Campus & Community

Robert Richardson Bowie

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Memorial Minute – Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Robert Richardson Bowie, Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs, Emeritus, combined distinguished academic achievement with professional service at the highest levels of the U.S. government. Bowie was born on August 24, 1909, and died at the age of 104 on November 2, 2013. He was married to Mary Theodosia Chapman, called Teddy, for 62 years. Two sons, Robert and William, and three grandchildren, Alice, Robert and Peter, survive him.

A graduate of Princeton and then of Harvard Law School, Bowie served in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1946 and in occupied Germany in 1945-46 as special assistant to General Lucius Clay, the deputy military governor for Germany. Bowie taught at Harvard Law School from 1946 to 1955. During leaves of absence, he served as general counsel to the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John McCloy (1950-51), and then as director of policy planning and assistant secretary of state under John Foster Dulles (1953-57).

Bowie authored key elements in the agreement between the Allies and West Germany. In 2009, Germany awarded him the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit in recognition of his work toward a democratic Germany and a united Europe, based on reconciliation between France and Germany and European integration, leading in due course to German unification.

In 1957 Bowie returned to Harvard to become the first Clarence Dillon Professor and to found the Center for International Affairs, now the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, with additional support from the Ford Foundation and with the encouragement of FAS Dean McGeorge Bundy. Bowie gathered a dazzling core faculty at the new Center, two of whom, Thomas Schelling and Henry Kissinger, would in later years win Nobel Prizes. In the document The Program of the Center for International Affairs Bowie wrote:

“Foreign affairs in our era pose unprecedented tasks…. Today no region is isolated, none can be ignored; actions and events even in remote places may have immediate worldwide impact… vast forces are reshaping the world with headlong speed. Under the impact of wars, nationalism, technology, and communism, the old order has been shattered. Empires have crumbled; nations once dominant are forced to adapt to shrunken influence. New nations have emerged and are struggling to survive…. Nowhere do traditional attitudes fit the new realities…. Thus notions of sovereignty and independence need revision to apply to a world where a nation’s level of life or survival may depend as much on the actions of other countries as on its own.”

Bowie’s CFIA recruited a group of annual visiting fellows from policy positions in countries around the world; many would become leading foreign-policy officials the world over. The Center’s early work was organized around a small number of weekly seminars that faculty attended on what Bowie considered the major issues of the day: arms control, U.S.-European relations, and economic and political development.

Bowie was devoted both to analytic clarity in academic work and to making academic ideas matter in the world of policy. He was a stickler for precision, with a lawyer’s attention to detail, and insisted upon fresh approaches to issues. His academic writings about policy issues had his usual critical edge. His book, Suez 1956,1 a military crisis he experienced in government first hand, involved criticisms of the administration under which he served. Later works, especially Waging Peace: How Eisenhower Shaped an Enduring Cold War Strategy,2 described the strategy and processes of the Eisenhower administration and Bowie’s views regarding American foreign policy. In all his works,3 he was always an internationalist. Bowie served as Center director until 1972. From 1977 to 1979, he served as President Carter’s deputy director for national intelligence at the Central Intelligence Agency. He retired from Harvard in 1980.

Bowie was an Atlanticist, a member of the Eastern Establishment that focused on U.S. policy within an Atlantic Alliance to address the Cold War. Yet, when the allies, he thought, were wrong, as in the Suez Canal 1956 war, he opposed them and wrote accordingly. Bowie believed that the nation’s interests required work across party lines. He served U.S. presidents of both parties, reflecting his belief that a broad set of principles should endure and be honorably applied in times good and bad.

Bowie was deeply committed to contribute to a better world through the interaction between the University and the world of international affairs. For him, the Center for International Affairs was Harvard at its best, a self-governing community of scholars who worked hard, insightfully, and collegially on the central problems of the day. Bowie would want it known that he did not think so well of Harvard presidents or deans, nor did he believe that his successors as Center directors should escape his tutoring. Bowie participated in Center events until nearly the end of his life, even when travel and hearing loss made it difficult. He was our collective academic conscience.

He earned the right to the last word in his own Memorial Minute. In his 1960 report on the Center’s work, Bowie wrote about his vision for the Center and for Harvard:

Fundamental research on long-range problems of international affairs is at the heart of the Center’s program. In our era, nations, societies, and the world order itself are being radically transformed at a rate and on a scale unmatched in history. Our capacity to achieve the promise and avoid the perils of the modern age depends first, on deeper knowledge of the forces making for change, and second, on increased understanding of the impact of these forces on the international order…. The Center for International Affairs was founded in the belief that Harvard has unusual resources for basic research of this kind.4

Respectfully submitted,

J. Bryan Hehir
Joseph S. Nye
Jorge I. Domínguez, Chair