SCHOOL FOR STATESMEN
Most Americans have never heard of "the best club in New York" ... which quietly incubates a surprising share of both the men and the ideas which make policy for the United States.
THE whole world complains that Americans are bored by foreign policy and regard peace as the condition of being left alone. But it is no secret either that on the highest levels of foreign affairs this country has been served by a crop of Public Men-the Stimsons, Lovetts, and McCloys-remarkable for knowledge, dedication, and breadth of outlook. How did this crop spring from such stony soil?
A part of the answer lies in the Council on Foreign Relations, a private and professedly nonpartisan New York organization which most Americans have never heard of. It has been the seat of some basic government decisions, has set the context for many more. and has repeatedly served as a recruiting ground for ranking officials. It has been called, among other things, "the best club in New York," "the government in exile," and, by a former Assistant Secretary of State, "a place where nice men meet and talk to themselves."
Nice or not, the men who meet at the Council are indisputably important. The membership (about 1,200, by invitation only, with women and foreigners barred) includes the President, the Secretary of State, the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the board chairmen of three of the country's five largest industrial corporations, two of the four richest insurance companies, and two of the three biggest banks, plus the senior partners of two of the three leading Wall Street law firms, the publishers of the two biggest news magazines and of the country's most influential newspaper, and the presidents of the Big Three in both universities and foundations, as well as a score of other college presidents and a scattering of top scientists and journalists.
The splendor of the company they keep is not lost upon at least some of the members. John Nason, the President of the Foreign Policy Association, once defined the difference between his organization and the Council as "the difference between the House and the Senate."
"You mean," he was told, "the difference between the New York phone book and Who's Who in America."
More prosaically, the difference is that where the Council is a meeting place for the exchange of information among experts, the Foreign Policy Association disseminates information to thousands of people, and to other organizations, in over two hundred cities.
Only slightly less impressive than the Council's roster is the obscurity in which it has dwelt. The files at Time Inc. disclose five entries in the past five years. The New York Times has mentioned the Council scores of times, but, with two exceptions, only as a site of speeches or sponsor of publications. On one occasion the Times announced the Council would begin publication of a magazine which, in fact, it had already been putting out for two years.
WHAT prompts the absence of attention is in part the Council's indifference to publicity, and in part a rule-unbroken to this day-that all speeches are off-the-record. But in addition the Council has been obscured by its similarity to the vast multitude of other membership organizations scattered across the country. More than most it has thrived. Without turning a hair, the Council, not long ago, spent $6,000 on a private dinner for Secretary Dulles. Its annual budget averages about $750,000, and its staff about seventy-five people; its home is a handsome town house on 68th Street at Park Avenue; and it maintains one of the best and most accessible specialized libraries in New York.
But like most of the other private associations, the Council proclaims a benevolent purpose, sponsors meetings, and contributes, through publications, to that mightiest of American rivers, the flow of information. Like them too, it owes its start to happy accident.
The roots of the Council stretch clear back to the group of technical advisers who accompanied Woodrow Wilson to Paris in 1918 to write the peace that would make the world safe for democracy. Wilson's experts--Colonel Edward M. House, Professors James Shotwell of Columbia, Archibald Coolidge of Harvard, Clive Day of Yale, Isaiah Bowman, the geographer, and General Tasker Bliss--a reader of Vergil and forerunner of today's "intellectual generals"--made contact with their British opposite numbers and discovered a common denominator.
"There is no single person in this room," one of the Britons declared at a joint meeting, "who is not disappointed with the terms we have drafted. Our disappointmen t is an excellent thing. Let us perpetuate it."
"We decided," another of the Britons, Harold Nicolson, noted in his diary, "to create an Anglo-American Institute of Foreign Relations."
IS IT A CLUB?
THE Anglo Institute, with royal patronage and a home in the house of Pitt, was incorporated as the Royal Institute of International Affairs, or Chatham House-a separate institution with no American ties. The American Institute, after floundering to the verge of extinction, merged with a New York gentlemen's club which had been set up during the war to give dinners to distinguished foreigners. The fusion was formalized on September 21, 1921, with the incorporation of the Council on Foreign Relations, comprising 209 members, a fifteen-man Board of Directors, and a single permanent official--Hamilton Fish Armstrong, fresh out of Princeton and service as a military attache in Belgrade. The principal aim was "to create and stimulate international thought among the people of the United States."
