For more than forty years, ever since the end of World War II, Paul Nitze has been prominent in national and international affairs. Mr. Talbott quotes him as saying that he had “advised every President since Franklin Roosevelt,” all of whom had to some extent “sought and taken that advice.”1 Starting out as a registered Republican, he switched to the Democratic party after serving under Truman. He was given important posts in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, as he was in those of Nixon and Reagan. There were also occasions when some political office that he wanted slipped from his grasp because of opposition that he had engendered in congressional quarters, sometimes to his right, sometimes to his left, or because those who would have liked to appoint him feared that he would prove a troublesome teammate. “When excluded from power,” Strobe Talbott writes, “he tended to be not just a critic of the incumbent administration but a savage, sometimes even seemingly vengeful opponent…with a passion that sometimes carried him to extremes of ad hominem ferocity.” The Russians and, we are told, some of his colleagues dubbed him “the silver fox” of the negotiating table. In the annals of East–West diplomacy Nitze will be remembered as what Strobe Talbott calls “the grey eminence of nuclear diplomacy,” as the silver fox who walked with his Russian counterpart in the woods.

Nitze began his Washington career in 1940 in a succession of posts that were concerned with the mobilization of resources for the war that had engulfed Europe, and for which the experience he had gained on Wall Street as an investment banker was particularly relevant. He was well-to-do, he had powerful friends and was already known as a forceful operator. In 1944, three years after his appearance on the Washington scene, he was invited to become a member of the board of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey—USSBS for short—an organization that was being set up to study the results of World War II’s strategic bombing. Franklin D’Olier, president of an insurance company and a man close on seventy, had been appointed as its chairman. According to David MacIsaac, the historian of USSBS, Nitze was selected because of his “keen analytical abilities,” and of his reputation as an “aggressive, energetic executive with a knack for getting things done in a hurry.”2 Another board member was George Ball, who, in contrast to Nitze, is described as a “quiet, thoughtful man.” A third member was the Harvard economist J.K. Galbraith. USSBS was Nitze’s introduction to the facts of war as seen on the ground. Although the point does not come out as sharply in Mr. Talbott’s book as it might have done, in retrospect it can be seen that USSBS was a major turning point in Nitze’s life.

The organization had been set up at the instigation of a group of senior Air Force commanders for a variety of reasons, including the hope that an affirmative answer would be provided to the question whether air power alone could be decisive in war.3 Starting in November of 1944, and in accordance with a strict timetable, Mr. D’Olier and his colleagues spent only five months in recruiting and briefing a staff of more than a thousand men and women, including three hundred civilians with diverse specialist qualifications—among them Adlai Stevenson and W.H. Auden. The organization then got to work in the field. In the following three to four months it made a survey of the physical destruction that Germany had suffered, and also competed with other intelligence agencies as the country was scoured in search of documents that could provide relevant information, and of officials, industrialists, and military men who could be interrogated.

It was an exciting time. In his auto-biography, George Ball tells how he learned that Albert Speer, Hitler’s minister for armaments, was a member of a small group that Admiral Doenitz had gathered around him in Flensburg in Schleswig-Holstein to form a caretaker government after Hitler’s death. All became prisoners of war, but not before Ball, Nitze, and Galbraith had spent six days, five hours a day, with Speer, whom they cross-examined about the damage that the bomber offensive had done to the German economy. At the end of the last day of what Ball styled “the Flensburg Farce,” Speer, groggy with whisky, was still talking away at four-thirty in the morning.4

Their work in Germany concluded, the directors of USSBS then took no more than two months before publishing in a brief report5 the main conclusions that they were able to draw about the air war in Europe. The organization then moved on to the Pacific Theater, leaving behind a mass of only partly digested documentary material that was to prove very helpful to the corresponding British organization (of which I was scientific director) in its much more leisurely and detailed study of what the bombing had achieved.6


Nitze, now deputy chairman of USSBS, was in the party that moved on to Japan, where the organization completed its ground work in even less time than it had spent in Europe—according to MacIsaac, fewer than three months. Nitze was the main author of the summary report on the Pacific War that the survey then produced.7 He is quoted by Mr. Talbott as having said recently that everything in the report still “stands up.” “Our task was to measure precisely the physical effects and other effects as well, to put calipers on it, instead of describing it in emotive terms. I was trying to put quantitative numbers on something that was considered immeasurable.”

