31 MAY 1920 * 16 AUGUST 2006
ALEXANDER L. GEORGE, the Graham H. Stuart Professor of International Relations, emeritus, died on 16 August 2006 at age eighty-six. He was widely viewed as one of the greatest scholars of the twentieth century in international relations and the avoidance of nuclear war. He was one of the first to lead the scientific community into the careful study of nuclear crisis management during the Cold War and to create a dynamic interplay between scholars and policymakers on these critically dangerous issues.
He earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Chicago, receiving a doctorate in political science in 1968. This came after his stimulating work during World War II, when he was a research analyst for the Federal Communications Commission from 1942 to 1944. Then he served as a civil affairs officer in Germany from 1945 to 1948. These experiences flowed naturally into his work on the study of decision making and international relations at the RAND Corporation from 1948 to 1968. He joined the Stanford faculty in 1968 and remained there as a deeply respected member of the Stanford community until the end of his career.
One of the recurring themes in the decades of his distinguished research was leadership. In Woodrow Wilson and Colonel House (1956), written with his wife, Juliette George, he suggested that the disciplined use of concepts derived from dynamic psychology may illuminate the behavior of political leaders, in this case Wilson, whose stubbornness and refusal to compromise with powerful men whose positions entitled them to be power sharers led to his defeat in the pursuit of his most cherished political goals - ultimately, U.S. participation in the League of Nations. The Georges' study of Wilson stimulated a great deal of analysis about how, responsibly, to relate a leader's life history and personality to his or her functioning as a political leader. In 1980, he wrote an extremely important and influential book, Presidential DecisionMaking in Foreign Policy: Making Better Use of Information and Advice. This was followed in 1998 by another book with his wife, Presidential Personality and Performance.
Leadership also entered insightfully into a series of publications during the Cold War that provided remarkable analysis of U.S.-Soviet relations, their immense dangers, and the ways in which these dangers could be diminished. These analyses and insights were published in rich detail including several seminal books: The Limits of Coercive Diplomacy: Laos, Cuba, Vietnam (1971); Deterrence in American Foreign Policy: Theory and Practice (1974); Managing U.S.-Soviet Rivalry: Problems of Crisis Prevention (1983); U.S.-Soviet Security Cooperation (1988); Avoiding War: Problems of Crisis Management (1991); and Forceful Persuasion: Coercive Diplomacy as an Alternative to War (1991).
Important papers that influenced the course of the Cold War included "Nuclear Crisis Management" (1984); "The Impact of CrisisInduced Stress on Decision Making" (1986); "Problems of Crisis Management and Crisis Avoidance in US-Soviet Relations" (1986); and "The Search for Agreed Norms" (1989).
An important year for him was 1957, when he was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. He established linkages with scholars in a variety of fields, started fruitful collaborations, and made enduring friendships.
In the early 1960s, at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, he became alarmed about the possibility that such crises could occur again and very likely lead to nuclear catastrophe. He pursued this interest in his scholarly work by studying several crises and formulating principles of crisis management. In the course of this, he studied decision-making processes in the face of terrible risks, such as those of nuclear confrontation. This led to our formulation of the crisis prevention approach in collaboration with scholars and policymakers. A crisis prevention enterprise grew in both universities and the government.
Then he linked the crisis prevention approach to Soviet counterparts and probably had a beneficial effect on both superpowers. In any event, Alex George was a major intellectual leader in this field and patiently worked with others to enlist their good ideas and operational help. Moreover, he published several seminal books on ways of reducing the nuclear danger through a mutual learning process between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Much has been learned from the Cold War, the most dangerous conflict in all of history. The likelihood of irreversible disaster soars in the highly stressful setting of a nuclear confrontation, which demands instant decisions and fine-tuned control of far-flung military operations. The superpowers were faced with this harsh fact, and urged to recognize that it was in their national interest to retreat a respectful distance from the brink of a shared final calamity. This demanded a regimen for crisis prevention, beyond crisis management. In the context of the Cold War, such a regimen would emphasize finding ways to decrease the likelihood of use of nuclear weapons. It would not assume a warmer relationship between the U.S. and USSR, or a mutual rapid reduction of their nuclear hoards - desirable as these changes might be. It would simply assume their recognition that confrontations on the level of the Cuban Missile Crisis could not be managed safely time after time.
