Then and Now: Dissenters From American Foreign Policy on Russia in the 1980s and Today

In my intense, nearly daily exchange of emails with the late Professor Steve Cohen in 2015 before and during our incorporation of The American Committee for East-West Accord, Steve often expressed his deep regret that American political dialogue on policy towards Russia had become so consolidated and closed to dissenting views, which were now vilified and beyond the pale.

His words came back to me recently when, going through my home archives as I prepared my memoirs for publication, I came across a little brochure dated March 1982 listing members of the original American Committee on East-West Accord, in which both Steve and I were shown. Indeed we were on the same page in alphabetical order, 12 places apart. His professional affiliation was given as Director, Russian Studies Program, Princeton University. Mine was ITT Europe. To be sure, we had no knowledge of one another back then as we existed in parallel worlds of business and university life. We came together only in the new millennium when I transitioned from business to a new role as “public intellectual.”

March 1982 was a year before Ronald Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech targeting the USSR and almost two years before the launch of his “Star Wars” program, but it was well after everyone in the American political establishment understood which way the wind was blowing, what the policy direction from Washington would be, namely growing push-back, confrontation with Moscow in what could be a very rough ride.

The Wikipedia entry on The American Committee for East-West Accord is very spare in its report on the original Committee, which existed from 1974 to 1992. I quote:

Founding members included George F. Kennan, Stephen F. Cohen, Jerome Wiesner, and Theodore Hesburgh. The group, which was composed of businessmen, journalists, academics, and former elected officials, advanced the position that “common sense” should determine U.S. trade policy with the USSR, specifically, that the US should avoid economic boycotts and sanctions against the Soviet Union as such measures rarely worked. Instead, it argued, expanding American-Soviet trade would help advance the cause of détente. It also supported the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), increased scientific and cultural exchanges with the Soviet Union, and less confrontational rhetoric about the USSR.

This very brief description in Wikipedia, in particular the skewed list of Founding Members and the failure to identify the given “businessmen, journalists, academics and former elected officials” leaves the reader with no sense whatsoever of the moral and political strength of the original ACEWA as compared to its 2015 reincarnation that had only the handful of persons who are shown in the article. Indeed, naming names here and now demonstrates in black and white how over the past 30 years there has been near total collapse of free thinking, or shall we say of any thinking whatsoever as regards one of the fundamental, even existential issues facing the United States: how to deal with Russia. Numbers alone tell the story: in 1982 there were approximately 300 very visible leaders from all branches of American society in the Committee. In 2015, it was hard to find the 10 listed. This collapse would be cause for alarm if anyone impartial were watching.

I will give below some of the best known people from the list of Committee members in 1982. But first allow me to cut to the quick. In any such organization there are names and there are movers and shakers. Sometimes the two overlap, but rarely.

Contrary to what the Wikipedia article suggests, it was precisely businessmen who were the movers and shakers of the original Committee. I know, because starting from my joining The American Committee in 1976, I attended its key gatherings on the sidelines of US-USSR Trade and Economic Council annual meetings. At that time, I still was running my own ship as chief executive of a consultancy serving a dozen major US corporations on their Soviet projects.

Trade Council chair Donald Kendall also served as a co-chair of the ACEWA, and if anyone called the shots and helped finance ACEWA it was he. Kendall’s daytime job was, of course, as chairman of Pepsico, and in that capacity he had negotiated some of the most profitable and successful business deals with the Soviets in the entire period of détente. He was a vigorous defender of these achievements.

The downside of Mr. Kendall’s stewardship came out only in the mid-1980s, when the launch of Star Wars and the noisy clash with the USSR over its SS20 intermediate range nuclear missiles in Europe to be countered by American Pershings in Germany was heating up. At that point, a large swathe of American university students and professors sought to join ACEWA, seeing in it a possible vehicle for applying political leverage on the Reagan administration to back off.

As Steve explained to me in 2015, Kendall, as a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, did not want to go up against a Republican president in a public fight, and he did not open ACEWA’s doors to these large numbers of potential new supporters. Thus, ACEWA was rendered irrelevant precisely at the moment when it could have become a political force.

At Kendall’s side as President of the original American Committee was Robert D. Schmidt, a top executive of Control Data Corporation. Schmidt took personal oversight of publications, including their Common Sense in U.S.-Soviet Trade issues to which I contributed as an expert on food technology cooperation with the Soviets.

