The internal think tank is The David Rockefeller Studies Program, which grants fellowships and whose programs are described as being integral to the goal of contributing to the ongoing debate on foreign policy; fellows in this program research and write on the most important challenges facing the United States and the world.
At the outset of the organization, founding member Elihu Root said the group's mission, epitomized in its journal Foreign Affairs, should be to "guide" American public opinion. In the early 1970s, the CFR changed the mission, saying that it wished instead to "inform" public opinion.
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. Although the original intent was for the two organizations to be affiliated, they became independent bodies, yet retained close informal ties.
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.
Today it has about 4,300 members (including five-year term members), 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. As a private institution however, the CFR maintains through its official website that it is not a formal organization engaged in U.S. foreign policy-making.
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.
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.
Seven American presidents have addressed the Council, two while still in office – Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Journalist Joseph Kraft, a former member of both the CFR and the Trilateral Commission, said the Council "comes close to being an organ of what C. Wright Mills has called the Power Elite – a group of men, similar in interest and outlook, shaping events from invulnerable positions behind the scenes."
Economist John Kenneth Galbraith resigned in 1970, objecting to the Council's policy of allowing government officials to conduct twice-a-year off-the-record briefings with business officials in its Corporation Service. 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 they do not encourage government officials who are members 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.
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 organizatons, the Rockefeller, Ford and Carnegie foundations and the Council on Foreign Relations; its organs, the New York Times and Foreign Affairs.
Other members included John Foster Dulles, Herbert H. Lehman, Henry L. Stimson, Averell Harriman, the Rockefeller family's public relations expert, Ivy Lee, and Paul M. Warburg and Otto Kahn of the investment bank Kuhn, Loeb.
The Council initially had strong connections to the Morgan interests, such as the lawyer, Paul Cravath, whose pre-eminent New York law firm (later named Cravath, Swaine & Moore) represented Morgan businesses; a Morgan partner, Russell Cornell Leffingwell, later became its first chairman. The head of the group's finance committee was Alexander Hemphill, chairman of Morgan's Guaranty Trust Company. Economist Edwin F. Gay, editor of the New York Evening Post, owned by Morgan partner Thomas W. Lamont, served as Secretary-Treasurer of the organization. Other members related to Morgan included Frank L. Polk, former Under-Secretary of State and attorney for J.P. Morgan & Co. Former Wilson Under-Secretary of State Norman H. Davis was a banking associate of the Morgans. Over time, however, the locus of power shifted inexorably to the Rockefeller family. Paul Cravath's law firm also represented the Rockefeller family.
Edwin Gay suggested the creation of a quarterly journal, Foreign Affairs. He recommended Archibald Cary Coolidge be installed as the first editor, along with his New York Evening Post reporter, Hamilton Fish Armstrong, as assistant editor and executive director of the Council.
Even from its inception, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was a regular benefactor, making annual contributions, as well as a large gift of money towards its first headquarters on East 65th Street, along with corporate donors (Perloff 156). In 1944, the widow of the Standard Oil executive Harold I. Pratt donated the family's four-story mansion on the corner of 68th Street and Park Avenue for council use and this became the CFR's new headquarters, known as The Harold Pratt House, where it remains today.
Several of Rockefeller's sons joined the council when they came of age; David Rockefeller joined the council as its youngest-ever director in 1949 and subsequently became chairman of the board from 1970 to 1985; today he serves as honorary chairman. The major philanthropic organization he founded with his brothers in 1940, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, has also provided funding to the Council, from 1953 to at least 1980.
Another major support base from the outset was the corporate sector; around 26 corporations provided financial assistance in the 1920s, seizing the opportunity to inject their business concerns into the weighty deliberations of the academics and scholars in the Council's ruling elite. In addition, the Carnegie Corporation contributed funds in 1937 to expand the Council's reach by replicating its structure in a diminished form in eight American cities.
John J. McCloy became an influential figure in the organization after the Second World War, and he held connections to both the Morgans and Rockefellers. As assistant to Secretary of War (and J. P. Morgan attorney) Henry Stimson during World War II, he had presided over important American war policies; his brother-in-law John Zinsser was on the board of directors of JP Morgan & Co. during that time, and after the war McCloy joined New York law firm Milbank, Tweed, Hope, Hadley & McCloy as a partner. The company had long served as legal counsel to the Rockefeller family and the Chase Manhattan bank. McCloy became Chairman of the Board of Chase Manhattan, a director of the Rockefeller Foundation and Chairman of the Board of the CFR from 1953 to 1970. President Harry S. Truman appointed him President of the World Bank Group and U.S. High Commissioner to Germany. He served as a special adviser on disarmament to President John F. Kennedy and chaired a special committee on the Cuban crisis. He was said to have had the largest influence on American foreign policy of anyone after World War II. McCloy's brother-in-law, Lewis W. Douglas, also served on the board of the CFR and as a trustee for the Rockefeller Foundation; Truman appointed him as American ambassador to Great Britain.
