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George P. Shultz On The Danger Of Empty Threats


Published: November 06, 2019

Boot camp wisdom means avoiding empty threats. When people make empty threats, they lose their influence, authority, and integrity. Making empty threats in foreign affairs is even more dangerous because it threatens national security and destroys hard-earned credibility. To build trust, you have to follow through on your promises.

This video’s audio is excerpted from George Shultz’s 2018 Hoover Institution Summer Policy Boot Camp lecture. 

The Hoover Institution’s Summer Policy Boot Camp an intensive, one-week residential immersion program in the essentials of today’s domestic and foreign policy for upperclassmen and recent graduates. To learn more, click here.

Additional Resources

  • Read “The Danger of Empty Threats” by George P. Shultz, available here
  • Watch “No Empty Threats: Establishing Credibility in Foreign Affairs” by George P. Shultz, available here.
  • You can read George Shultz’s chapter, “In Brief: A World Awash in Change,” in Blueprint for America. Available here.
View Transcript

I remember the day the sergeant handed me my rifle 

He said, “never point this rifle at anybody unless you’re willing to pull the trigger.” 

No empty threats. Boot camp wisdom. 

You’ve seen when people violate boot camp wisdom... 

they lose their ability to have any influence. No one pays any attention anymore. 

I can remember times in this situation where somebody would say, “Well, if they do that, that’s unacceptable.” 

And then we’d say, “Well, what are you going to do if that happens?” 

If the answer is nothing then you accepted it, so it’s not unacceptable. 

Don’t say it’s unacceptable unless you mean it and you’re going to do something. 

Very important principle. 

But there’s another side to it, too. 

If you’re a person who does what you promise to do then people can trust you and they can deal with you. 

So in this sense, I’ve always felt trust is the coin of the realm in human dealings. 

You do what you say you’re going to do and that means you’re careful when you commit to do something because you’re going to do it.