Council on Foreign Relations

Council on Foreign Relations
Council on Foreign Relations New Logo.jpg

CFR Headquarters located in the former

Harold I. Pratt House in New York City
Abbreviation CFR
Formation 1921
Type Public Policy Think Tank
Headquarters 58 East 68th Street
Location New York, NY and Washington, DC
President Richard N. Haass

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is an American nonprofit nonpartisan membership organization, publisher, and think tank specializing in U.S. foreign policy and international affairs. Founded in 1921 and headquartered at 58 East 68th Street in New York City, with an additional office in Washington, D.C., the CFR is considered to be the nation's 'most influential foreign-policy think tank.' [1] It publishes a bi-monthly journal Foreign Affairs.



As stated on its website, the CFR's mission is to be "a resource for its members, government officials, business executives, journalists, educators and students, civic and religious leaders, and other interested citizens in order to help them better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries."

The CFR aims to maintain a diverse membership, including special programs to promote interest and develop expertise in the next generation of foreign policy leaders. It convenes meetings at which government officials, global leaders and prominent members of the foreign policy community discuss major international issues. Its think tank, the David Rockefeller Studies Program, is composed of about fifty adjunct and full-time scholars, as well as ten in-resident recipients of year-long fellowships, who cover the major regions and significant issues shaping today's international agenda. These scholars contribute to the foreign policy debate by making recommendations to the presidential administration, testifying before Congress, serving as a resource to the diplomatic community, interacting with the media, authoring books, reports, articles, and op-eds on foreign policy issues.

The council publishes Foreign Affairs, "the preeminent journal of international affairs and U.S. foreign policy." It also publishes Independent Task Forces which bring together experts with diverse backgrounds and expertise to work together to produce reports offering both findings and policy prescriptions on important foreign policy topics. To date, the CFR has sponsored more than fifty reports.[2]

The CFR aims to provide up-to-date information and analysis about world events and U.S. foreign policy. In 2008,'s "Crisis Guide: Darfur" was awarded an Emmy Award by the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences, in the category of "New Approaches to News & Documentary Programming: Current News Coverage." In 2009, the Crisis Guide franchise won another Emmy for its "Crisis Guide: The Global Economy," in the category of business and financial reporting.

Early history

The earliest origin of the Council stemmed from a working fellowship of about 150 scholars, called "The Inquiry", tasked to brief President Woodrow Wilson about options for the postwar world when Germany was defeated. Through 1917–1918, this academic band, including Wilson's closest adviser and long-time friend "Colonel" Edward M. House, as well as Walter Lippmann, gathered at 155th Street and Broadway at the Harold Pratt House in New York City, to assemble the strategy for the postwar world. The team produced more than 2,000 documents detailing and analyzing the political, economic, and social facts globally that would be helpful for Wilson in the peace talks. Their reports formed the basis for the Fourteen Points, which outlined Wilson's strategy for peace after war's end.[3]

These scholars then traveled to the Paris Peace Conference, 1919 that would end the war; it was at one of the meetings of a small group of British and American diplomats and scholars, on May 30, 1919, at the Hotel Majestic, that both the Council and its British counterpart, the Chatham House in London, were born.[4]

Some of the participants at that meeting, apart from Edward House, were Paul Warburg, Herbert Hoover, Harold Temperley, Lionel Curtis, Lord Eustace Percy, Christian Herter, and American academic historians James Thomson Shotwell of Columbia University, Archibald Cary Coolidge of Harvard, and Charles Seymour of Yale.

In 1938 they created various Committees on Foreign Relations throughout the country. These later became governed by the American Committees on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C.

Network diagram showing interlocks between various U.S. corporations and institutions and the Council on Foreign Relations, in 2004

The Council on Foreign Relations, a sister organization to the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London (now known as Chatham House), was formed in 1922 as a noncommercial, nonpolitical organization supporting American foreign relations.[5] From its inception the Council was bipartisan, welcoming members of both Democratic and Republican parties. It also welcomed Jews and African Americans, although women were initially barred from membership. Its proceedings were almost universally private and confidential.[6] A critical study found that of 502 government officials surveyed from 1945 to 1972, more than half were members of the Council.[7]

Today it has about 5,000 members (including five-year term members[8] between the ages of 30-41), which over its history have included senior serving politicians, more than a dozen Secretaries of State, former national security officers, bankers, lawyers, professors, former CIA members and senior media figures.

