Council on Foreign Relations, extract from The Powers That Be

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The best known of the policy organizations is the Council on Foreign Relations. Founded in 1920-21 by East Coast bankers, lawyers and academicians who were fully cognizant of the enlarged role the United States would play in world affairs in the wake of World War I, the council's importance in shaping foreign policy has been noted by numerous journalists.[1] However, it has been the object of only two academic studies during its history, an impressive commentary in itself on how little social scientists know about policy-making in the United States.[2]

There are about 1,500 members in the Council, half from the New York area, half from the rest of the country. The members are primarily financiers, executives and lawyers, with a strong minority of journalists and academic experts. The biggest banks and corporations are the most heavily represented organizations.[3] The council receives its general funding from wealthy individuals, corporations and subscriptions to its influential periodical, Foreign Affairs. For special projects, however, it relies upon major founda-tions for support. Especially important sources are the Ford, Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations, which have numerous director and executive interlocks with the council leadership.

The council operates an active program of luncheon and dinner speeches at its New York clubhouse, featuring major U.S. government officials and national leaders from all over the world. It also encourages dialogue and disseminates information through books, pamphlets and articles in Foreign Affairs. However, the most important aspect of the CFR program is its discussion groups and policy groups. These small gatherings of about twenty-five bring together business executives, government officials, scholars and military officers for detailed discussions of specific topics in the area of foreign affairs. Discussion groups are charged with exploring problems in a general way, trying tp define issues and alternatives. Such groups often lead to a study group as the next stage. Study groups revolve around the work of a council research fellow (financed by Ford, Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations) or a staff member. This group leader and other experts present monthly papers which are discussed and criticized by the rest of the group. The goal of such study groups is a detailed state-ment of the problem by the scholar leading the discussions.

In 1957-58, for example, the council published six books which grew out of study groups. The most famous of these, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, was written by Harvard professor Henry Kissinger, who had been asked by CFR leaders to head the study group. The book received a very careful reading in the Kennedy administration.[4] In addition to several bankers and corporate executives, the Kissinger study group included two former appointees in the upper echelons of the Defense Depart-ment, two former chairpersons of the Atomic Energy Commission and representatives, from just below the top level at the State Department, the CIA and all three armed forces.

Study groups at the Council on Foreign Relations have been at the heart of many foreign policy initiatives. The post-World War II planning which led to the formation of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and United Nations was a council project, as will be demonstrated in detail later in the chapter. A series of study groups in the 1940's and 1950's helped to establish the consensus wisdom that it was necessary to "defend" Vietnam at any cost.[5] A $1-million grant from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations in the early 1960's led to study groups which recon-sidered U.S. policy toward China, finally concluding that the policy must be changed to one of recognition and eventual trade relations.[6]

Many council members are directly involved in the making of foreign policy in Washington. "Over a third of the Council's 1500 members have been called on by the government during the last 20 years to undertake official responsibilities," reports a council publication.[7] "Whenever we needed a man," explained one of the lawyers who ran the Department of War in World War II, "we thumbed through a roll of Council members and put through a call to New York."[8] Twelve of the fourteen "wise men" who were President Lyndon B. Johnson's secret Senior Advisory Group on Vietnam were members of the council.[9] And all but one or two of the major appointments to the State Department by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 were members of the council.


  • ^ E.g., Joseph Kraft, "School for Statesmen," Harper's magazine, July, 1958; J. Anthony Lukas, "The Council on Foreign Relations - Is It a Club? Seminar? Presidium? 'Invisible Government'?" the New York Times Magazine, November 21, 1971.
  • ^ G. William Domlioff, The Higher Circles (Random House, 1970), chapter 5; Laurence H. Shoup and William Minter, Imperial Brain Trust (Monthly Review Press, 1977).
  • ^ Shoup andMinter, op.cities, chapter 3.
  • ^Kraft, op. cit., p. 66.
  • ^Shoup and Minter, op. cit., chapter 6.
  • ^ ibid., pp. 207-212.
  • ^ "Programs and Purposes: Studies on Foreign Policy 1970-1971" (Council on Foreign Relations, 1971).
  • ^ Kraft, op. cit., p. 67.
  • ^ Shoup and Minter, op. cit., p. 242.