The report does not indicate that he succeeded. There is little in it 8 that suggests any novel mathematical approach. The few figures that are cited relate to matters such as the tonnages of bombs dropped and numbers of people killed. It is also clear that not enough time was spent by USSBS in Japan to permit an adequate assessment of what had happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Mr. Talbott quotes two passages from the report indicating that from what he had seen Nitze had come to the view that the advent of nuclear weapons did not invalidate “certain of the more basic principles and relationships” of air power—what they are or were he did not say. He also held that simple shelters could provide effective protection against atomic bombs: “A few feet of concrete, or a somewhat greater thickness of earth, furnished sufficient protection to humans, even those close to ground zero, to prevent serious after-effects from radiation.”9 Years later this belief provoked hollow laughter when T.K. Jones—later one of Nitze’s aides10—informed the American public that after an all-out nuclear onslaught, after thousands of Russian warheads had exploded over, or on, US territory, it would take the country only four years to make a full economic recovery, if only people had had the wit to dig simple air-raid shelters in their back yards. Mr. Talbott tells us that Nitze had long since built his own “atom-bomb–proof” shelter on his country estate in Maryland.

When USSBS was wound up in 1946, Nitze is said to have been among those who were considered for the office of secretary of the Air Force. Mr. Talbott believes that he was passed over because he was still registered as a Republican. However, this did not prevent him from being taken on by the State Department, where he joined the Policy Planning Staff, then under George Kennan, whom he succeeded as chairman in January 1950.

The USSR was at the time becoming increasingly menacing. It had made a forceful, but unsuccessful attempt to change Berlin’s status as the headquarters of the four occupying forces—the US, the USSR, the UK, and France. The Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia had taken place in 1948. And Stalin had started to make atom bombs. Truman had responded to this latter move by giving the go-ahead for the development of the hydrogen bomb. At the same time he directed that a review should be made of the US’s “objectives in peace and war.”

The outcome of this review was a memorandum known as NSC 68, of which Nitze is said to have been the main author, and which was delivered to the President in April of 1950. Steven Rearden, who has written an interesting monograph about Nitze’s part in the evolution of US strategic doctrine, reprints the document in full, and suggests that its forerunner should be regarded as the brief USSBS report on the Pacific air war.11 He also writes that NSC 68 is the foundation of all subsequent US security policy. Mr. Talbott refers to it as “one of the most famous interagency memos ever written,” and an “early example of what came to be known as threat inflation.”

It was certainly a powerful and elegantly drafted memorandum. It begins by strongly reinforcing the thesis that George Kennan had propounded some three years before about the need to contain Russian expansion, and goes on to say that the US cannot retreat into isolation. In order to contain the Soviet threat, the US had to take the lead for the free world, strengthening both its economy and its military forces. NSC 68, which reads as though war, and nuclear war at that, was just around the corner, ended by calling for a large-scale buildup of American nuclear and conventional forces. A national shelter policy was also recommended.

Mr. Talbott tells us that Kennan, Nitze’s mentor and friend, was appalled by the document, which he considered both as “symptomatic of the panic then sweeping the country” and of Nitze’s wish to translate everything into numbers, that is to say, into comparisons of the proportion of their gross national product that different countries spend on defense, or on the numbers of atom bombs or tanks they produced. For Nitze, writes Mr. Talbott, military force should and “could be both measured and treated as a constant.” Whether Rearden is right in regarding NSC 68 as the basis of all US postwar security policy, it was certainly a sign of Nitze’s concern that the US should be ahead in the arms race. For him, nuclear weapons existed not only to deter but, were hostilities ever to break out, to be used like any other armament. To prevail over the USSR, the US and its allies therefore needed to be numerically and qualitatively superior in all manner of arms, nuclear and conventional. That was the message of NSC 68.


