I have used the book The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War as my textbook in my college international relations course for a few years now. It perfectly explains the various major views on foreign affairs, and more importantly, describes the various tools that foreign relations practitioners use. One of the assignments for my students is to write a short review of the Hawk and the Dove because they have no memory of the Cold War and this book provides them an excellent framework of the era. One of the best lessons of this book is that even policy-makers with diverging outlooks can maintain friendships and act professionally.

Today I’m sharing a student, Caetlyn Elder’s, assessments of this book. I am always trying to convince my students to look at careers in foreign policy; maybe Caetlyn has found her calling. Either way I felt her writing and insights were worth sharing with others. – Jason Criss Howk

The Cold War can not only be described as one of the most intense points in history, but also as the epitome of international relations. Surrounding an idealistic conflict spanning decades, the so-called “Cold War” did not entirely take place on a battlefield. It also took place through various forms of communication such as propaganda, telegrams, public speeches, and policies. Additionally, the opposing ideals of the Cold War- namely the economic and governmental systems of capitalism and communism- competed with each other through technological advancement, covert operations, espionage, aid, and more. The United States and her Allies rallied against the rampant spread of communism caused by the Soviet Union, also known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). While the role of international relations was critical to combating the spread of communism, the United States had inner conflict regarding the approach.

The titular animals of Nicholas Thompson’s book The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War represents the conflicting styles of approach within the United States government to international relations during the Cold War. Paul Nitze, the “Hawk,” took to the strategy of offense, preferring military preparation over diplomatic patience. George Kennan, the “Dove,” took to the strategy of defense, calling for “forbearance” and allowing Soviet policies and politics to play itself out. However, it is their mutual respect for each other and unabating participation in American foreign policy during the Cold War that set these two men apart from the rest of those involved.

The author tells the story from his unique perspective of being the grandson of one of the men, Paul Nitze. Thompson even readily admits in the “Author’s Note,” that his connection had great influence on his research process. This provides Thompson with a distinct sense of credibility and perspective. Yet Thompson makes his intentions clear, stating, “Despite so personal a connection, I have made every effort to hold nothing back. I have concealed no interesting secrets. If I have cut Paul Nitze slack, I have done so unconsciously.”

Thompson’s intentions for his book are that of a noble historian: to educate. Specifically, to shed a light on how American foreign policy and international relations during the Cold War operated through the opposing views of Paul Nitze and George Kennan. Both men had strong influence over the most prominent issues and policies that were brought forth during this time, including containment.

Kennan and Nitze: Foreign Policy of Containment

Throughout his book, one of the issues that Thompson highlights was the idea of containment. “Containment” is a term accredited to George Kennan, who at the beginning of the Cold War, argued that instead of taking the offensive, America should instead engage and deflect Soviet expansion through an early form of hybrid warfare. Kennan claimed in what is dubbed “the ‘X’ article” in the book that: “The main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies…

Soviet pressure against the free institutions of the Western world is something that can be contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counterforce at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points.”

While never having directly defined the term, Kennan’s intention for the term had not extended beyond the political. Kennan possessed a deep knowledge and respect for Russian history, and asserted in his article that the Soviet Union was the “‘product of ideology and circumstances.’” His foreign policy of containment focused on combating Soviet efforts through covert and political action that would serve to undermine the Soviet cause, reinforcing American ideals instead. Kennan would later base an entire organization around the idea: The Office of Policy Coordination.

Thompson later describes how Nitze contrasted to Kennan’s idea of containment, revealing how he applied it to military means. Nitze wrote a document called NSC-68, which advocated that the best way to keep the Soviet efforts contained was to have America remain the strongest military power, and that “America’s survival depended on a rapid buildup of armed forces.” In Cold War history, Nitze’s document embodied the mindset of the “arms race.” With the purpose of ensuring peace and leverage out of the paranoia of mutual destruction, both the U.S. and Soviet Union bolstered their military operations, weaponry, and technologies associated with it. Nitze would later dismiss the claim that he “had ‘militarized containment,’” or had fundamentally changed Kennan’s intention of the term “containment” by stating, “‘This paper more realistically set forth the requirements necessary to assure success of George Kennan’s idea of containment.’” The men’s opposing personalities are made even more plain through this particular foreign policy. Kennan, described by Thompson as a “realist,” remained focused on the politics of containment, as he believed that the politics and ideology that accompanied the Soviet movement were far more influential than military prowess. Nitze, however, couldn’t shake the possibility of physical confrontation, perceiving that to be the bigger threat than any mere idea. To Nitze, an ideology like the Soviets’ could only be effectively carried out and kept at bay through the threat of arms.

The American foreign policy of containment is a complex one, and is important to learn regarding international relations during the Cold War. Thompson eloquently illustrates how containment was realized through Nitze and Kennan specifically. Of course, more foreign policy issues that are just as important are expounded upon- including the use and research of nuclear arms, the ethics of certain economic systems, and intelligence operations- but the term containment is not only a consistent topic synonymous to international relations during the Cold War, but it is a topic that Thompson frequently touches on throughout the entirety of the book.

Reflection and Recommendation

Thompson provides a new sense of admiration for participation in international relations through his work, as he managed to provide detail and exposition without adding or taking away from the impact of it. Thompson formatted his book in such a way that it read both as a timeline and a formal analysis of both men’s’ lives concerning their impact on American foreign policy.

Overall, Thompson emphasized to me that American foreign policy during the Cold War, like the men who helped form it, is complicated and controversial, having to address multiple issues in limited time and format. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Cold War, Russian history, American foreign policy, and overall operation of American government. Thompson has only heightened my interest regarding government operations, and added fuel to my personal pursuit of learning more about history and its rippling effect. While the works of Nitze and Kennan are now being taught in classrooms and serve as the precedent for modern American foreign policy, Thompson truly brings to life a sense of scholarly interest and curiosity of the subject of the Cold War and the two perspectives that surrounded it.

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Jason spent 23 years in USG service conducting defense, diplomacy, intelligence, and education missions globally. Now he teaches, writes, podcasts, and speaks publicly about Islam, foreign affairs, and national security. He serves on the Board of Directors for 2 non-profits and aids conflict resolution in Afghanistan.