The U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) mourns the death of George P. Shultz, a World War II veteran, economist, and academic whose expertise earned him prominent cabinet-level appointments during the Nixon and Reagan administrations. As President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state, Secretary Shultz helped to shape U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy at a pivotal moment in history.

George Shultz

“USIP was privileged to count Secretary Shultz as an ally and a friend,” said USIP President and CEO Lise Grande. “We remain humbled by and deeply grateful for the impact he has had on the Institute, the nation, and efforts to build peace around the world.”

A Towering Figure of American Diplomacy

After serving in World War II as a U.S. Marine, Shultz spent 20 years in academia and taught at MIT and the University of Chicago, where he became dean of the Graduate School of Business.

Shultz was one of only two Americans to have served in four different cabinet positions. From 1969-1974, Shultz served under President Richard Nixon as secretary of labor, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and treasury secretary.

During his tenure as President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state from 1982-1989, Shultz led negotiations between the United States and China over the status of Taiwan and arms sales, leading to a joint communique in August 1982 that helped prevent the outbreak of conflict and maintain stability in the bilateral relationship.

In the Middle East, Shultz was credited with negotiating an agreement between Israel and Lebanon that led Israel to begin pulling out its troops from Lebanon in January 1985. Shultz’s peacemaking efforts also reached Latin America, where he helped negotiate talks and agreements in 1988 to de-escalate Nicaragua’s civil war.

Shultz is widely credited with reducing tensions with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, helping to draft and sign historic arms control treaties and other agreements, including the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

“Secretary Shultz was a tireless advocate for international diplomacy and the peaceful resolution of conflict,” said USIP Board Chair Stephen J. Hadley. “As secretary of state, he played a key role in bringing a successful conclusion to the Cold War and strengthened U.S. relations with allies in the Asia-Pacific. His achievements continue to guide U.S. diplomatic and peacebuilding efforts to this day.”

President Ronald Reagan Presenting Medal to George Shultz During The Medal of Freedom Luncheon in The East Room, 1/19/1989
President Ronald Reagan presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom to George Shultz, January 19, 1989. (White House Photographic Collection)

In 1989, Shultz was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. At the presentation ceremony, President Ronald Reagan said: “In managing our foreign policy, he has served wisely and met great challenges and great opportunities. George Shultz has helped to make the world a freer and more peaceful place.”

Enduring Contributions to Global Peace

In 1983 testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Operations, Shultz made the case for supporting President Reagan’s “Project Democracy” proposals. “If we are to achieve the kind of world we all hope to see—with peace, freedom, and economic progress—democracy has to continue to expand,” Shultz said in his remarks. “We are interested in assisting constructive change which can lead to greater political stability, social justice, and economic progress. We do not seek destabilization. Change must come from within, not be imposed from outside.”

Shultz continued his efforts toward global security in the decades after leaving public office. He was a major proponent of non-proliferation, joining former Defense Secretary William J. Perry, former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, and former Senator Sam Nunn in launching the Nuclear Security Project in 2007, which aimed to “galvanize global action to reduce urgent nuclear dangers and build support for reducing reliance on nuclear weapons, ultimately ending them as a threat to the world.”

Shultz also became a member of the Hoover Institution, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the Climate Leadership Council, using his vast experience in diplomacy and dialogue to raise awareness of the most critical issues facing the United States and the world.

“It was my great privilege to serve under Secretary Shultz during his leadership and stewardship of the Department of State. No secretary of state did more to recognize and promote the department and its dedicated professionals as indispensable instruments of American diplomacy,” said Ambassador George Moose, the vice chair of the Institute’s Board. “And no secretary of state made more effective use of American diplomacy in advancing the peace and prosperity of the United States and the world.”

Support for the Institute

USIP Groundbreaking, George Shultz introduces President George W. Bush
George Shultz introduces President George W. Bush during the groundbreaking ceremony for USIP's headquarters, June 5, 2008.

As secretary of state, Shultz was a founding member of the Institute’s Board of Directors. He joined the University of Notre Dame’s president emeritus, Father Theodore Hesburgh, in leading an effort to secure the construction of a permanent headquarters for USIP. In recognition of his exceptional contributions to peace and conflict resolution, USIP was honored to name the great hall in its global headquarters building the “George P. Shultz Great Hall.”

USIP benefitted from a number of key policy addresses by Shultz. In a keynote speech on “Diplomacy in the Information Age” at a 1997 USIP conference, Shultz reflected on the importance of American soft power. “We need to have the discipline to hold our fire until solid and thoughtful reporting—diplomatic reporting—comes in. When the media are closing foreign bureaus, it is exactly the wrong time for the U.S. government to be closing and consolidating embassies and consulates abroad,” he said. Shultz viewed USIP as an important component of American soft power. The Institute, said Shultz, “represents a highly effective investment in our foreign policy and national security capabilities.”  

USIP Board Chair Stephen J. Hadley and former Secretary of State George P. Shultz
USIP Board Chair Stephen J. Hadley and George Shultz during the Dean Acheson Lecture, January 30, 2015.

While giving USIP’s Dean Acheson Lecture in 2015, Shultz stressed the importance of strategic dialogue, urging the United States to maintain its commitment to foreign service. “The reality is you have to conduct a global diplomacy,” Shultz said. “You have to be everywhere. And that’s why it’s so important to have this first-class Foreign Service that we have.”

In December 2020, Secretary Shultz presided over a USIP virtual conference examining the Hoover Institution’s “Hinge of History” project, which he led. “There is an idea that’s been floated around that when we do something out in the world, we’re making a gift to other people. That’s not the way to look at it,” said Shultz, adding that American leadership to build a better, more secure, more prosperous and peaceful world “is in our own interest.”

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