Truman took no immediate action when he received the report. Only when the Korean War broke out a few months later did its recommendations become national policy. When their costs were estimated, they turned out to call for a three- to fourfold increase in defense expenditures.12

Eisenhower became president little more than a year later, and immediately applied the brakes on Truman’s ambitious program of rearmament. NSC 68 was cast aside. Nitze nonetheless hoped to be retained as head of the Policy Planning Staff. It was a vain hope. As head of the State Department, Foster Dulles—who, according to Mr. Talbott, Nitze later referred to as a “shyster lawyer”—would have none of it. A post in the Pentagon that Nitze was then ready to accept slipped from his grasp because of opposition from congressional quarters, leaving him free to attack the policies of his would-have-been colleagues. He deplored the Dulles/Eisenhower doctrine of “massive nuclear retaliation,” and turned upon Henry Kissinger, who, while also regarding the doctrine as “incredible,” lauded the introduction of nuclear weaponry into NATO’s armory as a move that conduced to a more flexible policy.13 Kissinger, according to Nitze, had not taken the issue of numbers into proper account.

Nitze also joined forces with others who had begun to criticize the Eisenhower administration for spending too little on defense. In 1957, the year of Sputnik, he became an associate member of an independent commission that was set up by Eisenhower under Rowan Gaither, then the chairman of the board of RAND, specifically to inquire into the question of civil defense. The commission’s report, also said to have been drafted by Nitze, recalled the tone and argument of NSC 68. There were, it claimed, major gaps in America’s defenses. Not only was there a bomber gap; such bombers as the US had were highly vulnerable to a Soviet nuclear first strike, a thesis that had its origins in the musings and calculations of Albert Wohlstetter, a RAND mathematician whose work had greatly impressed Nitze. There was a missile gap. There were other gaps that also needed to be filled in order to withstand the USSR when it launched itself against the US. In short, Gaither’s message was that the US had to act urgently so as to be ahead of the USSR in an arms race. Eisenhower received the report with as little enthusiasm as he had shown for the recommendations of NSC 68.

When Kennedy became president in 1961 the Defense Department under Robert McNamara soon discovered that there was no missile gap as the Gaither report had claimed. Nitze, for his part, was once again taken into government, in which he served, until the end of the Johnson presidency in 1969, in a succession of Defense Department posts. Mr. Talbott writes that in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis Nitze was one of the group of militant advisers who recommended that the President should settle the matter by means of an airstrike, followed by an invasion. According to Mr. Talbott, Nitze also regarded the Vietnam War as a sideshow that distracted attention from the US’s real adversary, the USSR. “Either we get them [the USSR] first,” Mr. Talbott reports him as saying, “or they get us first.”

McNamara believed that nuclear policy had to be subject to a new analysis. In NSC 68 Nitze had been pessimistic about the likelihood that the arms race could be curbed by way of arms-control agreements. He was convinced that the Russians would never agree to concessions far-reaching enough to persuade the US that they were ready to make major changes in their strategic aims. He did, however, help McNamara draft an important speech that explained why the effort to devise anti-ballistic missile defenses could only be destabilizing. With what Mr. Talbott calls his “logic chain” mind, Nitze apparently appreciated that any ABM system could in theory be defeated by the other side increasing the number of its offensive missiles. Consequently, control of offensive arms “would be possible only if there were ‘measures prohibiting the deployment of ABM systems.’ ” McNamara and Johnson started to put this message across to the Russians in 1967. A world of peace, of détente, could not be conceived of without nuclear stability. The two sides had to sit down and agree to a limit to the size of their ICBM arsenals, and to the extent that they would try to devise ABM systems. A strategic arms limitation treaty—SALT—was needed.

