet government had the power to oppose it, while the United States had no power to enforce it. They would have taken and noted the pledges and promises to respect the independence and the freedom of the nations of eastern Europe which Stalin gave them at Yalta. But they would not have committed the United States to a guarantee that Stalin would keep his pledges while his army was occupying eastern Europe.

For since the United States could not make good this guarantee, the onus of the violation of the pledges was divided between the Russians, who broke them, and the Americans, who had promised to enforce them and did not. It would have been far better to base our policy on the realities of the balance of power; to let Stalin, who made the promises which he alone could fulfill, take the whole responsibility for breaking them; to concentrate our effort on treaties of peace which would end the occupation of Europe.

For if, and only if, we can bring about the withdrawal of the Red Army from the Yalta line to the new frontier of the Soviet Union–and simultaneously, of course, the withdrawal of the British and American armies from continental Europe–can a balance of power be established which can then be maintained. For after the withdrawal, an attempt to return would be an invasion — an open, unmistakable act of military aggression. Against such an aggression, the power of the United States to strike the vital centers of Russia by air and by amphibious assault would stand as the opposing and deterrent force. And until treaties are agreed to which bring about the withdrawal of the Red Army, the power of the United States to strike these vital centers would be built up for the express purpose of giving weight to our policy of ending the military occupation of Europe.

All the other pressures of the Soviet Union at the "constantly shifting geographical and political points," which Mr. X is so concerned about–in the Middle East and in Asia–are, I contend, secondary and subsidiary to the fact that its armed forces are in the heart of Europe. It is to the Red Army in Europe, therefore, and not to ideologies, elections, forms of government, to socialism, to communism, to free enterprise, that a correctly conceived and soundly planned policy should be directed.

Courtesy of the Office of Recording Secretary - President & Fellows of Harvard College


Consider These Questions



1. According to the history of Russian expansion, how does Walter Lippman believe the United States should handle the balance-of-power situation in Europe?

2. Does Lippman undercut the significance of "Russian borderlands"?

3. How does Lippman's criticism of the containment policy apply to the Korean Conflict, considering the fact that the United Nations dubbed the June 25, 1950, invasion of South Korea "a breach of the peace"?

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