Interview with The Mail Today

The Mail Today


According to the arch-priest of US foreign policy, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, an India pursuing a policy of “strategic autonomy” is the preferable option for the United States.

He was clear that the India-US relationship “should not be conceived as a military relationship but a political and economic relationship [where] each side looks at its security interests, but they do not have to be merged in a common structure.”

Speaking to the Mail Today, in an interview on the sidelines of the India Today Conclave that ended on Saturday, Kissinger said “I think that India should pursue its own perception of its national interest. And I hope that key issues we (India and the US) can find a parallel policy.” He went on to add that cooperation was “most effective if both partners pursue policies based on their own convictions.”

In this context, Kissinger said that he was leaving India with “really warm feelings.” He said the people he spoke to “spoke with characteristic articulateness but in an atmosphere of friendship and with a positive view of the future that was very inspiring.”

Asked to explain his concept of parallel policies and whether they could converge, Kissinger noted that they were already converging in many areas. He explained his parallel concept by noting that “I would like to think that each side following its own convictions leads to results that are compatible and cooperative, and each side should be able to express itself in terms of its own history and own internal structure.”

He said this was not quite the same thing as pursuing national interests and observed that, in the American context, speaking of national interests was often equated with pursuit of selfish policies. “But the fact is that statesmen have to calculate risks and opportunities at every stage. They don’t have the right just to follow their own ideas regardless of consequences. Ideally the national interests should include values that are universal. But when you have responsibility for the future of your society, you cannot just entrust them to vague ideas. So in this sense, [you can talk of] national interests, not in the sense of power, selfish calculations.

In response to a question about a London School of Economic Study which said that India could never become a world power because of its many internal problems, the former US Secretary of State said that he was personally very optimistic about India. “My impression of the leadership I know in India is that it is very capable and thoughtful.” He said that compared to the India that he had seen in the 1960s, India had made an enormous amount of progress. Even so, he said he would not like to belittle the enormous challenge India confronts in moving “from an agricultural society to an industrial society [which] has been a huge problem everywhere. He said he was confident that India would overcome the challenges, even while conceding that “there are going to be difficult periods.”

Asked to comment on when political reform was likely to be initiated in China, Kissinger, who has had an abiding interest in the Middle Kingdom, was emphatic that things would happen sooner rather than later. “I think the beginning of this is going to happen with the change of administration (at the end of 2012 and beginning 2013).” He envisaged that initially, there would be an emphasis on more transparency, more accountability. “From my observation of the Chinese leadership, they are thinking hard and constructively on how to do it.” He noted that India, with a comparative population and size, could well understand the dimensions of the task.

When asked whether or not his realist framework would argue for an inevitable clash between the US and China, Kissinger took on a professorial air in expounding his critique of how realism was being mechanically applied here.

He said that conventional theory of realism would argue that there would be a clash, but “realism would also teach you that if this clash pushed to its ultimate conclusion, then there will be no victor and it will end up with the exhaustion of both societies.”

In his view, this was the realistic approach to foreign policy. “The other approach that mechanically goes to confrontation.” He said that this was also part of his debates in America where he differed “from those who think we must treat China like the Soviet Union. If that becomes necessary, it would have been a failure of realistic policy.”

When it came to Pakistan, Kissinger was somewhat restrained. In response to a question on how we could deal with Pakistan, he noted that there was a great deal of frustration with Pakistan in the US. He hopes that a way would be found that Pakistan and India “which have so many cultural connections [would] reconcile enough to deal with their common problems.” He said this may not be easy or look feasible at this juncture, “But this is something that must be resolved by India and Pakistan, not something in which we can play a major role, except extend our goodwill to both sides.”