To be sure, the other co-Chairmen of ACEWA were George Kennan (at this point a retired academic) and John Kenneth Galbraith (one of Harvard’s best known academics at the time). But they were present as ballast, not as drivers of policy. I exclude the lesser officers of ACEWA from our nose count because they were just implementers.

I offer below lists grouped by professional orientation of some of the most prominent members of the original ACEWA according to the 1982 publication. Of course, in some instances the attributions equate to their past careers; for others, generally younger members, their public importance lay in assignments yet to come.


  • Ball, George W.: Former Under Secretary of State; Senior Managing Director, Lehman Brothers
  • Hammer, Armand: Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Occidental Petroleum
  • Jacobson, Jerome: Vice Chairman, Burroughs Corporation
  • James, John: Chairman and President, Dresser Industries
  • Makush, Walter: Vice President and Area Director, Westinghouse Electric Corporation
  • Oztemel, Ara: Chairman of the Board, SATRA Corporation
  • Pisar, Samuel: Author; Attorney, Pisar and Huhs [stepfather to the current US Secretary of State Blinken]
  • Scott, Harold: Chairman of the Board, Givaudan Corporation; Former President, US-USSR Trade and Economic Council
  • Skouras, Spyros: President and Chief Executive Officer, Prudential Lines, Inc.
  • Stroebel, Paul: Director, International Business Relations, The Dow Chemical Co.
  • Verity, Willliam: Chairman, ARMCO Incorporated; Co-Chairman, US-USSR Trade & Economic Council


  • Baltimore, David: Professor of Biology, MIT; Director, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
  • Berman, Harold: Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
  • Black, Cyril: Director, Center for International Studies, Princeton University
  • Bowen, Howard: Professor of Economics, Claremont Graduate School; Former President, the University of Iowa
  • Doty, Paul: Director for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Feld, Bernard: Head, Division of Nuclear and Particle Physics, M.I.T., Editor-in-Chief, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
  • Goldman, Marshall: Professor of Economics, Wellesley College; Associate Director, Russian Research Center, Harvard
  • Hoffmann, Stanley: Chairman, Center for European Studies, Harvard
  • Howard, John: Former President, Lewis and Clark College
  • Kistiakowsky, George: Former Science Adviser to President Eisenhower; Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, Harvard University
  • Leontieff, Wassily: Nobel Laureate; Director, Institute for Economic Analysis, NY University
  • Reischauer, Edwin: Former US Ambassador; University Professor Emeritus, Harvard
  • Riesman, David: Professor of Social Sciences Emeritus, Harvard
  • Robinson, Olin: President, Middlebury College
  • Rome, Howard: Mayo Clinic President Emeritus; Past President, World Association of Psychiatrists
  • Sanford, Terry: President, Duke University; Former Governor of North Carolina
  • Starr, S. Frederick: Vice President for Academic Affairs, Tulane University; former Secretary, Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies
  • Steinbruner, John: Director, Foreign Policy Studies Program, Brookings Institution
  • Stern, Fritz: Provost and Professor of History, Columbia University
  • Tucker, Robert: Professor of Politics, Princeton University
  • Von Laue, Theodore: Professor of History, Clark University
  • Wiesner, Jerome: Former Presidential Science Adviser; President Emeritus, MIT


  • Carter, Hodding III: Former Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs
  • Church, Frank: Former US Senator (D-ID) Former Chairman Senate Foreign Relations Committee
  • Clark, Dick: Former US Senator (D-IA) Senior Fellow, Aspen Institute
  • Clusen. Ruth: Former President, League of Women Voters; Former Assistant Secretary, Department of Energy
  • Culver, John: Former US Senator (D-IA) and Member of Senate Armed Services Committee
  • Earle, Ralph II: Former Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency
  • Fulbright, J.W.: Former US Senator (D-AR), former Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
  • Harriman, Averell: Former US Ambassador to USSR; Former Governor, New York
  • Haskell, Floyd: Former US Senator (D-Colorado)
  • Javits, Jacob: Former US Senator (D-NY)
  • Klutznick, Philip: Former Secretary of Commerce; former President World Jewish Congress
  • McCarthy, Eugene: Former US Senator (D-MN)
  • McGovern, George: Former US Senator (D-SD)
  • McNamara, Robert: Former Secretary of Defense,; Former President, World Bank
  • Newsom, David: Former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; Director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Georgetown University
  • Ribicoff, Abfraham: Former US Senator (D-CT)
  • Roosa, Robet: Former Under Secretary of the Treasury
  • Shriver, Sargent: Former US Ambassador
  • Stevenson, Adlai: Former Senator (D-IL)
  • Symington, Stuart: Former Secretary of the Air Force; Former Senator (D-MO)
  • Tunney, John: Former Senator(D-CA)