Less than two years later Nixon became president, and both he and Henry Kissinger, his national security adviser, were of the same mind. Kissinger, unlike Nitze, never believed in the idea of nuclear superiority. What do you do with superiority, he would ask, when we can already blow each other to pieces several times over. Though not a friend of Nitze’s, Kissinger decided to recruit him into the new administration, first as ambassador to Bonn, an appointment that was blocked by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which also blocked a proposal that Nitze should be given the Tokyo embassy. Negotiations for a Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty had begun in November of 1969, and almost as a last resort, Nitze accepted an invitation to serve as the Pentagon’s representative on the SALT I negotiating team. Oddly enough, and contrary to the views about the merits of ABM systems to which he had seemed committed when he was McNamara’s colleague, he had, during the short time he was in the wilderness, started to argue that an ABM system that protected silos could “enhance deterrence.” This view was based on the proposition that the Russians might be mad enough to launch a first strike at what would be only one part of the triad of the US’s retaliatory forces, leaving US sea-based and air-based forces to respond.

In his new capacity as a member of the US SALT team, Nitze, however, quickly returned to the more logical position that he had helped proclaim when he was McNamara’s colleague. He did not spare himself in helping to prepare the text of an agreement that would be acceptable to both sides. The outcome was the ABM Treaty that was signed in 1972. Nitze was, however, unhappy about the arguments concerning the problem of what constituted equivalence in offensive weapons at successive stages in the mutual process of reducing the numbers of nuclear warheads. By the end of SALT I, all that had been agreed between the two sides was that each would “freeze” the numbers of its nuclear launchers. They would leave for further negotiation such matters as the number of warheads that could be carried (the “throw-weight” problem) and the question of the independent targeting of multiple warheads (“MIRVing”).

In the ensuing SALT II talks, Nitze became more and more worried because his concern about the throw-weight of the big Russian land-based missiles did not seem to be shared. He was at odds with his colleagues, and particularly with Kissinger, who was using his position as national security adviser to bypass the US negotiating team. In June of 1974, two weeks before Nixon and Kissinger went to Moscow to meet Brezhnev, Nitze accordingly sent the President a letter resigning from the US team, at the same time issuing a fierce statement in which he said that under “existing circumstances,” apparently including the Watergate events, he saw “little prospect” of negotiating a satisfactory agreement, and “no real prospect of reversing certain unfortunate trends in the evolving situation.” Mr. Talbott writes that some time later that year Nitze, at a private party, with the SALT II negotiations evidently in mind, referred to Kissinger as a traitor to his country.

In view of the highhanded and, as Mr. Talbott describes it, offensive way in which Nitze withdrew from the negotiations and then attacked the SALT negotiators, it is not surprising that for the rest of the Nixon administration, and during Ford’s brief administration, he was restricted to sniping from the sidelines at his erstwhile teammates while they labored to secure an acceptable SALT II treaty. He allied himself to others—among them Senator Jackson and his militant aide, Richard Perle—whose battle cry was that any deal with the Russians would be bound to weaken the United States even more than they insisted the US already was. All this was happening at a time when, according to Mr. Talbott, the US was in the process of increasing the number of “critical Soviet targets” that could be destroyed by the strategic forces from a figure of 1,700 to one of 7,000.

If Talbott’s report on this period is accurate, Nitze’s concern with the numerical aspect of the arms race had become obsessive. The US had to have more of everything. In his view, the effort to establish nuclear parity was pointless unless a mathematical formula could be devised that took account of the number of MIRVed warheads in relation to the nature of their launchers—whether ground-,sea-, or air-based. It does not seem to have occured to him that if such an abstract formula were to be devised, its application would have made no sense in the real world; for however the sums came out, they would imply a number of warheads well in excess of what would constitute the kind of threat needed to maintain the state of nuclear deterrence. In Vladivostok in 1976, Ford and Brezhnev nonetheless agreed to an interim SALT II arrangement. Nitze’s voice was loud in the chorus of opposition.

It became even more strident when in the same year George Bush, President Ford’s director of the CIA, set up a committee of “independents”—the so-called B Team—to study the CIA’s contested assessment of Soviet capacities and intentions. Bush’s reason for doing this was, apparently, the hope that the examination would disarm the hard right—which included the then presidential aspirant Ronald Reagan—whose members never ceased protesting that the administration was underestimating the Russian threat. Almost inevitably, Nitze became one of the B Team’s leading figures. The outcome was a document that, in effect, restated the message of NSC 68. The USSR was still bent on the nuclear destruction of the US. It was essential that the US embark on a crash program to build up its offensive and defensive forces.

