China on Wednesday issued scathing criticism of a bipartisan bill designed to make the US more competitive with Beijing on the global stage by pouring billions into research and development.
The Foreign Affairs Committee of China’s National People’s Congress in a statement denounced the bill as “full of Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice.”
“It slanders China’s development path and its domestic and foreign policies,” the statement added, per The Washington Post.
The US Innovation and Competition Act, which passed in the Senate on Tuesday, would provide $250 billion to invest in an array of research and development areas – ranging from space exploration to computer chips – to help challenge China’s growing economic and military strength. The bill also earmarks $300 million for the explicit purpose of countering China’s political influence.
President Joe Biden supports the bill, but it still has to pass in the House.
Biden has made countering China’s expanding influence across the globe a top foreign policy priority, framing it as part of a broader battle between democracy and autocracy.
“We’re in competition with China and other countries to win the 21st century. We’re at a great inflection point in history,” Biden said during his first address to Congress in late April.
The Biden administration has also increasingly criticized China over human rights abuses, issuing sanctions against Chinese officials in March over what Secretary of State Antony Blinken denounced as the “genocide” of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Even before Biden won the 2020 election and took office, top experts warned that the US and China were on the brink of a new Cold War akin to what was seen between the US and Soviet Union during the 20th century. In a veiled message to Biden in late January, Chinese leader Xi Jinping warned against the consequences of a new Cold War.
“To build small circles or start a new Cold War, to reject, threaten or intimidate others, to willfully impose decoupling, supply disruption or sanctions, and to create isolation or estrangement will only push the world into division and even confrontation,” Xi said at the time.
Meanwhile, Blinken has pushed against labeling the escalating competition between Washington and Beijing as such.
“I resist putting labels on most relationships, including this one, because it’s complex,” Blinken said during an interview with the Financial Times in early May. “And as I said, if you look at it, we’ve seen unfortunately in recent years the government in Beijing acting more repressively at home and aggressively abroad. And when I look at the relationship, I see adversarial aspects. I see competitive aspects. I see cooperative aspects – all three.”
Bonnie Chan, a fellow with the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, recently told Insider that the US-China competition does not fit the profile of a “Cold War” quite yet.
Chan said there’s “no doubt” it qualifies as a “great power competition,” but it’s “not exactly” a Cold War up to this point.
“The intensity of China’s territorial conflicts, as well as the level of US involvement on the other side of the conflicts, are not high enough to warrant the Cold War characterization,” Chan said, while adding that the interconnectedness of the US and Chinese economies also makes it difficult to say the competition has reached the same scale as the Cold War.
“There was a lot less economic cooperation between the two blocs during the Cold War,” Chan said. “Today, the supply chains of most goods span across regions. There are segments of the economy where China is striving to achieve independence, such as semiconductors. But for most other segments, both the US and China are dependent on each other for suppliers and buyers. It is difficult to envision a significant degree of economic decoupling other than in limited sectors.”
Veteran US statesman Henry Kissinger has offered a stark warning of the apocalyptic dangers facing the world if conflict erupted between the US and China.
Kissinger told the McCain Institute’s Sedona Forum on global issues Friday that strained relations with China are “the biggest problem for America, the biggest problem for the world,” reported the AFP.
“Because if we can’t solve that, then the risk is that all over the world, a kind of cold war will develop between China and the United States.”
He told the forum that while nuclear weapons during the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union had had the capacity to inflict vast damage, that capacity for destruction was exceeded by nuclear technology and artificial intelligence capabilities the US and China now have at their disposal.
“For the first time in human history, humanity has the capacity to extinguish itself in a finite period of time,” Kissinger said.
“We have developed the technology of a power that is beyond what anybody imagined even 70 years ago.”
“And now, to the nuclear issue is added the high tech issue, which in the field of artificial intelligence, in its essence is based on the fact that man becomes a partner of machines and that machines can develop their own judgement,” he said.
“So in a military conflict between high-tech powers, it’s of colossal significance.”
He said that while the Soviet Union had vast military might during the Cold War, China had greater economic strength and technological expertise.
“The Soviet Union had no economic capacity. They had military technological capacity,” he said.
