Paul Nitze, 1907-2004
October 22, 2004 11:23 AM   Subscribe

A Walk in the Woods. Farewell to the original Cold War warrior: Paul Nitze, the college professor's son who went to Hotchkiss and Harvard and worked as investment banker before going to Washington in 1940, where he quickly became one of the chief architects of American policy towards the Soviet Union. His doctrine of "strategic stability" became its cornerstone for half a century (Nitze held key government posts in Washington, from the era of Franklin Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan's, when he was the White House's guru on arms control). By the end of 1949, Nitze had become director of the State Department's policy planning staff, helping to devise the role of Nato, deciding to press ahead with the manufacture of the H-bomb, and producing National Security Council document 68, the document at the heart of the Cold War: in it, Nitze called for a drastic expansion of the U.S. military budget. The paper also expanded containment’s scope beyond the defense of major centers of industrial power to encompass the entire world. (NSC-68 was a top secret paper, written in April 1950 and declassified in the 70's, called "United States Objectives and Programs for National Security"). More inside.
posted by matteo (7 comments total)

Interestingly enough,

George Kennan thought that “The main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.” To that end, he called for countering “Soviet pressure against the free institutions of the Western world” through the “adroit and vigilant application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and maneuvers of Soviet policy.” Such a policy, Kennan predicted, would “promote tendencies which must eventually find their outlet in either the break-up or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power.”
Even within the Truman administration there was a rift over containment between Kennan and Paul Nitze, Kennan’s successor as director of the Policy Planning Staff. Nitze, who saw the Soviet threat primarily in military terms, interpreted Kennan’s call for “the adroit and vigilant application of counter-force” to mean the use of military power. In contrast, Kennan, who considered the Soviet threat to be primarily political, advocated above all else economic assistance (e.g., the Marshall Plan) and “psychological warfare” (overt propaganda and covert operations) to counter the spread of Soviet influence. In 1950, Nitze’s conception of containment won out over Kennan’s.


Nitze was "our old fox," as one Reaganite described him.
Having thundered about the need for more U.S. nuclear weapons, Nitze then began trading them away. His first bargain was hatched in the famous "walk in the woods," where he and a Soviet negotiator explored a deal for a radical reduction of medium-range missiles. That gambit failed, but arms control gathered force through the '80s, as Nitze had hoped. His trump card was Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" missile defense program, which had been created partly in response to Nitze's warnings about American vulnerability to Soviet attack. Nitze used Star Wars as leverage to help negotiate the breakthrough arms control agreement that Reagan concluded with Mikhail Gorbachev.


In 1986, reflecting on the Soviet Union, which was to disintegrate five years later, Mr. Nitze said negotiating with the Soviets was like working with a defective vending machine. "You put your quarter in, but you don't get anything out," he said. "You can shake it. You can talk to it. But you know it won't do any good. It just won't talk back to you."
posted by matteo at 11:27 AM on October 22, 2004

not to mention, Nitze never became Secretary of State. Nor Secretary of Defense.
He waged that kind of influence "just" as vice chairman of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey (1944-1946), Head of policy planning for the State Dept. (1950-1953), Secretary of the Navy (1963-1967), Deputy Secretary of Defense (1967-1969), Member of the U.S. delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) (1969-1973), Assistant Secretary of Defense for international affairs (1973-1976).
Talk about real influence.
posted by matteo at 11:31 AM on October 22, 2004

A little gem:

Paul Nitze's legacy: for a new world - Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz - Transcript
posted by matteo at 11:35 AM on October 22, 2004

I might take issue with some of the policies Nitze instituted, but his efforts look eminently sane compared to some more recent policies.
posted by troutfishing at 11:40 AM on October 22, 2004


Some of his colleagues said that Nitze was so embittered at being excluded from the Carter Administration that he could not assess the treaty dispassionately. Although an early supporter of Carter, Nitze, according to his account, chose not to serve in his administration, in part because Carter’s wife Roslyn “indicated that she had a private word from God, who worked for peace with the Soviets”. He added: “I didn’t think the President or his wife should tell me what to think on the grounds that they had a private channel to God. It seemed to me to be unfair competition.” (see main link)
posted by matteo at 11:50 AM on October 22, 2004

Matteo - great link and great George Kennan reference. Are there any modern equivalents to these guys? How many people would (or would be allowed) to work for more than one administration anymore?
posted by TomSophieIvy at 9:33 PM on October 22, 2004

Much of the Washington establishment paid its final respects on Saturday at the National Cathedral to Paul Nitze, the arms control negotiator and diplomat, who was remembered by his son Peter for his understanding that "the best of human endeavors represent the art of the possible, not the perfect."

Nitze, who helped negotiate several arms control treaties with the Soviet Union and helped shape American national security policy throughout the Cold War, died Tuesday at the age of 97.

In a sign of the breadth and longevity of his career -- he served under presidents from Roosevelt to Reagan -- the mourners included people who have held jobs he once held, including deputy secretary of defense and secretary of the Navy.

Although Nitze was by and large a Democrat, his funeral drew a bipartisan gathering. Seated in the first pew were Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, and Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary.

Among the ushers was R. James Woolsey, a longtime acolyte of Nitze's and a former director of central intelligence.

Among the mourners were diplomats and ambassadors from several countries.

Nitze was part of a group of tough-minded intellectuals who, in the phrase of Dean Acheson, onetime secretary of state, were "present at the creation" of the postwar world.

But as C. Boyden Gray, the former White House counsel, said in the crisp bright air outside the cathedral after the service, Nitze was "the last" of that generation.

"Who knows who's going to be the next Paul Nitze?" Gray asked. "There isn't anybody right at the moment who really represents for our generation what he did for his."
When Nitze died, all the ships in the American fleet lowered their flags to half-mast.

posted by matteo at 9:43 AM on October 24, 2004

« Older Bigfoot Field Researchers' Organisation   |   rat brain in a jar Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments