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Paul Henry Nitze, 1907-2004

Architect of Cold War Had Role in Ending It

By Don Oberdorfer and Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 21, 2004; Page A01

Paul Henry Nitze, author of the basic U.S. strategy against the Soviet Union at the start of the Cold War and later a key negotiator of U.S.-Soviet arms accords that helped dismantle the global conflict, died of pneumonia Tuesday at his home in Georgetown. He was 97.

Nitze, whose senior government posts spanned nearly a half-century and eight presidents, from World War II to the end of the Reagan administration, was nearly without parallel for the breadth and depth of his experience in world affairs.


Paul Nitze, right, with Henry Kissinger, was honored at an Aspen Institute conference this year. A Navy destroyer was named for him in April. (Rebecca D'angelo For The Washington Post)

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He helped devise U.S. economic warfare policy in World War II, was a major figure in initiating the Marshall Plan to rehabilitate postwar Europe and in the decision to build a hydrogen bomb, advised President John F. Kennedy in the Berlin and Cuban missile crises and had a hand in U.S. military policy in the Vietnam War.

Nitze helped rein in the nuclear arms race through negotiations with the Soviet Union. He assisted in negotiating four major arms control treaties with the Soviets in the 1970s and 1980s and was among the leaders of a campaign to reject the SALT II arms control treaty.

An intense, wealthy and well-connected figure who enjoyed operating behind the scenes, Nitze never achieved a Cabinet position, partly because of his prickly personality. He was part of the old Washington establishment, steeped in a Yankee background, educated in elite schools and patrician in his bearing. "My body does what I tell it to do," he once informed a tennis partner, notwithstanding that he was past retirement age. Despite his dominating persona, he was an intellectual egalitarian and hired proteges who would intellectually challenge him.

Nitze was best known for two prominent and contrasting episodes in his long career.

In 1950, he wrote NSC 68, the official National Security Council blueprint for American strategy in the Cold War, which called for "a rapid and sustained buildup of the political, economic and military strength of the free world" to combat the power of the Soviet Union. Nitze, then chief of policy planning at the State Department, wrote that such an unprecedented peacetime mobilization was required "to wrest the initiative from the Soviet Union [and] confront it with convincing evidence of the determination and ability of the free world to frustrate the Kremlin design of a world dominated by its will."

The second celebrated episode was Nitze's attempt -- which he initiated -- to break the deadlock over intermediate-range missiles in Europe in mid-1982 during a "walk in the woods" near Geneva with his negotiating counterpart, Soviet Ambassador Yuli Kvitsinsky. When Nitze's unauthorized compromise became known in Washington, it touched off a fierce protest by conservatives leading to its rejection by President Ronald Reagan, even as Moscow also rejected it.

Nevertheless, the bold effort by an establishment conservative in an out-of-channels initiative with the Soviet Union captured the imagination of politicians and the public. Nitze's exploit became the subject of many articles and speeches and a play that won the American Theatre Critics' drama award in 1988.

Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who relied extensively on Nitze's advice in arms negotiations with Moscow, called Nitze the finest public servant he had ever known. In his 1993 memoir, "Turmoil and Triumph," Shultz described his former aide as an almost legendary statesman who was "a walking history of the Cold War" because of his involvement in nearly every major decision of the confrontation.

Soviet negotiators, who knew Nitze and his record well, treated him with deference in the negotiations of the late 1980s and referred to him respectfully in private as "the old man." At the Reykjavik, Iceland, summit of 1986, Nitze was paired with another trim, white-haired figure of great prestige, Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, then chief of staff of the Soviet armed forces, in an all-night bargaining session that made unexpected gains. The session paved the way for the first substantial arms reduction agreements of the Cold War.

Such was Nitze's impact that a Navy destroyer was named for him in April, only the eighth time in Navy history a warship was named for a living person. Journalist and author Strobe Talbott said at an Aspen Institute conference honoring Nitze that the ship, like the man, "is lean, it is fast, it's adroit, it's got by far the smartest electronics . . . and even the weapons that it has on board are an exquisite combination of offensive and defensive."

Nitze's outspokenness and his notable shifts of position on arms control issues prompted criticism from both liberals and conservatives domestically. Although he participated in negotiations aimed at achieving the strategic arms accord in the Nixon administration, Nitze led a campaign against the eventual SALT II agreement while out of government during the Carter administration. He bitterly opposed the nomination of Paul C. Warnke, a former colleague, to be Carter's chief arms negotiator, testifying that Warnke's views were "demonstrably unsound," "asinine" and a "screwball, arbitrary, fictitious kind of viewpoint that is not going to help the security of this country." Warnke, also a statesman of stature for many years, got the job over Nitze's objections.

Such activities led Talbott to write in "The Master of the Game," his 1988 biography of Nitze, that "when outside the government, he was part of the problem afflicting arms control, an implacable obstructionist and sometimes even a character assassin of those who were trying to advance the process. When inside the government, he tended to be part of the solution -- a dogged negotiator, an innovative deal maker, a bold infighter, a trusted counselor."