In 1962, the group began a program of bringing select Air Force officers to the Harold Pratt House to study alongside its scholars. The Army, Navy and Marine Corps requested they start similar programs for their own officers.[7]

Vietnam created a rift within the organization. When Hamilton Fish Armstrong announced in 1970 that he would be leaving the helm of Foreign Affairs after 45 years, new chairman David Rockefeller approached a family friend, William Bundy, to take over the position. Anti-war advocates within the Council rose in protest against this appointment, claiming that Bundy's hawkish record in the State and Defense Departments and the CIA precluded him from taking over an independent journal. Some considered Bundy a war criminal for his prior actions.[7]

Seven American presidents have addressed the Council, two while still in office – Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.[9]

The Council says that it has never sought to serve as a receptacle for government policy papers that cannot be shared with the public and does not encourage its members serving in government to do so. The Council says that discussions at its headquarters remain confidential, not because they share or discuss secret information, but because the system allows members to test new ideas with other members.[10]

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., in his book on the Kennedy presidency, A Thousand Days, wrote that Kennedy was not part of what he called the "New York establishment":

"In particular, he was little acquainted with the New York financial and legal community-- that arsenal of talent which had so long furnished a steady supply of always orthodox and often able people to Democratic as well as Republican administrations. This community was the heart of the American Establishment. Its household deities were Henry Stimson and Elihu Root; its present leaders, Robert Lovett and John J. McCloy; its front organizations, the Rockefeller, Ford and Carnegie foundations and the Council on Foreign Relations; its organs, the New York Times and Foreign Affairs."[11]


It has an extensive website,, featuring links to its history, fellows' biographical information, think tank, the David Rockefeller Studies Program, Independent Task Force reports[12] and other reports, CFR books, expert interviews, meeting transcripts, audio, and videos, Emmy award-winning multimedia Crisis Guides and timelines, Foreign Affairs, and many other publications, biographies of notable directors and other board members, corporate members, and press releases.[2]

Influence on foreign policy

Beginning in 1939 and lasting for five years, the Council achieved much greater prominence within the government and the State Department when it established the strictly confidential War and Peace Studies, funded entirely by the Rockefeller Foundation.[13] The secrecy surrounding this group was such that the Council members who were not involved in its deliberations were completely unaware of the study group's existence.[13]

It was divided into four functional topic groups: economic and financial, security and armaments, territorial, and political. The security and armaments group was headed by Allen Welsh Dulles who later became a pivotal figure in the CIA's predecessor, the OSS. It ultimately produced 682 memoranda for the State Department, marked classified and circulated among the appropriate government departments. As a historical judgment, its overall influence on actual government planning at the time is still said to remain unclear.[13]

In an anonymous piece called "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" that appeared in Foreign Affairs in 1947, CFR study group member George Kennan coined the term "containment." The essay would prove to be highly influential in US foreign policy for seven upcoming presidential administrations. 40 years later, Kennan explained that he had never suspected the Russians of any desire to launch an attack on America; he thought that was obvious enough he didn't need to explain it in his essay. William Bundy credited the CFR's study groups with helping to lay the framework of thinking that led to the Marshall Plan and NATO. Due to new interest in the group, membership grew towards 1,000.[14]

Dwight D. Eisenhower chaired a CFR study group while he served as President of Columbia University. One member later said, "whatever General Eisenhower knows about economics, he has learned at the study group meetings."[14] The CFR study group devised an expanded study group called "Americans for Eisenhower" to increase his chances for the presidency. Eisenhower would later draw many Cabinet members from CFR ranks and become a CFR member himself. His primary CFR appointment was Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. Dulles gave a public address at the Harold Pratt House in which he announced a new direction for Eisenhower's foreign policy: "There is no local defense which alone will contain the mighty land power of the communist world. Local defenses must be reinforced by the further deterrent of massive retaliatory power." After this speech, the council convened a session on "Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy" and chose Henry Kissinger to head it. Kissinger spent the following academic year working on the project at Council headquarters. The book of the same name that he published from his research in 1957 gave him national recognition, topping the national bestseller lists.[14]

