KISSINGER ON DIPLOMACY IN THE POST-BUSH ERA
"Foremost among the attitudes which affect the making of our policy is American empiricism and its quest for certainly nothing is 'true' unless it is 'objective' and it is not 'objective' unless it is part of experience. This makes for the absence of dogmatism and for the ease of social relations. But, it has pernicious consequences in the conduct of policy. Policy is the art of weighing probabilities; mastery of it lies in grasping the nuances of possibilities. To attempt to conduct it as a science must lead to rigidity. For only the risks are certain; the opportunities are conjectural. One cannot be 'sure' about the implications of events until they have happened and when they have occurred it is too late to do anything about them. Empiricism in foreign policy leads to penchant for ad hoc solutions. The rejection of dogmatism inclines our policy-makers to postpone committing themselves until all the facts are in; but by the time the facts are in, a crisis has usually developed or an opportunity has passed. Our policy is therefore, geared to dealing with emergencies; it finds difficulty in developing the long-range program that might forestall them".
Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, 1957, pp. 423-424.
"The Statesman's duty is to bridge the gap between his nation's experience and his vision. If he gets too far ahead of his people he will lose control over events. The qualities that distinguish a great statesman are are prescience and courage, not analytical intelligence. He must have a conception of the future and the courage to move towards it while it is still shrouded to most of his compatriots. Unfortunately while it is true that great are the statesman who can transcend ambiguity, not everyone who confronts ambiguity is a great statesman. He may even be a fool".
Years of Upheaval (memoirs vol. II), 1982, p. 169.
Like all those who have wrestled with International Affairs and diplomacy in the period of world history beginning in 1789, Henry Alfred Kissinger, presents for the contemporary observer a large and formidable figure. Not only as a practitioner of the arts of diplomacy and diplomatic intrigue (as well as palace politics in domestic affairs) from 1969 to 1977, but both apres his time in office, via his voluminous, three volume memoirs, but, also prior to his time in Washington, DC. In a series of books and articles, Kissinger (without one must admit much in the way of archival scholarship), brought forth a very specific, weltanschauung, in his view of history (in the epistemological sense of the word) and of International Relations. Indeed, it would not be too much to say, that Kissinger probably, for good or ill, brought to the seat of power, the most well-developed ideas of the what was and was not possible in International Affairs, of any occupant of high office in American History. Loath him, or not, no one can argue that he is without a doubt one of the few first-rate minds, to occupy the office of Secretary of State, since the beginning of the American State. Consequently, any time Kissinger offers up comments on contemporary events, is I believe an event of the first magnitude. Both here in the USA and abroad. It is with this in mind, that I pro-offer for the edification of all, the following interview, which was first published in the week-end edition of the Wall Street Journal. As per the what are the most revealing or insightful remarks that Kissinger makes? I would say that they are two, and in essence they are interrelated: one to the effect that: "European Governments are not able any more to ask their people for great sacrifices". A truism, which has become so banal, that its significance has become totally obscured. The current generation in Western Europe, born after 1970, is one that has not only not had to face the possibility of nuclear annihilation, or even large-scale conventional war, but, in fact war of any type. Indeed, it would be true to say that for this generation of Europeans (and Canadians to, if it comes to it), the Kantian, 'ethical' state and a foreign policy to match, are the only normative types of state apparatuses which can possibly command any legitimacy. The time when Europeans were willing to accept that the State, in the Rankean sense of the word, would by definition be a machtstaat, is no longer tenable. And, as a consequence, the idea that the state, in essence the Hobbesian State, if you like, has the right, nay the duty to demand sacrifices of its citizens or subjects is completely outmoded. The days when the British State, circa August and September 1914, could by mere rhetorical flourishes: 'this country needs you', could enlist, voluntarily, about six percent of the entire male population of the country to serve in the trenches, in about six weeks, appears to describe not only another century but, indeed another planetary system of time.
The second comment by our august, ex-Secretary of State, which deserves notice is his remark, building on the one above, that: "only in Russia, the United States and Asia can it [the Nation-State] be found in its classical form".
Hence for Kissinger, the apparent, near-total reliance of Europe, id est Western and Central Europe on 'soft power', not as a weapon of first resort, but more of a crutch, faute de mieux. This following of course from the inability of European governments to demand any sacrifice from its populations. Which is not to say that Kissinger is not an adherent of the Robert Kagan school of thought about the inherent differentials between Americans and Europeans in the usage of not of force. However it would be obtuseness itself to not recognize that for much of the European pays legal, force and even the threaten used of force has become completely
illegitimate. As Kissinger points out, the differences are not so much, ones of contexts but ones of a philosophical difference. With that introduction, I urge you all to read this truly illuminating interview with Henry Kissinger.
THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW: Diplomacy in the Post-9/11 Era
"European governments are not able any more to ask their people for great sacrifices."
BY DAVID B. RIVKIN JR., November 17, 2007
"Whoever the next president is, the new administration will be extremely disappointed if it believes that our relationships will mend because its leader has a different name. . . . Personal diplomacy and relationship-building, although important, are rarely the paramount drivers of global affairs. These are shaped importantly by the long-term national interest."
Thus spake Henry Kissinger when I sat down with him recently in New York. Though I'd met him once or twice over the years, I had never seen him in situ--ensconced in his Park Avenue office. To be honest, I was expecting gilded furniture and sumptuous carpets--the kind of quarters Clemens von Metternich, one of Mr. Kissinger's own diplomat heroes, had in Habsburg Vienna.
I was, therefore, a little surprised to be ushered into a functional space with nondescript appointments, including a 25-year-old Sony Trinitron placed as if to emphasize he doesn't watch much TV. The man who negotiated the United States out of Vietnam, took Nixon to China, and initiated détente with the Soviet Union, received me like the college professor he once had been--surrounded by his books and mementos.
It is, of course, a rare opportunity to speak with one of history's makers and Mr. Kissinger remains one of the country's most prescient observers of world affairs. I began by asking him about the institutional atmosphere in Washington, the hothouse of American foreign policy. The capital is far more poisonous today than at any time in the recent past, I suggested--including Mr. Kissinger's heyday during the Vietnam War, when the early Cold War-era comity between the political parties and the executive and legislative branches was already degrading.
Mr. Kissinger leaned forward to answer my questions with studied deliberation. In part, he felt that this was institutional. Congress has itself changed. The "tradition of long-serving senior politicians from both parties who were devoted to a truly national service has passed, or largely so." The entire system, especially as it has been transformed by the communications revolution, "is now much more driven by short-term political calculations, the need to keep powerful and vocal constituencies happy, and an eye on the next election." This effect, Mr. Kissinger posited, has been enhanced by the 24-hour news cycle--"more information, and less content."
But Mr. Kissinger also dismissed the idea that there was ever some golden age for the domestic fundamentals of American foreign policy. With a wry smile, and a clearly bemused eye, he noted that the 1960s and '70s--when he served as both national security adviser and secretary of state under two presidents (holding both jobs during Nixon's second term)--were not "idyllic." "I thought," he said, "it was very rough."
The dominant theme of today's Washington battles is that most of America's current problems are self-inflicted wounds attributable to overly muscular and "unilateralist" Bush administration policies. Critics say that if only the U.S. were less eager to impose its will on other countries, whether in pursuit of traditional realpolitik goals or idealistic democracy-promotion, we would encounter a great deal less hostility. As Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of those critics and Mr. Kissinger's long-time intellectual sparring partner, puts it in his recent book, what much of the world wants from the U.S. is "respect" and recognition of its "dignity" defined as the ability to manage their own affairs as they see fit.
Mr. Kissinger agreed with the point that other nations will have to have scope to develop their own identities. But he pointed out that to have world order, "these identities need to be reconciled into some general consensus." An American strategy of benign neglect may, in any case, no longer be realistic in an age of increasing global integration when relatively small transnational networks or failed states can project power against democratic societies with devastating consequences.
Meanwhile, most of today's international actors, "including states, international organizations, and nongovernmental actors, are disenchanted with different aspects of the existing world order." Unfortunately, Mr. Kissinger noted, few of these actors are willing to play a constructive long-term role, preferring merely to challenge American policies when they involve risks.
So can our democracy effectively manage long-term foreign policy problems in a world of varied belief systems in which the U.S. is invariably urged, and sometimes required to deal with many imperfect, or even profoundly unsavory, regimes?
"You know," Mr. Kissinger reminded me in an accent as unique and recognizable in American history as Jack Kennedy's, "for somebody like me who, in his youth, lived in a dictatorship, the virtues of democracy don't have to be underlined." Of course, "the United States must operate in a democratic manner, and our foreign policy must reflect and properly balance both value and power considerations."
But, Mr. Kissinger noted, it is important to recall that the American Republic was not originally designed to sustain an ability to pursue a complex foreign policy. The Framers tended to assume that, once independent, the U.S. could operate reasonably well in relative isolation. These attitudes persist. As a result, Mr. Kissinger posits, Americans have little patience "for a long time of foreign tension."
Because of this, "presidents tend to present difficult cases, particularly those involving military engagements, to the American people in terms of a finite timeline. As a result, they often end up implying, or promising, achievements that may not be possible in the short term--and that are by no means guaranteed over the long term."
