Ronald D. Asmus, a Milwaukee native who as U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs was instrumental in the expansion of NATO to include former communist countries, died Saturday in Brussels after a long bout with cancer. He was 53.
Asmus, the son of German immigrants who came to Milwaukee after surviving the horrors of World War II, was an early and strong proponent of expanding NATO to include Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and other former members of the Soviet bloc.
“Few people embodied the best in America’s relationship with Europe better than Ronald ‘Ron’ Asmus,” said a posting on The Economist magazine’s website Sunday.
Asmus was the executive director of the Brussels office and director of strategic planning for the German Marshall Fund of the United States at the time of his death.
The German Marshall Fund is a policy organization dedicated to promoting cooperation between North America and Europe on trans-Atlantic and global issues.
Asmus, a lifelong fan of the Green Bay Packers, grew up in Milwaukee and Mequon, graduating from Homestead High School. He went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, graduating with a degree in political science.
He earned a master’s in Soviet and East European studies and a doctorate in European studies from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University.
“He did everything all the way,” said Jeff Asmus, his younger brother, who lives in Plano, Texas.
He described his brother as an overachiever who also was “a loving and caring father and husband.”
Ron Asmus had been decorated or honored by the governments of Belgium, Estonia, Georgia, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden, according to a news release by the German Marshall Fund.
“He was a highly regarded person in just every way,” said Craig Kennedy, president of the German Marshall Fund, who had just received an email from a former foreign minister of Sweden about Asmus’ death.
Kennedy described Asmus, who became one of his closest friends, as “a creative, forceful guy.”
Asmus joined the policy group as a fellow in 2002 and became executive director of its Brussels office in 2005.
In recent years, Asmus pushed for the United States and Europe to work together with other parts of the world.
“He always saw the trans-Atlantic alliance as the core of U.S. foreign relations,” Kennedy said.
Before joining the Clinton administration, Asmus was a senior analyst at Rand Corp., a think tank based in Santa Monica, Calif.
Asmus authored “Opening NATO’s Door,” published in 2002, about the push to open NATO to Eastern European countries, and “A Little War That Shook the World,” published last year, about the conflict between Russia and Georgia in 2008.
He also was published in journals and newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Asmus is survived by his wife, Barbara Wilkinson; his son, Erik; his mother, Christine Wittke; and his two brothers, Jeff and Peter.