In Memoriam: John B. Rhinelander (1933-2014)

Daryl G. Kimball

John B. Rhinelander, a key figure in the negotiation of the first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) agreement and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and a long-time member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors, died unexpectedly on March 2.

Those who worked with John or saw him in action will remember him as a powerful and persistent champion for sensible, bipartisan nuclear risk reduction measures and respect for international treaty obligations.

A Boston native, Rhinelander graduated from Yale University in 1955 and the University of Virginia School of Law in 1961, where he was editor-in-chief of the law review. He clerked for a year with Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan and worked with the law firm now known as Davis Polk and Wardwell.

In 1966 he moved to Virginia to serve as special civilian assistant to Secretary of the Navy Paul Nitze, the first of many positions he held in the executive branch.

From 1971 to 1972, Rhinelander was the legal adviser for President Richard Nixon’s SALT/ABM negotiating team. The SALT/ABM accords, concluded in the spring of 1972, established the first constraints on the fast-growing U.S. and Soviet strategic nuclear arsenals and set limits on further research on and development and deployment of ABM systems, which both sides understood at the time could alter the balance of offensive forces and thereby undermine strategic stability.

In the mid-1980s, as a member of the ACA Board of Directors, Rhinelander was a leading critic of the Reagan administration’s attempt to reinterpret the ABM Treaty to allow expanded research for a “Star Wars” strategic defense system to intercept Soviet missiles. In an article in the September 1987 issue of Arms Control Today, he noted that Nixon instructed the U.S. delegation “to reach agreement on the broad principle that the agreement should not be interpreted in such a way that either side could circumvent its provisions through future ABM systems or components.”

When President George W. Bush decided to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, Rhinelander pointed out in December 2001 that “there was no compelling reason to do so” given that the ABM systems intended for deployment to counter limited missile threats from third parties could be accommodated by the treaty or through modifications that could be negotiated with Russia. Moreover, he accurately predicted that “it will be at least a decade before the Pentagon knows whether it can build anything that is effective.”

As general counsel of the Department of Housing, Education, and Welfare from 1973 to 1976, he played a key role in several major domestic policy issues. He was involved in drafting the implementing regulations for the landmark Title IX section of the 1972 Education Amendments, which mandates equal spending for female and male collegiate athletics, and in efforts to pass legislation that would have established a system of national health insurance.

After leaving government, John was a partner at the Washington, D.C., law firm now known as Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and was an active member in ACA and the Lawyers Alliance for World Security.

Often teaming up with his friend and fellow veteran of the Department of State’s arms control legal team, George Bunn, Rhinelander spoke and wrote forcefully on a wide range of key topics, often in Arms Control Today. For instance, in 1991, Rhinelander and Bunn tackled the question of who is bound by the former Soviet Union’s arms control treaties; in 1995, they helped sort out the legal and political options for extending the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT); and in 1996, they called on Washington and the other NPT nuclear-weapon states to take steps to reinforce the legal effect of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty pending ratification and entry into force.

In his later years, John enjoyed life away from Washington at his home by the sea in Gloucester, Mass., spending time with his wife of 51 years, Jeanne; his four children; and his adoring grandchildren.

Rhinelander, who was a life-long Republican, was always seeking to find commonsense, common-ground solutions on arms control challenges facing the United States and the world. ACA members, staff, and fellow board members thank him for his enormous contributions, his wise counsel, and his solid friendship through the years.