“(They) didn’t have developmental technological capacity as China does. China is a huge economic power in addition to being a significant military power.”
Kissinger served as secretary of state to President Richard Nixon and President Gerald Ford between 1973 and 1977. He was the architect of the strategy that saw the US improve its relations with China as part of a bid to drive a wedge between the country and its erstwhile Communist ally, Russia.
The 97 year-old is regarded as one of the most influential figures in foreign policy in the last 50 years, though is reviled for some over US military policy during the Vietnam War and its support of right-wing dictatorships in South America during the 1970s.
President Joe Biden’s special envoy on climate, John Kerry, went to Shanghai this week to discuss how best the two largest economies in the world can address the threat of climate change. Despite the meeting being pretty standard stuff, it still has some US-China watchers completely losing their minds.
This freak out crew would prefer to have cordial relations between the two countries end tomorrow and instead have the US put maximum pressure on the Chinese Communist Party. They would prefer a world completely split in two, divided by a “digital iron curtain” with the US and fellow democracies on one side, and China, Russia, and their allies on the other. Economic ties would be cut, the flow of people would slow to a trickle, and the prospect of war would heighten across the world.
To them, Kerry and his message of cooperation on climate change could derail that future. That’s a false choice, but despite it’s absurdity the idea has become pervasive. Over at the Brookings Institution they decided that Kerry could go rogue, becoming a one-man wrecking ball for the entire government’s more muscular China policy. This is ridiculous on its face. Ultimately it is President Biden who will decide the direction of our China policy – and, as one former Obama administration Asia hand told me dismissing this theory, “John Kerry is no panda hugger.”
This is a delicate moment. The boundaries of the US-China relationship are being redrawn. We are watching trust rapidly dissipate between world powers in real time, and we shouldn’t waste what little trust we have now on empty antagonism. There will likely come a time when we wish we had that trust back.
A bomb and the time bomb
In the 1950s and 1960s the end of human civilization was staring its destruction in the face in the form of the nuclear bomb. The bomb was getting bigger and deadlier; spreading to more countries; and had already laid waste to cities and contaminated populations.
And so in 1963 during some of the most frigid times of the Cold War between the United States and USSR, the key nuclear powers of the time (which also included the United Kingdom), signed the Limited Testing Ban Treaty. The treaty regulated how and where countries could test their bombs, and it set up an emergency line of communication between powers to avert disaster – “the hotline.”
This all amounted to one critical thread of cooperation between the US and USSR during an otherwise entirely uncooperative period. The Cold War went on, but the prospect of nuclear winter shrank.
Today the threat facing human civilization is climate change, and the two countries that most need to work together to solve it – the US and China – are on the verge of another conflict that will force the planet to choose sides. In both countries there are people who are calling for a cessation of cooperative interactions. To them, every cooperative meeting is a Trojan Horse, during which one side will magically convince the other to forget every other issue pulling them apart.
But what we learned from the Cold War is that the US and an adversarial superpower are perfectly capable of sustaining fierce competition, while also cooperating enough to keep the world from destroying itself. When it comes to the US and China today, not only are we not in as dark a place as we were with the USSR in 1963, but we also have far more economic and business ties to break before we get there.
Until we’re serious about breaking those ties entirely (we’re not yet), we shouldn’t act like we are. That’s called posturing, and the United States ought to be above that.
That doesn’t mean we aren’t aggressive regarding issues that concern us – like Xinjiang, Hong Kong, North Korea, and Taiwan. It does not mean we aren’t aggressive when China bullies our allies, like Australia, or engages in cyber hacking. It does not shrink our commitment to democracy. But it does mean finding ways to cooperate where we can and keeping lines of communication open.
I mean my God, even in 1963 they had the hotline.
Here’s how I know we’re not serious about cutting commercial and social ties with China just yet. Right now the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is working on a sweeping bipartisan bill to address China’s rising power. In it there’s hundreds of million of dollars for defense and programs to country China’s telecommunications rise. But for companies that want to move their operations and supply lines out of China there’s just $15 million. The US government loses $15 million in the couch cushions. That is not serious money.
