William Watts, political analyst, dies at 83

October 19, 2013
William Watts
political analyst

William Watts, a political analyst who specialized in U.S. and Asian foreign policy and who in 1970 resigned from the National Security Council over the planned U.S. invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War, died Sept. 23 at his home in Cuernavaca, Mexico. He was 83.

The cause was congestive heart failure, said his daughter Heidi Mayor.

A former Air Force intelligence officer, Mr. Watts served in the Foreign Service from 1956 to 1965 as a specialist in Chinese and Soviet affairs. He served under New York Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller (R) in the late 1960s as director of the state’s new Office for Urban Innovation.

Starting in 1969, Mr. Watts spent about 18 months as staff secretary of President Richard M. Nixon’s National Security Council before resigning — along with other leading members of the council, including Anthony Lake and Roger Morris — to protest planned military operations in Cambodia.

Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, moved ahead with the incursion “against the overwhelming judgment of their own experts,” New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis wrote.

Lewis reported that Kissinger shouted at Mr. Watts, “Your views represent the cowardice of the eastern establishment.”

Mr. Watts began immediately drafting his resignation letter when he reportedly was approached by a Kissinger ally, Alexander M. Haig Jr.

“You have an order from your commander in chief,” Haig told the staff secretary. “You can’t refuse it.”

“Oh, yes, I can,” Mr. Watts replied, “and I have.”

Mr. Watts then began Potomac Associates, a nonpartisan political analysis group. His books included “The United States and Japan: Eyes Across the Pacific” (1982) and “Japan, Korea and China: American Perceptions and Policies” (1979).

William Watts was a New York native and served in Air Force intelligence from 1951 to 1955 in West Germany. He was a 1953 Russian studies graduate of Syracuse University in upstate New York and received a master’s degree in Russian regional studies from Harvard University in 1956.

He moved to Cuernavaca from Washington in 2009.

His first marriage, to Harriet Mayor, ended in divorce. His second wife, Eve Watts, whom he married in 1980, died in 1992. He was then married to Nancy Stackton Pierce from 1996 until her death in 2012.

Survivors include three children from his first marriage, Evelyn “Evie” Watts of Auckland, New Zealand, and Durham, N.C., Shelby Funk of Athens, Ga., and Heidi Mayor of Brentwood; six stepchildren, Obadiah Butterworth of Oakland, Calif., John Underwood of Koloa, Hawaii, Katherine Underwood of Montclair, N.J., Reed Underwood of Washington, Maylen Pierce of Oldwick, N.J., and Morgan Pierce of Dublin; one brother; and two grandchildren.

— Samatha Hogan

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