Jack Matlock Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Collapse of the Soviet Union and the End of the Cold War: A Diplomat Looks Back; Conversation with Jack Matlock, 2/13/97 by Harry Kreisler

Photo by L. Carper

Page 2 of 10

George Kennan and the "X" Article

Now you come back to the academy, in a sense, and I've already noted that you are the George F. Kennan Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study. I guess a way to talk about what happened on your watch as ambassador is to talk about George Kennan and his famous "X" article. Did the namesake of the chair that you hold call it right in that "X" article?

Absolutely. I've not agreed with all of the positions he has taken since then, although he's a very good friend of mine and I respect him greatly. But the "X" article I think was one of the most brilliant pieces of diplomatic reportage. It was not just the "X" article, but his long telegram, the official communication that preceded it. The "X" article was then doctored for the public -- it was the same arguments.

And this appeared in Foreign Affairs in 1948.

That's right. But his long telegram, which was sent and on which the "X" article was based, was really the key document which set U.S. policy. He convinced the policy makers on this policy which, broadly speaking, was our policy until the end of the Cold War. And it proceeded precisely as he predicted. Now at the time I think George thought that things would happen a little faster than they did. But the fact is, what he recommended was that we keep pressure on the Soviet Union so that they could not, by expansion, seem to justify an irrational system and thereby force them to confront the contradictions of that system. And that's exactly what happened. He predicted that if they were forced to confront the contradictions, the system would, in effect, collapse or moderate itself of its own accord. This happened. Now I think it happened a couple of decades after he had hoped it would, but that doesn't really matter. The time scales in this sort of thing are not important. The fact is, containment was our policy. It was successfully carried out, even when we were sometimes using methods that Kennan didn't approve of subsequently. The Soviet Union did collapse eventually, and certainly communist control of the Soviet Union collapsed as a result of having to confront these inner inconsistencies.

Next Page: Reagan Policies toward the Soviet Union

© Copyright 1997, Regents of the University of California