Michael KreponPassings

Rebecca Johnson, our stanchion on all matters multilateral and nuclear, has blogged about the passing of Steve Ledogar, the U.S. Ambassador to the CD who led the U.S. negotiating team on both the Chemical Weapons Convention and the CTBT. Steve towered over us all. For ACW readers who haven’t seen Rebecca’s post, here are some excerpts:

Steve Ledogar was a great and honourable man, a giant among diplomats not only in his tall physical stature, but in his intellect, kindness and generosity. As a negotiator, he was straightforward, astute and tough…

Steve Ledogar provided one of the most compelling testimonies [for the CTBT] to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in October 1999…. He specifically addressed the criticisms from some of the Republican Senators regarding the treaty’s scope, verification and entry into force. He gave an overview of how these outcomes had been negotiated and what they meant, pointing out that the ‘zero means zero’ yield decision was in US interests as it cut short the ‘squabbling’ among the P-5 nuclear-weapon states and ensured that there would be ‘no threshold for anybody. … If what you did produced any nuclear yield whatsoever, it would not be allowed. If it didn’t, it was allowed.’

With regard to verification, Steve told the Committee: ‘The point I would like to stress here is that the US succeeded in the negotiations in getting virtually everything the intelligence community and other parts of the government wanted from the treaty … to strengthen our ability to detect and deter cheating and to seek appropriate redress if cheating did occur. At the same time, we succeeded in getting virtually everything the Defense Department and others wanted to insure the protection of sensitive national security information.’

Sadly, Steve will no longer be able to give the US Senate the benefit of his important, first hand testimony, but they would do well to read the evidence he gave in 1999. A former US navy officer and lawyer, Steve was a tough and determined negotiator on behalf of his country – making sure that the CTBT would have more than enough verification for its purposes.

Opponents of the CTBT argue that U.S. ratification will have no bearing on outliers. Steve’s testimony before the SFRC turned this argument on its head:

What if the United States chooses not to ratify this treaty? I am not given to hyperbole, but I believe it is not an exaggeration to say that there will be jubilation among our foes and despair among our friends. Iran, Iraq, North Korea and other states that harbor nuclear aspirations will feel the constraints loosening. Our allies and friends will feel deserted and betrayed. The global nuclear nonproliferation regime will be endangered.”

Another giant, Willard Wirtz, died on April 24th. He was an adviser to Adlai Stevenson and later Secretary of Labor under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Mr. Wirtz was one of the wisest, most humane people I ever met. His many accomplishments never outstretched his modesty. He was my mentor and role model. I knew didley about labor relations. Our common bond, at least initially, was opposition to the Vietnam War.

His strong reservations about the war were well disguised during the Johnson administration. I didn’t learn the particulars until reading his book of reminiscences, In the Rear View Mirror (2008). It was awkward, to say the least, for the Secretary of Labor to make public judgments about national security policy, and doubly difficult because Mr. Wirtz became close to LBJ in the mid-‘60s. But the conduct and consequences of the war were so painful that Mr. Wirtz sent a hand-written note to LBJ asking for a meeting to express his opposition to the war. Mr. Wirtz subsequently met privately with Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford to argue for a bombing halt and a reversal of U.S. policy. Then came another meeting with LBJ, who declared Mr. Wirtz “guilty of insubordination” over some piddling reorganization plan at the Department of Labor. The President asked for and received his resignation, but subsequently had second thoughts, and Mr. Wirtz dutifully continued to serve. I knew nothing of this until two weeks ago, when I read his sketchbook.

In 1970, a few of us who went to the nation’s finest finishing schools of international relations were wondering what to do with our lives after graduation. We were very involved in teach-ins, demonstrations, and yes, community organizing, to try to channel disaffection into policy change. We decided to set up an NGO to continue this work, and someone – I don’t remember who – suggested that we ask Willard Wirtz for office space. He had set up a consulting firm a block south of Dupont Circle with a younger colleague at the Labor Department, Jack Gentry, and there were unfilled offices there. There was just one problem: We couldn’t pay the rent. No problem, said Mr. Wirtz. Stay as long as you like.

That was the beginning of a great learning experience – learning by watching and listening. Mr. Wirtz helped me in many ways, one of which was to arrange legal counsel for my false arrest and illegal detention on May 3, 1971. I was initially taken to RFK Stadium, and then re-routed to the courtyard of the DC Jail because the playing field at RFK was too crowded – around 11,000 were arrested during that day of mass protests. But that’s another story.

Mr. Wirtz was a great wordsmith, which is why Stevenson, Kennedy and Johnson found his speechwriting skills so valuable. On March 5, 1964, Mr. Wirtz delivered a speech at the fiftieth anniversary gala of the founding of the New Republic magazine. Here’s a sampler which, to me, speaks volumes about the man and the quality of his mind:

Eternity has already shrunk, in the illumination of logic, to a matter of minutes: that little time that can run while man lives a single spark away from ultimate destruction, his knowledge of power daily outstripping his wisdom about its use, with more and more of democracy’s decision-makers knowing less and less of what they are deciding.

To care about the future only as it will see the ascendancy of human over material values, is to watch, with a fascination that fights against fear, a generation of machines maturing as no generation of human beings ever has, so that at any moment now some clanking robot will pull itself erect and announce, ‘Cogito, ergo, sum.’

We take, nevertheless, the brief against that kind of reason, the brief for faith and the future.

Late Update I had the pleasure of interviewing Ambassador Ledogar for my dissertation, The Minimum Means of Reprisal — Jeffrey.