“Containment” has long been a cornerstone of U.S. policy in dealing with countries that are seen as threats to U.S. interests, but today some countries are applying the same principle to the United States, observes Graham E. Fuller.
By Graham E. Fuller
Over the years “containment” has been a key U.S. political instrument by which it has sought to isolate, starve out, or excommunicate from the “international community” regimes unwilling to accept the U.S.-dominated world order.
Yet the great irony today is that this very U.S. policy of containment seems now to characterize the way many major powers in the world have come to think about dealing with the United States. These countries don’t actually use the word “containment,” but the intent is still the same; they perceive the need to “contain” or constrain Washington, thereby limiting the damage that the U.S. can inflict upon their national interests without engaging in outright confrontation with the U.S.
Containment has been a reasonably sensible way of dealing with hostile states that cannot be readily defeated militarily except at potentially huge military cost to the U.S. itself—especially if it risks nuclear war. Both the Soviet Union and China for many decades were “contained” due to their perceived radical ideologies and hostility to the U.S.-dominated world order.
These two states also supported many radical leftist revolutionary movements around the world that ideologically opposed the U.S. (Often these movements had good reason to be hostile and revolutionary, frequently due to terrible domestic conditions in their own countries—and under regimes often supported by Washington. Cuba, Chile, and Nicaragua come to mind, although the U.S. eventually made efforts to overthrow them after their revolutions.)
In more recent decades the U.S. applied containment policies to Saddam’s Iraq and to Iran. Containment of North Korea has been a long-standing policy, arguably wiser than most other options. Indeed, might not continued containment of Saddam in Iraq have been the wiser policy compared to the…