On 24 November 1953, a study group heard a report from political scientist William Henderson regarding the ongoing conflict between France and Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh forces, a struggle that would later become known as the First Indochina War. Henderson argued that Ho's cause was primarily nationalist in nature and that Marxism had "little to do with the current revolution." Further, the report said, the United States could work with Ho to guide his movement away from Communism. State Department officials, however, expressed skepticism about direct American intervention in Vietnam and the idea was tabled. Over the next twenty years, the United States would find itself allied with anti-Communist South Vietnam and against Ho and his supporters in the Vietnam War.[14]

The Council served as a "breeding ground" for important American policies such as mutual deterrence, arms control, and nuclear non-proliferation.[14]

A four-year long study of relations between America and China was conducted by the Council between 1964 and 1968. One study published in 1966 concluded that American citizens were more open to talks with China than their elected leaders. Kissinger had continued to publish in Foreign Affairs and was appointed by President Nixon to serve as National Security Adviser in 1969. In 1971, he embarked on a secret trip to Beijing to broach talks with Chinese leaders. Nixon went to China in 1972, and diplomatic relations were completely normalized by President Carter's Secretary of State, another Council member, Cyrus Vance.[14]

In November 1979, while chairman of the CFR, David Rockefeller became embroiled in an international incident when he and Henry Kissinger, along with John J. McCloy and Rockefeller aides, persuaded President Jimmy Carter through the State Department to admit the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, into the US for hospital treatment for lymphoma. This action directly precipitated what is known as the Iran hostage crisis and placed Rockefeller under intense media scrutiny (particularly from The New York Times) for the first time in his public life.[15][16]

Current policy initiatives

The CFR started a program in 2008 to last for 5 years and funded by a grant from the Robina Foundation called "International Institutions and Global Governance" which aims to identify the institutional requirements for effective multilateral cooperation in the 21st century.[17]

The CFR's Maurice C. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies, directed by scholar and author Sebastian Mallaby works to promote a better understanding among policymakers, academic specialists, and the interested public of how economic and political forces interact to influence world affairs.[18]

The CFR's Center for Preventive Action (CPA) seeks to help prevent, defuse, or resolve deadly conflicts around the world and to expand the body of knowledge on conflict prevention. It does so by creating a forum in which representatives of governments, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, corporations, and civil society can gather to develop operational and timely strategies for promoting peace in specific conflict situations.


There are two types of membership: life, and term membership, which lasts for 5 years and is available to those between 30 and 36. Only U.S. citizens (native born or naturalized) and permanent residents who have applied for U.S. citizenship are eligible. A candidate for life membership must be nominated in writing by one Council member and seconded by a minimum of three others.[19]

Corporate membership (250 in total) is divided into "Basic", "Premium" ($25,000+) and "President's Circle" ($50,000+). All corporate executive members have opportunities to hear distinguished speakers, such as overseas presidents and prime ministers, chairmen and CEOs of multinational corporations, and U.S. officials and Congressmen. President and premium members are also entitled to other benefits, including attendance at small, private dinners or receptions with senior American officials and world leaders.[20]


The Council has been the subject of debate, as shown in the 1969 film The Capitalist Conspiracy by G. Edward Griffin, the 2006 film by Aaron Russo, America: Freedom to Fascism and a 2007 documentary Zeitgeist: The Movie, as well as the book The Naked Capitalist which reviewed Carroll Quigley's book Tragedy and Hope from a less supportive standpoint.

