Friday, October 22, 2004

The New York Times > Washington > Paul Nitze, Cold War Strategist, Dies at 97

The New York Times > Washington > Paul Nitze, Cold War Strategist, Dies at 97: "Paul Nitze, Cold War Strategist, Dies at 97

Published: October 20, 2004
Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press
Paul H. Nitze's long career in government began in 1940 with a telegram from a White House official that said, "Be in Washington Monday, Forrestal." He stayed there until the end.

Paul H. Nitze, an expert on military power and strategic arms whose roles as negotiator, diplomat and Washington insider spanned the era from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan and helped shape America's cold war relationship with the Soviet Union, died Tuesday night at his home in Washington. He was 97.

The cause was pneumonia, his wife, Elisabeth Scott Porter, said.

From the beginning of the nuclear age, whether in government or out, Mr. Nitze urged successive American presidents to take measures against what he saw as the Soviet drive to overwhelm the United States through the force of arms. Yet he may be best remembered for his conciliatory role in efforts to achieve two major arms agreements with the Soviet Union.

In one, he was successful in negotiating an agreement that would eliminate intermediate-range missiles from Europe. In the other, he hoped to cap his long career with a so-called "grand compromise" in 1988 that would have severely circumscribed work on President Reagan's cherished Strategic Defense Initiative in exchange for deep cuts in the nuclear arsenals of both superpowers. His efforts foundered when the negotiators ran out of time as the Reagan administration came to an end.

In a now legendary moment of the cold war, Mr. Nitze undertook a bold, but unsuccessful personal effort to achieve an earlier arms agreement with the Russians. In 1982, acting on his own and superseding his instructions, Mr. Nitze took a walk with his Soviet counterpart in the Jura Mountains, where he tried to strike a bargain on a package dealing with intermediate-range missiles in Europe.

In that episode, which became known as the "walk in the woods," Mr. Nitze tried to cut through the bureaucratic tangle but was thwarted when both Moscow and Washington repudiated the agreement.

Mr. Nitze refused an appointment in the first Bush administration as ambassador-at-large emeritus saying that such a post would leave him with no clear responsibilities. He retired to an office at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University — a school that was named for him in 1989 — where he continued to write articles in a continuing attempt to influence policy.

With that, his long career in government came to an end, a career that began in 1940 with a telegram that said, "Be in Washington Monday, Forrestal." The summons from James V. Forrestal, then a special assistant at the White House, lured Mr. Nitze from the lucrative confines of Wall Street to the first of many assignments in government that involved him in the supply of the Allies for the war effort, a survey of the impact of the bombing in Europe and in Japan after the atomic raids on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the feeding of the hungry of war-ravaged Europe, the creation of the Marshall Plan and crises in Iran and Berlin.

In the aftermath of World War II, Mr. Nitze became part of that remarkable group of public servants — George F. Kennan, Charles E. Bohlen, Robert A. Lovett, John J. McCloy — that coalesced around Dean Acheson to develop foreign political and military policy as the United States took its place as a major world power.

He was a senior State Department official, and later a secretary of the Navy and deputy secretary of defense. By the time he became one of the chief negotiators on strategic weapons, Mr. Nitze had accumulated more experience in the field of national security affairs than anyone of his time, to the point that his critics began to think he believed he had a monopoly on understanding the political uses of nuclear weapons.

Ever since 1950, when as head of the policy planning staff of the State Department he was principal author of a study on the Soviet threat, Mr. Nitze took a dark view of Soviet intentions, seeing in the Kremlin a drive for world hegemony.

That study — known as N.S.C.-68 — which conceived of deterrence in military rather than diplomatic terms — warned against sole reliance on the nuclear deterrent and urged a buildup of conventional forces. Its precepts became a cornerstone of American policy. In succeeding years, when the American nuclear monopoly was broken, Mr. Nitze warned regularly that the Soviet Union was trying to achieve preponderant nuclear strength as a tool of blackmail, or, in the worst case, to win an all-out war.

Later, when Mr. Nitze took his walk in the woods near Geneva to work out an arms deal, he confounded his critics, who considered him too hard-line because of his pessimistic views of the Russians."