How FP set out to change the world.
A shifting global order as U.S. dominance erodes. Americans tired of foreign entanglements while facing social and racial discord at home. An ethically challenged president whose policies are dividing the country. A world beset by new challenges, from resource depletion and overpopulation to environmental pollution. A calcified foreign-policy establishment struggling to find answers for an uncertain new era. In 1970, the United States looked eerily as it does today.
Fifty years ago, these tectonic shifts—coupled with a strong sense that U.S. foreign policy needed fresh voices and a new debate—prompted two friends to found a new magazine. It was the birth of Foreign Policy.
The seed money for the new venture came from Warren Demian Manshel, a wealthy New York investment banker and intellectual entrepreneur who had already founded another high-impact publication, the Public Interest, with Irving Kristol and Daniel Bell in 1965. After fighting in World War II, Manshel had joined Harvard University, where he shared an office with his fellow teaching assistant and émigré from Germany, Henry Kissinger. At Harvard, Manshel also struck what turned out to be a lifelong friendship with Samuel P. Huntington, who is best known today for his landmark 1996 work, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.
Huntington was already an influential thinker when he co-founded Foreign Policy. His The Soldier and the State (1957) is still regarded as the most influential book on civil-military relations in the United States. Political Order in Changing Societies (1968) broke new ground as a critique of modernization theory, emphasizing the political and cultural challenges that hinder growth in developing countries.
A conservative Democrat, Huntington was a hawk on Vietnam, while Manshel was a dove—the same divide that had brought protests to the streets of U.S. cities and was threatening to tear the country apart. Because Huntington and Manshel wanted to move beyond that bitter debate, they set out to create a journal that would “stimulate rational discussion of the new directions required in American foreign policy”—and in the process, shake up the foreign-policy establishment. Given the dramatic events of the late 1960s, the press was full of polarized opinions on Vietnam, but there was little serious, in-depth policy discussion about the conflict or, for that matter, about most other foreign-policy issues.
The main U.S. journal on international issues at the time, Foreign Affairs, was publishing occasional pieces about the war—but only with extreme caution. Opinions were so polarized that the journal was struggling to preserve a semblance of unity within the U.S. foreign-policy establishment, whose voice it had been since its founding in 1922 as the official publication of the Council on Foreign Relations. As a result, the pages of Foreign Affairs had become excessively conventional. To Huntington and Manshel, its editors were avoiding long-overdue debates.
As the new kid on the policy journalism block, Foreign Policy would be anything but conventional. Even the new print journal’s format was designed by its first art director, Samuel Antupit, to be eye-catching: Tall and narrow—it was only about 4 inches wide—the quarterly magazine was supposed to fit into the breast pocket of a man’s suit. It was set in an elegant font and the color of the cover logo changed with each season. In contrast to existing policy magazines, it was also designed to be readable and lively. There were cartoons, catchy headlines, and creative formats—bold innovations at the time. One such new format was “The Nixon Report Card,” which gave school grades to then-President Richard Nixon on subjects such as the Soviet Union, the Middle East, arms control, and trade; it was written by Zbigniew Brzezinski, a member of the magazine’s editorial board.
But the main breakthrough was intellectual and political. By offering a new forum and inviting a mix of politicians, policymakers, journalists, and academics to write, Foreign Policy set out to construct a new, liberal vision for the United States’ posture in the world—a vision to replace the shattered consensus that had led to Vietnam. Huntington and Manshel guided their creation’s first steps and chose John Franklin Campbell, a young U.S. foreign service officer, as the first editor. When Campbell suddenly died of thyroid cancer barely a year into his new job, the magazine hired Richard Holbrooke, another young foreign service professional who had just completed a six-year stint in Vietnam and a Peace Corps assignment in Morocco. Only 31 years old when he took the helm, Holbrooke would later become a towering figure in U.S. diplomacy.
On the occasion of Foreign Policy’s 40th anniversary in 2010, Holbrooke described the journal’s ethos of airing opposing views instead of smothering them under a false consensus. Huntington and Manshel “believed in promoting dialogue even among people who disagreed violently,” Holbrooke said. Naturally, opening up the debate didn’t make everyone happy. “We aggravated people enormously. … People like Henry Kissinger were incredibly angry at the magazine for what we published.”
The new magazine very quickly made a name for itself by publishing innovative pieces and trenchant critiques, as well as occasional scoops, such as those of the journalist Tad Szulc about Kissinger’s controversial diplomacy in Vietnam and Portugal. The meetings of the editorial committee, often hosted by Manshel at lavish locations, were vibrant with new ideas. Writers covered a spectrum of opinions, from conservative Democrats politically close to Huntington such as Brzezinski, Paul Nitze, and Albert Wohlstetter to Republicans such as Helmut Sonnenfeldt to moderate liberals including Leslie H. Gelb, Anthony Lake, Morton Halperin, Paul Warnke, and Stanley Hoffmann. While the latter group more or less dominated the pages of Foreign Policy, the magazine also gave voice to more radical thinkers such as Richard Barnet and Richard Falk, as well as quasi-isolationists such as Earl Ravenal.
