Great article and I agree that containment and, though some might hate to hear this, diplomacy and some form of concession is ultimately the best way to deal with Putin and those who follow him (yes, someone will come after Putin and that person might not be an improvement).
But there’s a big difference between America, and the Western world, as it existed in Truman’s time compared to now. Truman presided at the end of WWII and the beginning of one of the greatest periods of economic expansion in history. His was an era of justified optimism in which America was undisputed leader. America, in particular, had the material resources and the self-assurance and moral confidence to engage in a long Cold War.
We live in a very different era today. Ours is a culture of social and economic stagnation where the greatest public virtue is to disrespect and revile your own culture. America and its allies have two decades of failed attempts to convert people in the Middle East to Western values. That failure is, I suspect, because the people the West sought to persuade clearly saw the disconnect between the abstract values the West sought to impose on them compared to the reality of the moral vacuum in the West.
By all means, let’s contain Russia but let’s also recognize that the America of today is not the America of the late 1940s. The US is weakened and profoundly divided and must face the rise of a highly competent rival in the form of China.
If the modern US wants to persuade other countries to adopt Western values perhaps it should spend more time looking inward and making the necessary changes to ensure those values are practiced at home and that US society becomes a model of a cohesive, liberal society. Otherwise all that soaring rhetoric will ring false.
Perhaps your good piece explains why the narrative coming from Europe now is of “the European way of life.” Of “Western values” there is not a sausage. Not a bean. The EU, rather than Europe mind, probably wants to position itself as a better, more moral United States than America. It has done for a while. America’s turn into self-loathing (as if John 3:16 is some piece of writing found in some book in dusty old libraries of crumbling country mansions) makes it necessary for OoRop (as they pronounce it in Brussels), or convenient so, to talk up the secularised phrase of the “European way of life”, as if it is a juicy carrot that the tens of millions of ordinary Russians will be soon enamoured by. Hardly! Reagan and Thatcher had commanded some respect among the higher echelons of Soviet rule in the 1980s. Western values were much more translatable then to a hostile or unsure non-Western people. Is Western Civilisation a Judeo-Christian one?
Will Elton John be placed on stand-by, in a new era of containment, to be Back In The USSR (Again)? He had sung live in Moscow in 1979.
Nothing is the same as before. Culture has been fattened into a bulging, waist-high middle, aided and abetted by the tiny, tyrannical screen. Perhaps a Chinese rock star will ride to the rescue, part of the vanguard of a drive to make everybody content and very, very dutiful. And a new era of civilisation in the tech age will begin.
Well said, J. I found myself with the same thoughts while reading this.
“It reflected a very Middle American confidence in the Western way of life.”
Truman was one of the last Presidents prior to the rise of the technocracy — the Professional Managerial Class. The PMC of today has no confidence in the Western Way of Life; they are tinkerers, not grand architects.
It’s ironic that a man (a Mr. Smith) who could never be elected President under any other circumstances would be in office to establish American Cold War strategy exactly when he was needed.
Maybe the Athenians were right. A random pick from the phone book might be superior to what we have.
I couldn’t agree more.
Short term, sanctions will hit Russia hard but if the regime survives, there is going to be a very difficult period which follows; where the Russian economy adapts and restructures and diverts its substantial commodity base to the Asian market, starving the west of much needed resources, even if it has to sell them at a discounted price.
If the Western unity can survive that and it is by no means assured, then long term Russia faces stagnation and eventual defeat. However, the big winner in this conflict will be China, who probably cannot believe their luck, with the west potentially surrendering dollar supremacy and strangling its own economies for a cause, whilst morally worthwhile, is strategically irrelevant in geo-political terms.
Containment may work but not if you are containing the wrong adversary.
You see the Ukraine conflict as ‘ a cause ….strategically irrelevant in geo- political terms’. You seem very certain of this but how can we be so certain about the course of history? Dominic has once again given us an excellent historical perspective on this new international upheaval, it won’t be the last, whilst reminding us of the moral and human dimensions that must never be ignored.
Fair comment, Matthew. However the West will also reappraise its relationship with China and, in general, be less inclined to put short term savings over long term security. China has an ageing population and has yet to break through the middle income trap. It may be that personal liberty is needed for a truly successful economy. In the meantime, there are many SE Asian countries, not necessarily friends of China, with whom we can work more closely.
The West also has a very rapidly aging society.
I’m intrigued on why you think the Chinese people, or anyone else for that matter, would be interested in Western ‘freedoms’ (as against tapping into Western wealth which is the accumulated plunder of 500 yrs of conquest).
If the past 2 years have shown anything about Western ‘values’ it is that the great mass (80%+) of the people are not remotely interested in freedom. They want food, shelter and SECURITY and to be daily distracted by entertainment and/or sport. Of course, run a poll and people will deny that, but that’s the sad reality.
For me, Covid changed everything. Illusions of superior Western values of freedom and better institutions have been shattered beyond repair.
Banning RT shows just how petty and hypocritical we are. It’s the modern equivalent to the book burning episodes in 1930s Germany. If the people are so incapable of mature judgement on the merits or otherwise of RT, why give us a vote at all?
When they are pushed, the vast majority of people in the West are against domination by the powerful. This is the meaning of democratic freedom for them.
I’m not sure there is any chance today of some sort of ‘reverse Nixon’ partnership with Russia, if there ever truly was. That great nation / empire is tragically to all intents and purposes a rogue state, even, ludicrously, denying that it is AT war.
