Diplomat, Skico owner Paul Nitze dies in D.C.

Scott Condon

Paul H. Nitze, an arms control negotiator who advised eight American presidents during the Cold War and played a quiet but vital role in the resurrection of Aspen, died at age 97 in Washington, D.C., Tuesday night.Nitze was one of the most influential foreign policy and arms control advisers in the country from 1940 until 1988. He was a principal architect of the U.S. policy of “containing” the expansion of the Soviet Union and maintaining a strong U.S. military as a deterrence. His views earned him a reputation as a hard-line “hawk” in the Cold War.At the same time he headed policy planning at the State Department under the Truman administration following World War II, he played a key role in developing skiing in Aspen.Nitze was the brother of Elizabeth “Pussy” Paepcke, who, with her husband, Walter, embarked on a plan in the mid-1940s to turn Aspen into a mecca for arts, cultural and outdoor pursuits.When Walter Paepcke recruited investors in the Aspen Skiing Corp. in 1945, Nitze chipped in $75,000, according to a research paper for the Aspen Historical Society by Anne Gilbert called “Re-creation Through Recreation: Aspen Skiing From 1870 to 1970.”Nitze’s investment made him the single biggest shareholder, Gilbert wrote. When the new ski company incorporated on Jan. 21, 1946, Nitze was on the board of directors along with Paepcke, Friedl Pfeifer, George Berger and Robert Collins.”He was instrumental in the formation of the Aspen Ski Corp.,” said current owner Jim Crown yesterday. “That family together with the Paepckes – they had everything in foresight. I have great respect for what they did.”Nitze remained an investor in the company until it was sold to Twentieth Century Fox in 1978.Gilbert’s research also raised the possibility that Nitze got the Paepckes interested in the sleepy, down-and-out former mining town of Aspen in the late 1930s. Nitze was a banker at the same investment house where Billy Fiske worked in the late 1930s. Gilbert wrote that Fiske invited Nitze to invest in the Highland Bavarian Corp.’s proposed Mount Hayden ski area project near Ashcroft, but Nitze had “misgivings.”Other accounts differ. When he was inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame in 1991, the presentation said Nitze tried unsuccessfully to raise funds for ski lifts for the Highland Bavarian project after receiving a glowing report about the prospects from Fiske, according to a 1991 Aspen Times article by Mary Eshbaugh Hayes.Nitze was also credited in the Hall of Fame presentation with trying to convince the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad to restore a line to Aspen like Union Pacific had done to Sun Valley.Nitze may well have learned enough about the Aspen area that he advised the Paepckes to visit there in 1938, according to Gilbert.Nitze went from the banking business to public service in 1940. He regularly visited Aspen and his sister, recalled Merrill Ford, who ran the International Design Conference in the late 1950s when she met Nitze. Ford recalled an annual occurrence with Nitze on the ski slopes of Aspen Mountain.”He would always take one horrendous fall, then he would get up and ski beautifully,” she said with a laugh.She also recalled that he wore some of the ugliest clothing imaginable on the slopes until she and a friend forced him into the old Elli of Aspen ski shop and made him blow a wad on a new outfit sometime in the 1960s or ’70s.Ford said Nitze had no problem getting away from the weighty global issues he was involved with and relax in Aspen. She said she once commented to him that he must get sick of people always asking him about world events. He responded that he enjoyed it. Ford said Nitze had a knack for breaking down complex foreign policy issues in discussions with his friends. She also recalled that “he had a great sense of humor.”Nitze helped create The Aspen Institute, a think tank with offices in Aspen and the Washington, D.C., area. He co-founded The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington in 1943. Nitze was unable to attend the school’s annual banquet last week, at which Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke in tribute to his long government service.That service 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 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, 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 in the Truman administration, secretary of the Navy in the Kennedy administration and deputy secretary of defense in the Johnson administration. By the time he became one of the chief negotiators on strategic weapons, 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, 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, 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.From the beginning of the nuclear age, whether in government or out, Nitze urged successive American presidents to take measures against what he saw as the Soviet drive to overwhelm the United States. 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, 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, 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,” Nitze tried to cut through the bureaucratic tangle but was thwarted when both Moscow and Washington repudiated the agreement.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 wrote articles in a continuing attempt to influence policy.With that, his long career in government came to an end.New York Times reporter Marilyn Berger wrote all portions of this report that were not about Nitze’s life in Aspen.