Former Secretary of State George Shultz calls for ‘hard-boiled democracy’ toward Iran
In front of a packed audience in Tresidder Memorial Union yesterday, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and renowned physicist Sidney Drell spoke about the dangers of nuclear proliferation and their joint efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
The event was organized by Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) and moderated by Phil Taubman ’71, former Daily editor in chief and Washington bureau chief of The New York Times.
Shultz and Drell have been working with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense William Perry and former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn for several years to encourage international governments to reduce and eventually eliminate their nuclear arsenals.
Shultz explained the motivation for his efforts by sharing an anecdote that took place during his years as Secretary of State under President Reagan.
“In one of our private one-on-one meetings one evening, [Reagan] said, ‘Not since Britain burned down the White House in 1814 has our national security been so directly threatened as it is now, by the existence of nuclear weapons,’” Shultz said. “We decided if we could just get rid of them, the world would be a much safer place.”
Prof. Drell spoke at length about the international landscape of current nuclear proliferation policy, emphasizing the urgency of the need to fight the spread of nuclear weapons.
“One huge difference between the Cold War days and today is that there are no longer just the two superpowers, but rather, we are in a world where many more countries possess the know-how to create nuclear weaponry,” Drell said. “We are seeing that with North Korea and Iran. What we end up with is an extremely unstable situation that we should not be comfortable with going forward.”
One of the most prominent themes that ran throughout the two men’s commentary was the necessity – and difficulty – of coming up with specific tenable strategies to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
“It is all fine and well to say that you want to rid the world of nukes, but how do you do it?” Shultz asked. “In a sense, the battle of rhetoric has been won… almost everyone agrees that getting rid of nuclear weapons is a good thing. But now the battle of action is in front of you… North Korea has nuclear weapons, Iran wants them and there is seemingly very little we can do about it. How do we handle these countries?”
Much of the discussion focused specifically on Iran. The country has a nuclear development program in place but states that its uranium enrichment facilities are intended only to provide nuclear energy to civilians. Because of this, the Iranian government has resisted international pressure to shut down these facilities.
Shultz addressed this issue in an interview with The Daily.
“Anyone who thinks Iran is enriching uranium for energy purposes needs to have their head checked,” Shultz said. “Why would a country with all the oil in the world need a nuclear power plant? They are clearly trying to achieve nuclear power, and the time has come for them to be stopped.”
The former Secretary of State called for “hard-boiled diplomacy” in America’s policies toward Iran, calling the country an “illegitimate state” under the current administration. He even suggested that naval officers should have the authority to attack Iranians who approach American ships in the Persian Gulf.
Shultz also expressed skepticism at the alternative of allowing nations to maintain nuclear weaponry and rely on deterrence and mutually assured destruction to preserve world peace, as during the Cold War.
“As more and more countries have nuclear weapons, and more people know how to make them, there’s more fissile material lying around,” Shultz said in response to a question from the audience. “Parties might get hold of nuclear weapons who simply are not deterrable – who want to use them.”
Drell spoke positively of the policies and attitudes of the Obama administration on the question of international nuclear policy. He stressed that the issue was a non-partisan one, transcending political parties and affecting all humans equally. He also, however, dwelled on challenges that lay ahead for the current administration and called for more specific objectives and policy aims from the president.
“The challenge that the administration faces is articulating a policy that makes clear what we want to do, what we don’t want to do and what kind of steps we want to take to get there,” Drell said. “Be it specific kinds of reductions, comprehensive test bans, controlling the nuclear fuel cycle or what have you, step by step we need to create a new culture where these things are clarified and prioritized.”
Over a distinguished career, Shultz has served as professor of economics at MIT and University of Chicago, Secretary of the Treasury under President Nixon, president of Bechtel Corporation and Secretary of State under President Reagan. He is currently a distinguished fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.
Drell is a professor emeritus at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is a noted theoretical physicist and has won numerous awards in recognition of his achievements, including the prestigious Enrico Fermi award.
The audience seemed generally stimulated by the talk and wowed by the speakers’ combined experience in the field.
“The fact that Mr. Shultz was there in the highest reaches of American government throughout the Cold War, in the conference rooms and on the phone with presidents literally shaping American nuclear policy, lends so much credibility to his opinions on the matter and makes it fascinating to hear what he has to say,” said Kelsey King ’11, a comparative studies in race and ethnicity (CSRE) major.
Others, however, had reservations.
“Of course, it was fascinating to hear what two figures who have had decades of experience in the area of nuclear proliferation had to say,” said Stephanie Majerowicz ’10, a political science major. “Nevertheless, I left the talk feeling the speakers had not really made any concrete suggestions in terms of how to achieve their oft-mentioned goal of disarmament.”