Nitze's greatest contribution to the Cold War occurred during his directorship of the U.S. State Department's Policy Planning Staff (PPS). He was one of the first to suggest a massive U.S. aid program as essential to European recovery. Beginning in August 1949, he was deputy director of the PPS under George F. Kennan, assuming the top spot in January 1950 after Kennan's resignation. In this post, Nitze played a central role in the drafting of the National Security Council report NSC-68.
NSC-68 was a comprehensive, top secret review of American national security policy and was triggered in part by the Soviet's first atomic bomb explosion in September 1949. The report was given to President Harry S. Truman in April 1950 but was not officially approved until September 1950, several months after the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korean) invasion of the Republic of Korea (ROK, South Korea). Convinced that the Cold War was entering a dangerous new phase, NSC-68's authors called for a vast conventional and nuclear rearmament program to counteract perceived Soviet aggression. The report provided the blueprint for U.S. defense planning during the next twenty-five years.
Nitze left the State Department at the end of the Truman administration but nonetheless continued to play an active role in the development of U.S. Cold War policy, contributing to the 1957 Gaither Report that was critical of Eisenhower's New Look defense posture. The report was most notable for warning of a missile gap between the United States and the Soviet Union, an erroneous conclusion.
After advising President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Nitze became secretary of the navy in 1963. He served as deputy secretary of defense during 1967–1969 and assistant secretary of defense for international affairs during 1973–1976.
Skeptical of détente, Nitze was a member of the U.S. delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) and was the principal U.S. negotiator in arms-control talks in Geneva (1981–1984). In an effort to break a deadlock over intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Nitze took a walk in the woods with Soviet Ambassador Yuli Kvitsinsky in 1982, resulting in a sweeping and unauthorized compromise that was, however, rejected by President Ronald Reagan. Nitze was the principal negotiator of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty of 1987, serving until his retirement from government service in 1989 as special advisor on arms control to Reagan.
A quintessential Cold Warrior, Nitze died in Washington, D.C., on 19 October 2004.
Nitze, Paul, with Ann Smith and Steven L. Rearden. From Hiroshima to Glasnost: At the Center of Decision; A Memoir. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1989.; Talbott, Strobe. The Master of the Game: Paul Nitze and the Nuclear Peace. New York: Knopf, 1988.