Russia is very likely to become a junior partner of China. And the latter in time will no doubt have a lot to ask of Russia in return, because of the unequal treaties imposed by Russia as well as western nations in the 19th century. But being nice to Russia now will only embolden China further by further demonstrating the feebleness of the West.
Your points about western division and distraction with absurd self-hating dogma are well made. This is a real challenge; it is early days but so far this invasion seems to have been a wake-up call to many European countries.
Most people in the West and even politicians are decent enough. If we want to want to wallow in decadence and the political obsessions of unrepresentative noisy minorities, we can continue to do so. Or, just possibly, we can refocus on the best of our civilisation. We have had periods of recovery from mediocrity before.
There was that Spengler thesis about the Decline of the West over a century ago, Hitler thought America decadent, soft and wouldn’t fight, and many, agreed with Kruschev and thought the USSR would be a China-style industrial behemoth that would eventually ‘bury’ the West.
So the West is always declining but it must have something going for it as I don’t think anyone ever got shot climbing the Berlin Wall to get into the East.
The US confidence after WW2 was as much a product of the war as anything else, as the only major power not invaded and fought over or defeated, the US prospered even during the war, and for at least three decades afterwards.
I think people have woken up to the dangers posed by Russia and China and do understand the very changed world this is now creating.
Aris Roussinis would not have that Ukraine is “strategically irrelevant”. It has been a breadbasket for over 2000 years:
Complex, fragile international supply chains are nothing new. During his invasion of Greece in 480 BC, the Persian emperor Xerxes I observed from the heights of Abydos on the Hellespont the great convoys of ships carrying grain from what is now southern Ukraine to Athens, to feed a city which could not feed itself.
Completely disagree. China is raging at Putin for unifying the west and, most importantly, completely changing the defence strategy of two of the largest western economies – Germany and Japan.
This is very bad news for China and it’s fear of encirclement. Having Russia, which is going off the global stage effectively, was a very useful counter for China to exploit. They’re on their own now.
Thanks, Dominic, that’s really informative. I hadn’t heard of Kennan but his basis of analysis perhaps needs more consideration by political leadership. The concept of the soul of a nation does not compute with Western soulless materialistic analysis. Yet it explains the behaviour of nations which have a long history of restricted outlooks. As you note, Western democratic viewpoints were not able to be assimilated in the Middle East.
The hope that the wealth of Western materialism would lead Russia and China into the Western mindset has also failed. They merely cobbled wealth onto their view of society and let their ‘soul’ continue to rule with its underlying principles of control. I wonder too how much these fixed soul views are a consequence of isolation from the homogenising effects of immigration which has characterised the West. It’s easier to maintain a traditional culture when it doesn’t get diluted and challenged. Japan intrigues me in that way.
I suppose it’s a trade-off in that immigration adds talent and broadens viewpoints but maybe loses original national anchor points eg Christianity. That’s what is unsettling the Eastern countries of the EU.
Democracy is not meant to be authoritarian yet some of the trends happening in Western democracies especially following Covid are unsettling. By trying to replace uniting historical beliefs, such as Christianity, with concocted secular ones like Inclusion, Equality and Diversity (IED) we may be sawing off the branch we are sitting on!
A good article, and good comment Peter. As you indicate, the promise of materialistic benefits will often not be enough to persuade other peoples of the righteousness of one’s cause. ‘Man does not live by bread alone’ is still true, and if bread (in the form of McDonald’s outlets and designer brands) is all we are offering, the ardent nationalists and islamists will look elsewhere. And, as you say, large-scale immigration, while it has brought us certain benefits, has also contributed to the fragmentation of our society, and its loss of cohesive purpose.
Although Brexit was an expression of a *somewhere’s* mindset as opposed to the elite *anywhere’s* one?
(To use David Goodhart’s analysis which I think far better describes politics today than the old *left and Right* idea.)
I feel the UK , which has been at the front of many societal and cultural changes for centuries may be at the front end of another one.
The very simple and straightforward patriotism and unreflective courage exemplified by the men and women staying behind to volunteer to fight, as well as in the person of Zelensky; and the way they express their love of place, has chimed with many across Europe, not just in the UK.
It may be the various splits within the EU and the lacklustre part played by it in the lead up are making people reassess the role it, and other transnational organisations, can actually play, as well the role it ought to play?
“replace uniting historical beliefs, such as Christianity, with concocted secular ones like Inclusion” I would argue that inclusion is a Christian value.
The west that faced communism had reasons to be self-confident. Societies were culturally and ethnically homogeneous, technological advances were beginning to improve living standards national myths had been forged and tested in the war and peoples were more close knit than ever before. Now our societies are in decline, unity sacrificed on the altar of wage compression and free movement, intellectually bereft and not only lacking in confidence but actively despised by chunks of the population and most elites. In the long run we aren’t able to win anything. Democracy and capitalism both are failing. Technocratic illiberalism runs rampant.
Extraordinary to cite George Kennan in this context without mentioning his excoriating 1998 denunciation of the NATO expansion which has, to put it mildly, played a great part in bringing us to this point. Kennan came out of retirement to denounce pans for that expansion: ‘I think it is the beginning of a new cold war,’…’I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else.(my emphasis) This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.”