But what people who do business in China will tell you is that getting public data, or having the mobility and access to interview customers to do business there, is getting harder. On March 19, Anne Stevenson-Yang, founder of China-focused investment firm J Capital Research Ltd testified before the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission on Capitol Hill.
She told attendees that more and more of China is state run – that it’s not opening it’s economy anymore, that it’s closing it. Public economic data that used to be easy to get started evaporating back in 2015, shortly after Chinese President Xi Jinping took power. This back pedaling does not just make Chinese society more brittle, she argued, but it also creates incentives in the Chinese economy that put investors and multinational corporations at risk. The solution, in some of those instances, is more cooperation – not less.
“The practical remedy for faked data, for example, on a corporate, industrial, and macroeconomic level, is to grant American researchers unfettered access to conduct surveys, interview individuals, and review financial records of all sorts in a legal proceeding, including tax records, audit papers, invoices, and communications,” she said. “A key impediment to such data collection is China’s law forbidding independent surveys. Survey teams need to be able to access respondents within a framework of privacy law but not one of data supervision.”
Achieving that requires cooperation, but that doesn’t mean Stevenson-Yang isn’t realistic about where it is not possible. For example, she recommends treating Huawei, ZTE, and other Chinese network gear as spyware and supports technology export restrictions.
If China closes and gradually makes itself a terrible place to do business, that is on China. It is on the US government to ensure that our multinational corporations are ethical, transparent, and consider our domestic interests at the center of their business. In the meantime the most productive thing to do is engage with China to protect investors and US businesses as best we can.
Besides, this is America and we do capitalism. If you want to do business in China and don’t mind the uncertainty of having your product randomly barred from military complexes and personnel; or you want to deal with your company being harassed and boycotted for not endorsing cotton from Xinjiang or whatever, knock yourself out.
Separating the principled from the petty
In this fragile moment, there is a danger of confusing the principled with the petty. When that happens, any slight can lead to a stand off.
There are petty new features of this more antagonistic relationship we all just have to get used to rolling off our backs. For example, China forced the world to get used to its hyper-aggressive “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy, and now it has to get used to a US strategy that it dislikes – US led multilateralism. To China, when we rally our allies to make joint statements about things like human rights abuses in Xinjiang, that’s bullying.
Too bad. When the US is run correctly, that’s how we do things. Beijing will have to get over it.
This is to make space for the issues that Beijing and Washington cannot get over, most of which was discussed between President Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday. Suga will be the first foreign leader to visit the White House since Biden took office. It is a sign of the gravity of the matters they have to discuss – like North Korea, Taiwan and a maintaining “free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Perhaps it’s a coincidence that Kerry’s and Suga’s meetings fall at the same time, perhaps it’s not. Both are meant to address exigent situations that demand cooperation at highest levels of government and both must be had. Until the day comes when we are serious about ending the US-China relationship – and that day very well may come – we should continue to seek cooperation where it benefits the people and institutions of the United States of America. Anything else is an exercise in fantasy, or worse – just posturing.
During the Cold War, US Army scientists planned to hide hundreds of nuclear warheads underneath the Greenland ice sheet in a covert mission known as “Project Iceworm.”
It was 1960 and tensions were mounting between the US and Soviet Union. If nuclear war broke out, the US wanted to be close enough to strike the USSR with medium-range missiles.
But the top-secret project was abandoned after scientists realized that the ice sheet was moving too quickly: Within two years, the trenches dug by the military would be destroyed.
The work wasn’t entirely fruitless, though, since geologists held onto samples of ancient soil from roughly 4,500 feet below the surface of the ice. The frozen chunks were stored in glass cookie jars for five decades, until researchers at the University of Vermont got hold of them, thawed the chunks, and began to rinse the sediment in the lab.
In doing so, one of those researchers, Paul Bierman, suddenly turned to his colleague, Andrew Christ: “What is that stuff floating in the water?” he asked.
Christ sucked up the floating specs with a pipette, then placed them under a microscope.
“It was amazing,” he told Insider. “They were these delicate little twigs and leaves that just started to unfurl when they were wet. They are so well-preserved that they look like they died yesterday.”
The researchers knew that plants couldn’t grow if the ice sheet was present. So they calculated the materials’ age based on the rate of decay of isotopes in the soil.
