"To Be Free, Secure, and Influential”: The Committee on the Present Danger and the Campaign for American Empire Following the Vietnam War

Sunday, January 10, 2016: 9:10 AM
Room A601 (Atlanta Marriott Marquis)
John Rosenberg, Brown University
The events of 1973 sent shockwaves through the trans-Atlantic community. The October War and subsequent OPEC-imposed oil embargo laid bare the deepening fissures between the western allies. Most Western European nations openly sided with the Arab states during the war. Afterwards, these same governments sought separate deals with the oil-producing states rather than unite under American leadership. For the prominent Americans who had shaped US policy at the height of the Cold War—Paul Nitze, Eugene Rostow, and others—these developments heralded the demise of the Western Alliance. They demanded that America respond to the challenge posed by OPEC by abandoning détente and returning to the expansive military budgets and open interventionism of the Cold War.

This paper explores how these men and women took advantage of the NGO Revolution to win public acceptance of their views. They founded the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD) in 1976 to “educate” Americans on the need for an aggressive foreign policy. The Committee’s founders saw in the attributes of NGOs— nonpartisan, not for profit, and absent of government representatives—an ideal way to position themselves as “experts”, insuring that the press would depict their arguments as the apolitical conclusions of concerned citizens. The CPD’s view received official sanction when Americans elected one of their members to the White House in 1980. The rise of the NGO, often described as having a “democratizing” influence on foreign relations, also helped the foreign policy establishment to maintain their influence after the war in Vietnam.