Summary of The Sources of Chinese Conduct

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George F. Kennan’s 1946 Foreign Affairs article, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” provided one of the most influential underpinnings for America’s Cold War policy of containment. What made Kennan’s analysis so compelling was that it was based on a deep understanding of Russian history and Soviet ideology. Today’s US policymakers need a similar document to inform US China policy, historian Odd Arne Westad argues. While some of Kennan’s strategic lessons also apply to China, Westad convincingly explains why containment 2.0 needs important updates.

About the Author

Odd Arne Westad is Professor of History and Global Affairs at Yale University and the author of The Cold War: A World History.



There are parallels between China and the former Soviet Union, but, in many ways, China poses a new type of challenge to the United States and its allies.

Though very similar to the former Soviet Union in some ways, in others, China poses an entirely different sort of challenge to the United States and its allies. Like the former Soviet Union, China’s ruling communist party is not accountable to its people and strictly limits their political freedom. Too, China’s decision to further centralize the party’s power in recent years could make it vulnerable to a Soviet-style implosion should its efficiency or cohesion begin to weaken.

Beijing uses the image of a hostile outside world – especially the United States – to promote nationalism at home. Such rhetoric, together with the claim that America is bent on reversing the communist party’s economic and political...

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