U.S. Leadership Perceptions of the Soviet Problem Since 1945

by John Van Oudenaren


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For 35 years the Soviet Union has presented American political leaders with their most difficult foreign policy and defense problems. Throughout this period the Soviet Union, like other countries, has undergone constant change. Although this change has worked to reshape the perceptions of American leaders, it has not ended an ongoing debate in the United States about the "essential character" of the Soviet system and appropriate U.S. policies for dealing with the USSR. There remains no consensus on a long-term American strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union. In an effort to probe the roots of the ongoing dissension in the U.S. foreign policy community regarding Soviet policy, this report analyzes the three early postwar alternatives — termination by accommodation, termination by victory, and long-term management — and shows how the early debates on these alternatives influenced subsequent American policy thinking. In addition, the report suggests some of the underlying reasons why a termination approach appealed to those who were confronted for the first time with the Soviet problem, and why, despite the standoff of the past 35 years, termination continues to exert a residual appeal for both elites and the general public.

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