Kennan's warning of a race toward war
No one will understand the danger we are all in today unless he recognizes that governments in this modern world have not yet learned to cope with the compulsions that arise for them not just from an adversary's cultivation of armed force on a major scale but from their own as well.
We are all being carried along at this very moment towards a new military conflict -- a conflict which could not conceivably end, for any of the parties, in anything less than disaster. It is sobering to remember that modern history offers no example of the cultivation by rival powers of armed force on a massive scale which did not in the end lead to an outbreak of hostilities. And there is no reason to believe that our measure of control over this fateful process is any greater than that of the powers that have been caught up in it in the past. We are not greater, or wiser, than our ancestors.
It would take a measure of insight -- of understanding, of restraint, of willingness to accept the minor risks in order to avoid the supreme ones -- it would take a measure of these qualities greater than anything yet visible on either side to permit us to release ourselves from this terrible convulsion and to save ourselves, and others, from the catastro phe
There is a very special tragedy in this weapons race. It is tragic because it creates the illusion of a total conflict of interest between the two societies; and it does this at a time when their problems are in large measure really common ones. It tends to conceal the fact taht both of these societies are today confronted with new internal problems which were never envisaged in either of the ideologies that originally divided them -- problems that supersede the essentially 19th- century conditions to which both of these ideologies, and Marxism in particular, were addressed.
In part, I am referring to the environmental problems with which we are now all familiar: the question as to whether great industrial societies can learn to exist without polluting, exhausting, and thus destroying, the natural resources essential to their very existence. These are not only problems common to the two ideological worlds; they are ones for the solution of which they require each other's collaboration, not each other's enmity.
But beyond that, there are deeper problems -- social and even moral and spiritual -- which are coming increasingly to affect all the highly industrialized, urbanized, and technologically advanced societies of this modern age. What is involved here is essentially the question as to how life is to be given an adequate meaning, how the quality of life and experience is to be assured, for the individual citizen in the highly artificial and over- complicated social environment that modern technology has created.
Neither of us -- neither we in the West nor they in the East -- is doing too well in the solution of these problems. Neither of us has much to be proud about. We are both failing -- each in his own way.
If one wants an example of this, one has only to glance at the condition of youth on both sides of the line. The Russians demoralize their young people by giving them too little freedom. We demoralize our by giving them too much. Neither system finds itself able to give to them what they need in the way of leadership and inspiration and guidance if they are to realize their own potentialities as individuals and to meet the responsibilities which the future is inevitably going to place upon them.
And this is only one of the points at which we are failing. Neither here nor there is the direction society is taking really under control. We are all being swept along, in our fatuous pride, by currents which we do not understand and over which we have no command. And we will not protect ourselves from the resulting dangers by continuing to pour great portions of our substance, year after year, into the instruments of military destruction. On the contrary, we will only be depriving ourselves, by this proigality, of the resources essential for any hopeful attack on these profound emerging problems.
The present moment is in many respects a crucial one. Not for 30 years back has the political tension reached so high and dangerous a point as it has today. Not in all this time has there been so high a degree of misunderstanding, of suspicion, of bewilderment, and of sheer military fear.
We must expect that in both the Soviet Union and the United States the coming months will see extensive changes in governmental leadershipo. Will the new leaders be able to reverse these trends?
It will not to late for them to make the effort to do so. there are limits, of course, to what one could hope to achieve. The permanent impediments to a happier relationship . . . would still be there and would not be rapidly overcome, even in the best of circumstances. But this would not preclude, in fact, the attainment of a real turning point in international life -- a turning point beyond which anxiety and pessimism would begin to be replaced by hope and confidence for people everywhere.
Two things, as I see it, would be necessary to make possible this sort of a transition.
First, of course, would be the overcoming of the military fixaitons that now command in so high degree the reactions on both sides, and the mustering of greater courage by the statesmen in facing up to the task of relating military affairs to the other needs of the state.
What is urgently needed is that statesmen on both sides of the line should take their military establishments in hand and insist that these should become the servants, not the masters and determinants, of political action. On both sides, one must learn to accept the fact that there is no security to be found in the quest for military superioty -- that is only in the reduction, not the multiplication, of the existing monstrous arsenals can the true security of any nation be found.
But beyond this, when it comes to the more normal and permanent problems of foreign policy, both of the superpowers could serve the cause of peace by developing a bit more humility in their view of themselves and of their relationship to their world environment, particularly the third world. Both could take better account of the bitterness of their own domestic problems, and of the need for overcoming some of these problems before indulging themselves in dreams of external grandeur and world leadership. Only by overcoming these glaring domestic defiencies can they improve their capacity for being helpful, or even impressive, to the world around them. Only by improving their quality as models, can they make credible a claim to world leadership.