Alexander L. George

By Hamburg, David A. | Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Alexander L. George


Hamburg, David A., Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society


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. …

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