Finally, Americans could read a serious debate on Vietnam, with no fewer than 16 columns and articles spanning eight quarterly issues in 1971 and 1972. From the start, Foreign Policy also offered fresh ideas for reconstructing a liberal consensus; “Foreign Policy for Disillusioned Liberals” ran the headline for a manifesto by Lincoln P. Bloomfield, an academic and former State Department official, in the Winter 1972-73 issue. Most of the magazine’s editorial board agreed that the U.S. strategy of containment as laid out a quarter century earlier by George F. Kennan—or at least the strategy’s militarized version—had gone awry in Vietnam. But they also agreed that the desire to avoid future Vietnams could not mean an abrogation of the United States’ global role, a temptation the political scientist Graham Allison, in an article for the inaugural issue of Foreign Policy, detected with concern among young Americans.
As the Cold War receded thanks to Nixon and Kissinger’s policy of detente, what took shape in the columns of Foreign Policy was a different perception of the United States’ role and priorities in the world. The international system was changing due to the rise of what was then called the Third World—made up of dozens of newly independent countries—as well as the emergence of Western Europe and Japan as serious economic competitors, the Soviet Union’s growing assertiveness, and the ascendant power of transnational forces such as multinational corporations and the global media. All these shifts forced a reevaluation. A wounded United States was no longer hegemonic, nor was it able to shoulder every burden, from the military protection of distant allies to upholding the international monetary system through the convertibility of U.S. dollars into gold, which Nixon unilaterally abolished in the summer of 1971.
Amid this vast global reordering, Foreign Policy’s contributors proposed and debated new ideas. While Kissinger was trying to build a “stable structure of peace” with the opening to China, Brzezinski and other writers emphasized trilateralism—the addition of Japan to the trans-Atlantic alliance. Ronald Steel, a historian and diplomat, proposed returning to 1950s-style spheres of influence. The first decade of Foreign Policy’s existence was also when the concept of interdependence first became a buzzword. It advocated for “leadership without hegemony,” to quote the title of an article by the economist Marina von Neumann Whitman, one of the few female writers of those early years. North-South relations were becoming an issue of attention and debate, alongside East-West and Cold War divides. The Middle East gained in importance, as it would continue to do in the following decades.
From its very beginning, Foreign Policy paid particular attention to international economic challenges, from trade wars to the new competition from developing countries—at a time when globalization wasn’t even on the horizon. Indeed, the Winter 1972-73 issue was devoted to “the primacy of economics.” Richard N. Cooper, an economist who later joined the Carter administration, argued that the economy should graduate from “low policy” to “high policy” on the U.S. president’s agenda. There was a widespread belief among Foreign Policy’s writers that geoeconomics, rather than geopolitics, was the new name of the game: “The world is entering an era in which the postwar concepts of power and peace, as known to Americans and to others in the developed world, are beginning to shift,” Robert E. Hunter, an academic who served multiple administrations, wrote in that same Winter 1972-73 issue. “The nature of power is shifting away from the military to the economic realm.”
The oil shock of 1973, in particular, only encouraged the magazine to explore new external challenges of a geoeconomic nature. The economist C. Fred Bergsten addressed the rise of developing countries in a series of articles from 1973 to 1975. The issue of access to energy and other raw materials was hotly debated, as was the worldwide food supply—even the seabed made its debut as a geoeconomic issue.
Foreign Policy covered environmental issues early on, breaking yet another path in foreign-policy writing. In a piece written in the spring of 1976 titled “Independence and Interdependence,” the political scientist Joseph S. Nye Jr. warned that a “melting of the Arctic ice cap because of a three degree rise in the earth’s temperature resulting from industrial growth; a depletion of the earth ozone layer because of widespread use of refrigerants, fertilizers, or nuclear tests; theft of plutonium by terrorist groups; … or a prolonged world population explosion could threaten the security of American (and other) people as seriously as many occurrences that could arise in the traditional political-military realm.”
Although climate change was still far from being a central concern, Foreign Policy demonstrated early awareness of environmental challenges and the necessity of global action to address them. The magazine’s writers were also very early proponents of international cooperation on issues such as human rights and corruption. More generally, and because the strict bipolar order was giving way to a more complex system, the overall vision put forward by Foreign Policy showed a tendency toward globalism. It was clearly suggested in the magazine’s manifesto on the opening pages of the very first issue in 1970: “[T]hose problems, such as race relations, population growth, and resource exhaustion, which today seem to be the critical domestic issues, will soon have to be confronted and dealt with on a world-wide basis.”
From Foreign Policy to FP
But in another parallel to today’s uncertain era, the 1970s were also very much a moment of self-doubt, introversion, and second guessing for the United States. Beyond launching debates on grand strategy and in the new domains it explored, Foreign Policy broke ground by shedding critical light on some of the actors and instruments of U.S. diplomacy, from foreign aid to Congress to the CIA. It looked at the impact of bureaucratic politics on diplomatic decision-making, the growing influence of multinational corporations, and the role of the media—after all, the phrase “global village” had been coined by the Canadian theorist Marshall McLuhan just a few years before.
