Most Powerful Groups in the World - Council on Foreign Relations Part 1

About the history of the organization known as the Council on Foreign Relations which plays an important role in American politics.



The Enterprise: The foremost flank of America's foreign policy establishment for more than half a century, the Council on Foreign Relations is a private organization of business executive, scholars, and political leaders that studies global problems and plays a key role in developing U.S. foreign policy. The CFR is one of the most powerful semiofficial groups concerned with America's role in international affairs.

History: Following the Versailles Conference after W.W.I, a group of Americans and Britons decided to organize a continued study of international relations, and in 1919 formed the Institute of International Affairs. Although the British organization forged ahead, the American sector faltered. At the same time, the Council on Foreign Relations, which had started as a New York dinner club that sponsored distinguished foreign speakers, was suffering from inactivity. The two groups' leaders suggested a merger and in August, 1921, they were officially joined under the name Council on Foreign Relations. Aided by funds from a variety of sources, including J.P. Morgan and Co., the Carnegie Endowment, the Rockefeller family, and other Wall Street banking interests, the council had firmly established itself as a foreign policy institution within its first 15 years. Although the group's intent was "to guide American policy" through a diversity of ideas rather than taking a single policy stance, there was general agreement among members that the U.S. should hold a dominant place in world affairs. In 1922 the council began publishing Foreign Affairs, which rapidly became the authoritative American review of international relations and foreign policy. The council itself soon gained such a prestigious position that, beginning with Herbert Hoover's administration, council members were repeatedly called upon to fill many top State Dept. spots. There were several major criteria for being selected as a member; one had to be male and American and show a strong predilection for foreign affairs. Members also had to abide by a "confidentiality" code and could have their membership terminated for publicly disclosing anything that was said at a council meeting.

Over the years the council developed a wide range of activities centered in its Pratt House headquarters on East 68th Street in New York. "Study groups" became one of the council's most important vehicles for developing policy recommendations, which were often written up in book form and published by the council. In addition to holding roundtable seminars and weekly meetings, the council sponsored luncheons and dinners that featured such speakers as Cuba's Fidel Castro, Britain's Edward Heath, Israel's Moshe Dayan, and West Germany's Willy Brandt. A corporation service program was founded by the council in 1953; it provided seminars for corporate executives to expose them to international policy decisions that affected their businesses. And in an attempt to branch out beyond its East Coast nucleus, the council established a number of affiliated organizations called Committees on Foreign Relations, composed of local leaders in cities throughout the country. By 1980 there were 37 such groups with over 3,500 members.

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