The General John W. Vessey Chair in Conflict Prevention

The Council on Foreign Relations established the General John W. Vessey Chair in Conflict Prevention in honor of General Vessey, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Made possible by a generous gift from Council member Patrick M. Byrne, chairman of the board and president of, and his parents John and Dorothy, the chair was created to recognize the importance of conflict prevention in an increasingly complicated and dangerous world. The Byrnes have made this gift to recognize General Vessey’s contributions to the country during over sixty years of public service, and to call attention to a missing ingredient in the U.S. foreign policy debate: the need for a strategy for preventing conflict around the globe.

The Chair is held by the director of the Center for Preventive Action.

John W. Vessey

John W. Vessey Jr. was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on June 29, 1922. In high school, he joined the Minnesota National Guard; in 1940, his unit was called up to active duty. He served as an artillery sergeant in the 34th Infantry Division (Red Bull Division). He fought with distinction in North Africa and received a battlefield commission at Anzio. After World War II, Vessey attended the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, the Armed Forces Staff College, and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. He also graduated from the University of Maryland at age 41.

Vessey served as the executive officer of the 25th Infantry Division during the Vietnam War. In 1970, he graduated from the Army Helicopter School, where he was 15 years older than the next-oldest student. The next year, Vessey was promoted to brigadier general. In 1974, he was promoted to major general and commanded the 4 th Infantry Division. He became a lieutenant general in 1975 and was made Deputy Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army.

In 1976, Vessey was awarded his fourth star and led the Eighth Army in Korea. He also served as the commander in chief of the U.S.-Republic of Korea Combined Forces Command and the United Nations Command. In 1979, Vessey became the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army.

President Ronald Reagan made Vessey the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; he served in this position from June 18, 1982 to September 30, 1985. As the Chairman, JCS, he sought to improve global war planning, enhance the quality of JCS advice to the president, and champion greater efficacy in joint operations.

Vessey retired from active duty in 1985, but continued to serve by returning to Vietnam as Presidential Emissary to Hanoi for POW/MIA matters and as diplomat and adviser to three presidents. President George H.W. Bush awarded Vessey the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992.

Vessey has been the chair of the Center for Preventive Action’s advisory committee since its founding in 1994.

General John W. Vessey Senior Fellows in Conflict Prevention:

2007–  Paul B. Stares
2003–2006  William L. Nash