This article deals with George Kennan's view of nuclear weapons on the basis of his long memorandum of January 1950. Kennan was a prominent figure who developed the American "Containment" policy against the Soviet Union. He was also known for his critical attitude toward nuclear weapons. The reasons why Kennan, who was the architect of U.S. anti-Soviet policy, viewed nuclear weapons critically are highlighted in this article.
Just after the end of World War II, Kennan thought that the "secret" of the A-bomb should not be opened to the Soviet Union. Kennan, who had complained about F.D. Roosevelt's wartime diplomacy, showed a very hard attitude against the old ally. At this stage, Kennan's view of nuclear weapons was very simple and was not so much different from the general public's attitude. But he developed his own view on A-bombs gradually. Particularly after serving as an instructor in the National War College, his view of the A-bomb was changed and became more sophisticated. Kennan thought that if the Soviet Union got the same kind of weapon, it would not necessarily mean that it would become aggressive. He accepted that nuclear weapons had a deterrent effect against any enemy. But, for him, the possession of A-bombs was a "sad duty" of the United States. In 1948, the U.S. government established its nuclear policy in National Security Coneil Document No. 30 (NSC30), and Kennan agreed with the policy reflected in the document.
After 1948, U.S. security policy had increasingly relied on nuclear weapons. Successful Soviet detonation of an atomic bomb had served to accelerate the nuclearization of American military policy. Under the changing strategic environment, U.S. policy-makers expanded the nation's nuclear stockpile and began to develop the hydrogen bomb. Kennan, however, was highly skeptical of the A-bomb centered military policy. Kennan maintained that, because of their massive destructive power, nuclear weapons would bring lin1itless destruction of an enemy country. He held that the total destruction of the enemy was not necessarily essential in a war. War should be regarded as a means
of attaining political ends with minimum destruction. Kennan asserted that war's business should not be to bring the total destruction of an enemy but rather to compel a change of the behavior and political thinking of the enemy. A-bombs, or H-bombs, were too destructive in the process of attaining political objectives. They should not be used as weapons in a war. Kennan was deeply worried that U.S. policy-makers tended to think that war with the Soviet Union, which would lead to World War III, was inevitable. To him, there was no necessity of a war between superpowers. Kennan thought that non-military factors were essential to win the cold war. Kennan wrote that nuclear weapons were a superfluous deterrent and they should be placed under international control. These were the focal points of his long memorandum of January 1950.
However, the main current of American strategic thinking as reflected in National Security Council Document No. 68 (NSC-68) regarded nuclear weapons as the essential means of deterring the Soviet Union and, if necessary, of destroying it.