By itself, the merger of the two groups stamped upon the Council one indelible--and in America, rare--feature. It has at all times been common ground for men of affairs and intellectuals. The first board included four professors, the Wall Street lawyers John VV. Davis and Paul Cravath, the bankers Otto Kahn and Paul 'Warburg, and, as honorary chairman, the former Secretary of State and dean of the bar, Elihu Root. Finances came mainly in large donations from the men of affairs, but all members paid dues and contributed according to their means. The program was a joint product, expressed in a three-fold structure that remains the heart of Council activities.
As an expression of the academic interest, the Council has followed from the beginning a policy of "publish or perish." Since 1928, it has brought out an annual survey of American foreign policy--now entitled The U.S. In World Affairs--and since 1927 The Political Handbook, an annual listing of foreign countries, their governments, parties, and press. More important, the Council began in 1922 the quarterly magazine Foreign Affair's.
"What we want," the directors wrote to the first editor, Professor Archibald Coolidge, "is a really first-rate journal with the best contributions available in the U. S. and abroad."
POLICY BY "x"
WHAT they got far outran the prospectus. Under Coolidge and Hamilton Fish Armstrong, who succeeded him in 1928, Foreign Affair's emerged as the pre-eminent publication in its field ("the best thing of its kind," the Times wrote on its twenty-fifth anniversary), sought after by statesmen and scholars as a vehicle for
their thoughts; read in the chancelleries of the world; and repeatedly cited in the press of all nations. Probably no other single article in any American periodical has had such far-reaching impact as George Kennan's exposition of the "containment policy," published under the pseudonym X in the July 1947 issue.
The general pattern was apparent in the very first number. It included articles by the Premier of Czechoslovakia, the Foreign Minister of France, a former U.S. Secretary of State, and the President-Emeritus of Harvard. Robert Lansing, another former Secretary of State read it, and wondered "if they can keep it up." So, on the other side of the world, did Lenin, underscoring his copy with special emphasis on some lines written by a contributor who was identified as "John Foster Dulles, financial expert."
On the other hand, as a legacy from the social club, the Council has retained, and much expanded, a meetings program-talks to the members by American and foreign guests engaged, usually on an official basis, in some current aspect of foreign policy work. In quality the talks vary widely: fur every good one, there is probably one that is dull and another that is superficial. The same holds true of the questions that follow. Still the program has brought to the Council every Secretary of State since Hughes but one (General Marshall), and, with the conspicuous exception of Churchill, every important foreign statesman to visit the U.S. from Clemenceau to Nehru. Secretary of State Frank Kellogg unveiled before the Council what subsequently became the Kellogg Peace Pact. Secretary Stimson first expounded at the Council his doctrine of not recognizing the fruits of Japanese aggression. Even where there is no news in Council appearances, the personal impression often provides special insights. Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, whose golfing and baseball antics must have struck most Americans as slightly comic, showed at the Council as a rough customer, decisive about what he wanted and as hard-boiled in his politics as any ward boss. "Archbishop Makarios," a member said recently of the Cypriot national leader, "was interesting to me only for the impression he made: it couldn't have been worse."
Midway between meetings and publications is a third program, original with the Council though widely copied elsewhere. It began back in 1923 when members started meeting informally in Armstrong's office to discuss current foreign problems. Since then, the meetings have developed into a highly organized Study Group system for subjecting various central problems to detailed examination by teams of scholars, businessmen, and government officials. As the system works today, the Council's Committee on Studies picks a subject and a scholar writing in the field; then assembles a group of about twenty-five experts from the Council membership, the government, and the universities. The writer submits papers to monthly meetings of the group which supplies criticism and comment. Not infrequently, he will emerge with a book, one recent product being Henry Kissinger's study of Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, a best seller which has been closely read in the highest Administration circles and foreign offices abroad. Book or not, a substantial body of expert opinion is in all cases brought together.
Kissinger's Study Group included two former chairmen of the Atomic Energy Commission, a Nobel Prize winner in physics, two former civilian secretaries in the defense establishment, and representatives just below the highest level from the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the three armed :services.
Almost always there is a genuine exchange of views and a broadening of horizons for all the study group members. Lieutenant General James Gavin, the Army man in the Kissinger group, attests that the best method for limiting war in Europe that he ever heard was presented to the group in a memorandum by Professor Arnold Wolfers of Yale.
