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Edward Rowny, 100, outspoken treaty negotiator

GEORGE TAMES/New york times/file 1982

General Rowny, an advocate of the peace-through-strength concept, with a model comparing Soviet and US missiles.

By Neil Genzlinger New York Times  

NEW YORK — Edward L. Rowny, a lieutenant general who advised presidents of both parties during arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union, repeatedly raising warnings about the Russians and arguing that US proposals were too soft, died of heart disease Dec. 17 in Washington. He was 100.

After serving in World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam, General Rowny was named a negotiator in the talks that resulted in the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty signed in 1972 by President Richard M. Nixon and the Soviet leader, Leonid I. Brezhnev.

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He was also a principal player in the next round of SALT negotiations. But when that agreement was put forward in 1979, he objected to it so strongly that he resigned from the Army after President Jimmy Carter signed it so that he could be free to speak against it. Which he did.

“The emerging treaty,” General Rowny said in typically uncompromising language, “is not in our interest since it is inequitable, unverifiable, undermines deterrence, contributes to instability, and could adversely affect NATO security and Allied coherence.”

The second SALT was never ratified by the US Senate, partly because later in 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

General Rowny may not have liked what Carter came up with, but time would show that he was an equal-opportunity disdainer. In 1987, this time as an adviser to a Republican president, Ronald Reagan, on the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, he wrote in a newspaper opinion article that negotiations over nuclear missiles should also include the issue of the Soviets’ superiority in conventional forces.

The article drew a carefully worded but unmistakable rebuke from the White House.

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“I think it is fair to say that there are people who are somewhat upset about it and would rather he didn’t make those comments,” said Reagan’s spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater.

Earlier in his career, General Rowny had some ideas on how the Army might better use helicopters, and in 1962 he was sent to South Vietnam, where US involvement was increasing, to test them out. But he was not there long. In 1963 he was recalled to the United States and began a series of postings that led to his role in the arms-control talks.

An unwavering advocate of the peace-through-strength concept, General Rowny was regarded, in various quarters, as either an obstacle to compromise or a vital line of defense against Soviet manipulation. Whatever the reality, presidents kept making use of his services. After the 1979 blowup, he advised Reagan and then his successor, President George H.W. Bush.

In addition to the military ranks he accrued over the years, General Rowny had the title of ambassador, something he was given when Reagan named him chief arms negotiator in the early 1980s. His book “Smokey Joe and the General,” a partial autobiography published in 2013, includes this anecdote:

“After swearing me in, President Reagan asked me, ‘Do I now address you as ambassador or general?’

“ ‘Sir, it took me 20 years to become a general,’ I said, ‘and only 20 minutes to become an ambassador.’

“The president stood up, saluted sharply, smiled and said, ‘Yes, sir, General.’”