Johns Hopkins Magazine -- April 2000
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APRIL 2000


The man who took the famous "walk in the woods" is still being tapped as one of the "Beltway wise men."
Opening photo:
Nitze: outsmarting
the enemy

Photo courtesy Ferdinand Hamburger Jr. Archives
APRIL 2000
Pioneers of Advocacy

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Not Just a Cold Warrior
By Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson

Paul H. Nitze's first lesson in pragmatic diplomacy came around age 7. As a boy on Chicago's South Side, he was beaten up daily by a gang. His transgression: wearing a Buster Brown suit to school as his mother had insisted.

Nitze, shrewdly evaluating the urban juvenile political landscape, resolved the dilemma by joining the rival Scotti brothers' gang, whose leader was powerful and protective. He was hassled no more. "Thereafter I was able to live in relative peace in that part of Chicago's jungle," Nitze wrote in his 1989 memoir, From Hiroshima to Glasnost: At the Center of Decision.

Always one to outsmart an enemy, Paul Nitze has stood in the strategic spotlight at pivotal moments in American foreign affairs. In more than 50 years of government service, he has advised presidents from Roosevelt to Reagan, and is still tapped as one of the "Beltway wise men" by the Clinton administration.

Few men approach his résumé. In the early 1980s in Geneva, Nitze took the famous "walk in the woods" with a Soviet negotiator that eventually led to the elimination of Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) missiles. He was a primary shaper of U.S. Cold War policy geared toward containment of the Soviet Union. He advised President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And he played key roles in the creation of the post-war Marshall Plan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Nitze has also been a legendary guiding light for Hopkins's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), the graduate school he helped found in 1943 and which was named for him in 1989. Among other roles, he has served as a primary donor, chair of the advisory council, lecturer, and mentor. At age 93, when he still appears in black gown under hot klieg lights at three-hour commencement ceremonies, he is mobbed by students who want to hear him speak about his moments in history and his views on the future.

Assertive, hard-nosed, and possessing a keen intellect, Nitze is also a bit humble, despising the monicker "The Master of the Game" given him by Time correspondent Strobe Talbott in his 1988 book by that title that chronicled Nitze's Cold War contributions. When SAIS was named for him a year later, Nitze told attendees at a banquet at the Mayflower Hotel that he thought the idea was "odd" at first. He came around. "But now I'm all for the Paul H. Nitze school," he said.

The idea for creating SAIS--an international graduate school that would serve the business and public sectors--was explored over a leisurely breakfast at the Georgetown house Nitze shared briefly in the 1940s with Congressman Christian A. Herter, according to Tammi L. Gutner's (SAIS '85) The Story of SAIS. Herter would later become governor of Massachusetts and U.S. secretary of state under Dwight D. Eisenhower. Both men also worked in the corporate world.

Herter asked Nitze's thoughts on his idea to launch a graduate school geared toward an applied program in international studies. Nitze saw the potential to tap diplomatic and economic expertise gained in World War II before it dissipated in an isolationist America. In 1950, under Herter's leadership, SAIS became part of Hopkins, which provided needed funding and academic support.

Nitze and Herter "advocated involvement [in world affairs] at a time when it was not clear where the country was going," says James McCall (SAIS '92), a former Nitze student and later a senior aide. "That has continued to be part of [Nitze's] important thumbprint at SAIS."

Over the years, Nitze and Herter alternated leadership roles at the Washington-based school. During the ensuing decades, Nitze also served as secretary of the Navy, deputy secretary of defense, and, under Reagan, special advisor on arms control and ambassador-at-large. Yet various administrations snubbed the savvy strategist for senior Cabinet positions partly because Nitze did not fit neatly in any political category.

Nitze switched political parties twice (he has been a Democrat since the early 1950s). He has been called a hawk by the doves, and a dove by the hawks, for first advocating the proliferation of nuclear arms as a deterrent, and later agitating for the elimination of such weapons in the 21st century.

"He saw the Soviet Union as a clear and present danger," says Stephen F. Szabo, SAIS associate dean for academic affairs. "His strategy basically worked. The Soviet Union did collapse in a peaceful way. Now he has gone beyond that. He talks about a nuclear-free world, about countries giving up their weapons. He is not a Cold War stereotype at all."