”What bothers me is how superficial and ill informed the whole Senate debate was,” He added: ‘ ”I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe. Don’t people understand? Our differences in the cold war were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime.”’ Oh, and it was Tom Pendergast, not ‘Prendergast’, who launched Truman’s career.
Peter, apparently Thatcher said the same thing.
It may have escaped your notice that Russia is run by a criminal kleptocracy who are openly stealing from their own citizens. Merely having honest, thriving, law abiding countries on their border visible to their own citizens is a threat to such people.
And Russia has spent the past decades exporting its corruption and censorship to the West.
How many of the press-gagging lawsuits brought by Russian oligarchs in London now need to be revisited in light of the evidence that the UK government knew all along they were Putin’s criminal allies ?
This would all still have happened whatever NATO did.
Read “Putin’s People” by Catherine Belton if it is still – even after Ukraine 2022 – unclear what we have to deal with.
“…controlled press and radio; fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms”.
Sounds very much like the west in 2022.
Unfortunately, I am not so certain this analysis is that helpful. The real adversary the West faces is China, into whose arms we foolishly pushed Russia in the 1990’s when we could have truly befriended post-Soviet Russia, whom we instead continued treating as an enemy, rather than another captive nation newly liberated from Soviet tyranny. (Does anyone beside me remember that Stalin was a Georgian, Khruschev a Ukrainian, and that Lenin used Latvian riflemen as shock troops against his fellow Russians? Plainly no one in the US State Department nor in any other NATO foreign ministry did in the 1990’s.)
Containment worked “against Lenin and Stalin” as the author puts it because they were trying to impose a system that Hayek and vonMises told us couldn’t work in the long run even as Lenin was starting to try it. Neither Putinism nor “socialism with Chinese characteristics” have the defects of a centrally planned socialist or communist economy. There is no economic argument that fascism will collapse in the long run. Indeed at the present variants of fascism — Putinism; the CCP’s mixture panopticon social surveillance system, concentration camps and a free-ish market economy; or the velvet-glove version that the Davos set likes, with tech companies censoring opposition and finanancial services companies cutting off opposition from services — seems to be ascendant and liberty in retreat.
Excellent and informative article. Kennan of course had a few things to say about the end of the cold war also, but I suppose the moment to take that advice is long gone now.
I have read so much unutterable junk in the last two weeks and have, myself, fallen for many of their more radical arguments. This piece is the best I have read, the most rational, the most sensible. Thank you.
Interesting article Sir! I was born and raised in Kansas City. I appreciate the genius of ordinary people.
Decades of consumerism and screen-time have worn down that genius and worth, sadly.
Only in emergencies, such as the Dallas floods a few years back, does the old public spirit re-emerge.
There are (at least) two conflicting ideas going on at once. Russian expansionism and the embedding of the Global Deep State attitude of the wealthy.
Ukraine, sadly, is just a symptom of both ideas playing out in a limited geographical setting. There will be others.
Appeasement, or paying Danegeld (Russian oil and gas), will only be effective if they buy enough time to do something. In this case there is potentially a mix of Germany and Japan dropping their stance on Pacifism and the Western world seeking diversity in energy supply and needs. But even that will take some time and is easily put on the back burner once the immediate crisis is over.
We can hope that there are still politicians who are determined enough to stay the long (and often unpopular) course.
We can hope that there are still politicians who are determined enough to stay the long (and often unpopular) course.
And there’s the problem. Putin has had two decades at the top; president/prime minister/president again.
After killing or imprisoning the opposition he is now president-for-life. On our side of the fence, how long does a US president last? Or a UK PM? Or anyone? Is our system up to the job of a generation-long conflict if every leader has so little time at the top?
Tony Blair had a whole decade at the top. What did he do with it ?
Thank you Dominic and thank you UnHerd for offering us that rare-these-days commodity – the intelligent, well-informed article. Such a pleasure to read – not just the prose, but the content.
And a third thank you: at 60 characters a line and black text you have made the reading easy for those of us with a dyslexic tendency.
The problem here is that although Russia (nukes aside) is much weaker than in 1947, so is the West.
And that is partly due to self-expression, which 9 times out of 10, boils down to expressing one’s selfishness.
Truman’s generation were understated and believed in solidarity even more than in liberty. For when love of neighbour is forgotten, liberty becomes free-for-all, then social cohesion and patriotic feeling will soon be gone.
Biden is a pitiful descendant of Truman’s centrism and today’s USA (its armoury aside) a pitiful – almost laughable – travesty of Truman’s. It can hit out, or collapse – but contain, no.
The woeful West theme surfaces again in the comments frequently on here- with a hint that at least the Russians aren’t morally corrupt- they’re patriotic and single minded etc. If only the West was the same? This view is absurd I feel. The difference in the West is that we have imperfect but ‘good enough’ institutions open to criticism and capable of changing with a balanced reasonable tolerance of dissent as long as the rights of the vast majority to use roads etc is respected. Frankly the current truckers’ convoy would have been stopped after 10kms in the Urals abd the drivers carted off to prison without trial and a Speakers’ Corner in Moscow would last five minutes- probably four.There is a categorical difference between the free West and Russia. It’s too easy to point out the West’s inconsistency. Of course we are a divided ambiguous lot with an identity crisis. That’s the damn point of the West- a point also lost on the recent tiny group of Russians in Germany with their street protest against allowing Ukrainian refugees into Germany. No one arrested them though they clearly are blind to the offense they caused and as for the irony…
It is the character of the people which is important not the institutions. An institution may be created and the character of the people in and running them may change. This why Gramsci suggested infiltrating institutions in order to take them over. Also institutions tend to end up being run by an oligarchy which is invariably bureaucratic. When it comes to countries the bureaucracy supports increased taxes which leads to collapse relevant to companies and countries for example; Rome, Mughal and Chinese Empires. Ibn Khaldun, A Toynbee, J Glubb and Northcote C Parkinson have all written works describing how countries collapse..
