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George Frost Kennan (1904-2005), scholar, diplomat and historian,

is perhaps best known for his role in developing U.S. foreign policy

in the immediate aftermath of World War II. In response to a State

Department request for an explanation of Soviet behavior in early

1946, Kennan traced the basic features, background and prospects

of Soviet foreign policy and the implications for American policy in

a memo now known as the

“Long Telegram.”

The most famous of all

his writings,

“The Sources of Soviet Conduct,”

was published in the

July 1947 issue of

Foreign Affairs

under the authorship of “X.” In that

article, Kennan outlined the policy of “containment” that would guide

U.S. relations with the Soviet Union for the next four decades.

During a distinguished Foreign Service career from 1926 to 1953,

Kennan served in Geneva, Hamburg, Tallinn, Riga and, later, Prague,

Berlin, Lisbon and London. In 1933, when President Franklin D.

Roosevelt recognized the Soviet Union, Kennan accompanied the

new ambassador, William C. Bullitt Jr., to establish the embassy in

Moscow, serving there for four years. In July 1944, he returned to

Moscow as Ambassador Averell Harriman’s deputy chief of mission.

Subsequently, he served as director of the Policy Planning Staff in the

Department of State from 1947 to 1949, ambassador to the USSR in

1952 and ambassador to Yugoslavia from 1961 to 1963.

Kennan retired from the Foreign Service in 1953, and in 1956

joined the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey,

where he taught, researched and wrote for the rest of his life. His first


American Diplomacy , 1900–1950

(1951), was praised on both

literary and historiographical grounds, and he won Pulitzer Prizes

for two later works, Russia Leaves the War (1956) and Memoirs: 1925–1950 (1967).

His subsequent publications continued to stir interest because his

views, if sometimes out of step with official U.S. policy—including his

prediction of the demise of the USSR—were often vindicated by his-

tory. Even when they weren’t, he was recognized for having raised the

level of public discourse.

Ambassador Kennan served as president of AFSA from 1950 to

1951. This piece, excerpted from a speech he delivered at AFSA on

March 30, 1961, was published in

The Foreign Service Reader


1997). The full transcript of the speech was published in the May 1961

Foreign Service Journal



his is the classic function of diplomacy:

to effect the communication between

one’s own government and other

governments or individuals abroad,

and to do this with maximum accuracy,

imagination, tact and good sense. Of

course, this is not all there is, or not

all there is on the surface. But at the

bottom of almost every facet of Foreign

Service work, if you analyze it, you will find, I think, that what is

essentially at stake is this process of communication.

In 1961, the legendary diplomat talked

with his colleagues at AFSA about the

profession of diplomacy.




On Diplomacy

As a Profession