National Security Council

Political Affairs, Office of, NSC

Asian Affairs Directorate, NSC


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Gaston Joseph Sigur, Jr. (pronounced Seeg-YOOR) was a veteran, a government official and the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs from 1986 to 1989.

Sigur was born in Franklin, Louisiana on November 13, 1924. His post-secondary education began at Louisiana State University at the age of 16 in 1941. In 1943, he joined the United States Army and was pulled from regular duty after basic training to study Japanese at the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, and at Fort Snelling where he was commissioned. At that time the war was over and Sigur was sent to Japan where he served as an Army Air Force intelligence officer for Tachikawa Air Base during the Occupation of Japan until 1946 when he was discharged.

Back in the United States, Sigur returned to the University of Michigan where he earned undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in Japanese history. 

After graduating he worked with The Asia Foundation from 1956 to 1959 and as a research scholar at Sophia University in Tokyo from 1959 to 1961. Next Sigur served as The Asia Foundation representative to Afghanistan from 1962 until 1966; after which he continued his work for The Asia Foundation in Japan and San Francisco. In 1972, he became professor of international affairs and director of the Institute of Sino-Soviet Studies at George Washington University in Washington, DC. While serving in this position, Sigur wrote several major works on U.S. foreign policy in Asia and was a regular contributor to Orbis, a leading journal of world affairs.

Sigur began his political career in 1982 in the Reagan Administration when he was appointed to the National Security Council as senior director of Asian Affairs. Sigur was promoted in 1983 to a Special Assistant to the President for Asian Affairs.

At a later point he was questioned extensively by joint Congressional Committees investigating the Iran-Contra Affair on his knowledge of fellow NSC staffer Colonel Oliver North's efforts to acquire foreign government funding for the Nicaraguan contras. Although Sigur did engage his contacts, most notably Taiwan, as requested by other Reagan Administration officials, he was not aware of any illicit activities between the United States government and the contras, nor did he comply with the illegal transfer of money to the contras.

In 1986, at the urging of Secretary of State George P Shultz, President Reagan nominated Sigur as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. After Senate confirmation Sigur held this office from March 12, 1986 until February 21, 1989.

A key part of the "Reagan Doctrine" was the promotion of democracy abroad. Sigur promoted this goal throughout his time in the Reagan Administration, but especially while at the State Department. Sigur pushed for more openness and a transition to democracy in the Asia-Pacific nations throughout his tenure as Assistant Secretary of State. His was uniquely positioned to use diplomacy instilled with his long background of cultural and historical knowledge of the area. 

Sigur's approach was generally conservative except during the Korea situation in the late 1980s. In 1987, the authoritarian government of South Korea was facing a constitutional crisis which Sigur helped nudge towards democracy. Getting ahead of then U.S. positions, he delivered a speech in February 1987 expressing American support for a transition to democracy under a "new political framework," urging South Korea to "civilianize" its military-controlled government. As President Reagan’s envoy to Seoul in the midst of the June (1987) Democracy Movement Sigur applied key diplomatic pressure on the South Korean government to keep it from instituting martial law or a military coup, eventually leading to open elections and a transition to democracy.

In addition to a push towards democracy, Sigur sought trade concessions from Japan which included improved access to and openness in the Japanese market, a correction of the yen-dollar exchange rate, and other economic issues. Like most foreign policy members of the Reagan administration Sigur believed that free trade and open markets would lift economic growth in Asia and would ultimately benefit the United States.

He was heavily involved in U.S. diplomatic work with the government of the Philippines in their transition to democracy and subsequent struggles with communist rebel groups. He was also involved in talks with the Soviet Union concerning the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia and he worked to continue the liberalizing trend in Taiwan.

At the close of the Reagan presidency, Sigur returned to George Washington University in 1989 as Distinguished Professor of East Asian studies. He advised President George H.W. Bush on Asian affairs, accompanying the president on his trip to China.  As a highly respected authority on East Asia and the Pacific, he continued to serve the Republican White House as a part-time adviser throughout Bush’s presidency.

In 1991, in recognition for his profound impact and mark on American international policy towards East Asia, the Gaston Sigur Center for Asian Studies (formally the Institute of Sino-Soviet Studies) at George Washington University was named in his honor. Sigur served as senior consultant of the Center until his death.

On April 26, 1995 Sigur died of cardiac arrest at his home in Bethesda, Maryland. 

Sigur met Estelle Smotrys, a nursing student, while pursuing his doctorate at the University of Michigan and the two were married prior to him completing his studies. They had five children.


Scope Note

The old Office of Political Affairs within the National Security Council included specific Offices with the responsibility for various geographic regions. Under the Office of Political Affairs, Gaston Sigur was a senior director in the East Asian and Pacific office. In 1983, these regional responsibilities were later revised and elevated to directorates in a rough approximation of the Department of State regional organizations. Sigur was now within the Asian Affairs Directorate. His collection includes material from both of these offices.

The Gaston Sigur collection consists of three series: SERIES I: Chronological File; SERIES II: Subject File; and SERIES III: Briefing Books File.

SERIES II: SUBJECT FILE (13.4. l.ft.; RAC Box 4-14)
SERIES III: BRIEFING BOOKS (1.4 l.ft.; RAC Box 14-15)

Last Updated: 08/16/2021 07:54PM

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