Sir John Harvey Jones said the finest management training scheme was the Royal Navy up to 1815. By 1895 , the Royal Navy had declined. The Royal Navy from the time of Henry VIII to day has gone through many cycles of greatness and decline. In a RN ship, first officers had to learn how to sail a ship, not sink it and then fight. Quite simply if officers make mistakes in a sailing ship they die: only those competent live. No bureaucratic oligarchy risks death if it makes a mistake. Admiral Byng was executed because he was not good enough and Rome decimated legions who did not fight adequately. Today bureaucrats in both companies and countries are often promoted even though they have made mistakes.
The bureaucratic oligarchy has emboldened Putin by not developing Shale and Gas and ensuring NATO countries spend 2% on defence. As Lt Colonel Peter Walter ex SAS SNCO and Parachute Regiment officer said ” Any fool can run like a rabbit under fire. The test of good soldier is the ability to march long distances with pack and rifle across all terrains, in all weathers and be fit o fight to fight at the end of it “. What percentage of the soldiers in NATO can do this?
Ah the rotten west- ‘the corrupt youth of today’ view. Again.
I did not say the West was corrupt just the people running the bureaucracy are effete ineffectual and naive. Elizabeth 1 had Cecil, Walsingham, Gresham and Hawkins as her main advisers supported by naval captains such as Drake, Frobisher and Grenville and if our bureaucracy was run by people of this quality we would be in a far better situation.
The British Armed Forces have had problems with the decline in the toughness and fitness of those applying. Compare our youth of today with the New Zealanders who joined the armed services in WW2.
I hate say it, but Truman’s words apply equally well to our current civil war of ideologies that’s raging in the US:
”…an undeclared war, not of armies but of ideologies. “At the present moment in world history”, he said, “nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life”. One was based on individual liberty, free speech and democratic elections. The other relied upon “terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio; fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms”.
I’m willing to bet Putin sees the tables turned this time around.
Yes – revenge for 1989-91 is probably the wish driving him.
And this certainly includes an element of Communist sentiment, even if it’s Xi’s Communism, not Trotsky’s.
What is best for Ukraine right now? To capitulate as Holland did in 1940?
Holland surrendered to Germany after only five days of fighting. 50 Heinkel bombers blew up Rotterdam, making the Dutch quickly decide to surrender in order to ward off further destruction of their towns and cities. The whole of the centre of Rotterdam was destroyed by the ensuing fire. Five thousand Dutch and German soldiers had been casualties – the result of Germany attacking Holland without a declaration of war. Holland’s flat, straight roads, in good nick too, made it easy for the panzers to crush the Dutch defensive measures.
I suspect Germany’s invasion of Holland in June 1940, after the blitzkrieg that led to Dunkirk and the fall of France, is analogous to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Hitler-appointed German Reichskommisar for Holland (if I recall the title correctly; he, a lawyer, had overseen the Anschluss in Austria in 1938) talked of, in a speech in the Hall of Knights in The Hague, before some very senior, sombre Dutch civil servants, of the “two Germanic peoples” coming together. This, after a surprise attack on Holland. The Reichskommisar aimed to placate the Dutch and soothe their shock. Civil servants could resign their posts if they wanted. Dutch POWs were to be returned home (and much fanfare was made of their release on newsreels), and the Reichskommisar saw off a trainload of happy and smiling Dutch school kids on a holiday that he arranged for them in his native Austria.
At their annual gathering in the summer sun, most of the 80,000 members (1% of the Dutch population) of the Dutch Nazi Party saw their leader, an engineer by profession, praise his new government. (They had jeered all the Dutch governments before 1940). They sang the Dutch national anthem, while raising their arm up to the Dutch flag that was being raised. However, all references to the Dutch Royal Family (in exile in London along with the Dutch government) were glaringly omitted from their ceremony. A Luftwaffe plane flew overhead in tribute. The crowd celebrated the fly past: even though only six weeks before, the Luftwaffe had blown up Rotterdam. A new régime is expert at veiling over reality.
Holland was no match for the bully ten times, twenty times bigger than it. It had to officially surrender; probably felt it had no choice. The shock of being at war, when the Dutch had never been in a war since the Napoleon era, took time to wear off. The reality was that the Germans had no intention to leave the Dutch alone. Racial profiling began, ID cards and food stamps made mandatory, questions about neighbours and friends were asked. Protests were brutally dealt with, and the policing of types of music publicly played was enforced, such was the pervasiveness of the new Nazi ideology.
Eventually 105,000 of Holland’s 140,000 Jewish population would be sent to their deaths in concentration camps.
After 1943, hundreds of thousands of Dutch men attempted to go into hiding to avoid being rounded up as conscript labour and sent to Germany. 25,000 Dutch men (most likely members of the Dutch Nazi Party) volunteered to fight for Germany on the eastern front. Half would not return.