Their results suggested there must have been an ice-free period in the region far more recently than scientists previously realized. In a new study, they suggest that Greenland’s ice sheet melted and reformed at least once in the last million years. Before that, scientists thought the current ice sheet had been around for up to 3 million years.
“Paul and I were just totally ecstatic,” Christ said. “We were jumping up and down in the lab.”
Fossils between a few hundred thousand and a million years old
Scientists first collected the frozen soil samples from northwestern Greenland in 1966. At the time, the samples gave researchers a never-before-seen peek at Earth’s ancient climate.
“That was the first time anyone had drilled that deep into an ice sheet before, let alone recovered whatever’s at the bottom,” Christ said.
But in the 1960s, scientists didn’t have the technology to determine the age of the soil. Now, researchers know that two isotopes, aluminum and beryllium, accumulate in rocks and sediment on Earth’s surface when they’re exposed to radiation from space. Over time, these isotopes decay.
“Because they’re different isotopes, they decay at different rates,” Christ said. “We can use that difference to tell us how long they’ve been buried.”
Based on the ratio of aluminum to beryllium isotopes in the samples, the researchers concluded that the plant fossils collected by Project Iceworm were between a few hundred thousand and 1 million years old.
The ice sheet is ‘very sensitive’ to climate shifts
Christ said it’s possible that the ice sheet vanished more than once in the last 3 million years.
“We still have 12 feet of this soil to analyze,” he said. “That might tell us in greater detail how many times the ice has disappeared from this part of Greenland.”
Already, he added, his study demonstrates that the Greenland ice sheet is “very sensitive to relatively minor changes in climate.”
When the fossilized plants in the samples first bloomed, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere averaged just 230 parts per million. By the time the ice samples were taken in the mid-1960s, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide exceeded 320 parts per million. Today, those concentrations have topped 410 parts per million.
“That is a massive change in a really short amount of time,” Christ said. “The worry is that: Are we pushing the Greenland ice sheet towards the point where it’s going to start melting rapidly and adding to sea level rise?”
If the ice sheet were to melt completely again – which scientists predict could happen in the next millennium – the ocean would swallow the coasts across the globe.
House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith warned Friday that any notion of building a military force to rival China’s should be replaced with a strategy based on deterrence and dialogue in order to avoid war.
“I’m worried as we look at our sort of war planning,” Smith during a Brookings Institution-sponsored virtual discussion. “It runs the distinct risk of creating conflict where it doesn’t need to be. … We need to be really careful about stumbling into a cold war with China.”
The Democrat from Washington state called for a deterrence approach that stresses alliances, partnerships, diplomacy, and direct dialogue with China to prevent an armed conflict that experts have warned about for decades despite nothing close to war ever materializing.
The perceived threat of war with China, however, helps the armed services secure billions annually from Congress – and US weapons manufacturers to rake in the profits from arms programs that typically run years behind schedule and well over initial price estimates.
Speaking to the American Enterprise Institute on Thursday, US Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. Phil Davidson warned that in a decade, China can achieve overmatch capability and permanently reshape the region.
“Make no mistake about it, China seeks a new world,” Davidson said. “China has modernized its military more than any other nation on the planet through the course of this century.”
Of course, US flag officers and hawkish lawmakers and industry executives have been making such claims for some time – while also boasting that the US military is the best equipped and most lethal in world history.
Davidson’s remarks follow a $27 billion wish list submitted to Congress this week. Lawmakers already approved some $6.8 billion as part of the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a plan to modernize the capability of partners and allies in the region.
Smith agreed with the PDI’s goal of courting and making capable regional partners who could act to respond quickly to aggressive action by China.
“If we had quick-strike deterrent capability, that would impose a cost upon China and not drag us into a larger war,” he said. “That’s about alliances and partnerships.”
Smith said if partners and allies such as Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, and India were ready to act in response to Chinese aggression, it would deter China from doing anything harmful in the first place.
Smith also called for dialogue, something former Trump Defense Secretary Mark Esper signaled when he announced his intent to travel to China to meet with his People’s Liberation Army counterpart.
The trip never happened after Esper was sacked following the November election.
When Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was asked at his only press conference (so far) if he saw any opening for cooperation with China, the new Pentagon leader acknowledged the possibility before taking a hard line.
“We are, in this department, are going to do everything possible to ensure that we have the right operational concepts, the right plans in place, and that we have resourced those plans with the right capabilities to present a credible deterrence to not only to China, or any other adversary, who would want to take us on,” he said.
The former US Central Command leader, who spent much of his career focused on the Middle East, ordered a China Task Force to assess where the department currently stands before deciding his priorities.
In the meantime, Smith was happy to offer unsolicited advice.
“President Biden doesn’t have any illusions about how bad China is, but we have to work with them as a major factor in the world,” he said.
“We need to embrace containment and deterrence,” he added. “Be clear-eyed about China. Fine. All right. But understand that there are alternatives to dealing with that threat to all-out conflict.”
The RMS Titanic was billed as “unsinkable.” Many conflicting reasons have been proposed as to why but, nonetheless, they were proven wrong. When the RMS Titanic sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean, she took with her over 1,500 of her 2,224 estimated passengers and crew.
Countless expeditions were sent to go salvage the wreckage, but it wasn’t until 1985 when it was “suddenly” located. For many years, there was a shroud of mystery surrounding exactly how it was found.
The truth was later declassified by the Department of the Navy. As it turns out, finding the Titanic was a complete accident on the part of US Navy Cmdr. Robert Ballard, who was searching for the wreckage of two Navy nuclear submarines.
Ballard had served as an intelligence officer in the Army Reserves before commissioning into the active duty Navy two years later. While there, he served as a liaison between the Office of Naval Research and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
He spent many years of his life dedicated to the field of oceanography. Even before enlisting, he had been working on his own submersible, called Alvin, with the Woods Hole Institute. He’d continue designing submersibles and technologies until he finished his famous craft, the Argo. The Argo was equipped with high-tech sonar and cameras and had a detachable robot called Jason.
It was then that the US Navy secretly got in touch with Ballard about finding the USS Thresher and the USS Scorpion in 1982. Both nuclear submarines had mysteriously sank at some point in the 1960s, but the US government was never clear on what exactly happened.
The approximate locations of the submarines were known, but exactly how well the nuclear reactors were holding up after 20 years on the ocean’s floor was a mystery. They sent Ballard and his team to go find out. To cover their tracks, they said they were embarking on a regular expedition to search for the lost Titanic (which, despite the outcome, wasn’t the objective at the time).
The mission was to take four one-month-long expeditions – two months per lost submarine. Ballard asked if he’d ever get the chance to look for the Titanic while he was out there, a chance to fulfill his childhood dream. The Navy struck a bargain. They said that he could look for the sunken behemoth after he found the two subs, if time and funding permitted.
He received his funding and set off with the French research ship Le Suroit. Ballard kept most of the crew in the dark, opting instead to stick with his cover story of searching for the Titanic. He’d personally go down in a submersible and check on the status of each nuclear reactor and their warheads. He had a rough idea where to look, but he followed debris trails on the relatively smooth ocean floor to get to each destination.
Once he finished checking on the USS Scorpion and USS Thresher, he had 12 days remaining. Between the two wrecks was a large debris field that littered the ocean floor. This was far from where many experts claimed the Titanic would be.
Just like the two submarines, Ballard believed that the Titanic imploded, leaving behind a massive trail of debris as it drifted to its final resting place. He used what he learned from the submarines and applied the same theory to the Titanic.
First he found the ship’s boiler, and then, eventually, the entirety of the hull.
He knew that his remaining time was short and a storm was quickly approaching, so he marked his exact location on the map and returned to the wreckage the following year. For a year, he didn’t tell a soul, for fear of others showing up and trying to remove artifacts from the ship. He eventually returned on July 12, 1986, and made the first detailed study of the wreckage.
Ballard would later investigate the wreckages of the Bismarck, the RMS Lusitania, the USS Yorktown, John F. Kennedy’s PT-109, and many more.
The story of the Titanic, of course, would later be turned into a film that won 11 Academy Awards – which conveniently left out the fact that the ship’s wreckage was actually discovered due to a top-secret government operation.
