FEW United States political appointees in the 20th century have done as much government service as Paul Nitze.
A Democrat who might now be considered a neoconservative, he served Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Nixon, and Reagan. He worked with such luminaries as Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, Ambassador George Kennan, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and Secretary of State George Shultz.
Nitze was one of those ``present at the creation,'' in the late 1940s, setting US foreign policy on the course of ``containment'' of the Soviet Union. Under Reagan, he began the ultimately successful negotiations to limit intermediate-range nuclear missiles. Much of his nongovernmental time has been spent at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, which he helped found. When such a figure sets forth a theory of politics, it is worth a serious look. This is what Nitze has done in his latest book ``Tension Between Opposites: Reflections on the Practice and Theory of Politics.''
Nitze's basic theory goes back to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who held that truth and beauty were to be found in the tension between opposites. Thus, Nitze says, we are each called to wrestle with the concepts of the individual vs. society, change vs. continuing order, force vs. consent, and power vs. responsibility. To form a useful political theory, according to Nitze, one must consider four elements: the political structure of the world or society in question; the value systems, or purposes, of its various groups; the ``situation,'' or geographic, demographic, and economic facts involved; and the viewpoint, or better yet, viewpoints of the observers.
Nitze rejects the notion that the conduct of foreign policy must be amoral. For an ethical framework, he turns to an unpublished manuscript by Boston College Law Professor Milton Heifetz, who outlines four basic precepts for behavior worldwide: ``1. Do no harm ... do not do unto others that which you would not have them do unto you. 2. Freedom - as long as others are not hurt by that freedom. 3. Beneficence - action taken for the good of another person. It may spring from a variety of motives.... 4. Duty to help for the common good.''
After enunciating these principles, Nitze attempts to illustrate them through his experiences dealing with the Soviets, and through the political careers of Truman; Forrestal; Undersecretary of State Will Clayton, who laid much of the groundwork for the Marshall Plan; Kennan; Acheson; Marshall; and Shultz. These chapters sometimes stray away from the main point into reminiscence. Even so, they provide fascinating glimpses into the outlooks of some of the most influential US policymakers.
Nitze reviews the various economic, environmental, and foreign-policy problems facing the US at the end of this century. Addressing the situation in the former Yugoslavia, especially Bosnia-Herzegovina, he sees Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic as the heart of the problem and calls for his removal ``by the Serbs themselves but, if necessary, by whatever means are practicable.''
The book is a mixed bag: It starts slowly in the sometimes-difficult-to-follow theoretical chapters, but picks up speed in the anecdotal sections. Better editing would have helped eliminate a few glaring historical errors. The volume is well worth reading, but will be of interest mostly to those already steeped in political and foreign-policy issues.