"For myself," General Gavin says, "I read more about the Middle East doing homework for Kissinger than I'd read in years."
"Whatever General Eisenhower knows about economics," says a Republican member of the Council who participated with Eisenhower in a 1949 Council study on European recovery, "he learned at the study group meetings." Another participant in the same group recalls that "Eisenhower came with a vague predilection in favor of building up Europe. When he left, European aid was a ruling conviction."
THE POOL OF TALENT
LONG before the three-fold operation was in full swing, the Council was making its mark on America as an incubator of men and ideas. Walter Lippmann worked on the annual surveys, and so did Charles Merz, on his way to the editor's chair at the New York. Times. Herbert Elliston, a China hand out of Yorkshire, came to this country under Council auspices to work on the surveys, then moved on to become editor of the Washington Post. Herbert Feis published his first book, Europe, the World's Banker, under the Council imprimatur, worked on the surveys, and then in 1930 went to Washington to begin a fifteen-year tenure as Economic Adviser to the Secretary of State. A decade later, Feis, searching for a lawyer experienced in foreign matters to do strategic buying for State, put through to Armstrong, at the Council, a telephone call that began the public career of Thomas K. Finletter.
On the level of ideas, the Council is genuinely an open forum. But, as the Times wrote in an editorial, it has "a uniform direction." Concerned about foreign affairs, the bulk of the members inevitably opposed isolation. Working within the framework of the Council, they very early exerted their influence for a policy of resistance to the dictators. One of the first books published by the Council was The Far Eastern Crisis, a plea by Henry Stimson for a stop to Japanese penetration in Manchuria. Another, Is Neutrality Possible? by Armstrong and Allen Dulles, argued for flexible neutrality regulations in the interest of aiding the Western democracies against Nazi aggression. Foreign Affairs in its first issue emphasized that "Russia is too large a part of the world to be ignored with impunity," and suggested the possibility of a German-Soviet alliance. And at all times, even in the late 'twenties and early 'thirties, when the military estate was low, the Council kept in touch with the Admirals and Generals. The study program for 1939 included an investigation of "Mobilization of America's Resources in Time of War." General Frank McCoy told a meeting of political scientists that year that the Council seemed to be "the only academic institution fully alive to the dangers of U.S. involvement in the war."
FINDING THE MAN
WITH the coming of hostilities, the Council's assembled pool of talent and information came into sudden and dramatic play. Stimson went to Washington as Secretary of War, taking with him the small nucleus of men, many unknown then, who were to found this country's modern defense establishment. "Whenever we needed a man," John McCloy, the present Council chairman who served Stimson as personnel chief, recalls, "we thumbed through the roll of Council members and put through a call to New York."
At least as important, the Council provided for the U. S. government the first organized framework for postwar planning. Less than a fortnight after the guns began pounding in Europe, and a full two years before Pearl Harbor, Armstrong and the Council's executive director, Walter Mallory, journeyed to Washington with a proposition. State lacked the appropriations to set up a planning division; Congress was bearish about any official move that hinted at U. S. intervention; there was a danger that, if it finally did get going with a sudden jolt, postwar planning might be out of the hands of State. Why not, they asked, let the Council begin the work, privately, with the understanding that its apparatus would be turned over to State as soon as feasible?
Secretary Hull was in favor. Accordingly, in December 1939, the Council, with financial aid from the Rockefeller Foundation, established four separate planning groups-Security and Armaments; Economic and Financial; Political; Territorial-comprising about a dozen men each including research secretaries of the highest caliber (Jacob Viner of Princeton and Alvin Hansen of Harvard in the economic group, for example). A fifth group was added in 1941 to consider the problems of the exiled governments of the occupied European countries which the State Department, because the United States was neutral, had to treat gingerly. In 1942, the whole apparatus with most of the personnel was taken into the State Department as the nub of its Advisory Committee on Postwar Planning Problems. Up to that point, the five groups had produced a total of 150 planning studies.
Their impact, given the amorphous quality of decision-making in the U. S. government, is difficult to measure. It appears that Council studies played a considerable part in shaping the Charter of the United Nations; the American decision not to remove the Japanese Emperor; and the means by which Japan's former island bases were at least temporarily acquired as U. S. bases. The relatively mild American position on German reparations, taken at the Moscow Foreign Ministers Conference in 1943, was blocked out on the basis of the Council's study of the problem.