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.
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 meant to contain the Soviet Union because it might be able to physically attack the United States; he thought that was obvious enough that 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.
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." 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. As an attorney for Standard Oil and a longtime board member of the Rockefeller Foundation, Dulles maintained strong ties to the Council and to the Rockefellers. 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.
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 Vietnam War.
The Council served as a "breeding ground" for important American policies such as mutual deterrence, arms control, and nuclear non-proliferation.
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.
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.
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.
|Co-Chairman of the Board||Carla Anderson Hills|
|Co-Chairman of the Board||Robert Rubin|
|Vice Chairman||Richard E. Salomon|
|President||Richard N. Haass|
|Board of Directors|
|Director||Stephen W. Bosworth|
|Director||Sylvia Mathews Burwell|
|Director||Frank J. Caufield|
|Director||Richard N. Foster|
|Director||Ann M. Fudge|
|Director||Helene D. Gayle|
|Director||Maurice R. Greenberg|
|Director||Karen Elliott House|
|Director||Michael H. Moskow|
|Director||Ronald L. Olson|
|Director||James W. Owen|
|Director||Joan E. Spero|
|Director||Christine Todd Whitman|
Source: The Council on Foreign Relations from 1921 to 1996:Historical Roster of Directors and Officers
The Council has been the subject of conspiracy theories, partly due to the number of high-ranking government officials 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. The John Birch Society believes that the CFR plans a one-world government. Wilson's Fourteen Points speech was the first in which he suggested a worldwide security organization to prevent future world wars.
Historian Carroll Quigley included the CFR in his discussion of the Anglo-American Establishment's efforts to shape international developments during the 20th century. His book "Tragedy and Hope" was cited by conspiracy theorists as showing that the CFR was engaged in a conspiracy against American interests, though Quigley himself denied this.
Assistant Secretary of Commerce David Bohigian says that there is no truth to the rumors. Senator Kit Bond, who is a member of committees that would have to authorize funding for a NAFTA superhighway, has said that there are no plans for a North American Union and the theories are not valid. However, Rep. Ron Paul has said that Congress has provided "small amounts" of money to study the feasibility of such a highway. Paul also suggested that because the funding constituted "just one item in an enormous transportation appropriations bill... most members of Congress were not aware of it. Rep. Virgil Goode introduced a resolution in September 2006, with 21 co-sponsors, to prohibit the building of a NAFTA superhighway and an eventual North American Union with Canada and Mexico. The resolution remains in committee.
In 2005, CFR task force co-chairman Robert Pastor testified in Congress in front of the Foreign Relations Committee: "The best way to secure the United States today is not at our two borders with Mexico and Canada, but at the borders of North America as a whole. The CFR task force he headed called for one border around North America, freer travel within it, and cooperation among Canadian, Mexican and American military forces and law enforcement for greater security. It called for full mobility of labor among the three countries within five years, similar to the European Union. He also appeared at a CFR forum called "The Future of North American Integration in the Wake of the Terrorist Attacks" on October 17, 2001, discussing the prospect of North American integration in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Conservative commentator Phyllis Schlafly wrote of the 2005 report, "This CFR document, called 'Building a North American Community,' asserts that George W. Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox, and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin 'committed their governments' to this goal when they met at Bush's ranch and at Waco, Texas on March 23, 2005. The three adopted the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America and assigned 'working groups' to fill in the details. The document advocated allowing companies to recruit workers from anywhere within North America and called for large loans and aid to Mexico from the US. It called for a court system for North American dispute resolution and said that illegal aliens should be allowed into the United States Social Security system through the Social Security Totalization Agreement. The report called for a fund to be created by the US to allow 60,000 Mexican students to attend US colleges. The report says the plan can be carried out within five years. Other members of the task force included former Massachusetts governor William Weld and immigration chief for President Clinton, Doris Meissner.
Pastor wrote in Foreign Affairs: