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The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is an American nonprofit and nonpartisan membership organization dedicated to improving the understanding of U.S. foreign policy and international affairs. Founded in 1921 and headquartered at 58 East 68th Street (Park Avenue) in New York Citymarker, with an additional office in Washington, D.C.marker, CFR is considered to be 'the most influential foreign-policy think tank.' It publishes a bi-monthly journal Foreign Affairs. It has an extensive website,, featuring links to its history, fellows’ biographical information, think tank, the David Rockefeller Studies Program, Independent Task Force reports 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.


As stated on its website, 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.” 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. CFR publishes Foreign Affairs, “the preeminent journal of international affairs and U.S. foreign policy.” CFR 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, CFR has sponsored more than fifty reports.

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."

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.

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 Housemarker in Londonmarker, were born.

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 Harvardmarker, and Charles Seymour of Yalemarker.

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.marker

About the organization

The Council on Foreign Relations is a sister organization to the Institute of International Affairsmarker, in London, was formed in 1922 as a noncommercial, nonpolitical organization supporting American foreign relations. 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. A study by two critics of the organization, Laurence Shoup and William Minter, found that of 502 government officials surveyed from 1945 to 1972, more than half were members of the Council.

Today it has about 5,000 members (including five-year term members between the ages of 35-40), 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, and its reports regularly take issue with U.S. government policy.

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.

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 organizations, the Rockefeller, Ford and Carnegie foundations and the Council on Foreign Relations; its organs, the New York Times and Foreign Affairs."

Influence on foreign policy

Beginning in 1939 and lasting for five years, the Council achieved much greater prominence with government and the State Department when it established the strictly confidential War and Peace Studies, funded entirely by the Rockefeller Foundation. The secrecy surrounding this group was such that the Council members (total at the time: 663) who were not involved in its deliberations were completely unaware of the study group's existence.

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 NATOmarker. 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. 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 Francemarker 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.

World Order in the 21st Century

The CFR started a program in 2008 to last for 5 years called "International Institutions and Global Governance: World Order in the 21st Century" which aims in setting up global institutions in different levels to foster a global governance, in order to tackle different trans-national problems

  • Countering Transnational Threats, including terrorism, proliferation of WMD, and infectious disease
  • Protecting the Environment and Promoting Energy Security
  • Managing the Global Economy
  • Preventing and Responding to Violent Conflict

In August 2009, the Obama Administration urged cooperation with UN to tackle the same points covered by CFR plan's. "The Obama administration will work with the United Nations to fight terrorism and other major world nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea, the global financial crisis, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, pandemics and global warming."


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 naturalised) 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.

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.

Board of directors

Co-Chairman of the Board Carla A. Hills
Co-Chairman of the Board Robert E. Rubin
Vice Chairman Richard E. Salomon
President Richard N. Haass
Board of Directors
Director Peter Ackerman
Director Fouad Ajami
Director Madeleine Albright
Director Charlene Barshefsky
Director Henry Bienen
Director Alan Blinder
Director Stephen W. Bosworth
Director Tom Brokaw
Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell
Director Frank J. Caufield
Director Kenneth Duberstein
Director Richard N. Foster
Director Stephen Friedman
Director Ann M. Fudge
Director Maurice R. Greenberg
Director J. Tomilson Hill
Director Richard Holbrooke
Director Alberto Ibargüen
Director Shirley Ann Jackson
Director Henry Kravis
Director Jami Miscik
Director Joseph Nye
Director Ronald L. Olson
Director James W. Owens
Director Colin Powell
Director David Rubenstein
Director George E. Rupp
Director Anne-Marie Slaughter
Director Joan E. Spero
Director Vin Weber
Director Christine Todd Whitman
Director Fareed Zakaria
The Board of Directors of the Council on Foreign Relations is composed in total of thirty-six officers. Peter G. Peterson and David Rockefeller are Directors Emeriti (Chairman Emeritus and Honorary Chairman, respectively). It also has an International Advisory Board consisting of thirty-five distinguished individuals from across the world.

Corporate Members

The following members are listed on the Corporate Roster of the Council on Foreign Relations:

Notable current council members

Notable historical members

List of Chairmen

List of Presidents

Notable historical members

Source: The Council on Foreign Relations from 1921 to 1996:Historical Roster of Directors and Officers

List of chairmen and chairwomen

List of presidents

Source:The Council on Foreign Relations from 1921 to 1996: Historical Roster of Directors and Officers


The Council has been the subject of debate, as shown in the 1969 film The Capitalist Conspiracyby G.Edward Griffin, the 2006 film by Aaron Russo, America: Freedom to Fascismand a 2007 documentary Zeitgeist, the Movie.

This is partly due to the number of high-ranking government officials in its membership, along with world business leaders, 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.

The John Birch Societybelieves that the CFR is "[g]uilty of conspiring with others to build a one world government...".

Historian Carroll Quigley, who was the official historian for the CFR, "became well known among those who believe that there is an international conspiracy to bring about a one-world government. In his book Tragedy and Hope, he based his analysis on his 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. The Round Table group in the United States was the Council on Foreign Relations. ... Conspiracy theorists 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."

Systems theorists working with tools developed at MITmarker by Jay Forrester counter David Rockefeller's support for his goals with the claim that an attempt to build an integrated global political and economic structure is a serious danger to humanity's freedom and prosperity.They argue that a dearth of distributed systems on a global scale would mean, first, a globe more susceptible to total economic and/or resource calamity, and second, a world in which lack of competition between rival political systems would make totalitarianism—if ever globally established—extremely difficult to challenge. Supporting the former charge, they cite the recessionof 2008, which was exacerbated by the global nature of capitaland derivativemarkets, as an example of the dangers of extreme economic interdependency.

The direct cause of the global financial crisis highlighted governmental intervention into markets and once more established the need for retraction of government entities from areas of interaction not deemed appropriate for their participation; in this case, mortgage lending and affiliated services.

See also


  1. "the most influential foreign policy think tank in the U.S.,"the most influential US organisation in the field of foreign policy and security" Stepping ever closer to NATO - The Sofia Echo - Apr 17, 2003
  2. "The nation's most influential foreign-policy think tank" Realists Rule? - Inter Press Service - Aug 22, 2005
  3. "most influential and prestigious think tank in America" New scramble for Africa Jamaica Gleaner - Jan 29, 2006
  4. "Continuing the Inquiry: Basic Assumptions".
  5. "American Presidents at the Council on Foreign Relations". Barack Obama spoke at CFR as a U.S. Senator in 2005 on the issue of nuclear proliferation.
  6. "A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House"
  7. "Continuing the Inquiry: War and Peace"
  8. "Continuing the Inquiry: “X” Leads the Way"
  9. Scrutiny by NYT over the Shah of Iran - David Rockefeller, Memoirs (pp.356-75)
  10. "Membership".
  11. .
  12. "Leadership and Staff". Accessed February 24, 2007.
  13. Corporate Roster - Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 2009-11-20.
  14. Letting the CFR Cat Out of the Bag



  • Grose, Peter. Continuing the Inquiry: The Council on Foreign Relations from 1921 to 1996. New York: Council on Foreign Relations: 1996. ISBN 0-876-09192-3.
  • Schulzinger, Robert D. The Wise Men of Foreign Affairs. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. ISBN 0-231-05528-5.
  • Wala, Michael. The Council on Foreign Relations and American Foreign Policy in the Early Cold War. Providence, RI: Berghann Books, 1994. ISBN 1-571-81003-X

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