And one major action is beyond cavil. On March 17, 1940, the Council's Territorial group issued a study, warning that Germany might acquire Greenland through occupation of Denmark and pointing out that the U. S. could safeguard Greenland by defining it as an area "within which the Monroe Doctrine is presumed to apply." Germany, in fact, occupied Denmark on April 9, 1940. Three days later, President Roosevelt, holding the Council memorandum in his hand, announced the extension of our protection to Greenland "which has been recognized as being within the area of the Monroe Doctrine."
Roosevelt, holding the Council memorandum in his hand, announced the extension of our protection to Greenland "which has been recognized as being within the area of the Monroe Doctrine."
Since the war, the government has maintained and expanded its permanent bureaucracy in the foreign field, and the Council's semi-official role has, perforce, diminished. Special projects continue. In 1947, just before taking over as Under Secretary of State to George Marshall, Robert A. Lovett asked the Council staff to arrange for him a briefing session on U.S. foreign policy problems. "I came away from the session," Lovett recalls, "with the firm conviction that it would be our principal task at State to awaken the nation to the dangers of Communist aggression."
And, of course, Council members continue to drift in and out of the government. When John McCloy went to Bonn as U.S. High Commissioner, he took with him a staff composed almost exclusively of men who had interested themselves in Gennan affairs at the Council.
But increasingly the Council has tended to place major emphasis on the study groups. In the last few years, with the appointment of a new Director of Studies, Professor Philip Mosely, and a $2,500,000 grant supplied by the Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie Foundations, the Council has become the most important single private agency conducting research in foreign affairs.
"Our aim," Mosely says, "is to study the problems before they become issues."
IS IT UNDEMOCRATIC?
THE more unofficial role being assumed by the Council tends to neutralize one area of criticism. Charges that the Council is the "Rockefeller Foreign Office" (by a Baltimore McCarthyite) or an "outpost of the British Colonial Office" (by a prewar isolationist) may be dismissed out of hand. But it is undeniable that the Council, acting as a corporate body, has influenced American policy with wide-ranging effects upon the average citizen. Set against the total public, the Council can hardly be called a representative body; its active membership is, by force of circumstance, Eastern; and, by any reckoning, either rich or successful. Its transactions are remote from public scrutiny, and, in fact, refractory to any detailed examination.
Thus, in theory at least, the Council comes close to being an organ of what C. Wright Mills has called the Power Elite-a group of men, similar in interest and outlook, shaping events from invulnerable positions behind the scenes.
In practice, even that cock will not fight. The Council has assumed semi-official duties only in emergencies; it has never accepted government financial support; such recommendations as it has made have subsequently all stood test at the polls or in Congress; if its membership shares the fellowship of success, it is at least broad enough to include divergent views on every current foreign-policy issue. Moreover, the Council plays a special part in helping to bridge the gap between the two parties, affording unofficially a measure of continuity when the guard changes in Washington. For example, Governor Averell Harriman of New York, a former Ambassador to the Soviet Union, and, not impossibly, a future Secretary of State, recalls that his first exchange with the current Administration on Soviet problems took place at the Council in a conversation with Robert Bowie, formerly Mr. Dulles' Director of Policy Planning.
Indeed, it may be claimed that something like the Council appears to be required by the peculiar problem of American leadership. On the one hand, the business of managing national affairs is becoming daily more massive and complex. Who, for example, can profess to more than a rudimentary grasp of the budget? On the other hand, in this country, richness of opportunity preoccupies many men with their own private pursuits and "better living." The size and mobility of our population break up the deep fellowship and sense of collective purpose that imbues leadership in such countries as Britain.
"The duties of the citizen," as Walter Lippmann once wrote, "come to seem very nearly remote to the career of the individual."
At bottom what the Council does is to reestablish the connection. It draws persons who, in John McCloy's wry phrase, are "more than salesmen,' affords them the stimulation of a broad sampling of expert views, subjects them to the serious study of international problems, and gives them-for even stuffiness has its virtue--a style. To its great credit, it has helped to produce a type of American Public Man, exemplified at its best by Henry Stimson. Perhaps, if the Council did not now exist, it would not in Voltaire's phrase have to be invented. But Voltaire also asked, in another connection:
"What have you got that's better?"