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Trust in Diplomacy––Secretary of State George Shultz

Diplomacy is the practice of building relationships between people and countries in order to achieve mutual goals. Diplomacy, however, requires trust. Trust is an indispensable and noble virtue that opens great opportunities for cooperation and transparency. Without trust, there would likely be a lack of cooperation and transparency that could hinder diplomatic relations.

George Shultz and President Reagan (1986) | Wikimedia
George Shultz and President Reagan (1986) | Wikimedia

It is the first step to forming relationships, and in diplomacy, its role is central to assessing the needs and perspectives of others and building confidence in them. One of the great leaders who embodied this virtue well was former Secretary of State Geroge Shultz.

George Shultz served in four Cabinet-level positions. During the Nixon administration, he served as Secretary of Labor, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Secretary of the Treasury. However, he is most known for serving under the Reagan administration as the Secretary of State. During his long and reputable career, Shultz implemented trust as a value into all aspects of his work. From building trust with his colleagues to building trust with interlocutors abroad. He was confident that when trust was in the room, good things happened.

In this “moment” in U.S. diplomatic history, we see that George Shultz embodied and instilled the value of trust throughout his various positions. We draw from the oral histories of a number of Foreign Service Officers who reflect on their interactions with Shultz and the value he put on trust. Assistant Secretary Chester A. Crocker remembers Shultz’s advice on mediation that he learned from his time at the Department of Labor, “You can’t force parties to move forward. They have to be strong enough to move forward and they have to be able to speak for themselves, and you’ve got to let them speak for themselves.” Shultz was also known for his leadership and trust in the State Department.

Ambassador Henry Allen Holmes described him as having an “unusual leadership style that defied the classic management spread of ‘supervise no more than five entities’”—where he would have a large staff directly reporting to him and have private sessions with each of them. He was building relationships with them because it was important to him to understand and trust his staff in order to have a cohesive department. Shultz’s belief in trust was extremely valued and reciprocated by those around him. When being recruited to work in the Department of Labor, Jerome Rosow recounts how he “wasn’t that elated about serving in the Nixon administration, but I had complete trust in George Shultz.” Rosow, in turn, was willing to put aside his reservations due to his confidence in Secretary Shultz.

Gaston J. Sigur, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs from 1988 to 1989, recounts how Shultz trusted his staff at the State Department. He said, “One thing that Shultz felt very strongly about, he was very, very sure that the professionals in the State Department were really top-flight people and were people who could, for the most part, be totally relied upon.” Likewise, Ambassador Sheldon J. Krys describes how Shultz trusted the State Department and was “absolutely taken by the quality of the officers and the people.” George Shultz trusted the State Department and the quality of its staff, and because of this he strongly believed in its role in diplomacy.

           
George Shultz (2011) Michael Mustacchi | San Francisco Chronicle
George Shultz (2011) Michael Mustacchi | San Francisco Chronicle

Trust is key to make any progress in diplomacy. Shultz played a critical role in building trust between General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan. The Reykjavik Summit in 1986 was the closest the United States and the Soviet Union came to the elimination of nuclear weapons. Ambassador Thomas Graham recounts a humorous story about Shultz and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on their differing views from the conversations at Reykjavik Summit. “She started hitting me with the big handbag she used to carry. She said, ‘George, what did you think you were doing over there? You were supposed to be the smart one in the room. What were you doing?’ I said, ‘But Maggie, I agreed with the President.’” While these agreements did not survive, it led to the facilitation of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. It was clear that Shultz kept trust on his mind.

Trust can be difficult to build, yet can easily break. Secretary of State George Shultz set an important precedent for establishing trust in diplomatic affairs. He emphasized trust at all levels—whether it was between the Secretary and his staff or between the United States and another country. Ultimately, Shultz recognized that trust further strengthened the Department of State and U.S. diplomacy.

Drafted by Derek Gutierrez, Ixchel Vera Botello, and Iman Ahmed

ADST relies on the generous support of our members and readers like you. Please support our efforts to continue capturing, preserving, and sharing the experiences of America’s diplomats.