In late 1944, with Maastricht in Allied hands, most of Holland remained firmly in the grip of the Wehrmacht. Dutch railway workers finally resolved to strike and not help the Germans. The Germans then punished Holland by stopping food and fuel supplies. 15,000 Dutch civilians would die of starvation and cold that winter. Many Dutch had resorted to eating tulip bulbs. The contents of several empty Jewish-owned homes were broken up for firewood. A scintilla of German feeling remained when the Wehrmacht finally arranged for soup kitchens to be set up.
In early 1945, German troops blew up the dykes and flooded huge expanses of reclaimed ground. The “two Germanic peoples” had never had it so bad between each other! The sabotage that was the flooding was an act of environmental destruction or vandalism on a huge scale. The recent Russian attack on the nuclear power plant in Ukraine is, the world dreads, a taste of things to come. God forbid!
Should Ukraine cave in now to Russia, as the Dutch did to Germany in 1940? The Dutch quickly learned how fickle and underhand their much bigger neighbour turned out to be. The Dutch quickly learned that the Germans’ talk of “family” was just that: all talk.
Russia has seriously powerful and destructive “ordinary” bombs and missiles. And, although Ukraine is far from alone, in that it’s plainly not just Britain standing up to the enemy, no nation is directly going to help Ukraine militarily.
(My information on Holland’s experience during WW2 is chiefly from the 1973 The World At War series: Occupation Holland. And dependent on my memory of having watched it).
The underlying assumption here is that Ukraine will lose. Having observed the performance of the Russain and Ukrainian armies over the last 17 days, I doubt that assumption. As long as Ukraine is well supplied with Western antitank and anti-aircraft missiles, Russia will face heavy casualties in a war of attrition.
Putin can sell his lies about a limited engagement against Nazis in Ukraine for perhaps 30 days. At that point, it becomes obvious that the invasion is not going well, that the Russian Army is using artillery and air strikes to flatten Ukraine, and that the world has condemned Putin’s actions with extensive economic sanctions. For example, how can you miss that your credit cards don’t work anymore? How can you miss that your Ukrainian cousins are living in a bombed out basement, or in exile?
The only way for Putin to win is if his threats shut down the supplies from NATO. Putin’s threats did stop the transfer of Polish MiGs to Ukraine. So now Putin threatens to target supply convoys, perhaps in NATO territory. If that threat works, and Biden shuts down the supplies, Putin might win. Otherwise, he’s screwed.
The Tsar was overthrown after losing two wars, the Russo-Japanese War of 1906, and World War I, by 1917. Autocrats can’t afford significant embarrassments like losing wars. Putin will double down on his war in Ukraine, but he is already having a hard time getting his army to fight well, at least in the North. It’s going so poorly that 3 Russian Major Generals were forced to lead from the front personally, and Ukrainians killed them in the fighting. There are maybe a total 20 Russian major generals inside Ukraine with the invasion forces.
Russian military doctrine is to flatten cities with artillery before taking them. That’s easier to do in Syria or Chechnya, where Russians have no personal connections. In Ukraine, Russians, including Army officers, have lots of relatives and friends, Ukrainian friends who will be killed when their cities are flattened. These officers may refuse orders to commit war crimes against people they know.
The turning point in the Russian Revolution against the Tsar came when the Tsar ordered machine guns be used against protesters. The first time this happened, the soldiers fired on the crowd. The second time, the soldiers shot the officers who gave the orders and joined the protesters. Putin’s Ukraine War may bring such a turning point.
Hopefully this event won’t give another regime enough insight to succeed when they try to pull a similar stunt.
Article seems excessively confident. And while it’s an understandable human reaction, Im not sure about the moral contempt directed at those “realist professors” arguing for concessions.
The 1947 Truman speech was indeed a major historic event. For much of WWII mainstream US media was +ve about “Uncle Joe” Stalin, with several strategists arguing Russia would be a better post war ally for US attempts to lead the world on a brighter path than the “corrupt” Europeans, including us in Blighty. Albeit perceptive Americans like John Dewey had been telling it like it is years before Kennan.
After the strong start the article is too rosy about containment in my view. Containment was great for a while, but its also what’s led us to the current situation. In hindsight, after the Soviet collapse we should have took better advantage when we had a strong hand. Waiting until Putin possibly has a dozen RS-28 Sarmats ready for launch may not have been the best time to start talking tough. Or perhaps better yet we should have been friendlier to Russia these last two decades. There can be a strong affinity between Russians & Brits or Yanks as long as they are sensitive to the peach / coconut cultural difference. It’s likely obvious to Putin what his odds are if he lets himself be contained, so without concessions there’s a high chance he’ll just up the stakes.
Great writing but it’s facile to imagine that the answer to Putin is the same as the answer to post-Stalin Soviet communism. Equally neither is it direct confrontation.
Sanctioning all Russian billionaires and turning those closest to Putin into outlaws is the way ahead. Let them do our dirty work.
Must look up Kennan.
One of Kennan’ decisive experiences was slipping his Soviet minders and taking a good tour of the real Moscow.
He found it poor, backward, dependent on the black market – more like a US frontier town of 1880 than a modern capital city. In other words, a giant Potemkin-village, and Soviet Communism (its military aside) a mere facade.
Dominic that was an absolute tour de force, Bravo! And thank you.
I red all the comments before posting this and I am surprised by so many posts claiming this article tells as something new or at least provides different perspective on known historical events.
Anyone with basic knowledge of 20th century history knows about Truman Doctrine and Kennan.
