Does the West Still Exist? America and Europe Moving Towards 2020

Washington, D.C.

Lord Patten: Dr. Kissinger, ambassadors.It is a great pleasure to have Dr. Kissinger with us at lunchtime today. You may know the story about Woody Allen, who said that he'd just done a speed reading course and had read War and Peace in fifteen minutes. It's about Russia he says. I think there's a similar danger of ridiculous simplification. And if one tries to summarize Dr. Kissinger's career and I won't even begin to try to do that. But I just want to say three things extremely briefly. First of all I'd like to thank Dr. Kissinger for being here when there are so many demands on his time and intelligence. And secondly, we all know that Dr. Kissinger is one of those rare human beings who has not only made history but written extremely good history as well. And I'm sure many things that I shared with the former French foreign minister is that we both thought that your book on diplomacy was the best thing one could conceivably read on the subject. And thirdly, we're very pleased that you're here because as we've been discussing for the last day and half, we face an incredibly complex geopolitical situation in which a lot of old truths seem to be challenged and which is difficult to divide in a Manichean way into good and evil. Maybe we're back to balance of power politics in a post-Westphalian world. Who could tell us better how to handle those problems that you? So thank you very much for being with us and perhaps I can invite you to address us as some of us finish scoffing the pudding. Dr Kissinger.

Dr. Henry Kissinger: Thank you very much. It often happens that people sort of imply that few people need an introduction less than I do. But it is equally true that even fewer people enjoy an introduction more than I do. So thank you Chris for your very kind remarks. And I've been reflecting on what I could usefully do, because I'd like to get into a discussion with this group. So let me see if I could sum up a few observations in fifteen minutes or so and then have questions and answers. If I stick to this, you can all say you were present at a historic occasion.

One of the fundamental problems we face is that we live in a period of upheaval whose character is different in different parts of the that it is very difficult to come up with a formula that can be applied globally. And that is an especial problem for the United States, which has always operated on the assumption that every problem was a disturbance of the equilibrium and it could be remedied by effort, but within a finite timescale. Almost every American scheme that has been proposed in the post Cold War, at least very many of them, have been put forth with a definite time limit and with the impression that at that point normalcy would reassert itself. Even as late as our intervention in Bosnia it was put forward as a one-year project, endorsed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a feasible one-year project without a profound reflection on the previous Bosnian experiences that lasted quite a long time. So, this at least accounts for some of the conceptual problems we have.

In the discussion which I heard this morning about the different approaches to terrorism there were surely many valid points made about the different approaches of the various countries. But I think one fundamental difference is that the concept of legitimacy on which the international system was based in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries – the concept of a nation-state – is in the process of erosion in almost every part of the world except Asia and in America. And so the nation-state as we have known it is obviously declining in Europe. That is the purpose of the European Union. But the loyalties of the population are not geared toward the new political structures. And the new political structure does not have, for that reason, a strategic view that permits a coherent, long-range, systematic approach that one used to associate with at least some of the nation-states. As a result, with many ambassadors here I am reluctant to make assertions, but I believe that European governments find it very difficult to ask their populations for sacrifices because they do not have the long-range historical perspective that used to be associated with a nation-state and which you can find in almost all of their pronouncements say around the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. But if you cannot ask for sacrifices, you cannot run risks. And this produces the instinctive reaction to anything that looks like involving serious risks in international affairs. Now of course that does not mean that America, which has remained a nation-state, and which on top of remaining a nation-state believes that every problem is solvable in a brief period of time, is not prepared to run risks – even some we don't understand when we undertake them. This situation almost automatically produces a gulf between the American perception and the European perception which we have to understand. And I think that is a deeper cause of our problems than many of the criticisms that have been made and can be made of the conduct of the particular American administration that finds itself in office.

In Asia, which I will not discuss at any's really the last vestige of the state concept. The Asian nations in relation to each other deal with each other more or less the way European nations dealt with each other in the 19th and early 20th century. That doesn't say that war between them is likely; it's less likely that it was in Europe in the 19th century. But they think of relations with each other as strategic. I told Chris at lunch I spoke at the Chinese Institute of Strategic Studies a year or two ago to forty generals and in the question period a general got up and said: "You're supposed to be a great friend of China. But you also write a lot about the balance of power. Now, we're going to be the most powerful country in Asia. How are you going to balance us?" It was not a threat. It was not a criticism. It was a question of one scientist to another scientist. This is the reality, what does it mean for the future? This is one reason why the negotiations about Korea have moved more effectively than the negotiations about Iran. The negotiations on Korea are about the relationship of states to each other. Yes, North Korea is ideological, but nobody takes North Korean ideology seriously and it is not relevant to any other countries. So therefore the diplomatic problem with North Korea was: could you assemble enough rewards and penalties to move the process in the direction which you wanted it to move. And from that point of view it was successful. We can have a debate on whether one got everything that was achievable and it won't be clear. But that's a practical problem on how you consummate a negotiation. In analyzing the structure of negotiations, it was a sort of a classical case that countries that have parallel objectives assembled the pressures that were needed.

And that is not available to us in the Middle East for a number of reasons. One of them is that in Europe the nation is abandoned by choice, and by history to some extent. But in the Middle East, neither the nation nor the state have ever had the roots that they have in Europe or in Asia or in America. Yet most of them, Iran excepted, are creations of the end of World War I. The state does not have the legitimacy that we associate with it. And the nation doesn't have the consciousness in those boundaries with which we are familiar. So the American government keeps asking why the Iraqi government doesn't pass laws that reconcile the populations assuming that because that government emerged out of an electoral process, it will therefore be accepted by the population as a constitutional entity. In fact, the process of Western-style election had to produce votes on the basis of the legitimacies with which the populations were familiar, which were their religious legitimacies. And it therefore had the practical result of deepening divisions rather than broadening the basis of government. So it's not only that the nation and the state have not comparable significance. It's also that the structures that are believed in transcend the political boundaries that we have now drawn or that have been drawn in the previous period. So we are there in the middle of a chaotic situation in relation to what we are familiar with that cannot necessarily end by practices with which we are familiar.

Now when you add to this the emergence of nuclear weapons in Iran, it creates at least two problems. One is that it is of course unjust to say that nuclear proliferation has to stop at any one point when so many nations already have nuclear weapons. On the other hand, if one does not achieve that.the line has to be drawn somewhere. If one does not achieve that, one will live in a world that is going to be, in my opinion, uncontrollable. I have been reading a book which I strongly recommend by somebody called Naftali that I've never heard of before. He's a professor at the Miller Institute in Virginia.called Khrushchev's Cold War. It's based on Politburo documents.It shows one, that the Politburo was unbelievably weak at the time when they were threatening us over Berlin. They had, according to that book, only four long-range airplanes when we thought they had forty. And only twenty long-range weapons when we thought they had 170. But the more important point is that Khrushchev drew from that the conclusion that they were so weak that unless they constantly threatened us we would keep raising our demands and that he went so far as to move nuclear weapons to Cuba and have tactical nuclear weapons there which the commanders were authorized to use against an American invasion without having to check with Moscow. Now, this was a two-power world and it ended well. But if you imagine a ten-power world with all the combinations that are possible.I believe that the proliferation issue should be a dominant issue in the next administration. And it must involve not just things we demand of others, but steps that nuclear countries are prepared to take to show that they take that issue seriously.

But I don't want to get into that now. I want to conclude with my concerns about Iraq and where we stand on Iraq. After I talked to Jim Baker in the Iraq Study Group.about my observations he said: "In other words, you've come to the conclusion that we should not leave, but we cannot stay." That's not quite my conclusion. My conclusion is, one, a personal one. For somebody who has gone through the Vietnam experience, it is nightmarish to see what is going on right now and to listen to all these arguments that I've heard before and that start from the premise than an evil government determined to conduct war must be restrained regardless of consequences. When having seen the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon Administrations in that war, I knew this was a travesty. And it's a travesty now. I believe we have to face the fact that the collapse of the American position in Iraq must have catastrophic consequences around the world. There is no clever way around that. It must affect the situation in every surrounding country. But it must affect India, it must affect every country that has a significant Islamic population in which radicalism will thereby be enhanced and encouraged. And one could go down the list of these countries and explain it country by country. It must affect every oil consuming country if the end of this process is nuclear weapons in Iran and a vacuum in Iraq. That is a fundamental reality.

