What on earth happened to George Shultz? So wondered Republicans and Democrats alike when, in 2007, President Reagan’s former secretary of state emerged as one of the leading champions of the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.
Their confusion was forgivable. Whether or not you liked Shultz, you knew where he stood: a consummate Cold Warrior and the architect of a foreign policy regarded as the modern apotheosis of “peace through strength.” Detractors regarded this legacy with alarm, recalling what they saw as unremitting nuclear brinkmanship and ideological anti-communism. In the eyes of supporters, these same traits established him as a chief spokesperson for the halcyon days of Ronald Reagan.
That’s why this new move to ban the bomb seemed, to many, like an about-face for Shultz—reminiscent of Robert McNamara’s famous retrospective disavowal of Vietnam-era policies he’d designed. But it turns out that this represents a fundamental misunderstanding, both of Shultz the man and his nearly seven-decade career.
I sat down with Shultz in his Stanford office to talk about his status at the forefront of the latest—and most vigorous—campaign to end the nuclear threat once and for all. What I discovered was that Shultz’s current position actually stands in remarkable continuity with his history. Far from turning into a dove, Shultz wants to eliminate nuclear weapons because he’s still a hawk.
In fact, George Shultz hasn’t changed at all. It’s the world that’s changed around him. And understanding this fact is the key to understanding the surprising new coalition that’s trying to eliminate the bomb.