Michael KreponStephen Ledogar: Unsung Hero of Arms Control

Multiple Choice Quiz of the Week:

Which two of the following films reflect the temper of the times for the 2020 Oscars?

A. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
B. Parasite
C. It’s A Wonderful Life
D. Joker
E. Singin’ in the Rain

No U.S. diplomat accomplished more than Stephen Ledogar in the hard slog of multilateral negotiations. He helped conclude negotiations on the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1992, and topped that with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996. The Conference on Disarmament in Geneva has been dormant ever since.

Ledogar was born in Jamaica, Queens in 1929, the year the stock market collapsed. His daughter, Lucy (Ledogar) van Beever, tells me that Steve’s father was a lawyer whose practice was devastated by the crash; his mother was a homemaker. He grew up poor but happy in a big Irish Catholic family. One brother became a lawyer, another a priest, freeing him from having to take these career paths.

He went to Fordham and signed up to be a naval aviator, slumping during his physical exam just enough to make his six-foot, five-inch frame meet the Navy’s six-foot, four-inch height limit. Ledogar did his flight training with Neil Armstrong at Pensacola and was assigned to the Mediterranean during the Korean War. He went back to Fordham, taking classes at night for a law degree with no intention of litigating. Instead, he took the Foreign Service exam on a lark.

Robert Mikulak, who worked closely with him during the chemical weapons negotiations, drily noted that Ledogar “didn’t fit well in confined spaces.” Diplomacy and foreign travel suited him. He rose through the ranks of the Foreign Service to be appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1987 as Ambassador to conventional force reduction negotiations. He submitted his resignation after George H.W. Bush’s election, as was customary, and was asked by Team Bush ’41 to move from Vienna to Geneva to tackle the Chemical Weapons Convention, one of Bush’s signature initiatives. President Clinton wisely kept him in place to conclude the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Ledogar was as shrewd as he was a good listener. He was tactically adept and yet a force to be reckoned with. He lobbied to have agencies appoint full-time representatives to his delegation. He earned enemies in Washington by insisting that the primary loyalty of agency reps was to the negotiation and not to their Washington bosses. (This was impossible to enforce completely but easier done for multilateral negotiations than for strategic arms control.) You can get a sense of the man from this passage in the oral history he provided to the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training: “If you continue to talk over the telephone to the home office or to report your version of events in backchannel messages, I’m going to rip your phone out and disconnect your private communications; accept that, or you will be sent home.” Who says deterrence and diplomacy don’t mesh?

Steve Ledogar was a big man in many ways. You’d lose your hand while shaking his. One of his colleagues during the CTBT negotiations recalls Ledogar telling the U.S. negotiating team that President Clinton told him he wanted this treaty, and if anyone on his team didn’t, they needed to find something else to do. He never got over “the outrageously politicized, vindictive, and irresponsible defeat of CTBT.”

Robert Bell, the National Security Council staffer for Clinton who worked on both the CWC and the CTBT, calls Ledogar “an unsung hero of American diplomacy.” True, that.

Ledogar applied his love of speed to bicycle racing. At the end of his distinguished diplomatic career, he and a Russian colleague, Sergey Batsanov, would cycle together along Swiss byways. Those were the days.

Steve Ledogar died in 2010.


  1. Robert Gregory Bell (History)

    Nicely stated and nicely written, Michael. Robert Bell

  2. Phil Tanny (History)

    Thanks for the education, as I’d not yet heard of Ledogar.

    I agree the disarmament movement needs heroes, because that tends to be how human beings work. We will often personalize and humanize complex social issues in the image of particular relatable individuals.

    Here’s my nomination for current disarmament heroes.


    The Plowshares 7 invaded the world’s largest nuclear submarine base and are now facing years in prison.

  3. Sergey Batsanov (History)

    Well done, Michael! And this piece on Steve Ledogar was really needed.

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