In 1976 Jimmy Carter instituted a series of preelection seminars, to one of which Nitze was invited. According to Mr. Talbott, Nitze outdid himself in his efforts to persuade the would-be president to accept his hardline views. Cyrus Vance, Talbott tells us, commented to others at the meeting that Nitze “blotted his copy-book” by “browbeating” and “haranguing” Carter. The result was not surprising. Nitze failed to get the senior appointment in the new Democratic administration to which he felt that both his years and experience entitled him. In reaction, he once again turned on those who otherwise would have been his colleagues. The Committee on the Present Danger,14 which he had helped launch after his resignation from the SALT II team, immediately became a platform from which to attack Carter’s defense and arms-control policies. Paul Warnke, whom Carter had appointed head of the State Department’s Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), could do nothing right. In 1979 Carter and Brezhnev nonetheless signed a SALT II agreement. Nitze was one of those who testified against ratification. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were in favor.

When Reagan became president in 1981, the rearmament program that he launched was much in line with what had been successively recommended in NCS 68, in the Gaither report, and in Team B’s report. Reagan, however, was not happy with the doctrine of mutual nuclear deterrence. He seems to have found it unbearable to think that there was a chance that the US could be destroyed if things were ever to go wrong. He therefore hoped that reciprocal “deep cuts” could be made in the US and USSR ICBM arsenals. Equally, he wanted to provide the US with a space-based ballistic missile defense system that would make it invulnerable to any ICBM attack. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan had inhibited Carter from asking the Senate to ratify the SALT II Treaty. Reagan wanted a better treaty, one that would have as its goal a 50 percent reduction in the ICBMs of the two sides. He also wanted to settle the intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missile (INF) problem that had become a major international issue during Carter’s presidency, following the deployment of SS-20 missiles by the USSR and the statements of Helmut Schmidt that it was essential to assure parity in tactical nuclear weapons in the European theater. With the Russians concurring, he therefore launched both INF and Strategic Arms Reduction (START) talks.

A new career was about to open up for Nitze. Reagan had appointed Eugene Rostow as head of ACDA, and it was Rostow who had brought Nitze in as one of the founders of the resurrected Committee on the Present Danger. Rostow knew of no one more experienced than Nitze to be the mainstay of the arms-control negotiating teams that were to be set up. So Nitze, now in his mid-seventies, became the new guru of US arms control, the silver fox at the negotiating table who now had to reconcile his deeply entrenched and well-publicized views about the evil Russians with the task of making them trustworthy negotiating partners. He also had to be nimble enough to deal with the charge that what he might find himself doing conflicted with the arms-control beliefs of some of his hardline colleagues in ACDA, and in the Pentagon. Talbott writes, “Perle was afraid that once Nitze was assigned to negotiate an agreement, that was exactly what he would do.”

Mr. Talbott retells the story—which he had described in his previous book Deadly Gambits15—of Nitze’s part in the first set of Reagan’s INF talks, when his task was to get his Soviet opposite number to accept what became known as the zero-zero proposal. This was an undertaking that the US would not deploy 572 new medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe (the number including Pershing II ballistic missiles that could reach Moscow from Western Germany) if the Russians removed the hundreds of SS-20 missiles that they had already deployed covering targets in Western Europe. He describes the setbacks that Nitze suffered at the hands of Richard Perle of the Pentagon and of members of the State Department in his efforts to reach an understanding, and of Washington’s eventual rejection in September of 1982 of the compromise to the “zero-zero arrangement” that he and Kvitsinsky, his Russian opposite number, had elaborated in their celebrated walk-in-the-woods in the Jura hills. The formula they had worked out allowed each side seventy-five INF launchers in Europe and excluded the deployment of the Pershing II missiles. It was also rejected by Moscow—but as subsequent events now suggest, probably because Gorbachev was already thinking of far more dramatic moves.