The main points of the crisis prevention approach can be stated concisely, and are still useful in hostile international or intergroup situations:
1 . Avoid nasty, unpleasant surprises. For example, upgrade the Hotline between Washington and Moscow for rapid use to clarify an unsettling event.
2. Agree in advance on "rules of the road" to deal with sensitive and potentially explosive situations. The "Incidents-at-Sea" agreement, for example, is a model for highly professional military-to-military contacts to diminish the risk of incidental firing or even inadvertent nuclear war.
3. Clarify vital interests in touchy situations. To this end, a policy of holding regular regional consultations covering different areas of the world gradually evolved.
4. Create new and strengthen existing institutional mechanisms, such as nuclear risk reduction centers that provide professional exchange of information and ideas on a regular basis regarding issues that could readily become highly dangerous, such as unanticipated missile tests.
In the 1990s, George served as an exceedingly valuable member of the Carnegie Corporation on Preventing Deadly Conflict that I had the privilege to co-chair with the late Cyrus Vance. Among other contributions, he joined with me and Jane HoIl Lute, executive director of the commission, to set in motion a number of studies that could enrich the commission's own report and begin to get around the contours of this large, complex subject. Thanks to his stimulation and judgment, the result was a large and penetrating collection of publications constituting a unique resource on prevention of mass violence.
In almost all of this work throughout his career, he sought to gain insights from the careful study of policymakers' experience and also to make the work of the scientific community available, comprehensible, and useful to policymakers. In this vein, he made many low-key, highly professional contributions to the ongoing dialogue between the scholarly community and the policy community. Much of this work was crystallized in his 1993 book, Bridging the Gap: Theory and Practice in Foreign Policy.
Within the behavioral sciences he was particularly interested in building linkages between political science and psychology. Toward this end, he not only published highly significant papers, but also fostered both informal communication and organizational mechanisms for fostering collaborative interdisciplinary research. One excellent example of this approach was in a powerful 1974 paper, "Adaptation to Stress in Political Decision Making: The Individual, Small Group, and Organizational Contexts." He also fostered the collaboration of political scientists and historians and over the years published four editions of a superb textbook written with the distinguished historian Gordon Craig, Force and Statecraft: Diplomatic Problems of our Time.
He made a career-long pattern of scholarship on building for the social sciences case studies that were accurate, highly pertinent to the issue at hand, and useful for students, as well as advanced scholars. Appropriately, his final book, published in 2006, is the culmination of this line of inquiry.
Alex George was legendary for his patience and generosity with his students and other young scholars, helping them at every level of development in their work, and so leaving a real legacy in the cause of peace.
Among many honors for his deep and prolific work were the Bancroft Prize for American History and Diplomacy in 1975; the Mac Arthur Prize in 1983; the Swedish Johan Skytte Prize in 1998; and the National Academy of Sciences Award for Behavioral Research Relevant to the Prevention of Nuclear War in 1997.
Those of us who have had the privilege of knowing and working with Alex George, at whatever age or stage of our careers, have a deep and enduring respect for his high ideals, intellectual curiosity, utter integrity, and unfailing generosity. Through his own work, and that of so many others for whom he provided stimulation, guidance, and encouragement, he has strengthened the study of human behavior at a basic level and the use of this knowledge for a more peaceful world in the spirit of our common humanity.
DAVID A. HAMBURG
Carnegie Corporation of New York
De Witt Wallace Distinguished Scholar
Department of Psychiatry
Weill Medical College