IN MEMORIAM: Stephen J. Ledogar (1929 - 2010)

John King

Stephen J. Ledogar, a career U.S. Foreign Service officer and an ambassador who negotiated several arms control agreements, died of cancer on May 3 at the age of 80.

A native New Yorker, Ledogar earned a law degree from FordhamUniversity, was admitted to the New York Bar, and practiced for several years before joining the Foreign Service in 1959. His legal background, military experience as a U.S. Navy pilot, and readily recognizable diplomatic skills led to a rapid rise through the ranks, with early assignments in Canada, Italy, and Vietnam and with NATO in Belgium. He naturally gravitated to political-military issues, including arms control, serving subsequently in increasingly responsible posts in Washington, in Paris as spokesman for the U.S. delegation to the Vietnamese peace talks, and again with NATO as deputy chief of mission, where he played a major role in influencing the talks on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Along the way, he became fluent in French, Italian, and Vietnamese.

His first major arms control negotiating role came in 1987 when President Ronald Reagan appointed him ambassador and U.S. permanent representative to the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction talks in Vienna, concurrently serving as head of delegation to the negotiations on the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. He had a key role in successfully working out many of the major provisions and virtually completing that treaty. President George H.W. Bush then reassigned him to Geneva in 1989 as ambassador and U.S. permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament (CD). Ledogar remained in this latter position for more than seven years, completing complex negotiations for the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993, followed by equally arduous negotiations for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) that were concluded in 1996. In between, he played a crucial role at the 1995 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, where he acted as the main U.S. negotiator of the “principles and objectives” document, which was a key part in the successful effort to extend the treaty indefinitely.

Ledogar’s direct negotiating responsibility for these arms control treaties was virtually unique. He received special recognition from President Bill Clinton, who noted in a letter to him that it represented “a remarkable feat that is not likely to be matched.” Even more important, perhaps, was the respect and cooperation he gained from his negotiating counterparts. He earned their confidence, friendship, and active assistance through close collaboration at every step of the negotiating process. Anyone who ever worked with him experienced his unique blend of intense focus, sustained leadership, strategic and diplomatic finesse, political sensitivity, technical and negotiating expertise, and sheer tenacity. His creative solutions to negotiating problems bridged many gaps and drew bickering parties together to find agreement. It was a performance that was remarkable because it persisted over such a long period of time, affected so many people, and accomplished so much of lasting value.

His success in negotiating key treaties helped make the global community a much safer place to live. A far-sighted thinker, Ledogar understood earlier and more deeply than many of his colleagues the positive dynamic that arms control could bring to international security. He privately remarked at one point that he believed the United States could manage a CD negotiation on nuclear disarmament and that it would have significant political benefits for the United States and for nonproliferation as a whole. He was nothing if not a realist, however, understanding that his thinking was ahead of its time and more than the existing political climate could bear. Instead, he more prudently described his views in October 1999 testimony on the CTBT before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stating that the treaty’s “zero yield” provision was in the U.S. interest because it ensured there would be no nuclear testing threshold of any kind for anybody. Thus, in preparing to resubmit the CTBT to the Senate for ratification, the Obama administration could not be providing a more fitting tribute to his legacy.

The international arms control community and many others mourn the passing of this peerless ambassador. He was a valiant champion of the interests of his country as well as the hopes of those everywhere who seek to make the world a more secure and humane place.

He leaves behind his wife of 43 years, the former Marcia (Marcie) Hubert; daughter Lucy van Beever; son Charles; and three grandchildren.

John King directs the Program on Disarmament Education and Training for the UN-mandated University for Peace in Geneva. He served as a U.S. Foreign Service officer and worked with Ledogar on various occasions, primarily as executive secretary of the U.S. delegation to the Conference on Disarmament during Ledogar’s tenure there.