Present Day Containment

Maxwell O. Berry, Writer

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During the Cold War in the 20th century the Soviet Union gained a large amount of influence in many parts of Asia and Eastern Europe, that “influence” being the form of communism. The United States and most of the western world were opposed to the communist ideology and thus they wanted to limit the influence of the communist regime, the Soviets. In 1947, George Kennan proposed the idea of “containment” which would ultimately be the United States “trump card” in the fight against the Soviets. The idea of containment entailed stopping the spread of communism where it is through American alignment with nations that were either bordering Soviet influence or in a current conflict against the Soviets. Through this plan the Americans (and other western societies) believed the spread of communism would be halted enough to prevent Soviet power from surpassing America’s. Now, Kennan’s Containment was met with varying degrees of success, mainly since it is hard to define success in these proxy conflicts. One might look at Korea and call it a success since a democracy was established in South Korea in 1948. However, a cynic might say Korea was a failure since the North became, arguably, contemporary America’s number one enemy. One might look at Vietnam and not sweat calling it a complete disaster yet there is an argument to be made that without American involvement in Vietnam, China would have become an unstoppable communist superpower that could have made the China we witness today look like an underdeveloped country.


In his article, rightfully titled “The New Containment,” Michael Mandelbaum makes an argument that a modern containment should be established to prevent the growth of modern-day Russia’s “sphere of influence.” Now Mandelbaum’s claims are not unwarranted. Within the past 9 years, we have seen Russia make plays to expand their influence in Georgia (2008), Ukraine (2014), and Syria (2015). Mandelbaum claims the reason there was stability in the years following the Cold War was because the United States was atop the world power rankings, deterring other (lower) countries from starting conflict; “As U.S. global military hegemony persisted, the possibility of developed nations fighting one another seemed ever more remote.” (Mandelbaum 2019). This leads to Mandelbaum’s reasoning for establishing modern day containment; As other world powers continue to develop and get stronger, peace is jeopardized. Thus we need to employ containment to hinder the growth of other countries (namely Russia and China) and ensure American supremacy for years to come.

Although Mandelbaum’s reasoning is logically based it fails to recognize the individual factors that provided for containment’s success in the first place. The Cold War took place immediately after the Second World War which left most of Eastern Society’s countries economies in ruins. Due to this fact it was hard for the communist countries to fight full force against containment. The Vietnamese and Koreans technologically were overwhelmingly subordinate to the Americans which is why the success they found was, well, all they could achieve. Nowadays the global arms race is much more relatively level than it was back in the cold war making it much easier for Russia or China to provide competent aid to the countries under their relative spheres of influence. During the Iran-Iraq war, the United States supported Iraq and Saddam Hussein in their attempted invasion of Iran which ultimately failed and resulted in even greater Iranian hatred for America and the “Western Devil.” This hatred has evolved into a thirst for vengeance that should not be underestimated in light or recent Iranian technological development.  


The current world has grown too technologically advanced and a modern day conflict that mimics the cold war could lead to the annihilation of society (both Eastern and Western) as we know it. However, containment is not the answer. Containment would inevitably fail and what happened with Iran would happen in other places globally eventually leading to an Eastern influence that would possess enough might to reduce the United States to rubble. Instead of Containment, we should pursue tolerance and alliance. It is time for America to stop playing policeman of the world and time for us to start focusing on our own problems. This is not to say we shouldn’t come to the aid when an ally needs our help but frankly, it is time for America to stop looking for influence overseas. The world will become a safer place as soon as Washington learns its role in the world and recognizes the legitimacy of foreign governments.

Mandelbaum, Michael. “The New Containment.” Foreign Affairs. March 01, 2019. Accessed March 21, 2019.


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