The round of INF talks that followed the rejection of the walk-in-the-woods formula also proved abortive; the USSR would not accept an arrangement that called upon them to remove hundreds of missiles that had already been deployed in exchange for a promise that the US would not go ahead with a deployment program that had not even been started. At the end of 1983 the US accordingly began to deploy the Pershing IIs and cruise missiles to which it had then committed itself. The next three years were marked by continuing stalemate in US-USSR talks in Geneva, and by interagency guerrilla warfare as the differing officials in Washington failed to agree on a coherent US arms-control policy. Nitze tried without success to persuade his colleagues that there could be no progress unless the US negotiating position became less rigid than it was.

The situation then changed dramatically. At Reykjavík in October 1986, Gorbachev, in order to break the deadlock, went one step further than Nitze’s walk-in-the-woods compromise. The USSR, he said, would be ready to dismantle and destroy all the SS-20s that they had already deployed. If the US wanted, he would also agree to the elimination of shorter-range nuclear weapons as well, given that a reciprocal move was made by the US. And if the American President wanted to halve their respective ICBM arsenals, as Reagan hoped to do, why not go one better, why not set a date, say the year 2000, for the elimination of all nuclear weapons?

However, before starting to reduce the numbers of ICBMs, Gorbachev wanted an assurance that the US would not pursue the SDI program beyond the point that was allowed for research by the 1972 ABM Treaty. As Gorbachev saw it, a defensive astrodome over North America, however unlikely, would in theory put the US in a position to undertake a first strike against the USSR without risking retaliation. Trying to achieve one would spur the arms race, not help arms control.

Nitze was with the President at Reykjavík, and he and Marshal Akhromeyev, then the Chief of the General Staff of the USSR, worked all one night to see if they could agree on a defense-offense compromise that their respective masters would accept—with Richard Perle at Nitze’s elbow to see that he agreed to nothing that was contrary to the Pentagon’s interests. They failed. Reagan would not agree to any limitations on the effort to make a reality of his SDI dream, and Gorbachev was unable to get him to accept that if there were to be reductions in offensive forces, there had to be complementary reductions in defenses. There had to be what Nitze came to call “a grand compromise.”

Reykjavík, however, succeeded in one important respect. INF negotiations were resumed, leading to the signing by Reagan and Gorbachev in Washington in December of 1987 of an agreement to withdraw and destroy all US and Russian INF missiles. At the same time negotiations, styled the Nuclear and Space Talks (NST), were resumed to try once more to see whether the two sides could arrive at acceptable compromises about the extent to which work on SDI could proceed without contravening the terms of the 1972 ABM Treaty. Negotiations were also pursued to see how to assure equivalence in offensive power as the numbers of ICBM nuclear warheads were reduced.

Mr. Talbott’s account of these talks is a tale of byzantine intrigue in Washington, and of Nitze, ostensibly the administration’s main adviser in the negotiations, straining and twisting as he tried to make progress with the Russians, without at the same time going too far in antagonizing certain members of the administration, in particular Richard Perle and Kenneth Adelman, the new head of ACDA. There was also the President himself, whose dream about furnishing North America with a space-based defensive screen was still shared only by those who, to paraphrase Francis Bacon, did not appreciate that it is an empty conceit to proclaim that something is going to be done that has never been done before and by means that have never been invented.

US accusations that the USSR had already unilaterally abrogated the 1972 treaty in the pursuit of its own ABM research program were inevitably met by denials and counterclaims, and even by unexpected concessions.16 Another line of argument that the US negotiators were instructed to use was that when properly interpreted, the terms of the 1972 treaty did not preclude the kind of SDI work and testing that was felt necessary by the Pentagon’s SDI office. This move put Nitze very much on the spot. The blessing that the new “broad interpretation” of the treaty was given by the State Department’s lawyers, while warmly welcomed by the White House, had been immediately challenged both in Congress and by Gerard Smith and other senior members of the US team that had negotiated the treaty.