Internal disputes over the Strategic Defense Initiative illustrated Nitze's ability to formulate clear and relatively simple statements of policy about highly complex questions. Nitze's one-paragraph formulation of the desirable relationship between offensive and defensive arms was enshrined as the centerpiece of Reagan's 16 pages of secret instructions to Shultz on the occasion of the resumption of U.S.-Soviet arms bargaining in January 1985.

Nitze was born in Amherst, Mass., on Jan. 16, 1907, the son of a college professor of Romance languages. After graduating from Harvard University, Nitze and a friend, on a dare, canoed from Boston to New York. The young graduate then went to work on Wall Street on the eve of the Great Depression.

Because of good fortune in business and his marriage to Phyllis Pratt, an heiress to the Standard Oil fortune, Nitze became wealthy at an early age. Fascinated by world affairs, he devoted himself primarily to public service from the time he first came to Washington in 1940 at the invitation of his close friend, James V. Forrestal, later the first secretary of defense.

In 1943, Nitze and his relative by marriage, Christian Herter, then a congressman from Massachusetts and later secretary of state, founded the School of Advanced International Studies in Dupont Circle, which in 1950 became affiliated with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. In 1989, Johns Hopkins renamed it the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Nitze maintained his office there as diplomat-in-residence from his retirement from government in 1989 until his death.

During World War II, Nitze was a senior official of the Board of Economic Warfare, which was charged with obtaining and allocating war-related resources. Near the end of the war, Nitze became vice chairman of the Strategic Bombing Survey, which studied the impact of the air war against Germany and Japan, including the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Nitze joined the State Department in 1946 and took part in the planning and implementation of the Marshall Plan for European recovery. In 1950, he succeeded George F. Kennan -- the State Department's "wise man" and chief architect of the containment policy -- as director of the policy planning staff. He was a participant in the decision to build the hydrogen bomb and helped design the U.S. position in the Korean armistice negotiations and policy in Iran.

Nitze left government early in the Eisenhower administration but was brought back by Kennedy to be chief of the International Security Affairs office of the Defense Department, often known as the Pentagon's State Department. In that job, Nitze was deeply involved in the 1961 Berlin crisis and other famous episodes.

In his 1989 memoir, "From Hiroshima to Glasnost," Nitze revealed that he suggested at the height of the Berlin crisis that Kennedy consider a strategic nuclear strike against the Soviet Union to forestall a similar Soviet attack. Nitze wrote that in retrospect, the Berlin confrontation of 1961 posed an even greater danger of nuclear war than the more-celebrated Cuban Missile Crisis the following year, when Nitze was part of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council that met daily with Kennedy.

As secretary of the Navy and later deputy secretary of defense in the Johnson administration, Nitze organized the defense of the Pentagon against Vietnam War protesters, participated in bombing strategy in Vietnam and eventually advocated a unilateral bombing halt and a move toward negotiations.

President Richard M. Nixon recruited Nitze as a member of his strategic arms negotiating team with the Soviet Union in 1969. Nitze was among the negotiators of the 1972 SALT I offensive arms accord and the companion Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty on defensive arms. He was an early member of the SALT II negotiating team but resigned in the summer of 1974, shortly before Nixon's resignation.

In 1976, the final year of the Ford administration, Nitze was an influential member of Team B, a controversial group of outsiders who reassessed U.S. intelligence data and concluded that there was a sharply growing danger to the United States from a Soviet drive for nuclear superiority. Many scholars have since disputed its accuracy.

Nitze was an important organizer and member of the Committee on the Present Danger, a group of hard-liners who lobbied against the Carter administration's arms control policies. This put him at odds with a number of friends and former colleagues who were the authors of those policies. Nitze was a Democrat who was never partisan.

Shortly after leaving government in 1989, he was severely injured when a horse fell on him at his farm in Bel Alton, breaking his pelvis and leg. He recovered, but in 1993 colon cancer was diagnosed and he had a heart attack.

He told a Washington Post reporter in 1994 that he had a personal trainer and a wife who took him dancing at the River Club between their extremely active social engagements. Friends called him physically robust until recently and intellectually active.

In the 1940s, Nitze built the first ski lift on Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, Colo., charging a nickel for a ride in an old fishing boat attached to a smelly and unreliable motorized winch, his grandson recalled at the Aspen Institute event. With his sister Elizabeth Paepcke and brother-in-law, Nitze then put together the financing for Aspen Skiing Corp., which founded the winter resort. He was chairman and the largest shareholder until he negotiated a sale of the company to 20th Century Fox in 1978.

He was a trustee of St. Mary's College of Maryland from 1985 to 1996 and was described by President Jane Margaret O'Brien as "instrumental in raising St. Mary's academic profile to a national level."

In 1985, Reagan awarded Nitze the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.

Nitze's wife of 55 years, Phyllis Nitze, died after a long bout with emphysema in 1987.

Survivors include his wife of 11 years, Elisabeth "Leezee" Scott Porter of Washington; four children from his first marriage, Peter Nitze of New York, William Nitze of Washington, Anina Nitze Moriarty of Boston and Heidi Nitze of New York; a stepdaughter, Erin Porter of Salt Spring Island, B.C., Canada; 11 grandchildren; three stepgrandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.


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