Walt Whitman Rostow

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Walt Whitman Rostow
Walt Rostow 1968.jpg
7th United States National Security Advisor
In office
April 1, 1966 – January 20, 1969
PresidentLyndon Johnson
DeputyFrancis Bator
Preceded byMac Bundy
Succeeded byHenry Kissinger
Counselor of the United States Department of State
In office
December 4, 1961 – March 31, 1966
PresidentJohn F. Kennedy
Lyndon Johnson
Preceded byGeorge McGhee
Succeeded byRobert Bowie
Director of Policy Planning
In office
December 4, 1961 – March 31, 1966
PresidentJohn F. Kennedy
Lyndon Johnson
Preceded byGeorge McGhee
Succeeded byHenry Owen
Deputy National Security Advisor
In office
January 20, 1961 – December 4, 1961
PresidentJohn F. Kennedy
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byCarl Kaysen
Personal details
Born(1916-10-07)October 7, 1916
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedFebruary 13, 2003(2003-02-13) (aged 86)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Elspeth Davies
Alma materYale University (BA, MA, PhD)
Balliol College, Oxford (BLitt)

Walt Whitman Rostow (also known as Walt Rostow or W.W. Rostow) OBE (October 7, 1916 – February 13, 2003) was an American economist and political theorist who served as Special Assistant for National Security Affairs to US President Lyndon B. Johnson from 1966 to 1969.[1][2]

Prominent for his role in the shaping of US foreign policy in Southeast Asia during the 1960s, he was a staunch anti-communist, noted for a belief in the efficacy of capitalism and free enterprise, strongly supporting US involvement in the Vietnam War. Rostow is known for his book The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto (1960), which was used in several fields of social science.

His older brother Eugene Rostow also held a number of high government foreign policy posts.

Early life[edit]

Rostow was born in Manhattan, New York City, to a Russian Jewish immigrant family. His parents, Lillian (Helman) and Victor Rostow,[3] were active socialists, and named Walt after Walt Whitman. His brother Eugene, who was named for Eugene V. Debs, became a legal scholar, and his brother Ralph, after Ralph Waldo Emerson, a department store manager.

Rostow entered Yale University at the age of 15 on a full scholarship, graduated at 19, and completed his Ph.D. there in 1940. He also won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Balliol College, Oxford, where he completed a B.Litt. degree. In 1936, during the Edward VIII abdication crisis, he assisted broadcaster Alistair Cooke, who reported on the events for the NBC radio network. After completing his education, he started teaching economics at Columbia University.[1]

Professional and academic career[edit]

During World War II, Rostow served in the Office of Strategic Services under William Joseph Donovan. Among other tasks, he participated in selecting targets for US bombardment. Nicholas Katzenbach later joked: "I finally understand the difference between Walt and me [...] I was the navigator who was shot down and spent two years in a German prison camp, and Walt was the guy picking my targets."

In 1945, immediately after the war, Rostow became assistant chief of the German-Austrian Economic Division in the United States Department of State in Washington, D.C. In 1946, he returned to Oxford as the Harold Vyvyan Harmsworth Professor of American History. In 1947, he became the assistant to the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe, and was involved in the development of the Marshall Plan.

Rostow spent a year at Cambridge University as the Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions. He was professor of economic history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 1950 to 1961, and a staff member of the Center for International Studies (CIS) at MIT from 1951 to 1961. From late 1951 to August 1952, Rostow headed the Soviet Vulnerabilities Project. The project, which was sponsored by CIS and received significant support from the U.S. government, sought to identify Soviet vulnerabilities to political/psychological warfare, and received contributions from top Sovietologist and psychological warfare specialists.[4] In June 1955, Rostow headed a group of stalwart cold warriors called the Quantico Vulnerabilities Panel which issued a report[5] advocating nuclear coercion toward the Soviet Union. Although the experts were invited by Nelson Rockefeller, their proposal ran contrary to the policy of the Eisenhower administration.[6]

In 1954, Rostow advised President Dwight Eisenhower on economic and foreign policy, and in 1958 he became a speechwriter for him. In August 1954, Rostow and fellow CIA-connected MIT economics professor Max F. Millikan convinced Eisenhower to massively increase US foreign aid for development as part of a policy of spreading American-style capitalist economic growth in Asia and elsewhere, backed by the military.[7][8]

Involvement with the Israeli nuclear program[edit]

While working as national security advisor, Rostow became involved in setting the United States' posture towards Israel. Although he supported military and economic assistance to Israel, Rostow believed that increased public alignment between the two states could run counter to US diplomatic and oil interests in the region. After reviewing the May 1967 report from the Atomic Energy Commission team that had inspected Dimona along with other intelligence, Rostow informed President Johnson that, though the team found no evidence of a nuclear weapons program, "there are enough unanswered questions to make us want to avoid getting locked in too closely with Israel."