While the traditional foreign-policy establishment had been repudiated and a new elite of inside-the-Beltway cognoscenti had not yet fully coalesced to replace it, Foreign Policy was also revolutionary in giving particular attention to public opinion, which had been so vocal in opposing the Vietnam War. Several articles tried to take the nation’s post-Vietnam pulse as the mood oscillated between isolationism and internationalism. Beginning in 1974, the magazine published regular public opinion surveys on Americans’ views of the world commissioned by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, a longtime partner of Foreign Policy that was later renamed the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
In 1972, Thomas L. Hughes, who had just been named the sixth president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, made the foundation a second financial backer of the magazine next to Manshel. Carnegie had always stood for a liberal internationalist vision of foreign policy, so intellectually it was a good match. Hughes became a liberal force on Foreign Policy’s editorial committee, which he chaired from 1972 to 1991.
In 1977, the liberal internationalist vision developed and honed at Foreign Policy turned from theory to practice as many members of the editorial committee joined the incoming Carter administration. Brzezinski became national security advisor, Holbrooke assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, Lake the State Department’s director of policy planning. More than 12 members of the editorial board were placed on leave, including Manshel, who was appointed U.S. ambassador to Denmark. The following year, on the grounds that Manshel was now a government official, Carnegie insisted on acquiring full ownership of Foreign Policy—a move that frustrated Manshel, who would later regret losing the magazine he co-founded.
With so many of the magazine’s leading voices becoming key players under President Jimmy Carter, there was a sense that Foreign Policy was now “in power.” And whether it was Carter’s focus on human rights, his new relationship with Latin America, or the special attention the new administration paid to global economic issues, many of the ideas recommended in the magazine over the previous years were turning into actual policies.
These were heady days, but the seemingly happy situation soon generated new frictions. Because Foreign Policy had been conceived as a magazine of debate, with a built-in injunction to present opposing viewpoints, it had juxtaposed opinions rather than developed an integrated ideology or coherent set of policies. That is one reason, perhaps, that the new liberal consensus was not ready to withstand the trial of power. In the administration, the traditional and sometimes hard-line approach personified by Brzezinski and Huntington clashed with the more liberal outlook of Holbrooke, Gelb, and Lake, whose ideas were also shared by Carter’s secretary of state, Cyrus Vance. On arms control in particular, Warnke and Nitze, two important contributors to the journal, clashed publicly and acrimoniously during the SALT II debates of 1978 and 1979.
To make matters worse for the Foreign Policy alumni in the administration, their old magazine was sniping from the side. In late 1977, an editorial board member, Stanley Hoffmann, fired the first shot in a brilliant article titled “The Hell of Good Intentions,” where he pointed out the many contradictions in Carter’s diplomacy. Less than a year afterward, the political scientist Simon Serfaty doubled down in a pointed attack on Brzezinski—“Play It Again, Zbig”—a piece soon followed by others finding fault in the administration’s approach.
While shining a critical light on the policies of those in power was (and is) a key part of Foreign Policy’s mission, these critiques inevitably weakened many of the recommendations put forward by the magazine while they were in the process of being implemented. And with the renewed deterioration of East-West relations that culminated in the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the ideas that had flourished in Foreign Policy at a time when the Cold War was not so paramount no longer seemed appropriate to the moment. Even worse for the liberal internationalists, the hard-liners of “peace through strength” and “America is back,” led by the aspiring presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, were gaining in influence and political power. They, too, had honed their views in political journals—the traditional right in National Review and the emerging neoconservative faction in Commentary. Following Reagan’s victory in 1980, Foreign Policy returned to its place in the opposition.
Since those trailblazing early years, Foreign Policy has transformed with the world around it. Today, it is much more diverse—in its staff, its contributors, and its outlook—and has long made a point of being nonpartisan. But in important ways, there has been a continuity with its early spirit and ideas. In the mid-1990s, under the leadership of editor Moisés Naím, the magazine was a pioneer in exploring globalization, and the role the United States should play in the process, just as it was beginning to unfold—echoing the early 1970s, when Foreign Policy broke new ground expanding the definition of international affairs to include geoeconomics and other global issues. Under Naím, the magazine won three National Magazine Awards for general excellence. His successor, Susan Glasser, accelerated the buildout of Foreign Policy into a successful online platform, pulling in another round of awards. Today, as the global order is being challenged and transformed in ways that parallel the era of its founding, Foreign Policy is once again a forum where old certainties are questioned and new ideas for a fast-changing world can be explored.
Justin Vaïsse is the founder and director-general of the Paris Peace Forum and the author, most recently, of Zbigniew Brzezinski: America’s Grand Strategist. Twitter: @JustinVaisse