The passing of former US Secretary of State George Shultz on 7 February, at the grand age of 100, is a sad day for those of us who shared his passion for a world free of the horror of nuclear weapons.
A Republican who always put principle before partisanship, a military veteran and Cold War realist who never lost his idealistic hopes for a better world, a hugely competent statesman in multiple roles over many years, and a thoroughly decent human being, George Shultz’s was the crucial voice in reinforcing Ronald Reagan’s instinct – so movingly articulated in his joint statement with Mikhail Gorbachev at Reykjavik thirty-five years ago – that ‘nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought.’
It was George Shultz who played the critical role in negotiating the INF Intermediate Nuclear Forces Reduction) Treaty in 1987, and in generating the momentum for the major drawdown of US and Soviet stockpiles that followed. And it was he who, along with his Democrat colleagues Bill Perry and Sam Nunn – and a slightly less enthusiastic Henry Kissinger – who penned the famous series of Wall Street Journal opinion articles from 2007 onwards, arguing that “reliance on nuclear weapons …is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective’ and urging that the nuclear-armed states get serious about moving toward their elimination. It was a cause for which he campaigned, with slowly fading energy, but undimmed commitment, throughout the last decades of his life.
On a personal note, I came to know George well during my years as Australian Foreign Minister and later President of the International Group, and liked and admired him immensely. His time as a Marine officer in the Pacific War gave him an abiding understanding of the region, and interest in and affection for Australia, and he was a close friend of Prime Minister Bob Hawke with whom he had first knocked about years before as a fellow delegate to International Labor Organization conferences in Geneva. I was a regular invitee to the annual off-the-record roundtables meetings he co-convened in the 1990s, from the Hoover Institute at Stanford, with former Democrat Senator Bill Bradley, bringing together a small group of young ministers from around the Asia Pacific. On one particularly memorable evening he and his wonderful wife Charlotte hosted a spectacular kangaroo, koala and vegemite-themed dinner at their home on the Stanford campus in honour of his ‘Aussie mate.’
George believed intensely, here as elsewhere, in “diplomatic gardening” — the immense importance of building personal relationships if global and regional problems were ever to be effectively cooperatively addressed. And he never lost sight of the issues that really mattered. There were plenty of political issues about which we disagreed, but never about the need to rid the world once and for all of the most indiscriminately inhumane weapons of war ever devised.
A giant’s voice has been stilled, and the world is poorer for his passing.
About the Author
Gareth Evans is former chair of the Asia Pacific Leadership Network on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (APLN). He was previously Australia’s foreign minister (1988-96), president of the International Crisis Group (2000-09) and chancellor of the Australian National University (2010-19).
Disclaimer: The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Asia Pacific Leadership Network or any of its members. The APLN’s website is a source of authoritative research and analysis and serves as a platform for debate and discussion among our senior network members, experts and practitioners, as well as the next generation of policymakers, analysts and advocates. Comments and responses can be emailed to email@example.com.
Image: Joyce Lee/APLN.