Max M Kampelman: Diplomat who negotiated with the Soviet Union on nuclear arms reduction

He worked for Republicans and Democrats at the same time – a situation now unthinkable

Nothing delighted Max Kampelman more than the description of him once offered by Izvestia. He was, according to the former Soviet newspaper, “a friend of animals and an enemy of Communists”. The first part referred to his stint as chairman of the Friends of the National Zoo in Washington DC, the second to his years of service as a leading US negotiator on human rights and arms control. Given the source, it was high praise indeed.

Kampelman was among the last of a breed made famous by the likes of Paul Nitze, Clark Clifford and Lloyd Cutler – Washington “wise men” who advised presidents and undertook vital tasks for them, but who were never elected to any public office. In Kampelman's case, the presidents came from both parties.

He himself was a lifelong Democrat, named by Jimmy Carter to lead the US team with the daunting task of seeking Soviet compliance with the 1975 Helsinki accords. But, impressed by Kampelman's patient and hard-headed negotiating style, Ronald Reagan not only kept him on in that job after Carter's defeat, but in 1985 placed him in charge of the US delegation to the superpower nuclear arms talks in Geneva that would yield arguably the two most important arms reductions deals of the late Cold War era.

Such was the trust that Kampelman inspired among Democrats and Republicans alike that at one point in 1984 he was simultaneously a leading foreign policy adviser to Walter Mondale, the Democratic presidential nominee, and a legal counsel to Edwin Meese III, attorney general during Reagan's second term. In today's hyper-partisan Washington, a similar arrangement is all but unthinkable.

Max Kampelman was born in New York, the son of Jewish immigrants from Romania. A conscientious objector during the Second World War, he did alternate service by taking part in a government study of starvation. In the process his weight fell to barely 100lbs, less than eight stone, but the findings would be of great value in treating survivors of the Nazi camps.

After taking his law degree at New York University, Kampelman moved to Minneapolis, where he took a masters and then a doctorate in political science at the University of Minnesota. More significantly he got a first taste of public service, working for Hubert Humphrey, then the Democratic mayor of Minneapolis.

When Humphrey was elected to the Senate in 1948, Kampelman followed him to Washington, serving as Humphrey's legislative counsel until 1955, before joining the Washington office of the law firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver, & Jacobson. But the two men stayed close, and Kampelman would advise Humphrey in his unsuccessful presidential campaigns of 1968 and 1972.

By then his world views were hardening. As early as 1955 Kampelman had renounced pacifism, in part because of the menace of nuclear weapons, and for several years served as a reservist in the US Marine Corps. In the mid-1970s he moved away from the McGovernite left-wingers who controlled the Democratic party, joining the Committee on the Present Danger, a foreign policy ginger group then focussed on the Soviet Union, but which later would be a platform for advocates of the neo-conservative foreign policy of George W Bush.

Kampelman was no expert on nuclear arms when Reagan named him to the Geneva job. But his four years in charge of the US delegation were highly fruitful – even though they began with what seemed an epic failure: the 1986 summit in Reykjavik, when presidents Reagan and Gorbachev came within touching distance of agreement to get rid of all nuclear weapons. The deal foundered on Reagan's refusal to give up his cherished “Star Wars” programme. A reporter recalled Kampelman being almost in tears at the post-summit press conference.

In fact Reykjavik ushered in a golden era of arms control. In December 1987 the two leaders signed the INF Treaty, eliminating medium range nuclear weapons. Much progress was also made towards agreement on cutting the two sides' strategic arsenals, a deal formalised in the START I treaty of 1991, two years after Kampelman had left Geneva to return to his Washington law practice.

By the end even the Russians respected his toughness and fairness as a negotiator. “Never be unreasonable,” Kampelman once told The Washington Post. “But if you give at the start, you are losing out... Don't look to show good will by making a concession, because it is interpreted not as good will but as a lack of will.”

In 1989 he received the Presidential Citizens Medal, the country's second highest civilian award, and in 1999 went one better when Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour of all. By the end, he was among the fiercest foes of the nuclear weapons that had occupied much of his professional life. Horrified by what would happened had the September 2001 terrorists possessed a nuclear device, Kampelman organised efforts to enact a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons, a campaign in vain, but featuring such luminaries as former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz.

Max M Kampelman, lawyer and diplomat: born New York City 7 November 1920; married 1949 Marjorie Buetow (deceased 2007; two sons, three daughters); died Washington DC 25 January 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ampersand Consulting LLP: Project Manager / IT Project Manager

£50 - £60 per annum: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Project Manager / IT Project Ma...

Tradewind Recruitment: Permanent Class Teachers Required for 2015/2016 - Suffolk

£21000 - £50000 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teachers seeking perma...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 5 Teacher Required For 2015/16 - Chelmsford

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: A popular, 'Good' school loc...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teachers Required in Norwich and Great Yarmouth

£20000 - £45000 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am working on behalf of a ...

Day In a Page

Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food