HALF A CENTURY ago, as the United States grappled with how to fight and win a global war of a kind it had never before experienced, the chief of policy planning at the State Department produced a paper laying out a blueprint that would guide American policy for decades. Paul H. Nitze argued that only a multifaceted and global effort would succeed in containing the expansionist Soviet Union: He called for "a rapid and sustained buildup of the political, economic and military strength of the free world."
Mr. Nitze, who died Tuesday at his home in Georgetown at the age of 97, defined and was defined by the Cold War he did so much to fight and win. He was a farsighted architect of U.S. strategy but also a policymaker who helped to launch the Marshall Plan in Europe and steer presidents through the Berlin and Cuban missile crises and the Vietnam War. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a central protagonist of arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union that led to four major treaties. Former secretary of state George P. Shultz called him "a walking history of the Cold War."
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Mr. Nitze may be best known by some for a particularly daring act of diplomacy: the 1982 "walk in the woods" near Geneva with his Soviet counterpart that yielded a concept for defusing a confrontation over intermediate-range missiles in Europe. Although the initiative ultimately didn't succeed, it was typical of Mr. Nitze's innovative and independent thinking, which over the years led him from the Democratic Party to the beginnings of the neo- conservative movement and back again. He argued forcefully both for and against arms control agreements and advised both Republican and Democratic presidents, from Truman to Reagan.
Mr. Nitze never stopped thinking. After he left government for an office at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, which he helped found and which is now named for him, he continued to write about strategies for the United States in the post-Cold War world. In 1990, 40 years after he fashioned America's Cold War doctrine, Mr. Nitze published an article on the facing page arguing that "the central theme of U.S. policy should be the accommodation and protection of diversity" in a world no longer divided between blocs. International institutions such as the United Nations and NATO were needed, he said, but were not enough: "The United States, with first-class military potential, inherent political, economic and cultural strengths and no territorial ambitions," was required to "play a unique role." Once again, this brilliant and dedicated public servant was ahead of his time.