September 20, 2019 10:05AM

R.I.P. Earl Ravenal (1931–2019)

I was saddened to learn of the recent passing of Earl Ravenal, a one‐​time member of Cato’s board of directors, long‐​time senior fellow and distinguished senior fellow, and an important voice in the development of the case against global interventionism in the 1970s and 1980s.

He taught international affairs for many years at Georgetown University, and was the author of several books and monographs, as well as countless papers and articles, including Never Again: Learning From America’s Foreign Policy Failures (Temple University Press, 1978), and this gem, from way back in the Cato archives, “Reagan’s 1983 Defense Budget: An Analysis and an Alternative” (Policy Analysis no. 10).

In his sweeping history of the libertarian movement, Radicals for Capitalism, Brian Doherty describes Ravenal as “a foreign policy intellectual of real‐​world heft.” He was active in Libertarian Party politics, and was responsible for writing LP presidential candidate Ed Clark’s campaign statement on foreign and defense policies in 1980.

Ted Galen Carpenter, who preceded me as Cato’s vice president for defense and foreign policy studies, recalls “Earl was nearly unique in the 1970s and 1980s in being regarded as a serious scholar by much of the foreign policy establishment, despite his unorthodox views. That status made him a true trailblazer for those of us who reinforced the case for realism and restraint. Without his pioneering work, our task would have been far more difficult.”

Another Cato colleague remembers Earl’s dogged effort to assess the share of the Pentagon’s budget that was geared toward defending Europe and Asia during the waning days of the Cold War. This was a daunting task, given that such spending is fungible, and the things that it buys mobile. A ship in Norfolk can be deployed to the Mediterranean, but also to the Persian Gulf, or even the Pacific Ocean (it just takes longer). Planes fly. Even troops can be relocated — though their bases less easily. In the face of such complexity, most people simply shrugged their shoulders: “Who knows?” Ravenal improved public understanding of America’s military posture in the early 1980s by forcing a discussion of these costs into the debate.

As a young Cato fan in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I encountered many of Ravenal’s books and articles on foreign and defense policy. The most influential was arguably Designing Defense for a New World Order, published in 1991. I (somehow) managed to locate it on my bookshelf, and discovered countless highlighted passages, and earnest comments and questions in the margins.

Earl’s family reports that he passed away on August 31, 2019. He was 88 years old. I extend to them my sincere condolences.

A memorial service will be held in his honor next month at the Cosmos Club on Sunday, October 27 at 2 pm. The public is welcome.

Update: The memorial service has been postponed until further notice. We will provide additional information when it is rescheduled.

Update: It is with sadness that we’ve learned Carol Ravenal, Earl’s wife of 63 years, passed away on October 28, 2019. A joint memorial service has been scheduled for Sunday, November 24 at 2 pm.