Foreign policy, he emphasized, "is not something easily put on the clock." It must "not oscillate wildly between excesses of commitment and excesses of withdrawal."
I glanced over his window sills, crammed with photographs of Mr. Kissinger and the world's leaders, toward the Manhattan skyline and inquired about the vitality of some of the key international institutions, and especially the U.N. "The Security Council," he insisted, "must be reformed, since--at the present time--it does not represent the realities of the international community because major countries like India, Japan, Germany and Brazil are not included."
At the same time, he explained that this reform is unlikely, since it would either involve expansion of the veto-wielding permanent membership--rendering the Security Council even less capable of decisive action--or elimination of the veto.
"This would be unacceptable to the United States and the other four permanent members," particularly in a world where the Council's actions, whatever their merits, are imbued with a great deal of perceived legitimacy. "But some change is necessary. The Council itself is breaking down--the interests of its permanent members are simply not sufficiently parallel on a number of issues to permit a unanimous decision and the Security Council can only reflect the attainable consensus. It cannot by itself create it."
This led to discussion of whether international institution building, accompanied by an all-out effort to restore the Cold War-era level of trans-Atlantic comity within NATO, would be a good investment for the U.S., and especially whether this should be a priority for the next administration. Mr. Kissinger was skeptical of the prospects for success.
He also emphasized some profound changes in today's geopolitical environment. He pointed out that the world we have known for 300 years now--the "Westphalian" international system that arose after Europe's wars of religion and is based on the nation-state--is "collapsing." This may be a much more profound shift than the move from dynastic to national motivations following the 1814-15 Congress of Vienna (about which Mr. Kissinger has written) and a more serious challenge to international stability than that posed by states such as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. The nation-state is weakening in Europe, he observed, and has met with mixed success in other parts of the world. "Only in Russia, the United States and Asia can it be found in its classic form."
Meanwhile, across the Middle East and southern Asia, although nationalism remains a powerful force, many cast themselves as a part of a greater Islamic community defined in opposition to the West. In Mr. Kissinger's view, a single formula will no longer adequately describe this international system.
This brought us inexorably back to America's most important relationship--with most of the world's other democracies in Europe. Mr. Kissinger pointed out that, in the immediate post-war period, "Europe was far weaker than today, but still prepared--with leaders like Adenauer, Schuman and Monnet, to conduct a real and assertive foreign policy--even if under the American security blanket and with a modicum of trans-Atlantic discord."
But today, fundamental philosophical differences divide the U.S and Europe across a range of key foreign policy issues. Europeans and Americans, I suggested, disagree as to both means and ends--especially the legitimacy of the pre-emptive use of force without an explicit blessing from the Security Council, as well as in their basic assessment of the gravity of the threats posed by transnational terror networks, which cannot be either bargained with or deterred.
The real difference, Mr. Kissinger interjected, lay in "what government[s] can ask of their people." It is because "European governments are not able any more to ask their people for great sacrifices," he argued, that they have so readily opted for a "soft power" approach to so many foreign policy issues. This will, of necessity, make it harder for Europe to reach a consensus with the U.S.
This is exactly what makes dealing effectively with growing threats so difficult. The question of how to deal with Iran and its nuclear ambitions naturally comes to mind. There is no doubt that Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons would be an extremely destabilizing development and cannot be tolerated by the U.S. Mr. Kissinger's view is that the U.S. must make a serious effort with Iran. He said that negotiations could work in the right circumstances and if there was enough determination behind them. "What you mustn't do," he cautioned, "is to identify diplomacy with escalating [Western] concessions." Right now we are "sliding into a position that we neither negotiate enough nor put out enough red lines."
Mr. Kissinger added, however, that the use of force against Iran cannot be ruled out. Diplomacy not backed by the potential use of force is impotent. This was part of our problem in dealing with Iraq for many years.
When it comes to dealing with our European allies over the longer term, there will continue to be some fundamental disagreements. But "to the extent the problem is characterized by some of our allies as the management of American power, then it is important neither to be immobilized because of a fear of unilateral action, nor to attempt to create an international system based upon it."
Here, Mr. Kissinger suggested that a useful lesson can be taken from 19th century Britain--act unilaterally when you must, but create a framework in which other powers are reassured by an "understanding of predictable" actions and an underlying agreement on objectives.
By the time I left Mr. Kissinger's office, I had a genuine feeling of unease about the future. But had I raised this with Mr. Kissinger, I suspect he would have simply said that this goes with the territory. Great states have great responsibilities. They must expect great challenges, and they must be prepared to meet them".
Mr. Rivkin, a lawyer based in Washington, served in the Justice Department under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. www.opinionjournal.com.