George Kennan was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on 16th February, 1904. After graduating from St John's Military Academy he studied history at Princeton University. In 1926, Kennan joined the foreign service and was appointed as vice-consul in Geneva. This was followed by posts to Berlin, Tallinn and Riga. Kennan was being trained as an expert on the Soviet Union and in 1929 was sent to the study Russian at the University of Berlin.
In November, 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. William C. Bullitt was appointed as United States ambassador, and Kennan became third secretary at the embassy in Moscow. After two years in the Soviet Union he was assigned to Vienna. This was followed by spells in Prague and Berlin.
Kennan was opposed to the idea that the United States should appear to be supporting the Soviet Union against Germany. He feared this would identify the United States "with the Russian destruction of the Baltic states, with the attack against Finnish independence, with the partitioning of Poland... and with the domestic policy of a regime which is widely feared and detested throughout this part of the world".
The bombing of Pearl Harbor, brought America into the Second World War. Kennan was still in Nazi Germany at the time and he was interned. In April 1942 Kennan was released and was reassigned to Lisbon in Portugal. At the time this was a notorious centre of international espionage. In 1944 Kennan returned to the Soviet Union where he took up the post of minister-counsellor and chargé d'affaires.
Kennan remained critical of the actions of Joseph Stalin. This included the decision by Stalin not to order the Red Army to support the Warsaw Uprising against the German Army in 1944. Kennan reported to Franklin D. Roosevelt that he should have a "thorough-going exploration of Soviet intentions with regard to the future of the remainder of Europe".
After the war Kennan returned to the United States where George Marshall appointed him as director of the State Department's policy-planning staff. Over the next couple of years Kennan developed the foreign policy of containment. Kennan argued that communist influence should be contained within existing territorial limits, either by armed intervention or, more often, by economic and technical assistance.
On 22nd February, 1946, Kennan sent a series of five telegrams to President Harry S. Truman. This eventually became known as the Long Telegram. It included the following passage: "At the bottom of the Kremlin's neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity. Originally, this was insecurity of a peaceful agricultural people trying to live on vast exposed plain in neighborhood of fierce nomadic peoples. To this was added, as Russia came into contact with economically advanced West, fear of more competent, more powerful, more highly organized societies in that area."
The following year Kennan advocated direct military intervention in Italy: "This would admittedly result in much violence and probably a military division of Italy but it might well be preferable to a bloodless election victory, unopposed by ourselves, which would give the Communists the entire peninsula at one coup and send waves of panic to all surrounding areas." As Frances Stonor Saunders points out in Who Paid the Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War? (1999): "Truman, fortunately, didn't go along with this precipitate suggestion, but he did authorize covert intervention in the Italian elections instead."
Kennan wrote an anonymous article in the Foreign Affairs magazine in July 1947, where he argued that the Soviet Union was fundamentally opposed to coexistence with the West and desired a world-wide extension of the Soviet system. However, Kennan argued that communism could be contained if the West showed determined opposition to their expansion plans. Kennan's ideas subsequently became the core of United States policy towards the Soviet Union and was reflected in both the Truman Doctrine and the European Recovery Program (ERP).
Kennan's views had a tremendous influence of a group of important political figures based in Washington. Known as the Georgetown Crowd, it included figures such as Dean Acheson, Frank Wisner, Joseph Alsop, Philip Graham, Katharine Graham, David Bruce, Clark Clifford, Walt Rostow, Eugene Rostow, Chip Bohlen and Paul Nitze.
Kennan was a strong supporter of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that was established in September 1947. Its role was to evaluate intelligence reports and coordinate the intelligence activities of the various government departments in the interest of national security. Frank Wisner remained concerned about the spread of communism and began lobbying for a new intelligence agency. He gained support for this from James Forrestal, the Defense Secretary. In June 1948, Kennan, drafted a directive that resulted in the Office of Special Projects.
Wisner was appointed director of the organization. Soon afterwards it was renamed the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC). This became the espionage and counter-intelligence branch of the Central Intelligence Agency. Wisner was told to create an organization that concentrated on "propaganda, economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance groups, and support of indigenous anti-Communist elements in threatened countries of the free world".
In 1949 Kennan clashed with John Foster Dulles over the issue of the recognizing communist China. Dulles leaked the story to a journalist and Kennan decided to resign from his policy planning post. He joined the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton but in 1952 Harry S. Truman appointed Kennan as the United States ambassador in Moscow.
On his return to Washington Kennan became critical of the foreign policies of President Dwight Eisenhower. Kennan opposed the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and claimed that developments in Korea and Vietnam sprang from nationalism rather than Marxism. Senator Joseph McCarthy denounced Kennan as "a commie lover". John Foster Dulles contacted Kennan and told him he was no longer wanted by the administration. Ironically, his brother, Allen Dulles, offered him a job with the CIA. Kennan refused and decided to become an academic.
In 1956 Kennan was appointed as professor of historical studies at the Princeton Institute and while there revised his views on containment. Kennan now advocated a program of disengagement from areas of conflict with the Soviet Union. He remained at Princeton until John F. Kennedy appointed Kennan as the United States ambassador to Yugoslavia (1961-63).
Books by Kennan include the Realities of American Foreign Policy (1954), Russia Leaves the War (1956), Memoirs: 1925-1950 (1967), Russia and the West (1967), The Nuclear Delusion (1982) American Diplomacy, 1900-50 (1985), Soviet-American Relations, 1917-1920 (1989), Around the Cragged Hill: A Personal and Political Philosophy (1993) and At a Century's Ending: Reflections, 1982-95 (1997).
George Kennan died on 17th March, 2005.