This is partly due to the number of high-ranking government officials (along with world business leaders and prominent media figures) in its membership, its secrecy clauses, and the large number of aspects of American foreign policy that its members have been involved with, beginning with Wilson's Fourteen Points. Wilson's Fourteen Points speech was the first in which he suggested a worldwide security organization to prevent future world wars.[3]

The John Birch Society believes that the CFR is "Guilty of conspiring with others to build a one world government...".[21] Conservative Democratic congressman from Georgia Larry McDonald, the second head of the John Birch Society, introduced American Legion National Convention Resolution 773 to the House of Representatives calling for a congressional investigation into the Council on Foreign Relations, but nothing came from it.[22]

Carroll Quigley claimed it "became well known among those who believe that there is an international conspiracy to bring about a one-world government." In Tragedy and Hope, he based his analysis on his unsourced research in the papers of an Anglo-American elite organization that, he held, secretly controlled the U.S. and UK governments through a series of Round Table Groups. Critics assailed Quigley for his approval of the goals (not the tactics) of the Anglo-American elite while selectively using his information and analysis as evidence for their views.[23] Speaking of Carroll Quigley, Rep. Larry McDonald said, "He says, sure we've been working it, sure we've been collaborating with communism, yes we're working with global accommodation, yes, we're working for world government. But the only thing I object to is that we've kept it a secret.".[24] CFR publications discuss multilateralism and global governance as well.[25]

In response to the allegations, the CFR's website contains a FAQ section about its affairs.[26]


  1. ^ "The nation's most influential foreign-policy think tank" Realists Rule? - Inter Press Service - Aug 22, 2005
  2. ^ a b "President's Welcome". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 2007-02-24. 
  3. ^ a b Wilson, Woodrow. "President Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points (1918)". Our Documents. 
  4. ^ "The Inquiry". History of CFR. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 2007-02-24. 
  5. ^ "Council on Foreign Relations". U.S. Department of Justice. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved 30 November 2009. 
  6. ^ "Continuing the Inquiry: Basic Assumptions".
  7. ^ a b c "Consensus Endangered". History of CFR. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 2007-02-24. 
  8. ^ "Term Member Program"
  9. ^ "American Presidents at the Council on Foreign Relations". Barack Obama spoke at the CFR as a U.S. Senator in 2005 on the issue of nuclear proliferation.
  10. ^ "The Second Transformation". History of CFR. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 2007-02-24. 
  11. ^ "A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House"
  12. ^ "Independent Task Force reports". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 2009-10-08. 
  13. ^ a b c "Continuing the Inquiry: War and Peace"
  14. ^ a b c d e f "Continuing the Inquiry: “X” Leads the Way"
  15. ^ Rothbard, Murray, Why the War? The Kuwait Connection (May 1991)
  16. ^ Scrutiny by NYT over the Shah of Iran - David Rockefeller, Memoirs (pp.356-75)
  17. ^ "International Institutions and Global Governance". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 2010-06-01. 
  18. ^ "Maurice C. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 2010-06-01. 
  19. ^ "Membership".
  20. ^ "Corporate Program"PDF (330 KiB).
  21. ^ Letting the CFR Cat Out of the Bag
  22. ^ Marrs, Jim (2001). Rule by Secrecy: The Hidden History That Connects the Trilateral Commission, the Freemasons, and the Great Pyramids. New York: HarperCollins. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-06-093184-1. Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  23. ^ "Carroll Quigley: Theorist of Civilizations". 
  24. ^ "Larry McDonald on the NWO May 1983PT2
  25. ^ CFR: International Institutions and Global Governance
  26. ^ Frequently Asked Questions about the CFR

Further reading


Miscellaneous articles

  • Kassenaar, Lisa. "Wall Street's New Prize: Park Avenue Club House With World View".[1] Bloomberg December 15, 2005. [Profile of the Council and its new members.]
  • Sanger, David E. "Iran's Leader Relishes 2nd Chance to Make Waves". The New York Times September 21, 2006, Foreign Desk: A1, col. 2 (Late ed.-Final). Accessed February 23, 2007. (TimesSelect subscription access). ("Over the objections of the administration and Jewish groups that boycotted the event, Mr. Ahmadinejad, the man who has become the defiant face of Iran, squared off with the nation’s foreign policy establishment, parrying questions for an hour and three-quarters with two dozen members of the Council on Foreign Relations, then ending the evening by asking whether they were simply shills for the Bush administration.")

External links

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