Read Assistant Secretary Chester A. Crocker’s full oral history HERE.
Read Ambassador Henry Allen Holmes’s full oral history HERE.
Read Jerome Rosow’s full oral history HERE.
Read Gaston J. Sigur, Jr.’s full oral history HERE.
Read Ambassador Sheldon J. Krys’s full oral history HERE.
Read Ambassador Thomas Graham’s full oral history HERE.
Read “The 10 most important things I’ve learned about trust over my 100 years” by George P. Shultz, The Washington Post.
Read “On Trust” by George P. Shultz, The Foreign Service Journal.

Excerpts:

Chester Arthur Crocker
National Security Council (NSC) 1970–1972
Assistant Secretary for African Affairs 1981–1989

“Mediation, where you’re actually carrying water on both shoulders and you actually want to listen in an equitable manner to both sides,”

Trust Through Mediation:
CROCKER: I don’t think the United States, at that point, had a long history or guidebooks about how you do a mediation. Negotiation, we knew about that, but mediation is a very different art form. It’s a subset of negotiation. Mediation, where you’re actually carrying water on both shoulders and you actually want to listen in an equitable manner to both sides, even if you have views and interests of your own, that’s a special art form. We didn’t get trained in it. We weren’t previously prepared for this.

Q: Were you able to call on union mediators who’ve been doing this for a long time? It’s a different set of issues, but at the same time it’s the same type of approach.

CROCKER: My boss, George Shultz, was a former Secretary of Labor and he would sometimes tell me some very straightforward and helpful things from his own experience involved in labor-management negotiations. You can’t force parties to move forward. They have to be strong enough to move forward and they have to be able to speak for themselves and you’ve got to let them speak for themselves and you’ve got to let things develop, I think would be the way that he would put it. He also would say to me very frequently that negotiation that’s not backed by power and leverage doesn’t go anywhere and that includes us as mediators, but also the parties. The parties weren’t going to negotiate very far from a position of weakness. They had to be strong enough to negotiate. That is extremely important in running a mediation. We also had to keep our ears open and we should have done a better job of this I think, looking back, to what might be available to us from non-official channels, not so much about how to do it, but rather to listen and learn more about the attitudes of the parties.

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Ambassador Henry Allen Holmes
Rome, Italy––Deputy Chief of Mission 1977–1979
Portugal––Ambassador 1982–1985
State Department, Assistant Secretary for Politico-Military Affairs 1985–1989

“He was one of the few secretaries of state…who cared deeply about the institution, about the Foreign Service, about the Civil Service in the institution, about the Foreign Service Institute.”

           
Mikhail Gorbachev, Eduard Shevardnadze, President Reagan, and George Shultz at the Reykjavik Summit (1986) Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
Mikhail Gorbachev, Eduard Shevardnadze, President Reagan, and George Shultz at the Reykjavik Summit (1986) Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

Care for the Foreign Service:
HOLMES: Well, first of all, I saw right away that George Shultz was a really an extraordinary leader in that he combined the best of executive leadership, the ability to handle simultaneously several major portfolios of foreign policy, to keep track of them, to take initiative when the circumstances indicated; and he also was a great leader. Despite some people’s impression of him because of his public appearance as being the great Buddha, a man who seemed frequently to have sort of a passive expression, George Shultz had a lot of charisma, and he inspired people. And he cared about his people, not just those who worked directly for him, but he was one of the few secretaries of state––in fact, probably, in my lifetime, the only secretary of state that I can remember––who cared deeply about the institution, about the Foreign Service, about the Civil Service in the institution, about the Foreign Service Institute. I mean his sense of leadership of the institution was broad, very broad. He had an unusual leadership style that defied the classic management spread of “supervise no more than five entities.”