And therefore I don't see how it can happen in this country.the kind of debate that is going on is, in my view, a disaster. Not because we should not adjust our policies, but because we have to understand that whatever is done now must affect the next administration in a fundamental way even if all our troops disappeared by the weekend. So that if there was ever a need for a bipartisan policy, it importantly exists now. On the other hand, our administration needs to understand that you cannot simply have continuing military operations without a diplomatic framework. Some purpose has to be designated for that exercise. Now what complicates the diplomatic framework is that there are so many aspects to it. The Iraq Study Group is urging negotiations with Syria and Iran. I'm in principle in favor of that. I don't think we should have tackled Syria the way we did and Iran has a long history, but I favor negotiations with both of them. I do not believe that bilateral negotiations with those two countries can solve the Iraq problem because there are so many other issues involved and because if we go too far on the bilateral negotiations with Iran over Iraq, we may panic the Sunni world and produce the opposite of what we want. But there are many other things to talk about with Iran, some issues that should be negotiated with Iran, Iraq and Syria.

But let me just conclude by saying what I think might be considered as emerging. We could think of three concentric circles. There have to be some discussions inside Iraq between the parties. There have to be discussions between the regional countries in the next circle; that is, the neighbors of Iraq. But the neighbors can't solve it because their own survival is so much linked and their conflicts are so great. So I've come to believe, preposterous as this may seem to the experts, that one should think of an international conference to which everybody with an interest in oil supplies and stability is invited. Because in the current situation we have the anomaly that America carries the whole military burden. Everybody snipes at America. Nobody assumes responsibility for a political outcome. It's very similar to what Prime Minister Blair has been saying, at least about the regional context. But I think if one could create a wider forum, it wouldn't solve the problem. But it would force people to speak about a political outcome and it would create a framework out of which one could distill something that could create a legitimate basis when one of the objectives has to be to really find routes by which change in the region is adopted. This is just an idea I'm evolving. The members of the administration here will tell you that it represents nothing that is on the table in Washington. But it's the direction in which I think we should head because the fragmentation of the approach – the impact of the changes in the region on the world – could create a problem for which we will suffer for a long period and in relation to which the arguments on all sides that are being put forward in a daily basis may appear trivial and to future periods incomprehensible. So let me stop at this point and take some questions.

Philip Stephens: I was interested in what you said about Europe. I think you exaggerate the extent to which European nations submerge their nationalities in the European Union. As a Brit, what makes France such an infuriating and wonderful place is that it's very French. And I think my French colleagues might say the same of my own country. But I also question your line of causality. You say that Europeans aren't prepared to take risks because they've shared sovereignty, or pooled some of their sovereignty. I turn it the other way around. I'd say that Europeans have pooled some of their sovereignty because they've learnt from history that taking risks isn't actually a very good thing for Europe. So where you're right I think is saying that much of Europe is too pacifist. And if you look at the Eurostat opinion polls which are done regularly, you'll find when you ask Europeans what's the most important thing for them, what are the three most important things, consistently peace comes right at the top. I think about four fifths of Europeans put peace above the rule of law, democracy, freedom, human rights, all these other things. So I think Europe does have to learn, if you like, to fight again – to take casualties. But I don't think that's about the pooling of sovereignty. That's about European relearning that the world beyond Europe isn't the peaceful place of forgotten wars that we had assumed it had become.

Kissinger: I don't insist on the causality. I believe I have described the situation as I view it. And I think that it may well be true that Europe is pooling its sovereignty because it doesn't want to take the risks associated with the nation-state. I grant you that. But that's not all that significant in my argument. But it's an interesting point.

Jean-Louis Gergorin: Dr. Kissinger, I would like to ask your assessment on the current state of Russian-American dialogue or non-dialogue and.

Kissinger: In relation with whom?

Gergorin: Between the US and Russia and the fact that Washington has not been able really until now to have Moscow play a constructive role vis-à-vis Iran similar to the one you described that China has played vis-À-vis North Korea.

Kissinger: Relations with Russia have to be analyzed from the point of view of what we are trying to accomplish. And secondly from the point of view of what Russia is trying to accomplish. And then to see whether one can imagine a congruence between these two approaches. Much of the Western thinking, or at least the American thinking, has been that Russia will emerge as a peaceful state by becoming a Western democratic state and that the Western democratic state cannot be nationalist and imperialist but will always be like the states with which we've become familiar as you've correctly described. I question that assumption to begin with because the European states were quite democratic before World War I and what brought them to World War I was not the absence of democracy but great popular support for essentially nationalistic objectives. And all ideological limitations that were countered to this disappeared when World War I started. Secondly, my analysis of the Russian leadership, some of whom I know quite well, is that what Putin wants to achieve is sort of a combination of Peter and Catherine the Great. That is, he wants Russia strong, respected, reentering the international system. He looks at the Yeltsin period as a period of humiliation and disgrace for Russia and therefore for him it is not contradictory any more than it was for Catherine the Great to invite Peter to Petersburg and correspond with Voltaire and at the same time run a state that was as strong as was needed to assert themselves internationally. Secondly, the Russian leaders historically have faced the problem of a population that has great capacities for endurance and a mystic sense but that is not necessarily inspired. Chinese leaders say to Chinese people, if you work hard you're going to be the greatest people in the world. They believe it because they think they are the greatest people in the world. The Russians, in my view, are sort of torn. In some respects they think they are the great people and in some respects there is this feeling of inferiority which they know however that they can always make up by unbelievable endurance. So, it's a different society.