Maybe it is just me, but what containment means in current situation.
How does it differ from appeasement?
Is it containment to allow Putin to conquer Ukraine but stopping him invading NATO countries or is it appeasement?
In cold War containment meant fighting war in Korea, Vietnam etc and stopping communist back guerrillas from taking over many countries.
What many people propose is not containment but capitulation when faced with Putin’s aggression.
Excellent article. There are three qualities which our upper middle class arts graduate bureaucratic oligarchy lack: toughness, a knowledge of technology and trade. Many of the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party are engineers. A few days ago spoke to lady who when at agricultural college met a child who thought milk came from a bottle and did not know it came from cows. Many of our leaders have a similar lack of knowledge of trade and technology: hence dependence on Russian gas.
Now compare to William Cecil Secretary of State to Elizabeth 1. He created many more days when fish had to be eaten to increase the fishing fleet to produce more sailors. The increase in the number of sailors was vital in the defeat of The Armada. Hawkins was appointed to head the Royal shipyards ten years before The Armada where he reduced waste and designed smaller, faster fighting ships which could sail closer to the wind. Cecil and Hawkins had the sagacity but which our suburban arts graduate member of the bureaucratic oligarchy lack; as well resilience, robustness, imagination, initiative, ingenuity, innovation and the spirit of adventure because they are not individuals.
What we can do easily:-
The below is film produced when Britain’s back was against the wall describing the qualities needed to win WW2 and which the Ukrainians are now demonstrating.
Hipkiss teaching Unarmed Fighting – YouTube
All of the above are simple procedures which have been tested. What will be painful is for the suburban upper middle class bureaucratic oligarchy to give up their sinecures and comfortable life.
One can look at this from fitness. A man goes from 10st to 12.5st and puts on 2.5st. This could be fat or or could be Sugar Ray Leonard going from Welter Weight to Light Heavy Weight and winning five world titles at different weights. The West has put on 2.5st of bureaucratic oligarchal fat.
Bang on Charles. The West is passing through a spineless/decadent phase. Ukraine could be the kick up the backside we desperately need. It’s just a shame so many people have to suffer to bring us (the West) back to our senses and rediscover our values.
I think you have enough material and insights to write your own UnHerd article.
Thank you. Over the years I have become interested in why civilisations rise and fall and read many authors such as J Burke, A Bryant, , Orwell, GN Trevelyan, A Toynbee , C N Parkinson( quotes Ibn Khaldun ), John Glubb( Glubb Pasha ) Muggeridge combined with personal experience , etc and there is a pattern. Certain groups develop the qualities to develop a civilisation and then they lose it. Organisations and institutions may remain but the qualities of the people decline. Why did civilisation start in Sumer, followed by Egypt; why did the Renaissance largely occur in Florence and not Venice, Madrid, Paris or Rome, and the Industrial Revolution in Britain? Why does decline occur? Gibbon described the decline of Rome but are his reasons correct?
Why did England produce Elizabeth 1 and people of the quality of Cecil, Walsingham, Gresham, Hawkins, Drake, Frobisher, Grenville and not France and Spain which were wealthier countries?
Barnes Wallis said the genius of the English was due to her individuality, is he correct ? Yet China consider individuality as close to anarchy, which it fears and has a civilisation 5,000 years old based upon conformity ?
Eton school motto is Floreat Etona may Eton flourish. I suggest civilisations flourish when talent in all it forms flourishes, this decline when a lack lustre dull bureaucracy becomes an oligarchy and diverts states resources to supporting itself and deliberately promotes the mediocre over the genius and even punishes it. Punishing Captain Lord Cochrane RN, ignoring Barnes Wallis , closing down the Army Commandos, SAS and SOE after WW2 and terminating The Comet and British commercial jet plane development are all examples of a lack lustre bureaucracy’s spiteful attack on those which outshine it. . Talent recognises genius and mediocrity sees itself. Newton said he could see so far because he stood on the shoulders of genii. A lack lustre dull bureaucracy’s greatest fear is being outshone by the talented which means one is capable of great ingenuity, innovation and daring.
Indeed, as they say “first rate people hire first rate people, second rate people hire third rate people and third rate people hire morons”. Once organisations get too large (or too old) they’re in terminal decline.
Other(s) have said, no mention of China.
America started with something great, but it had problems, yet we will come together and push forward.
A well-written and well-argued article, with good historical analysis – thanks. I would challenge one important claim by Mr Sandbrook. I see no reason to assume Russia is aiming to dominate the world, as the USSR undoubtedly did. Russia is not communist, which seems to be ignored by far too many people currently. It is a democracy, of course not perfect but not untypical of many other democracies around the world with whom the “West” is at peace. I see no reason not to believe their statement that one of their main aims is a Ukraine without alliance to either Russia or Nato. So negotiation/compromise on Ukraine would not be the start of a new cold war, but would allow Russia and Ukraine to become more prosperous and (reasonable to assume) gradually nicer democracies. We would od course then be far better placed to resist the actual cold War now under way between the actual communists (controlling China) and the actual, mostly flawed, democracies including but certainly not “led” by the US.
I am wondering if Russia will stop people leaving the country? Otherwise all the talent will move to Europe and the USA. So easy with Europe next door. Would a non-communist Russia erect a wall?