He had 30 people reporting directly to him. I was one of them, as an assistant secretary. I had a minimum of five meetings with him a week. Four of them were in groups––a group of assistant secretaries, or a group of people concerned with national security affairs, different configurations––but I also had one private meeting with him every week, which was scheduled to last 15 minutes and could be expanded if necessary. And that doesn’t include the many emergency meetings, when we were in the middle of a negotiation or some crisis, that took place in his back office. So this was really an amazing style, which was totally changed by his successor, by Jim Baker, who had the classic management indicated pyramid of basically five. He created an additional undersecretary, and he had five under secretaries reporting to him. He didn’t want to have assistant secretaries reporting directly to him. So it was a very different management style.

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Jerome Rosow
Assistant Secretary of Labor, Department of Labor 1969–1971
Founder and President, Work in America Institute 1975–2002

“I wasn’t that elated about serving in the Nixon Administration, but I had complete trust in George Shultz.”

The Doors Trust Can Open:
ROSOW: And, our friendship continued in the intervening years. So, when he was named Secretary of Labor, almost ten years later, that’s why he called me in London to come and join the Administration…

When George called me, I said there were really two obstacles to my taking a leave of absence. I wasn’t going to resign at that point. I was just about forty-nine years old. And, I had already put in a long service in the company. And, I had a good career and I was, you know, still advancing. I also was invested in the work in London, in building the company up. I said the first reason was that I was a registered Democrat and I didn’t believe that the Nixon Administration would be too happy with me as an Assistant Secretary. And, secondly, I didn’t know if I could arrange a public service leave because of the importance of the work I was doing in London and whether my company would be amenable to that. George’s answer was that he would talk to the President that night and get back to me the next day. Of course I had some misgivings about the President’s political record in the Congress and in the Senate. And I wasn’t really, and also was vice president, I wasn’t that elated about serving in the Nixon Administration, but I had complete trust in George Shultz, I also felt that it was a challenge any public citizen should take. So, he called the next day and said that the President said, “Just get the best people. I don’t care what their political affiliation is.”

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Gaston J. Sigur, Jr.
Asia Foundation 1962–1966
National Security Council 1982–1986
Assistant Secretary of State, East Asian and Pacific Affairs 1986–1989

“I think he did have a vision of foreign policy, and he had his own view as to how foreign policy should be carried out, and the basic elements of that policy that he wanted to achieve.”

           
George Shultz and Margaret Thatcher (1988) UPI
George Shultz and Margaret Thatcher (1988) UPI

George Shultz leading the State Department:
Q: Speaking about personalities, before we move on could you tell me your impression of how George Shultz handled the department and how much he was involved in the process. Because now we have a secretary of state, James Baker, who is somewhat detached, who seems almost to be more a creature of the White House than of the State Department. This may be a gross exaggeration, but this is the impression I get. How did Shultz, particularly in the time you were in as assistant secretary, handle the State Department, from your observation?

SIGUR: Well, I personally think he handled it very well. I have tremendous respect for George Shultz, not only as a secretary of state in terms of the substance of the matters. I think he did have a vision of foreign policy, and he had his own view as to how foreign policy should be carried out, and the basic elements of that policy that he wanted to achieve. And I think he understood his role in relationship with the president. He always had a great respect for the president and the way in which the president saw the world, which was his way as well. Now, of course, obviously those people worked on each other, you know what I mean, as to how these things came about. I can’t speak too specifically about it. But as far as the actual running of the department, I think he did it very well. He made use of people, and I think that’s absolutely critical. And one thing that Shultz felt very strongly about, he was very, very sure that the professionals in the State Department were really top-flight people and were people who could, for the most part, be totally relied upon. Now some political appointees don’t have that belief.

Q: Oh, I know that.

SIGUR: But George Shultz did. I think that’s very important. And I think it’s very important to have an organization work properly.

Q: Because it’s immediately felt up and down.

