Skip to main content

U.S. Must Be Engaged Around the World, says George P. Shultz

In a world that is drifting, the United States must come up with a cohesive game plan to guide its diplomacy, said former Secretary of State George P. Shultz who delivered the second annual Leonore Annenberg Lecture in Public Service and Global Understanding at the University of Pennsylvania on October 18. Shultz’s address was entitled Diplomacy for the Future.

Shultz said that game plan must incorporate strength, diplomacy and economics if it is to succeed. He cited last month’s Senate testimony on the Iraq war by Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. While Gen. Petraeus spoke of military accomplishments and Ambassador Crocker addressed diplomatic efforts, “no one was there to speak about the economy” in Iraq, noted Shultz. “To leave the economics out is ridiculous.”

Shultz, who has held four cabinet posts in Republican administrations, including Secretary of State from 1982 to 1989, noted that global economic expansion is “unprecedented.”

“In many respects, we’re at a golden moment.” But there are threats, he warned. One of them is growing protectionism in this country and abroad. “We don’t have to speculate what happens when protectionism takes hold,” citing the rise of protectionism in the 1930s, the resulting Great Depression and ultimate war. “When people could not get the goods they needed through normal trade, they opted for military action….We need to learn the lessons of history.”

Global energy needs also must be addressed in this nation’s foreign policy objectives. For the first time in history, the U.S. has “been financing both sides” in the Middle East to feed its appetite for oil. “We need to do something about that and we need to stick at it.”

The U.S. also must formulate a clear policy on its relations with Islamic nations. “There is a bit of a miscellaneous, ad hoc quality to what we are doing now,” said Shultz. “We don’t have a concept as we had in the Cold War.”

Then, he recalled, the U.S. had a clear strategy of showing strength. “That doesn’t just mean military strength. It means economic strength, it means willpower and self-confidence and diplomacy.” The U.S. must engage in “constructive, thoughtful and hard-nosed diplomacy,” built on a base of trust and action. Today, the U.S. boasts of its strength but is unwilling to sit down and negotiate. “That’s not going to get you anywhere,” said Shultz, who played a key role in implementing a foreign policy that led to the successful conclusion of the Cold War. “There’s nothing necessarily soft about diplomacy.”

The U.S. must embrace a strategy to stop the spread of radical Islam “in every way that we can,” said Shultz. “That is the brand of Islam that preaches hate, intolerance and violence….At the same time, we need to be helping mainstream Islam move into the modern world in a way that’s consistent with their religious principles.” The best way to achieve that is through education. “We can make headway against radical Islam, but we need to have a more unifying idea to do it with.”

“I have the sense that the world is kind of drifting,” said Shultz. “I’m not pining for the Cold War, but the Cold War was, in a way, easy to understand. It was them and us and most people were aligned with one side or the other….It was a time that was, in a sense, easy to understand.”

“You look at the United Nations Security Council and I think it’s fair to say it doesn’t work because the interests of the main [global] powers can easily diverge. If China is interested in oil in the Sudan, it’s not going to help you do something about Darfur. There’s very little sense of a unified purpose….You need to get the big players organized.”

Organized around what? Shultz offered two critical issues in need of attention: Global warming and nuclear disarmament.

Conceding that he initially was skeptical about the science behind global warming, Shultz said he has changed his mind. “Right now, as a world, we are on dead center. The Kyoto Protocol does not work,” he said, referring to the 1992 international agreement to control greenhouse gas emissions. The United States did not sign the agreement because it did not include binding targets on emissions from developing countries, as demanded in a 95-0 vote by the U.S. Senate. “I call that irresponsible negotiating,” said Shultz. “You want the treaty to be very close to your constituency because you want the treaty to become law.” The Kyoto agreement is set to expire in 2012. As the next round of negotiations begins, U.S. representatives should look closely at the earlier Montreal Protocol, negotiated during the Reagan administration, to control gases that were destroying the ozone later.

“The United States in this case was the scientific leader, we were the diplomatic leader, we were the moral leader,” said Shultz, who was secretary of state at the time. “We were able to look people in the eye and say we are going to do these difficult things and we are asking you to look at it too. I think you have to get yourself in that position if you’re going to be effective. When the United States takes leadership, it makes a huge difference.”

Shultz, who has been a Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University since 1989, then outlined his work on nuclear disarmament. “The most awesome weapon around is a nuclear weapon,” he told his audience. At present, the U.S. and Russia each have 2,000 such weapons.

The world is now at a “tipping point” as more and more countries are trying to obtain nuclear weapons. “This is dangerous, especially in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia says it needs, quote, nuclear power plants. Give me a break. Saudi Arabia needs the energy of nuclear power? That’s not what it’s about. Do you worry about people who are fundamentally not-deterrable getting their hands on a nuclear weapon?”

“If you can enrich uranium to the level needed for a nuclear power plant, you can enrich it for a weapon.”

Shultz called for creation of an international regime to gain control of the nuclear fuel cycle, offering nations a low-cost supply of reactor fuel in exchange for the agreement that it be returned and thus not available for reprocessing into weapons use.

As for reducing the existing number of weapons, Shultz has taken the lead in drafting a series of steps that should be incorporated in a new strategic arms treaty. The current treaty expires in 2009. That project has been endorsed by former secretaries of state from both political parties. By laying out steps to get the process started, Schultz said he hopes they will serve as a roadmap for world leaders.

Concluding his remarks, Shultz quoted his friend Max Kampelman, a diplomat and lawyer who negotiated arms issues with the Soviets: “We need to keep reminding ourselves of what ought to be and not be totally bound up with what is.”

Shultz was introduced by University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann, who offered her thanks to Leonore Annenberg for her long-standing generosity to the University. Among her many contributions is the new $41.5-million Annenberg Public Policy Center, which will be located adjacent to the Annenberg School for Communication. “Leonore Annenberg is a true Penn treasure, a Philadelphia treasure and an American treasure,” said Gutmann.