Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Novikov Telegram

The Soviets were well-aware of Kennan's "Long Telegram" and in September 1946, they responded with a mirroring document of their own known as "The Novikov Telegram," which makes fascinating reading. Below, Novikov in 1945, from Life magazine.

Nikolai Novikov was the Soviet Ambassador to the United States in 1946-1947 and he prepared his telegram for Stalin and Molotov.  Although Novikov's telegram consciously mirrors the rather breathless and apocalyptic tone of Kennan's, he makes some interesting points.  

Section 3 of the Novikov document is particularly interesting.  Novikov wrote:

"Obvious indications of the U.S. effort to establish world dominance are also to be found in the increase in military potential in peacetime and in the establishment of a large number of naval and air bases both in the United States and beyond its borders."

In the summer of 1946, for the first time in history of the country, Congress passed a law on the establishment of a peacetime army, not on a volunteer basis but on the basis of universal military service. The size of the army, which is supposed to amount to about one million persons as of July 1, 1947, was also increased significantly. The size of the navy at the conclusion of the war decreased quite insignificantly in comparison with war time. At the present time, the American navy occupies first place in the world, leaving England's navy far behind, to say nothing of those of other countries.

Expenditures on the army and navy have risen colossally, amounting to 13 billion dollars according to the budget for 1946-47 (about 40 percent of the total budget of 36 billion dollars). This is more than ten times greater than corresponding expenditures in the budget for 1938, which did not amount to even one billion dollars.

Along with maintaining a large army, navy, and air force, the budget provides that these enormous amounts also will be spent on establishing a very extensive system of naval and air bases in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. According to existing official plans, in the course of the next few years 228 bases, points of support, and radio stations are to be constructed in the Atlantic Ocean and 258 in the Pacific. A large number of these bases and points of support are located outside the boundaries of the United States"

Novikov goes on to point out that Britain is completely dependent on the United States, that the US's new interest in the Middle East comes at Britain's expense and that the US is clearly trying to gain control of the oil resources of the Middle East under the pretext of supporting Zionism (this was immediately before the creation of the state of Israel).

After noting aggressive US actions in the Middle East, China, the Mediteranean and elsewhere, Novikov observes:

"The basic goal of this anti-Soviet campaign of American "public opinion" is to exert political pressure on the Soviet Union and compel it to make concessions. Another, no less important goal of the campaign is the attempt to create an atmosphere of war psychosis among the masses, who are weary of war, thus making it easier for the U.S. government to carry out measure for the maintenance of high military potential. It was in this very atmosphere that the law on universal military service in peacetime was passed by congress, that the huge military budget was adopted, and that plans are being worked out for the construction of an extensive system of naval and air bases."
Comparing the Kennan and Novikov Telegrams

Novikov's document was consciously written as a response to Kennan's telegram.  Like Kennan, Novikov was writing for his boss and calibrating his text to his boss's worldview. Novikov mixes an extremely clear and prescient analysis of the then-current global political situation with a somewhat alarmist view of American military expansion.  That said, many of Novikov's remarks seem dead-on 63 years later.

The fact was, in the post-WW2 environment, the US had an enormous power advantage over the rest of the world.  In the years immediately following World War Two, the US account for 50% of world GDP - an astonishing fact.   

Whereas Kennan's telegram was primarily a psychological exegesis on the Soviet character, Novikov tended to deal more with physical facts.  Joseph Stalin was much more interested in hard details - how many troops, how many tanks - than in theoretical psychological portraits or ideological musings.  Stalin had famously responded to a warning that he was about to have conflict with the Pope with the dismissive question "and how many divisions does the Pope have?"  Like Kennan, Novikov wrote in a language that his boss could understand.

Conversely, Kennan's telegram was intended for Harry Truman, a president with no foreign policy experience who held an extremely simplistic and Manichean view of the world, quite different from F.D.R.'s more nuanced view.  Kennan had to know how his telegram would be received by Truman. Although the immediate effect of "The Long Telegram" was to boost Kennan's career - he was immediately recalled back to Washington and made the first director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff, he would soon be replaced by hardliners who had an even less nuanced view of the world.  The problem was, Kennan had framed the debate and there would be no backtracking from the baseline that he himself had set. 

Kennan drew on his 13 years in the Soviet Union as a Russian specialist to draw a psychological portrait of the Russians that, arguably, still dominates the American interpretation of Russian motivations to this day, nearly twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Novikov is basically saying, hey, look around us, the British are out of the picture and the Americans are everywhere and they're still enlarging their military. He generally refrains from Kennan's attempts at nation-state psychoanalysis.

Although Kennan was a product of the "hard realist" school of foreign policy, his telegram is remarkable for what it doesn't say.  He overstates the role of Marxist dogma and essentially ignores any Russian national security interest in protecting their borders that would have existed in Moscow in any case, irrespective of ideology.  Everything is interpreted in the context of a massive communist conspiracy aimed at global domination abetted by a Russian tendency towards psychosis.  Kennan also overstated Russian political and economic strength vis a vis the US's, which made the situation appear very dire despite the obvious facts to the contrary.

Novikov, although correctly assessing the geo-political facts of 1946, which clearly showed the United States emerging into super-power status, also viewed the United States' dominance as part of a larger plan for total global domination - an exact mirror of the Kennan worldview.

Kennan would later spend the next 50 years (literally - he lived to be 101) asserting that he had been misunderstood.  Perhaps.  The problem is, he set the tone, not only for US-Soviet relations during the Cold War, but for a certain approach to foreign policy that remains popular to this day. Moreover, he provided a somewhat dubious intellectual foundation (i.e., the Soviets are crazy and can't be reasoned with) that would be exploited and enlarged by his successor as director of Policy Planning, Paul Nitze and Secretaries of State Acheson and Dulles.

We're seeing some of this same hyperbolic and rather breathless rhetoric, i.e., "they are impervious to reason" being applied to Iran and North Korea today.  

NEXT: The British Perspective and Frank Roberts Telegram

1 comment:

  1. Really helped with history hwk, thanks!


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