Nitze, Paul H(enry) 1907-2004

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NITZE, Paul H(enry) 1907-2004

OBITUARY NOTICE— See index for CA sketch: Born January 16, 1907, in Amherst, MA; died of pneumonia October 19, 2004, in Washington, DC. Statesman and author. Though he never held an elected office, Nitze was a hugely influential government insider who had a large part in major policy decisions made by the U.S. government during the cold war. A 1928 graduate of Harvard University, he initially came to prominence as a businessman who married into the Standard Oil fortune. He joined the investment banking firm Dillon, Read & Co. in 1929 and rose to the vice presidency in 1939; he was also president of P. H. Nitze & Co. from 1938 to 1939. Nitze's interests eventually turned to politics, and his initial work in the area concerned finance. He was financial director of the Office of Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs in 1941 and 1942, followed by a year as chief of metals and minerals for the Board of Economic Welfare, where he was director and became vice chair of the Strategic Bombing Survey following World War II. Nitze also became involved in international policy, and in 1943 cofounded the School of Advanced International Studies—later renamed the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies—with future secretary of state Christian Herter. The next year, he entered the U.S. State Department as deputy directory of the Office of International Trade Policy. While in the State Department, Nitze was involved in the Marshall Plan, which was designed to help reconstruct Europe after the war. By the early 1950s, he was the director of policy planning, and in this capacity influenced the government's decision to build the first hydrogen bomb during the Korean conflict. Significantly, he was an author of the NSC-68, the document that laid down the official National Security Council policy of an arms buildup to deter the political ambitions of the Soviet Union. He later wrote about this important document in his 1994 book, NSC-68: Forging the Strategy of Containment. Temporarily leaving government behind in 1953, he spent the remainder of the 1950s as president of the Foreign Service Education Foundation. President John F. Kennedy brought Nitze back to Washington politics in 1961 as assistant secretary for international security affairs. It was a period of the cold war that included two looming crises: the building of the Berlin Wall and the Cuban missile crisis. Nitze, a close advisor to Kennedy at this time, argued that the United States should defend itself from a position of strength. He continued to advise U.S. presidents during the Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon administrations, first as secretary of the navy and then as deputy secretary of defense, and had a great impact on U.S. policy during the Vietnam War. In 1969, as a representative to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), Nitze began to switch tactics, working toward agreements with the Soviet Union on limiting arms. He continued to work on these negotiations during the SALT II talks as well, but resigned from his post in 1974. As a Beltway outsider, Nitze continued to perceive the Soviet Union as a nuclear threat. He joined what was known as Team B, a group that criticized President Jimmy Carter's nuclear arms policies; he was also a member of the Committee on the Present Danger from 1978 to 1981. Nitze was known to try to exceed his authority, which he did most famously in 1982, when he tried to strike an arms deal with Soviet Ambassador Yuli Kvitsinsky without consulting the president. Both Washington and Moscow rejected the agreement, and the secret meeting became the subject of Lee Blessing's play A Walk in the Woods. From 1984 until 1989, Nitze took on the role of special advisor on arms-control matters to the secretary of state and president during the Ronald Reagan years. As such, he was involved in Reagan's negotiations with the Soviet Union, including the meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, that focused on midrange nuclear weapons. For his assistance to his country, Reagan awarded Nitze the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1985. Over the years, Nitze received other honors, as well, including the Medal of Merit from President Harry Truman in 1945, the Knight Commander's Cross of Order of Merit from Germany in 1985, the Order of Merit from Italy in 1988, and the Gold Medal Award from the National Institute of Social Sciences in 1989. His most recent honor came in 2004, when a U.S. Navy destroyer was named after him. After retiring from government work in 1989, Nitze accepted a position as diplomat-in-residence at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, which is now associated with Johns Hopkins University. He authored several books, including Political Aspects of a National Strategy (1960), Paul H. Nitze on Foreign Policy (1989), and Tension between Opposites: Reflection on the Practice and Theory of Politics (1993). In 1989 he also published his autobiography, From Hiroshima to Glasnost: At the Center of Decision—A Memoir.



Nitze, Paul H., Ann M. Smith, and Steven L. Rearden, From Hiroshima to Glasnost: At the Center ofDecision—A Memoir, Grove Weidenfeld (New York, NY), 1989.


Chicago Tribune, October 21, 2004, section 3, p. 9.

Los Angeles Times, October 21, 2004, p. B10.

New York Times, October 21, 2004, p. A25.

Times (London, England), October 22, 2004, p. 68.

Washington Post, October 21, 2004, pp. A1, A18.