Paul Culliton Warnke (January 31, 1920 – October 31, 2001) was a United States diplomat. He was born in Webster, Massachusetts, but spent most of his childhood in Marlborough, Massachusetts, where his father managed a shoe factory. He attended Yale University, fought in World War II for five years in the United States Coast Guard, and then entered Columbia Law School. In 1948, he joined the law firm Covington & Burling, run by Dean Acheson. He became a partner in 1956.
He hoped for a good job in the John F. Kennedy administration, but did not receive any appealing offers. However, he was offered the position of General Counsel to the Secretary of Defense in 1967 during the Lyndon Johnson Administration. He took that position and served under Robert McNamara, moving on to become Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs from 1967 to 1969 under McNamara and then Clifford.
During his time in the Defense Department, he was a critic of the Vietnam War and an arms control advocate. He was not, however, as some people say, a total dove or pacifist. He disagreed with the domino theory and said that the war had been a huge mistake. But he also believed that the decision to enter it had been understandable and he supported some weapons buildup.
After serving briefly under Richard Nixon in the same position, he joined the law firm of his former boss, which became known as Clifford, Warnke, Glass, McIlwaine & Finney. During this period he served as an adviser to presidential candidate George McGovern and also wrote a noteworthy article in Foreign Policy magazine, "Apes on a Treadmill". That piece criticized the current buildup of nuclear weapons by both sides and suggested that the United States unilaterally stop developing the B-1 bomber and the Trident submarine for six months. His hope was that the Soviets would respond with "reciprocal restraint".
Under President Jimmy Carter he was chief SALT negotiator and Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. He helped negotiate the unratified SALT II agreement with the Soviet Union and was a tireless advocate of slowing the arms race. Warnke saw arms control as a step-by-step process, like "trying to get down from the top of a tall tree. If you go down a branch at a time, you're gonna end up on solid ground. If you try and do it in a single step, you're gonna make one hell of a mess."
Unlike many of his critics, most famously Paul Nitze, Warnke didn't believe in the late 1970s that the Soviets had a desire to attack the United States or that they would succeed if they did. Warnke believed that the United States, with a "triad" of strong defenses-in the air, on land, in the sea-had a strong enough military to deter any Soviet assault.
After leaving the Carter administration, he returned to private law practice and his work with Clark Clifford, forming Clifford & Warnke. He also stayed active in political issues as a member of the Committee for National Security. After the elderly Clifford became entangled in the BCCI scandal and was unable to practice, Warnke and many of the other lawyers in the firm moved to Howrey & Simon.
Warnke died in Washington, D.C.