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This article is about the United States policy. For other uses, see Containment (disambiguation).

Containment is a military strategy to stop the expansion of an enemy. It is best known as the Cold War policy of the United States and its allies to prevent the spread of communism abroad. A component of the Cold War, this policy was a response to a series of moves by the Soviet Union to enlarge communist influence in Eastern Europe, China, Korea, Africa, and Vietnam. Containment represented a middle-ground position between detente and rollback, but it let the opponent choose the place and time of any confrontation.

The basis of the doctrine was articulated in a 1946 cable by U.S. diplomat George F. Kennan. As a description of U.S. foreign policy, the word originated in a report Kennan submitted to U.S. Defense Secretary James Forrestal in 1947, a report that was later used in a magazine article. It is a translation of the French cordon sanitaire, used to describe Western policy toward the Soviet Union in the 1920s.

The word containment is associated most strongly with the policies of U.S. President Harry Truman (1945–53), including the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a mutual defense pact. Truman began the Korean War with a rollback strategy, then switched to containment after China entered the war. President Dwight Eisenhower (1953–61) considered using the rival doctrine of rollback, but then refused to intervene in the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. The American policy toward Cuba since 1960 has been containment, although there are signs of change in 2015. President Lyndon Johnson (1963–69) cited containment as a justification for his policies in Vietnam. President Richard Nixon (1969–74), working with advisor Henry Kissinger, followed a policy called détente, or relaxation of tensions. This involved expanded trade and cultural contacts, as well as the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.

President Jimmy Carter (1977–81) at first emphasized human rights rather than anti-communism. He dropped this stance and returned to containment when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979. President Ronald Reagan (1981–89), denouncing the Soviet state as an "evil empire", escalated the Cold War and promoted rollback in Nicaragua and Afghanistan. Central programs begun under containment, including NATO and nuclear deterrence, remained in effect even after the end of the cold war.


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