According to Talbott, Mr. Nitze, who had taken great pride in his part in the drafting, had more than once insisted that its text meant what it said, and that the ban on testing in space applied as much to undiscovered new technologies as it did to those that were known in 1972. However, when the State Department lawyers delivered their contrary opinion, Nitze, to the astonishment of many, turned around and publicly joined Weinberger, Perle, and Adelman in accepting the new interpretation. At the same time, he seemed to offer some cryptic support to those who were skeptical of SDI when he also declared that even if the President’s dream proved technically feasible, an ABM space system would never be deployed unless it was “cost effective at the margin,” a piece of economic jargon that was first used in the discussions leading up to the 1972 treaty, and that simply meant that there was no point in deploying an unimaginably costly space defense system if it could not work.

Like those he had made before, Nitze’s switch on the interpretation of the ABM Treaty ill accorded with what Mr. Talbott keeps referring to as his reputation for having an orderly and logical mind. Fortunately however, George Shultz, as head of the State Department, then declared that while both the President and his department accepted the new interpretation, the R & D program of SDI would nonetheless not exceed the limits implied by the treaty’s “strict” interpretation.

Nitze, who had accompanied Shultz on his meetings with Eduard Shevardnadze (he was also a member of the parties the President took with him on his other summit meetings with Gorbachev), was therefore again in a position to enter into further discussions with Marshal Akhromeyev about permissible limits to SDI research. He also sat down with Academician Velikhov, the influential Russian physicist who is one of Gorbachev’s close advisers, to discuss “numerical parameters” for such matters as the power limits of a laser beam that would be permissible within the strict context of the 1972 treaty.

But all of Nitze’s comings and goings of the past two years failed to achieve the level of agreement that would have allowed Ronald Reagan to crown his presidency with a START treaty. Ten years from now it might well be said that the President was cheated of this honor by men who were only paying lip service to his wishes, and who were ready to make extravagant promises about the presumed progress of SDI, lest yielding to the Russians would result in a setback to the Defense Department’s SDI programs.

In earlier years, Nitze could well have been one of their number. Now, as the key figure in arms-control negotiations, he had become the victim of intrigue that always seemed bent on thwarting him. At a recent gathering in his honor, Senator Sam Nunn described Nitze as the man who had attempted to get “the President to reject [the] absurd positions” and who had “been in the forefront of the effort to get us to work our way out of various muddles toward sensible and creative solutions.” Senator Nunn, without quite saying so, seems to have been suggesting that Nitze’s backing of the INF Treaty had been of help to its supporters in the Senate. Nunn omitted to say that Nitze had himself helped to create some of the muddles he referred to—out of which George Bush will now have to find a way, and with the running still being made by Gorbachev.

In his preface, Mr. Talbott warns that his new book should be treated neither as biography nor as history,17 insofar as his journalistic “literary devices” provide only a first or second draft of history. If the book is not definitive history, it nonetheless is a storehouse of instant information that was passed to him without attribution over the past four years by the many people who flit through his pages. It is usually a questionable practice to rely on anonymous informants; but historians are unlikely to be unduly worried by the lack of references in this case. Many of the details of the abortive struggles and exchanges that were going on in Washington and Geneva these past few years have little more than transient interest. Mr. Talbott has given us a living picture of a determined and clever man who has not only sought and enjoyed public office but who has often failed to disguise his irritation when others received recognition for their part in negotiations on matters that he, Nitze, had come to regard as his own preserve, and who, finally, to his credit, had a part in negotiating a treaty that he might have been expected to oppose.

Whether postwar US policy would have been much different from what it was had there been no Paul Nitze and no NSC 68, I myself doubt. As Mr. Talbott’s book makes only too clear, there were always enough people in high places who shared Nitze’s fears about the USSR, and enough in the USSR who feared the purposes of the US, for the relations of the superpowers to have evolved in the way they have. What we must now hope is that when the talks between the US and the USSR resume under the presidency of George Bush, they will not do so in the morass of small print that marked the end of the negotiations in which Nitze took part, or in the aura of mistrust that in the past has frequently become so opaque that neither side could avoid tripping over fossilized beliefs and concerns as they sought the goal both so desperately need to reach.

This Issue

January 19, 1989