Public figures

  • Benton, Marjorie: Board Member, Arms Control Association. International Editorial Board, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
  • Davidson, William: Institute for Psychiatry and Foreign Affairs
  • Douglas, Kirk: Actor
  • Forrestal, Michael: Former President, US-USSR Trade & Economic Council
  • Fraser, Gerald: President, United Auto Workers
  • Gayler, Admiral Noel (USN-Ret): Former Commander-in-Chief, all US Forces, Pacific; Former Director, National Security Agency
  • Lee, Vice Admiral John Marshall (USN-Ret): Former Commander, Seventh Fleet Amphibious Force in Western Pacific
  • Mott, Stewart Rawlings: Philanthropist
  • Salisbury, Harrison: Specialist, Soviet Affairs; Former Associate Editor, New York Times
  • Woodcock, Leonard: Former US Ambassador; President Emeritus, United Auto Workers

Note: Ball, Hodding Carter, Cohen, Galbraith, Gayler, Hammer, Hesburgh, Kendall, Kennan, McNamara, Mott, Oztemel, Schmidt, Scott, Wiesner and Woodcock were among the 33-man Board of Directors, that is to say, one-tenth of the overall membership.

The business list set out here is brief because I have only called out the top executives of best known major companies. A good many business members of ACEWA were lawyers or owners of smaller companies that would not be recognizable to a general reader today.

Out of the 12 former US Senators, each and every one was a Democrat. I call attention to the several public figures who were prominent labor leaders (United Auto Workers). And, of course, we see several top name personalities from the Kennedy administration.

As for the academics, I have only reproduced here professors and officers of Ivy League and best known universities.

Despite these cuts, I think it is fairly obvious that the membership of the original American Committee on East West Accord was drawn heavily from both Center Left (academics, labor) and center Right (business) America. It is safe to say that virtually none of the practitioners of the professions represented in the membership in 1982 would dare to sign up to a similar program of détente with Russia today.

Was Soviet Russia a more likable entity in 1982 than the Russian Federation of Vladimir Putin? The answer is obviously “no.”

The inescapable conclusion is that the inability of the 2015 reincarnation of the American Committee to attract any meaningful support from all of the public spheres listed above demonstrates the refusal of society today to deal rationally and in a facts-based manner with the issue of relations with Russia.

Following the death of Steve Cohen a year ago, his widow, Katrina van den Heuvel, owner-publisher of The Nation and main financier of the American Committee for East West Accord folded its tents and established a successor organization bearing the name American Committee for US-Russia Accord. The remaining Board members from ACEWA stayed on in the new body and several new members were added, including Ms. Vanden Heuvel herself.

Prior to the roll-out of this new ACURA, I had made the suggestion that the group’s mission should be expanded for the sake of better traction, broader outside funding and effectiveness. If the name remained East West Accord, it would be possible to add China to the “East” part of the equation and so to deal with the ongoing New Cold War as it is actually developing, meaning a simultaneous confrontation between the United States with its allies on one side and a closely bonded Russia-China on the other side.

Indeed, the New Cold War differs from the Old Cold War in this very sense. Its ideological content, created and propagated by the United States and its allies is precisely to defend democracy against the authoritarian regimes that both China and Russia are said to represent. This, of course, is a smokescreen for the true content of containing and doing whatever harm is possible short of war to the two major powers in the world which openly resist US global hegemony.

The advantage of expanding the ACEWA tent to take in China was, I thought, inescapable: whereas US views of Russia have hardened over two decades in their disregard for facts and primitivism, and whereas this obtuseness is manifest across the political and social spectrum, the same is not true of American attitudes to China, particularly the views of American business. The Russian economy is largely irrelevant to the United States today, but that is hardly true of China, despite all the efforts under Donald Trump and now under Joe Biden to force “de-coupling”. You simply cannot decouple from the world’s second largest, soon to be first largest economy. The net result of the foregoing, is that discussion of Russia in American society would profit greatly from its being attached to the question of relations with China. Financing would be easy to come by. Venues for debates would be found, whereas no Harvard, Princeton or the other academic centers noted above will find any time or space for discussion of Russia.

Regrettably, Ms. van den Heuvel took no notice of this recommendation. Perhaps someone else and some other advocates of a sane policy towards Russia will.

Gilbert Doctorow is a Brussels-based political analyst. His latest book is Does Russia Have a Future? Reprinted with permission from his blog.