Paul H. Nitze, shaper of U.S. Cold War policy, dies at 97

In public service 60 years, helped frame containment

October 21, 2004|By Claudia Luther | Claudia Luther,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Paul H. Nitze, who played a pivotal role in shaping U.S. foreign and arms control strategy from the 1940s through the end of the Cold War, has died. He was 97. Nitze died Tuesday night at his home in Washington, D.C., according to his son, William. Nitze first entered public service in Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency and retired six decades later at the start of the first Bush administration. He was among a small group of patricians, including Dean Acheson and George F. Kennan, who influenced nearly every major national security decision from World War II through the Vietnam War.

It was Nitze who drafted a document that first laid out the military framework for containing the Soviets, which put in place the Cold War strategy in effect until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989 and the arms race finally subsided.

Nitze's list of accomplishments includes helping to assess the effects of bombing during World War II, including the atomic bombs used on Japan, and helping to formulate the Marshall Plan that rescued post-war Europe from economic devastation.

In 1960, Nitze was brought on board by John F. Kennedy, first as an adviser to the Democratic presidential candidate on national defense and later as a member of the small group of strategists who counseled JFK during the Cuban missile crisis.

In the Nixon administration, Nitze played a key role in negotiating the SALT I antiballistic missile treaty.

And during the Reagan administration, Nitze's "walk in the woods" with Soviet negotiator Yuli Kvitsinsky became one of the most legendary (if failed) negotiations of the Cold War, inspiring a Broadway play by the same name.

Nitze was among the few policymakers who recognized that the first step after World War II must be to restore prosperity and economic health to Europe. They devised the rescue plan named for Secretary of State George C. Marshall.

It was during the immediate post-war period that Nitze began to fear that western weakness would lead to the dominance of a World War II ally that some were beginning to feel could quickly turn into an enemy: Stalin's Soviet Union. From then on, as Nitze biographer Strobe Talbott wrote, "Much of his life has been a Paul Revere's ride to alert America that the Russians are coming."

While at first reluctant to believe Nitze's apocalyptic view, soon President Harry S. Truman and Congress were on board, and the arms race was on. In a short time, the U.S. defense budget quadrupled.

A few years later, Nitze wrote a report that outlined major gaps - first in bombers and later in missiles - in America's defenses.

The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington was co-founded in 1943 by Nitze and now bears his name. In 1957, he conceived the idea of attaching a "think tank" to the school, which is now called the Johns Hopkins Foreign Policy Institute. At the school's annual banquet last week, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell spoke in tribute to Nitze's long government service.

In 1985, Reagan awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

Nitze is survived by his wife, Leezee Porter; four children; 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

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