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Abstract

This paper will attempt to reinterpret the early Cold War moment in Euro-American relations that gave rise to and ultimately destroyed George Kennan’s plan to reunify and neutralize Germany—the so-called “Program A” of 1948–49. Kennan envisioned his Program as the first and decisive step towards creating a “free European community” capable of acting as a non-aligned “third force,” thus ending the Cold War on the Continent. But before it could be presented to the United States’ European allies, Britain and France, some of the plan’s principal features were leaked to the New York Times. These features, as described in the Times, received a hostile reception in Europe; the State Department withdrew its support for Program A; and the American policymaking establishment embraced a strong transatlantic commitment, cementing the East-West division of Europe.

Some scholars of the Cold War, including John Lewis Gaddis, have blamed the demise of Program A on the Europeans, whose resistance to Kennan’s neutralization initiative compelled a reluctant United States to play the hegemon in Western Europe. But this extreme version of Geir Lundestad’s “empire by invitation” theory would not have satisfied Kennan, who maintained that his State Department colleagues were too fearful of offending their European allies and too eager to abandon his plan. Examining the circumstances from which Program A emerged, the opposition it faced from within the State Department, and the steps its authors took to address British and French concerns suggests that Kennan may have been right. The hard-line “empire by invitation” thesis demands revision: Europe may have extended an invitation to empire, but as Kennan grasped, the United States bore the responsibility for accepting it.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

 

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