Almost four-in-10 respondents (36%) in a new Insider poll said that President Joe Biden’s policy toward China is weak or too weak.
Poll participants were asked: How do you feel about the Biden administration’s stance toward China?
Here’s a breakdown of the poll’s findings on how America’s feel about Biden’s China policy:
Close to 5% said “it’s too tough.”
Nearly 9% said “it’s tough.”
About 33% said “it’s about right.”
14% said “it’s weak.”
22% said “it’s too weak.”
Almost 17% said “I don’t know.”
The poll found a significant disparity in how respondents answered the question based on their apparent political affiliation.
Of the respondents who said they were likely to vote in their state’s Democratic primary or caucus, for example, a majority (roughly 55%) said Biden’s stance on China is “about right.” A little less than 15% of this cohort said Biden’s China policy is “weak” or “too weak.”
Comparatively, roughly 46% of respondents who said they were likely to vote in their state’s Republican primary or caucus said that Biden’s China policy is “too weak.”
Since his presidential campaign, Republicans and right-wing pundits have repeatedly accused Biden of being too soft on China. But the president’s policies toward Beijing have not shifted drastically from those seen under President Donald Trump. Biden, for example, has not gotten rid of Trump era tariffs on China that were at the center of a controversial trade war.
“Competition with China is going to be stiff,” Biden said during the Munich Security Conference last week, calling for the US and Europe to “push back against the Chinese government’s economic abuses and coercion.”
Meanwhile, some progressives in Congress have warned Biden against getting sucked into a new Cold War with China as Republicans seek to portray him as weak toward Beijing.
SurveyMonkey Audience polls from a national sample balanced by census data of age and gender. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. SurveyMonkey Audience doesn’t try to weight its sample based on race or income. Polling data collected 1,154 respondents February 22, 2021 with a 3 percentage point margin of error.
Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, a titan of American academia, business and diplomacy who spent most of the 1980s trying to improve Cold War relations with the Soviet Union and forging a course for peace in the Middle East, has died. He was 100.
Shultz died Saturday at his home on the campus of Stanford University, where he was a distinguished fellow at the Hoover Institution, a think tank, and professor emeritus at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.
The Hoover Institution announced Shultz’s death on Sunday. A cause of death was not provided.
A lifelong Republican, Shultz held three major Cabinet positions in GOP administrations during a lengthy career of public service.
He was labor secretary, treasury secretary and director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Richard M. Nixon before spending more than six years as President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state.
Shultz was the longest serving secretary of state since World War II and had been the oldest surviving former Cabinet member of any administration.
Condoleezza Rice, also a former secretary of state and current director of the Hoover Institution, praised Shultz as a “great American statesman” and a “true patriot.”
“He will be remembered in history as a man who made the world a better place,” she said in statement.
Shultz had largely stayed out of politics since his retirement, but had been an advocate for an increased focus on climate change. He marked his 100th birthday in December by extolling the virtues of trust and bipartisanship in politics and other endeavors in a piece he wrote for The Washington Post.
Coming amid the acrimony that followed the November presidential election, Shultz’s call for decency and respect for opposing views struck many as an appeal for the country to shun the political vitriol of the Trump years.
“Trust is the coin of the realm,” Shultz wrote. “When trust was in the room, whatever room that was — the family room, the schoolroom, the locker room, the office room, the government room or the military room — good things happened. When trust was not in the room, good things did not happen. Everything else is details.”
Shultz had a lengthy track record in academia, public service, and business
Over his lifetime, Shultz succeeded in the worlds of academia, public service, and corporate America, and was widely respected by his peers from both political parties.
After the October 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 soldiers, Shultz worked tirelessly to end Lebanon’s brutal civil war in the 1980s. He spent countless hours of shuttle diplomacy between Mideast capitals trying to secure the withdrawal of Israeli forces there.
The experience led him to believe that stability in the region could only be assured with a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he set about on an ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful mission to bring the parties to the negotiating table.
Although Shultz fell short of his goal to put the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel on a course to a peace agreement, he shaped the path for future administrations’ Mideast efforts by legitimizing the Palestinians as a people with valid aspirations and a valid stake in determining their future.
