William G. Hyland, former deputy national security advisor to President Ford and former editor of Foreign Affairs magazine, died of an aortic aneurysm March 25 at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia. He was 79.
Hyland, an expert on U.S.-Soviet relations during the latter days of the Cold War, worked for the Nixon administration at the National Security Council and the State Department as the head of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. He returned to the NSC during the Ford administration.
“He was one of the best public servants I have known, and one of the finest human beings,” said former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. “He was a superb analyst, especially of Russian and European affairs. . . . He was with me at practically every negotiation we conducted during the period. He was an integral part of our group.”
As a low-profile aide who was the CIA’s Berlin desk officer, Hyland frequently briefed the agency’s legendary director Allen Dulles. He later moved to the CIA’s Soviet desk, where he learned to estimate the Soviet threat. Those jobs led to the executive branch, which led to several years at think tanks and to the editorship of Foreign Affairs from 1984 until 1992.
Hyland wrote more than half a dozen books on international affairs and popular music. After devoting his career to foreign policy, he “rattled the teacups” of the diplomatic corps in 1991 when he publicly urged the United States to turn inward.
“The U.S. has never been less threatened by foreign forces than it is today,” he wrote in an op-ed article for the New York Times.
“We may now be trying to perpetuate something from the past, to give urgency to [international] issues that are no longer all that urgent,” he told former Washington Post diplomatic correspondent Don Oberdorfer.
Matters certainly were urgent while Hyland worked at the NSC in the White House and grappled with the collapse of detente, through Moscow summit meetings, the shaping of strategic arms limitations and the formation of the SALT I treaty.
“He was a very sagacious Soviet analyst in a very difficult time during the Cold War,” said Brent Scowcroft, national security advisor to Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush. “Even more than that, he had a very judicious mind and approach, and played a critical role in managing the interagency process in the White House at the NSC.”
“Clearly, he was one of three or four people who shaped our policy toward the Soviet Union and arms control,” said Winston Lord, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “He had a fierce intelligence and was non-ideological. He wouldn’t be swayed.”
Born in Kansas City, Mo., Hyland graduated from Washington University in St. Louis and received a master’s degree in history from the University of Missouri at Kansas City in 1954. He served in the Army’s 2nd Armored Division from 1950 to 1953, stationed in Germany.
He joined the CIA after his discharge and, while on the Soviet desk, wrote a memo in 1960 predicting that Nikita Khrushchev would find a pretext to abort the planned summit in Paris with President Eisenhower.
Days before the summit, the Soviets shot down an American U2 spy plane over its territory, and Khrushchev showed up at the summit only long enough to storm out.
Hyland was still a CIA officer when his first book, “The Fall of Khrushchev,” came out in 1968.
He joined the NSC in 1969 and accompanied Kissinger, Nixon and Ford summits in Moscow.
His book about the period, “Mortal Rivals” (1987), offered “a boiler-room view of the Kissinger years,” wrote David Ignatius in a Washington Post review. “What distinguishes Hyland’s book is his effort to analyze what the detente era was all about.”
In 1973, Hyland followed Kissinger to the State Department, where he led the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Two years later, Ford made Scowcroft his national security director, and Hyland returned to the NSC as his assistant.
After the Democrats won the White House in 1976, Hyland worked at the Georgetown Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace before becoming a magazine editor.
He also served on President George H.W. Bush’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
Hyland wrote two more books on foreign affairs, “The Cold War Is Over” (1990) and “Clinton’s World” (1999). He also taught at Georgetown University and the College of William and Mary.
An accomplished trumpet player who started playing in high school and continued in the Army, Hyland nurtured a lifelong interest in popular music, particularly jazz, big band and Broadway musicals.
After he retired, he wrote three books on those subjects: “The Song Is Ended: Songwriters and American Music 1900-1950” (1995), “Richard Rogers” (1998) and “George Gershwin: A New Biography” (2003).
Survivors include his wife of 53 years, Evelyn Hyland of Vienna, Va.; two sons, William Jr. of Palm Harbor, Fla., and James of Vienna; and four grandchildren.