SIGUR: It’s felt, if you don’t have that confidence. And he did. And I certainly felt, during my time in government, that he was absolutely right on that. That is correct. It’s true. That is one of the strengths of our system, that you’ve got these professionals who stay in place, and who will serve whoever comes in, and who will give their honest views and opinions, and who will do everything they can to carry out policy determined by the president and his advisors. I never had any question of that, and Shultz certainly never had any question of that. I think that was one of his strongest points, that he handled the department that way. It comes through in many ways, in so many different ways. And he made use of people. I had a very good, close working relationship with Shultz.

…………………………………………………………………

Ambassador Sheldon J. Krys
Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Executive Director 1979–1983
Trinidad and Tobago––Ambassador 1985–1988
State Department, Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security 1989–1992

“He both believed in what they could do and was absolutely taken by the quality of the officer and the people that he had met during his long tenure.”

Faith in State Department officers:
KRYS:After a brief period [under] Alexander Haig, [we got] George Shultz, a man who cared about the Department of State. That affected the morale of the Foreign Service particularly as seen at headquarters in Washington, D.C. There were real changes. It was for me the end of four-and-a-half years of what was truly the most extraordinary period of my career in terms of growth, challenge, and opportunity to perform…

I think some had a greater commitment, and you can almost count [them] on one hand. I’m talking about the Under Secretaries for management and certainly George Shultz. I think George Shultz from my perspective during my tenure, and that’s over 30 years, was a Secretary who really came in from a very different environment and left really feeling that he wanted to see a strengthened Foreign Service. He both believed in what they could do and was absolutely taken by the quality of the officer and the people that he had met during his long tenure. He had a basis of comparison. He had served as [a] cabinet officer elsewhere, as had Jim Baker. George Shultz came away feeling (he expressed openly in his farewell to the troops) that this was the best bunch that he had ever seen. His phrase, used more than once in my presence, was [that] the cream rises to the top, and this was the cream as far as he could see. He came away committed to the service, and he took actions to back that up.

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Ambassador Thomas Graham Jr.
Arms Control and Disarmament Agency 1970–1997
Special Representative of the President for Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament 1994–1997

“She said, ‘George,’ and she started hitting me with the big handbag she used to carry.”

           
Gaston J Sigur Jr., Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George Shultz (1987) | Wikimedia
Gaston J Sigur Jr., Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George Shultz (1987) | Wikimedia

Trust Takes on a Handbag:
GRAHAM: George Shultz tells a wonderful story and I am broadly paraphrasing: “After we got back from fending off members of Congress who criticized the Reykjavik discussions, I was sitting at my desk and my secretary called me and said, ‘Mrs. Thatcher is on the phone. She has come to Washington and is at the British Embassy. She would like to speak with you, Mr. Secretary.’ ‘Very well,’ I said and picked up the phone. It was Maggie Thatcher.

“She said, ‘George, I want you to get over here to the embassy right away. You get over here right away and you explain this Reykjavik to me. I want to see you right now’ — just like that! I said, ‘Okay,’ hung up the telephone and went over to the British embassy.

“When I got over to the British embassy, they said, ‘Oh, yes. The Prime Minister is waiting in this side room here.’ So I went into the side room and Maggie Thatcher was there.

“She said, ‘George,’ and she started hitting me with the big handbag she used to carry. She said, ‘George, what did you think you were doing over there? You were supposed to be the smart one in the room. What were you doing?’

“I said, ‘But Maggie, I agreed with the President.’ She said, ‘It doesn’t matter.’” It was a wonderful story. My recounting of it doesn’t do it justice, but I have heard it a couple of times from George.

GRAHAM: The INF Treaty brought to an end the hostility between the Soviet Union and the United States. Near the final session of the treaty negotiations the parties exchanged the information on their systems…. The Soviets gave the U.S. almost more than we wanted because we weren’t sure we wanted to disclose that much information. But very complete information and onsite inspection was memorialized in the INF treaty, intrusive onsite inspection. And it was agreed there would be permanent monitors at a missile production plant in Votkinsk, Russia…. Secretary Shultz called them and told them, “You are going to have Russians at your plant for the next seven years or so.” That very, very important principle made the START treaty possible and many other things, as well.