Speeches and Public Statements
Remarks at the Presentation of the American Academy in Berlin 2012 Henry A. Kissinger Prize to George Shultz
Thursday, May 24, 2012
by Henry A. Kissinger
It is a moving occasion to share this platform with two men who have been an inspiration to me for most of my political life. I went with George and Helmut through the Cold War; I admired their actions in the formation of the European Union and the strengthening of the Atlantic Alliance, and their reaction to the redistribution of the center of gravity of the world’s power centers towards formerly colonial regions. It has been an honor to be their contemporary.
Never before has an international order included all the continents. Nor, until now, was it possible to view events across the world in real time. Modern weapons make war between major powers – especially nuclear powers – all but unthinkable. But at the same time, they have created possibilities for disturbances of international order by non-state groups whose primary purpose is the propagation of chaos.
Such times call for guides to lead us through their complexities. What qualities are required for such leadership? They are, above all, character and courage. Character, because the turmoil of our period presents itself in ambiguous form. With the pros and cons of major decisions very close – often “51 - 49” – it requires strength of character to make the choice, and courage to help lead a society, in the face of opposition from those wedded to the more familiar, from where it is to where it has never been.
In my memoirs, I wrote that there was no position in government for which George Shultz would not be my first choice. No other public figure has held so many positions of trust: Secretary of Labor, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of State. His resolve steadied the nation in challenging times. His optimism and vision gave our society the confidence to face the tasks ahead of it.
George Shultz served as Secretary of State when the security policy of deterrence was based on the doctrine of mutual assured destruction. Its basic tenet was that the total vulnerability of a country’s own population represented the ultimate deterrent. But a mutual suicide pact could not be sustained as the permanent principle of international order, even less so in a time when nuclear weapons spread to ever more countries. George Shultz was one of the first leaders to articulate this as a matter of American policy. At Reykjavik, he and President Reagan put forward a sweeping plan to overcome the existential threat to civilization posed by nuclear weapons. Ahead of its time then, its basic objectives have given impetus to governmental and private initiatives ever since, several of them under George Shultz’s leadership.
Beyond the weapons field, George Shultz applied his questing mind to other important issues. In 1984, he made the first major American governmental speech on political terrorism at a time when leading political figures were dealing with it largely as a criminal matter. In 1986, he delivered the first major assessment of “the Information Age”, providing meaning for this new phenomenon long before the spread of the Internet.
George Shultz’s dogged determination to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East gave Israel the confidence to adopt an open economic approach, put in place a “quality of life” program for Palestinians and finally gained acceptance of principles enabling both parties to negotiate.
When George Shultz was Secretary of the Treasury, the globalized world was given an institutional forum: in the evolution of the European Union and the elaboration of the Atlantic partnership as parts of a global design. The friendship between George Shultz and Helmut Schmidt was a principal driving force of this effort.
George’s reach did not end when he left office. He speaks and writes and briefs political leaders in the U.S. and abroad on energy, nuclear disarmament, drug policy, diplomacy and, perhaps most consequentially for long-term global trends, demography. He has an exceptional ability to create study groups on these subjects, using his prestige to assemble the most thoughtful participants and his open-mindedness and commitment to encourage their purposes.
How has George Shultz been able to make such vital contributions to such a range of issues? Perhaps most of all, because he embodies an essential American characteristic. Most societies mourn a golden age conceived to have existed in a distant past. America’s golden age has always been derived from faith in the limitless possibilities of the future. George has approached every problem with this spirit of optimism and pragmatic determination. His first principle, which I have heard him invoke often, is that in a discussion or negotiation, neither side should allow itself to be tempted to overlook a problem for fear of spoiling a good relationship. It is, in George’s view, their obligation to raise it, take off the sharp edges by respect for the other point of view and thereby move to a better world.
As Secretary of Labor, George served as head of a task force on energy. George laid down principles which enabled the Nixon administration to work with its allies to overcome the energy crisis of the 1970s. In the effort to devise a common program for the consuming nations most affected by the Arab oil embargo, George – who, at this point, held no formal government position – was enlisted as an indispensable troubleshooter. The formation of the International Energy Agency, in which Helmut Schmidt played such a seminal role, owed a great deal to the behind-the-scenes advice of George Shultz.
As Treasury Secretary, he – and Helmut Schmidt – took the lead in creating a new and highly productive set of personal relationships among the Finance Ministers of the leading economic nations. They began with a meeting in the White House Library. This “Library Group” was instrumental in the historic revision of the Bretton Woods system.
As a private citizen during the Ford administration, George continued to lend his considerable talents to forging economic cooperation among the Western democracies. He did so in a manner emblematic of the confidence he inspired. President Ford selected George as his personal point of contact with the heads of major Western economies. These consultations laid the foundation for the Rambouillet Summit of the then-G5 in November 1975. That summit, an exceptionally effective meeting of heads of state, was the forerunner of what would become the G7, the G8 and eventually today’s G20.
As Secretary of State, George emphasized the importance of close personal relationships with his counterparts, starting with a backyard barbeque at his Washington home for the Foreign Minister of Japan. A comparable bond with the leaders of Canada and Mexico brought about an unprecedented North American three-country bond – the forerunner of NAFTA. These investments in personal relationships reflected his conviction that – whatever their political or ideological differences – he and his counterparts were engaged in a common enterprise: building a shared world order that would both fulfill the imperatives of peace, and give increased scope to human ingenuity and the desire for progress.
In the same spirit, George conducted an active diplomacy with the Soviet Union against the bitter opposition of leading members of the Reagan administration (but not the President himself). At the same time, he worked closely with Western European counterparts, many of whom faced significant domestic opposition for their commitment to transatlantic principles of defense. George navigated this passage with skill, perspicacity and no little courage. This brought about the successful INF Treaty, which resulted in a significant reduction of nuclear deployments in Europe, and the global elimination of an entire class of nuclear weapons — a signal contribution to ending the Cold War.
Let me conclude with a personal word. No colleague has ever matched the scope and impact on me of George Shultz. And there was no individual I felt more confident turning to for steady wisdom in a crisis than George. Throughout my government service, I always involved George Shultz in key decisions, even when they were not strictly in his sphere of responsibility. The most notable example occurred when, at the beginning of Watergate, President Nixon dismissed his senior White House staff. George Shultz, Arthur Burns and I reviewed matters addressed to the President during the weeks until a new chief of staff was appointed.
The reason for George Shultz’s impact is his towering integrity. Some moments stand out: His refusal to use his authority as Treasury Secretary to carry out a plan to use Internal Revenue Service tax audits as a political weapon; or to accept directives to require State Department officers to undergo regular lie detector tests. George’s core belief was that “trust is the coin of the realm,” and if you want your people to be trustworthy, you have to start by trusting them.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said an institution is the lengthened shadow of a man. This has been the impact of George Shultz on the many institutions in which he has been involved in America and around the world. As we meet the challenges of an era of rapid and unprecedented change in international order, we are fortunate to work in George’s “shadow” – with his influence and example extending to so many areas of human endeavor. Thanks to George, we have an Atlantic Alliance that is improved; a world economy and international financial system characterized by greater cooperation among the major industrial powers; an academic literature that is richer and more varied; and a community of statesmen, scholars, scientists and activists newly dedicated to bringing about a world in which nuclear weapons are reduced, never used and eventually eliminated.
It is my great honor to participate in an occasion that involves two men seminal in my life and in the cause of freedom. It is in this spirit that I would now ask George to come forward and accept the American Academy in Berlin 2012 Kissinger Prize.