Sonnenfeldt, Helmut

views updated


SONNENFELDT, HELMUT (1926– ), political adviser and scholar. Born in Berlin, Sonnenfeldt fled Nazi Germany with his family, settling in the United States in 1944. He was educated at Johns Hopkins University, earning his bachelor's degree in 1950 and his master's degree in 1951.

Sonnenfeldt joined the U.S. Department of State in 1952, becoming director of the Office of Research on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, a position he held until 1969. That year he was appointed as a National Security Council aide on Soviet affairs, working under Henry Kissinger, who was President Richard Nixon's national security adviser. Sonnenfeldt's close relationship with Kissinger, as well as their agreement in foreign policy matters, led to his inclusion in Kissinger's wide-ranging diplomatic ventures, including the early initiatives toward normalization of relations with China and the extensive negotiations leading to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.

Following Kissinger's appointment as secretary of state in 1973, Sonnenfeldt returned to the State Department, holding the position of counselor from 1974 to 1977. An expert political analyst, Sonnenfeldt also had a reputation as an anti-Communist. His departure from the department in 1977 was purportedly driven by a misunderstanding over remarks about the Soviet Union.

Sonnenfeldt continued his career as a consultant and political analyst, writing and lecturing on international issues. He became a visiting scholar at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. In 1978 he was named a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, a position he still held in 2006. In 1988 and 1989 he served as a member of the executive committee of the International Institute of Strategic Studies. He wrote and lectured extensively on Asian-Pacific affairs, national security, U.S.-European relations, and executive and congressional relations. His works include Soviet Politics in the 1980s (1985), Soviet Perspectives on Security (with William Hyland, 1979), and Soviet Style in International Politics (1985). He contributed numerous articles to academic journals.

Sonnenfeldt serves as a trustee of Johns Hopkins University and was a member of the Executive Panel of the Chief of Naval Operations. He was director of the Atlantic Council of the United States and was a member of the advisory council of numerous organizations, including the Balkan Action Committee, the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, and the World Affairs Council.

[Dorothy Bauhoff (2nd ed.)]