As the nation’s chief diplomat, Shultz negotiated the first-ever treaty to reduce the size of the Soviet Union’s ground-based nuclear arsenals despite fierce objections from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to Reagan’s “Strategic Defense Initiative” or Star Wars.
The 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was a historic attempt to begin to reverse the nuclear arms race, a goal he never abandoned in private life.
“Now that we know so much about these weapons and their power,” Shultz said in an interview in 2008, “they’re almost weapons that we wouldn’t use, so I think we would be better off without them.”
Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, reflecting in his memoirs on the “highly analytic, calm and unselfish Shultz,” paid Shultz an exceptional compliment in his diary: “If I could choose one American to whom I would entrust the nation’s fate in a crisis, it would be George Shultz.”
George Pratt Shultz was born Dec. 13, 1920, in New York City and raised in Englewood, New Jersey. He studied economics and public and international affairs at Princeton University, graduating in 1942. His affinity for Princeton prompted him to have the school’s mascot, a tiger, tattooed on his posterior, a fact confirmed to reporters decades later by his wife aboard a plane taking them to China.
At Shultz’s 90th birthday party, his successor as secretary of state, James Baker, joked that he would do anything for Shultz “except kiss the tiger.” After Princeton, Shultz joined the Marine Corps and rose to the rank of captain as an artillery officer during World War II.
He earned a Ph.D. in economics at MIT in 1949 and taught at MIT and at the University of Chicago, where he was dean of the business school. His administration experience included a stint as a senior staff economist with President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Council of Economic Advisers and as Nixon’s OMB director.
Shultz was president of the construction and engineering company Bechtel Group from 1975-1982 and taught part-time at Stanford University before joining the Reagan administration in 1982, replacing Alexander Haig, who resigned after frequent clashes with other members of the administration.
A rare public disagreement between Reagan and Shultz came in 1985 when the president ordered thousands of government employees with access to highly classified information to take a “lie detector” test as a way to plug leaks of information. Shultz told reporters, “The minute in this government that I am not trusted is the day that I leave.” The administration soon backed off the demand.
A year later, Shultz submitted to a government-wide drug test considered far more reliable.
A more serious disagreement was over the secret arms sales to Iran in 1985 in hopes of securing the release of American hostages held in Lebanon by Hezbollah militants. Although Shultz objected, Reagan went ahead with the deal and millions of dollars from Iran went to right-wing Contra guerrillas in Nicaragua. The ensuing Iran-Contra scandal swamped the administration, to Shultz’s dismay.
In 1986 testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he lamented that “nothing ever gets settled in this town. It’s not like running a company or even a university. It’s a seething debating society in which the debate never stops, in which people never give up, including me, and that’s the atmosphere in which you administer.″
Under Reagan, Shultz set the record for longest-serving secretary of state
After Reagan left office, Shultz returned to Bechtel, having been the longest-serving secretary of state since Cordell Hull under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
He retired from Bechtel’s board in 2006 and returned to Stanford and the Hoover Institution.
In 2000, he became an early supporter of the presidential candidacy of George W. Bush, whose father had been vice president while Shultz was secretary of state. Shultz served as an informal adviser to the campaign.
Shultz remained an ardent arms control advocate in his later years but retained an iconoclastic streak, speaking out against several mainstream Republican policy positions. He created some controversy by calling the war on recreational drugs, championed by Reagan, a failure and raised eyebrows by decrying the longstanding U.S. embargo on Cuba as “insane.”
He was also a prominent proponent of efforts to fight the effects of climate change, warning that ignoring the risks was suicidal.
A pragmatist, Shultz, along with former GOP Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, made headlines during the 2016 presidential campaign when he declined to endorse Republican nominee Donald Trump after being quoted as saying “God help us” when asked about the possibility of Trump in the White House.
Shultz was married to Helena “Obie” O’Brien, an Army nurse he met in the Pacific in World War II, and they had five children. After her death, in 1995, he married Charlotte Maillard, San Francisco’s protocol chief, in 1997.
Shultz was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1989.
Survivors include his wife, five children, 11 grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.
Longtime AP Diplomatic Writer Barry Schweid, who died in 2015, contributed to this report.