President Ronald Reagan speaks in the Oval Office with Secretary of State George P. Schultz, June 20, 1985.
Pete Souza/White House via CNP/Getty Images
Secretary of State Dean Acheson called his memoir “A Gift for Creation,” an account of postwar reconstruction and the realities of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Former Secretary of State
George P. Schultz,
who died Saturday at the age of 100, called his memoir “Tumult and Triumph,” a fitting description of the historical role Schultz played in ending the Cold War some 40 years later.
Secretary of State for most of Reagan’s presidency from 1982 to 1989, the “chaos” of the title of his memoir describes the world when he took control of Reagan’s foreign policy.
The Soviet Union, with its vast arsenal of nuclear weapons, was led by Yuri Andropov, a staunch opponent of the Communists in the West. It is hard to believe today, but Europe was then still divided by what Winston Churchill called the “Iron Curtain,” which separated the free democracies of Western Europe from the closed, Soviet-dominated countries of Eastern Europe. Millions were imprisoned in these countries and could not emigrate. Those who tried to escape could be imprisoned or shot.
The competition between the United States and the Soviet Union was global and extended to Central America, the Middle East and Africa. Schultz, like Reagan, was determined to end the Cold War.
In some ways, this was unlikely for Schultz, who earned a doctorate in industrial economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after serving in the Marines during World War II. Later, his economic thinking became associated with free-market economists like Milton Friedman and Ronald Coase at the University of Chicago, where Schultz was dean of the business school in the 1960s.
He left Chicago in 1969 to accept President Richard Nixon’s offer to become Secretary of Labor. A few years later, after some respite, he became head of the Treasury Department. In 1982, President Reagan asked Schultz to return to government as Secretary of State.
During the year, Schultz was at the center of a major global effort to force the United States to abandon its intention to deploy Pershing-2 medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe as a counterweight to the Soviet Union’s INF missiles already deployed and aimed at Western Europe.
Some 30 years after the end of the Cold War with a Western victory, we tend to forget how conventional and difficult that struggle was. Millions of anti-American demonstrators in European capitals. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gave moral weight to the anti-Reagan opposition. Despite this pressure, Reagan – with support from allied leaders from Britain, West Germany and France – went ahead with the deployment of Pershing-2 missiles in West Germany.
“The unity and determination of the allies was demonstrated,” Schulz wrote in his memoirs, adding what has become the cornerstone of his approach to foreign policy: “Strength was recognized as the decisive factor in diplomacy.”
Four years later, Schultz chaired the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which was signed by Reagan and
amid Republican and Conservative opposition, including in these columns. The United States has since withdrawn from the INF treaty after years of violations by the Kremlin, but at the time it reduced tensions between East and West. Schultz has written often for these pages in recent decades (see opposite), most recently last August with the headline “China has problems too.”
In 1989, the communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe collapsed. The symbolic end of the Cold War was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991, and a host of statesmen in the United States and Europe helped dismantle Soviet communism. George Schultz will be remembered as a leader in developing and implementing the American strategy that liberated millions from the ideology of totalitarianism.
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