Now, I think that what Russia would have preferred was a partnership with the United States because that would have been an equivalent country that would have built on their prestige. China they can play with, but they know the facts of life, of the long frontier, and they cannot put themselves in a position where they so antagonize the West that they're at the mercy of the Chinese. Russia would like to have reasonable relations with Europe. But in the current phase, what would have been most appealing to them is somebody as powerful as the United States because that would have given them a definition of equivalent that would flattered their.that didn't happen for a variety of reasons. So, they conduct foreign policy the way nations do, by pressing whatever advantages they have. In the process, they will either learn or not learn that it's shortsighted because if they do this too much nobody will deal with them. First of all they're not that strong even in the energy field and the competition for energy that will then develop in Central Asia. Let me put it this way: I believe that whatever Russia does in the very short term, the energy situation has to evolve into some international system by which we prevent energy from becoming what colonial conflict was in the 19th century when demand is growing faster than supplies and you leave it to unrestrained competition. And when no country can afford to be deprived of energy, you can either achieve it by power politics or by some consensus. And this is in my view one of the challenges before us in the future decade. I'm unhappy with the Russian conduct on the energy side and it shows a certain instinctive proclivity. I ascribe some of it to trying to demonstrate that they are still strong when there are very few other fields in which they can demonstrate it. How Russia is to be brought into the international system is one of the big topics to discuss in transatlantic relations. But I do not accept from my perhaps too limited knowledge of the Russian leaders that they are determined on a sort of imperialist, dictatorial route. They have methods which we don't appreciate, but I believe that it's possible to come to some arrangements with them. And I believe internally they're going to be driven towards a more compatible system, but not as rapidly as we want. But there are Russian representatives here who can correct me.

Hon. Pierre Lellouche: Henry, I'm glad my plane arrived on time to for me to listen to you. I would like to make three points and ask you one question which is on the minds of many European people now.

Kissinger: You know one of my unfulfilled hopes in life is to have a Frenchman add a fourth point.

Lellouche: In Sciences Po, we cannot do that. We are genetically engineered to have three points. Three points and as many wives. First point, my British colleague is right. And I think you overdid it; in Europe, the nation-state is not dead. In fact I would say that the referendum in France and Holland last year really show the crisis that is all over Europe. If you had a referendum all around, you would have a majority of "nos." You have a major crisis on the issue on the issue of borders, of what it is, where it goes. This is a time of very serious crisis for the union and I don't think you can say that we are the point of a post-national state in Europe. We are in a structured disarmament phase, yes. But that doesn't mean that the states are gone; far from it. But that's another issue and we can discuss it later maybe. Second point is, in many ways we are already in the world you describe with a vacuum in Iraq and a nuclear Iran mess. And I'm telling you the view in my country, in many countries in Europe, is that there is a major void in American leadership. A few years ago, Mr. Vedrine used to speak of hyperpuissance, hyperpower. Today I'm wondering after what we see in Iraq – the massive failure of strategy with the result that not only – I mean this war was about redrawing borders and promoting democracy. We have redrawn the borders. We made Iran a superpower and created a vacuum in Iraq and destroyed American credibility to the point where today whatever you say really frightens in Europe but no more. Third point is we are agitating ourselves with what we do about Iran and so on, but in effect what is happening is a very fragile quasi-withdrawal from all the points where we are involved. Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, the situation is very fragile and whatever the governments say everyone is thinking of leaving. Leaving then, Persia as the dominant power which of course scares everybody in the Arab-Semite world.

