Cyrus R. Vance

Cyrus R. Vance (born 1917) was Secretary of the Army (1962-1964), Deputy Secretary of Defense (1964-1967), and Secretary of State (1977-1980). He was instrumental in the SALT II talks and the Camp David Accords. Since leaving public office, he has continued to act as negotiator in both the private and public sectors.

Cyrus Vance was born in Clarksburg, West Virginia, on March 27, 1917 to John Carl Vance and Amy Roberts Vance. Vance, his mother and father, and an older brother moved to New York City, where his father died suddenly from pneumonia when Vance was five years old. After a year in which the bereaved family resided in Europe, the Vances returned to New York City. One of the major influences in Cyrus Vance's years of youth following his father's death was an uncle, John W. Davis, the unsuccessful Democratic Party candidate for president in 1924. Davis was a highly successful attorney (he argued 141 cases before the Supreme Court—more than any other lawyer of his time) and spent time discussing issues and ideas with young Cyrus. During this time Vance was introduced to an attorney's approach to problem solving and instilled with an interest in the law.


Education and Early Career

Vance went to Kent School, a religious affiliated preparatory school in Connecticut. Following graduation he entered Yale University, majoring in economics. It was while at Yale that he met Grace (Gay) Sloan, a student at the Parsons School of Design who was to become his wife; married in 1947, they have five children. He graduated from Yale Law School in 1942 and entered the navy and served as an officer on destroyers in the Pacific. Following his service in World War II, Vance returned to New York and joined the prestigious law firm of Simpson, Thacher and Bartlett in 1947.

Vance Goes to Washington

Vance's first opportunity to work in Washington was in 1957 when a senior partner in the law firm asked Vance to accompany him to help organize an investigation by a Senate preparedness subcommittee on military and space programs, where Vance met Lyndon Johnson. Subsequently, Vance served in a succession of positions in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He was general counsel of the Department of Defense (1961-1962), Secretary of the Army (1962-1964), and Deputy Secretary of Defense under Robert McNamara (1964-1967). He also served as a special representative of the president during the crisis in Cyprus following the Turkish invasion and takeover of that island's government (1962) and was a negotiator for the United States at the Paris Peace Conference on Vietnam (1968-1969). He was appointed as President Jimmy Carter's first Secretary of State in 1977 and served in that capacity until his resignation in 1980.


Vance Serves as Secretary of State

Cyrus R. Vance served as Secretary of State for most of the administration of President Jimmy Carter. Noted as a liberal and hailed as one who favored diplomacy rather than military threats of force, Vance became known and respected for his negotiating skills and his ability to maintain a sense of calm while under stress. His many accomplishments as secretary of state were somewhat overshadowed by the capture in Iran of United States embassy personnel who were held hostage during the last year of Carter's administration.

Vance's accomplishments during his tenure as secretary of state were numerous. He completed negotiations with the Soviet Union on the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT) II. After a cooling of relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, Vance met the Soviet leaders to break through the resistance to discussing arms limitations. The negotiations were long and arduous but resulted in the signing of an agreement between President Carter and Soviet Premier Brezhnev. The Carter administration encountered difficulties back home, however, as the Senate refused to ratify the treaty, leaving Carter and Vance greatly frustrated. Carter ultimately asked the Senate to defer action on the treaty following the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan as he realized it was not likely that the necessary two-thirds of the Senate would vote for approval.

The first year of the Carter presidency saw the conclusion of a new Panama Canal treaty. Described by some as the most divisive foreign policy issue in the United States following the Vietnam War, the agreements were finally signed in Washington in September 1977. The negotiated agreements ultimately allowed for the control of the Panama Canal by Panama by the year 2000. While the control would remain with Panama, the Carter administration needed to assure domestic critics that the treaties did not foreclose for the United States an opportunity to ensure passage through the canal. Vance insured that both United States and Panamanian warships could "transit" the canal in case of emergency ahead of all other vessels—thus allowing the United States the opportunity to protect the canal.


Camp David Accords

A major foreign policy achievement during this period was the development of a framework for settling the disputes among the Middle-Eastern nations of Egypt and Israel, known as the Camp David Accords. The discussions leading to the agreement among the two nations and the United States to settle long-standing differences in order to preserve peace in the Middle East involved Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and United States President Jimmy Carter. The negotiations, in which Vance was instrumental, lasted two weeks and took place in the unique environment of the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland. Two agreements were signed by the participants. The first allowed the return of the Sinai peninsula (occupied by Israel following the Six Day War between the two countries in 1967) to Egypt, the conclusion of a peace treaty, and the "normalization" of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The second agreement resulting from the Camp David summit provided for negotiations among Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and Palestinian representatives to iron out differences concerning the West Bank and Gaza Strip territories.

While Vance's negotiating skills were highly regarded—and he was able to use them in collaboration with Great Britain to settle the racial and political disputes in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)—Vance's influence over foreign policy slowly declined over the course of the Carter administration. The passing of the period of "detente" was aggravated by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.


Hostage Crisis in Teheran

The foreign relations of the United States during the last year of the Carter administration became overshadowed by the fall of the shah of Iran and the capture of the U.S. embassy personnel in Teheran by Iranian militants on November 4, 1979. The United States attempted several strategies to accomplish the release of the embassy personnel (including the freezing of all Iranian assets in the United States), but all early attempts were to no avail. A debate ensued within the White House as to the appropriateness of a rescue mission. Vance argued strenuously against the strategy, but his position did not prevail. On April 24-25, 1980, the United States tried but failed in a rescue attempt. Eight U.S. servicemen were killed when a rescue aircraft crashed and burned on take off. Vance submitted his resignation in protest on April 28, 1980. It was not until inauguration day 1981, while Carter was passing the reigns of leadership to his successor, Ronald Reagan, that the American hostages were finally released after 444 days of imprisonment.


United Nations Negotiator

In 1980, Vance returned to the private sector as a partner at his old law firm, Simpson, Thacher, and Bartlett. Since the mid-1980's, Vance has been called on numerous times by the United Nations to negotiate around the world including Burundi, South Africa, Macedonia and Greece, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and South Africa. His highest profile UN negotiations have been in Bosnia and Herzegovina, co-chaired with David Owen of Great Britain. Since 1992, he has helped negotiate such important steps as opening a road between Zagreb and Belgrade, a demilitarized zone on the Prevlaka Peninsula, numerous cease-fire agreements, and several peace plans. He is credited with bringing about the tenuous peace in the area. His UN work has often brought him under fire, but he continues to maintain a low profile, giving few interviews and writing a few pieces for publications like Vanity Fair and The New York Times. Vance also headed up high-profile private negotiations like the bankruptcy and reorganization of the R.H. Macy department stores and Olympia and York Companies. He has co-authored pieces with his predecessor, Henry Kissinger to comment on world events.

Further Reading on Cyrus R. Vance

The memoirs of Cyrus Vance are published in Hard Choices: Critical Years in America's Foreign Policy (1983). Vance has also written: Common Security: A Blueprint for Survival (1982) and Building the Peace: US Foreign Policy for the Next Decade (Alternatives for the 1980's) (1982). Davis S. McLellan has published a biography of Vance: Cyrus Vance (1985). One may also consult Zbigniew Brzezinski's memoirs, Power and Principle: Memoirs of the National Security Advisor, 1977-1980 (1983).