This is a great article in terms of historic analysis, but it misses the rather obvious point that if Putin can’t win a cold war (pretty obviously true), then he will just have a hot war instead. The mistake that keeps being made is that the West remains in control of the point at which Russia may deem it to have commenced direct hostilities. This is a dangerous fallacy: if Putin has taught us anything lately it is that taking and holding the initiative is everything.
In short, the West is not in control of how to restore the process of containment, because Putin is also a student of history (albeit a mad one), and he knows that this is how Russia lost the last time.
I have been thinking the same thing but with a nagging worry – the role of WMDs, particularly nukes, in the hands of a mad dictator. Of course containment would work again, in fact sanctions are doing that already and will likely catalyse huge internal dissent in Russia. But, I fear the more we back him into a corner the more likely he goes nuts and starts pushing buttons. Please tell me I am wrong or naive, it is the only thing that worries me in this dreadful situation.
This is an essay I needed to read. I would add that I have some regrets at the thought, given my age, that I may not be here to see a successful conclusion. Well, what are torches for, if not to be passed on?
Good article. The first start must be admitting every country that wants NATO membership before Putin gets to them. Finland and Sweden come to mind. No more wishy-washiness as happened with Ukraine. If you want a country to join, let it join. If you want it out, boot it out. As long as indecision continues, Putin will take advantage of it and repeat Ukraine all over again.
Never underestimate a Missouri man
Agree with this, containment is the only option. But Putin has significantly weakened his economic and moral position in waging this war – when ordinary Russians find out what their army has done in Ukraine, as they inevitably will afterwards, the vast majority of them will experience the same kind of shame the Germans felt after Hitler’s slaughter of the Jews. So it’s a big step forward for the winning of the containment strategy – except if someone more extreme than Putin replaces Putin…..
Now the time has come for the “sleepy” man from Delaware to outlast, outwit, and out-perform the kgb apparatchnik who now occupies–by hook and by crook–the seat of stalin.
Now is the time for all men and women to come to the aid or our country. We must keep this grand democratic-republic, on both sides of the Atlantic–keep it going, to outlast and outperform putin and his sycophants.
We did it from 1947 to 1991. We can do it now from 2022 and beyond, guided by the steady had of our President and our NATO allies, most notably Macron and Scholz and, and . . . yes the gentleman for London, Mister Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
This may well prove to be Joe’s finest hour, and Boris’ finest hour. We will fight Putin in the embassies, in the poppy-populated fields of Flanders, in the halls of Brussels, in the wheat fields of Ukraine and in the tracks and trails and rails of Warsaw, Krakau, from Statin to Trieste, from Lviv to Luhansk. We will fight him by stealth and by wealth, in the air and in the black sea, from sea to shining sea, by javelin or by travelin’, by hook or by crook.
Follow that bold Ukrainian, Volodymyr Zelensky and together we will outlast, outwit and outsmart the madman from kgb.
Good article. Life’s different now. Tech is a double edged sword- watching bits of the war almost live but also maskirovska. Enough Russians have got to be fed up with a median wage of $13,000 and a crappy lifestyle and grow out of being treated like kids. It’s generational. Babushkas will never change. Under 40s will.
There are differences between 1947 and now. Then it was containing an ideology that did not spread much and eventually died out. Now it is containing one individual, with apparently absolute power, in his ambition to be an aclaimed leader. He is ruthless and seeks revenge on those that oppose him. It is hard to see how he can be an aclaimed leader with opposition in Ukraine and sanctions. It is not at all clear how he will react to being thawted. It could be revenge on Ukraine followed by revenge on the West for sanctions such as cyber warfare. The US has driven NATO’s response and it suits them to not confront Putin. The war is not on their border and they will not be impacted much by sanctions. Neither is true for Europe. I am not convinced that Putin is primarily driven by security, it seems more likely to me that he uses it as an excuse to define the Russian Empire he wants to lead. I rather doubt that a bully can be contained by appeasement. The West needs the Russian generals to decide where they must draw the line and act to rebuild Russia.
I was about to make the same point. Major crucial differences from Truman & Kennan’s days: then soviet system backed by thousands in power, and millions of comrades fervently in support of a brave new world order, now, a dictatorship underpinned by kleptoctracy, tolerated by millions so long as the economy is good: now, a much larger middle class with money and freedom to lose: then – an almost total free/diverse news blackout, now, despite clampdowns, not hard to gain WWW access.
Russian Instagram celebs struggling to come to terms with their “loss” of platform.
People being arrested for displaying – just – a blank sign (“we don’t need to have a message, everyone knows what it is anyway”)
FSB vs Putin
Military leaders losing their lives
Perhaps it all adds up. I’m reminded that 200,000 prison cells exist in Russia but the population is 150,000,000…
Can the West?
Make a visit to a place that from its skyline looks like Manhattan. When you get to Croydon you can see it’s Manhattan without the money. The poor state of the local economy is revealed in that even the sex shop has closed.
There is no longer any outlet of a bakery chain that has one everywhere else. Half the units in the shopping centre are empty. The department store building erected between the Wars is now completely vacant, its elegant façade home to weeds.
Wherever the money came from to create that skyline, it didn’t come from the locals. They appear a dishevelled crowd, with individuals begging as in can be seen in any middle eastern city, and others wandering the high street shouting out at no one, clearly mad.
However, with attention and observation, as well as with feeling and imagination, one can detect traces of an older, refined and much more prosperous and self-confident civilization.
One large building, clearly an Edwardian department store, still retains its original windows on the upper floor featuring stained glass advertisements for children’s and ladies’ clothes. Now these are memorials that mock our pretentions. The Elizabethan alms house, though repaired many times over the generations, stands as the one unchanging feature in a landscape that the effluxion of time has altered beyond recall.
What exactly are we containing in Russia today? It’s not an ideology like communism. Her armed forces are evidently not up to much. Shorn of such things it is already neutered. The Soviets, didn’t they rust away? The Czars, didn’t they abdicate before a democratic government?
Haven’t they Russians contained themselves with their fear of vulnerability? Putin’s historical creation is actually a cell of solitary confinement. The poor man is trapped by history. He and Russia need to be liberated, not contained.
And how is the West containing the empire that has already been created? The world is being organised to support the Chinese economy. Against that, the objective of Imperial Germany to create an economic zone in central Europe to support the German economy looks rather unambitious.
Fascinating Dominic – thank you
Excellent coverage. Certainly, Putin is as much of a threat as Stalin was in his day. But Biden is as much a threat today as Truman’s predecessor, FDR, was in his day. Biden is as much a comrade of Xiao Japing as FDR was of Stalin, and much of the encroachment of the Left in i=our society and government traces back to the Roosevelt’s administration. We are fortunate that America, if it did not learn anything else from its long marriage with FDR, it learned that it is dangerous to keep one man in the presidency for that long.
superb article, inspiring
Fascinating that, about Truman, the Cold War and the policy of containment. This paragraph shows part of the problem with current Western European and US thinking, my remarks follow
“That’s why most Western politicians have ruled out a no-fly zone over western Ukraine. It’s entirely understandable that people think we should “do something”. But there’s no point in doing something if the firestorm kills the very people you were hoping to save”
1. Direct military support does not have to be a no-fly zone mindlessly promoted. What about “boots on the ground”? This is what Russia is doing with Belorussian and Chechen military formations. There will be strategies and deployments that make it impossible for Russia to advance and kill more civilians without attacking the armed forces of another country or countries – effectively they would have to commit an act of war to get at the civilians.
2. Yes, most of the “free world” definitely wants to do something. Populations are desperate to put an end to the Ukrainian suffering. And if we do not, I believe it will effect us for a generation. We shall know our governments where awash with Clement Atlees who dictated “containment” up to the old borders of Soviet Russia that are not already in NATO. By containment, NATO governments are demonstrating to Russia – do as you wish in those countries, we are not going to stop you.
3. “Firestorm”? It is immensely patronising to decide what is best for the Ukrainian people. They all urgently want military aid to repel Russia from their land. That is what they want and we are not yet giving it to them. We are not fighting alongside them, shoulder to shoulder as the brave volunteers are from all over the world.
“That was two years ago. Now it was 12 March 1947, …”.
That HAD BEEN two years EARLIER – surely?
As egregious and sloppy as “since many years”, as the Abba ladies sing softly in their song, Fernando.
Just to add, and to be annoyingly facetious, there was another post-1989 policy of containment to do with Truman: The Truman Show.
I hope the West does not now cut off its nose to spite its face, Truman Show-style. The West isn’t exactly so much enamoured by itself these days.
No – it has become senile and decadent.
The Past Imperfect grammar case here is clearly being used for emotive impact. Quite clear to an educated native reader of English.
The screenplays are on the way!
It’s a tense, not a case. Verbs have tenses (and moods); nouns have cases (and declensions). And it would be grammatical case, not grammar case. As should be quite clear to any semi-educated English speaker.
Why shouldn’t we have a Cold War? Maybe because millions of people died and on multiple occasions the world came close to nuclear holocaust. The Korean War alone killed 5 million people. Countless more were killed in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Indonesia and Cambodia as a result of U.S. containment policy.
Are you saying that the USA was wrong to resist communist insurrections? If they hadn’t, South Korea would not be South Korea, it would be North Korea, if you get my meaning.
The South Korean regime was a brutal dictatorship installed by the USA. Who knows what would have happened? Many historians now acknowledge South Korean aggression as a main factor behind the Korean War. Throughout the Cold War the USA were responsible for several war crimes and crimes against humanity. Do we really want a repeat of the Indonesian mass killings or the East Timor genocide?
Korea happened because China liked it hot.
Kennan opposed Vietnam.
The South Korean leadership was prepared to die fighting the communist; the South Vietnamese were not. If the leadership of the country will not fight, the rest of the country will not, so there is no sense in supporting it. Also, the Americans did not learn to fight in jungles. It took Britain two years from 1942 to 1944 to learn how to fight in the Burmese jungle of which Wingate and The Chindits were a vital part.
Who knows the exact rights or wrongs of the Russia / Ukraine situation? What we do know is that Putin is a bully & bullies will only back down if confronted with a greater force or power. For that reason, the West & USA should give Putin / Russia seven days to withdraw from Ukraine or confront him with all of NATO & the US forces in the air & on the ground in Ukraine. Put him in a no-win situation & Putin will back down & won’t go nuclear. If the US / West does not then the people of Ukraine will pay a terrible price because Putin & his army will use every weapon at their disposal, short of nuclear & it will be horrible. Putin will destroy Ukraine, kill & main its population without a second thought.
Putin will not back down.
Krushchev did in 1962 – but he was an optimist and
a progressive. Putin is neither.
The only hope is of a ceasefire and a rather shaky peace deal that will allow Putin to withdraw without losing face.