Former Secretary of State George Shultz died this past week at 100 years young.
He led a remarkably successful life in academia, business, and politics. While President Ronald Reagan won the Cold War, Shultz played an indispensable role in executing the administration’s foreign policy.
In February 1983, President Reagan and Sec. of State Shultz had a secret meeting with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin.
According to Sec. Shultz’s memoirs, the president inquired of Dobrynin if progress could be made about the Pentecostals, or other human rights issues.
After Reagan left the meeting, Shultz and Dobrynin saw a chance to free the Pentecostals that had sought refuge in the United States embassy in Moscow since 1978.
This was a persistent embarrassment to the Soviets and an irritant to the relationship.
The Pentecostals were freed months after this meeting because President Reagan promised that he would not brag about it.
This quiet victory for human rights convinced the Soviets that Reagan and Shultz could keep their word on any future deal with the Soviets.
The Reagan team understood that negotiations with dictatorships, which focused exclusively on arms control, were doomed to fail.
While the détente of the 1970s was able to achieve initial agreements, any long-term solution to the Cold War required a comprehensive agreement.
Before Reagan left for Geneva, he had a four-part agenda that included arms control as well as human rights, bilateral issues, and regional issues.
Shultz played a crucial role in convincing the Soviets that human rights had to be on the summit’s agenda.
At their first meeting at Helsinki, in July 1985, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze told Shultz, "George, we might do some of the things you want, but not to please you. We’ll only do them if they are to our advantage."
Shultz took Shevardnadze’s advice and met with Gorbachev in Moscow on November 4, 1985.
Shultz convinced Gorbachev that human rights had to be included on the summit’s agenda to advance Soviet national interests.
He argued, "People must be freed to express themselves, move around, emigrate and travel if they want to, challenge accepted ways without fears. Otherwise they can’t take advantage of the opportunities available."
Instead of being offended, Gorbachev told Shultz, "The next time you come to Moscow you should forget about your government duties and come as a businessman and economist."
Secretary of State George Shultz informed the Soviets repeatedly that if they wanted to talk to the U.S. about trade, and even arms control, Soviet Jews would have to be granted the right to emigrate.
Before any of Reagan’s summit meetings with Gorbachev, he would pull out a list of Soviet Jews who were either harassed or denied an exit visa.
In October 1986, Reagan and Gorbachev met for their second summit in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Shultz accompanied Reagan and the talks quickly turned to eliminating all nuclear weapons.
At the final meeting in Iceland, Gorbachev declared that in order for him to agree, Reagan would have to put the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) on the shelf.
With Shultz’s backing, Reagan refused and the summit abruptly ended.
Years later, Shultz and Gorbachev both agreed that Reykjavik was a crucial turning point in the Cold War.
In 1986, oil prices collapsed by 69 percent.
In early 1987, the Soviet economy was still in turmoil.
In February 1987, Gorbachev agreed to Reagan’s terms of accepting SDI, human rights, and reducing nuclear arms.
Shultz, alongside National Security Advisor Colin Powell, went to the Soviet Mission in Geneva on November 23, 1987 to make preparations for the third Reagan-Gorbachev summit.
Russian Foreign Minister Schevardnadze was accompanied by Marshal Sergey Fyodorovich Akhromeyev who was the Chief of the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces.
By the end of the 1987, the Soviets agreed to the elimination of an entire class of nuclear weapons.
While President Richard Nixon and Sec. of State Henry Kissinger were able to limit the growth of nuclear weapons, President Reagan was the first commander-in-chief to reduce existing nuclear arms when he signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
That treaty benefited the Americans more than the Soviets.
The U.S.S.R. eliminated 1,500 intermediate-range nuclear weapons deployed while the U.S. had only 350 weapons deployed.
With the INF Treaty about to be signed, Reagan and Shultz used the momentum to define the parameters for a larger arms reduction agreement.
The Reagan and Gorbachev teams seemed to agree to the idea of a 50 percent reduction to 6,000 strategic nuclear weapons on each side with a limit of 1,600 launchers.
Much like the INF Treaty, the goal was to bring the arsenals back to parity in order to achieve meaningful reductions in nuclear weapons.
This is eventually what was agreed upon in the 1991 START Treaty.
The number of nuclear weapons in the world declined from a peak of 70,300 in 1986 to 13,410 in 2020.
This accomplishment could not have happened without George Shultz.
On the issue of Soviet Jewry, from 1967 to 1986 only 268,000 Jews were able to leave the Soviet Union.
It wasn't because they didn't want to leave, it was because the Soviets couldn't afford to let them go.
After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the worsening relations between the superpowers, only 16,403 Jews were able to leave the Soviet Union from 1981 to 1986.
Thanks to President Reagan, Secretary Shultz, and bipartisan support in Congress, from 1987 to 2005, 1.2 million Jews left the Soviet Union.
More than half of them went to Israel, including some of my relatives.
Since leaving office in 1989, Shultz continued to work with other policymakers on reducing nuclear weapons.
It was his hope that the world would eventually eliminate these weapons and find a way to keep the peace without them.
In this era of extreme polarization, there were very few people as broadly respected as George Shultz.
Sec. Shultz served our country in World War II as Marine, served in four cabinet positions (Labor, Treasury, Office of Management and Budget, and State), and finally as a prominent public intellectual at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Sec. Shultz, thank you for freeing members of my family and your several decades of distinguished public service.
Robert Zapesochny is a researcher and writer whose work focuses on foreign affairs, national security and presidential history. His work has appeared in a range of publications, including The American Spectator, the Washington Times, and The American Conservative. For several years Robert worked closely with Peter Hannaford, a senior aide to Ronald Reagan, as the primary researcher on four books and numerous columns. Robert has also worked on multiple presidential, national and statewide campaigns, including as a field office staffer for the Bush-Cheney campaign. Due to his own Russian-Jewish heritage, Robert has a keen interest in the history of U.S.-Soviet relations. In 2017 he was the co-organizer of an effort that erected a commemorative statue of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow. Robert graduated with a major in Political Science from the University at Buffalo, and received his Master's in Public Administration, with a focus in healthcare, from the State University of New York College at Brockport. When he's not writing, Robert works for a medical research company in Rochester, New York. Read Robert Zapesochny's Reports — More Here.
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