Concerns about Israel's nuclear program were tabled by the United States during the build-up to the Six-Day War and its aftermath. Though Rostow, Johnson, and Secretary of State Dean Rusk tried to convince Israel not to resort to military force, they supported Israel once the war began. When the nuclear issue resurfaced in January 1968, just prior to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol's visit to the United States, Rostow recommended that the president make it clear that the United States expected Israel to sign the NPT.[9]

The Stages of Economic Growth[edit]

In 1960, Rostow published The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto, which proposed the Rostovian take-off model of economic growth, one of the major historical models of economic growth, which argues that economic modernization occurs in five basic stages of varying length: traditional society, preconditions for take-off, take-off, drive to maturity, and high mass consumption. This became one of the important concepts in the theory of modernization in social evolutionism. Rostow's thesis was criticized at the time and subsequently as universalizing a model of Western development that could not be replicated in places like Latin America or sub-Saharan Africa.

The book impressed presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, who appointed Rostow as one of his political advisers, and sought his advice.[10] When Kennedy became president in 1961, he appointed Rostow as deputy to his national security assistant McGeorge Bundy. Later that year, Rostow became Director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff. After Kennedy's assassination, his successor Lyndon B. Johnson promoted Rostow to Bundy's job after he wrote Johnson's first State of the Union speech. As national security adviser, Rostow was responsible for developing the government's policy in Vietnam, and was convinced that the war could be won, becoming Johnson's main war hawk and playing an important role in bringing Johnson's presidency to an end.[11]

When Richard Nixon became president, Rostow left office, and over the next thirty years taught economics at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin with his wife Elspeth Rostow, who later became dean of the school. He wrote extensively in defense of free enterprise economics, particularly in developing nations.

Honors and awards[edit]

Rostow received the Order of the British Empire (1945), the Legion of Merit (1945), and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1969).


  • Investment and the Great Depression, 1938, Econ History Review
  • Essays on the British Economy of the Nineteenth Century, 1948.
  • The Terms of Trade in Theory and Practice, 1950, Econ History Review
  • The Historical Analysis of Terms of Trade, 1951, Econ History Review
  • The Process of Economic Growth, 1952.
  • Growth and Fluctuations in the British Economy, 1790–1850: An Historical, Statistical, and Theoretical Study of Britain's Economic Development, with Arthur Gayer and Anna Schwartz, 1953 ISBN 0-06-492344-4
  • The Dynamics of Soviet Society (with others), Norton and Co. 1953, slight update Anchor edition 1954.
  • "Trends in the Allocation of Resources in Secular Growth, 1955, in Dupriez, editor, Economic Progress
  • An American Policy in Asia, with R.W. Hatch, 1955.
  • The Take-Off into Self-Sustained Growth, 1956, EJ
  • A Proposal: Key to an effective foreign policy, with Max Millikan, 1957.
  • The Stages of Economic Growth, 1959, Econ History Review
  • The Stages of Economic Growth: A non-communist manifesto, 1960.[12]
  • The United States in the World Arena: An Essay in Recent History (American Project Series), 1960, 568 pages.
  • Politics and the Stages of Growth, 1971.
  • How it All Began: Origins of the modern economy, 1975.
  • The World Economy: History and prospect, 1978.
  • Why the Poor Get Richer and the Rich Slow Down: Essays in the Marshallian long period, 1980.
  • Eisenhower, Kennedy, and foreign aid, 1985.
  • Theorists of Economic Growth from David Hume to the Present, 1990.
  • The Great Population Spike and After, 1998

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The Cold Warrior Who Never Apologized". New York Times. September 8, 2017.
  2. ^ "Voice of U.S. Policy. Walt Whitman Rostow". New York Times. April 13, 1967.
  3. ^ "Rostow, W. W. : American National Biography Online - oi".
  4. ^ Mitrovich, Gregory (2000). Undermining the Kremlin: America's Strategy to Subvert the Soviet Bloc, 1947-1956. Cornell University Press. pp. 117–120. ISBN 978-0801437113.
  5. ^ REPORT OF THE QUANTICO VULNERABILITIES PANEL. archive.org. That 1 Archive. June 10, 1955.
  6. ^ Mitrovich, Gregory (2000). Undermining the Kremlin: America's Strategy to Subvert the Soviet Bloc, 1947-1956. Cornell University Press. pp. 169–171. ISBN 978-0801437113.
  7. ^ http://www.american.edu/spa/ccps/upload/Tama-Eisenhower-paper.pdf
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-08-02. Retrieved 2013-08-06.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-08-02. Retrieved 2013-08-06.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ "Walt Rostow - Wilson Center". wilsoncenter.org. 2013-09-13.
  10. ^ Marc J. Selverstone (24 March 2014). A Companion to John F. Kennedy. Wiley. pp. 277–. ISBN 978-1-118-60886-9.
  11. ^ Vietnam Walter Rostow
  12. ^ Walt Whitman Rostow (1990) [1960]. The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-40928-5.

Further reading[edit]

  • Milne, David (2008). America's Rasputin: Walt Rostow and the Vietnam War. New York: Hill and Wang. ISBN 978-0-374-10386-6.

External links[edit]

Political offices
New office Deputy National Security Advisor
Succeeded by
Carl Kaysen
Preceded by
George McGhee
Counselor of the United States Department of State
Succeeded by
Robert Bowie
Director of Policy Planning
Succeeded by
Henry Owen
Preceded by
Mac Bundy
National Security Advisor
Succeeded by
Henry Kissinger