So my question is to say that the situation is extremely dangerous and people in the Middle East and Europe who think about this issue are very very worried. Very worried about this administration too and what President Bush connects to in the next year and a half. Because we were surprised to see that despite the Baker report, despite the elections, despite the message from the American people, he literally sat on it. He sat on the message, sat on the report, and did exactly the reverse. Do you think that the US unilaterally can go out and open another war in Iran because this situation is so desperate today? And what would you think the consequences would be?

Kissinger: Let me make a brief comment on your three points. The first one, I'm not saying Europe is in a post-national period. I think Europe is between its past, which many have renounced, and its future, which it hasn't yet reached. So it is in a transition period, and that differs from country to country in which France is under the greater assertion of the national identity than say in Italy. But I don't want to go into that argument of who is greater or less. This is the basic situation as I see it. Secondly, big mistakes were made. I was in favor of the Iraq operation. What I thought of was something different from what was done because I did not favor then or now an occupation on the German or Japanese model because I thought that was beyond our capacity. And we forgot that (a) there was no resistance in either of those countries and (b), it took seven years in both countries before a sovereign government emerged even under ideal conditions. Third, and this will lose me a lot of friends. I think we are in a very strange situation in this country now. Here is this president who is reviled, who is considered unintelligent and clumsy and everything else, but who happens to be right in his fundamental perception of what is going on. He's right in perceiving that there's a global problem. He has not been able to translate it into an operational policy and into a language that other people can understand. But there is a global problem, and that it is deeply threatening – is absolutely right.

Now, will he resort to military.I have been writing about this issue of how quickly you can force history for a long time. Now, is he likely to go to war? I think not. And I think the consequences domestically and internationally would be very grave. On the other hand, I must tell you, if I were conducting policy I would not make that explicit because how will we get to a point of negotiation unless we can bode some risks. I don't think anybody who has seen our domestic debate can believe that we will go into another war without dramatic and probably unbearable consequences. And I'm not, from my limited knowledge, I don't think there's any intention. But it also cannot be in the American, and in the global interest, that America is totally passive for the next two years and neglects any activity in the topics that I mentioned when so much is at stake.

Jim Hoagland: You mentioned earlier that we're involved in a kind of debate that is a potential disaster – I think you said disaster – and you were referring in the context to what happened in Vietnam in the Congress and the executive branch. Given your experiences, could you tell us what you think this administration needs to do at this point to avoid this disaster

Kissinger: You know, when Vietnam fell, I called all the State Department top people together and said "I want no discussion, ever, of who is to blame for this and we will now concentrate on the future." This is now thirty years ago. You know, I appeal to some of my American friends to answer this question to themselves: How is it possible, when you see the helicopters leaving the top of the American embassy, you think America lost the war and these were American soldiers. The fact is, there were no American soldiers in Vietnam for two years. No Americans were being killed in Vietnam for two years. Aid was cut off not to the war in Vietnam. It was cut off to a Vietnamese government that had been installed by Americans to which pledges had been given and to a Cambodian government. And nothing was involved for us except money and our domestic trauma. That is what was being satisfied in 1975. Between '73 and '75, there was nothing the administration could have done because it was prohibited to use force and aid was being cut off. What can be done earlier, that wasn't really the question. The question is what can be done now. I think the administration should not simply keep saying there's a war on terror without explaining what they mean by terror and without explaining what the various aspects of the war on terror are and how it affects Americans. And they ought to have a diplomatic program so that people can associate themselves with some specific concept. And so, to the extent that they don't do this and think that a catch phrase can encapsulate, they are not performing that part of the job. But their critics also should show some understanding of what is involved here. And, you know, in an ideal world you would say that whoever becomes president in 2009 is guaranteed a crisis and if he wants to say that fifty mistakes were made by the previous administration, it's a legitimate criticism. But they should focus on what needs to be done because there is no escaping it. That's what I think is the big lack in this present debate, which actually could be disastrous for the Democrats.

David Metzner: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask one question that touches upon the Western alliance, Russia, and I think a lot of people in this room. Where are we on the new expanded NATO and what is its role in the 21st century?

Kissinger: It's of course why we are here. The NATO we knew.when I grew up, for me, the European alliance was the keystone of American foreign policy. For thirty years, this was the principle element of American thinking. There was a threat along the Elbe river, there was an ideology that was definable, and while there were often disagreements and bitter disagreements, they could be conducted in a definable framework so that even when you have these bitter debates about the placement of missiles in Europe, they were very clearly defined points along which the country could choose, the people could choose. Now, there is no threat that Europeans feel coming from any direction in which NATO has been traditionally deployed. And when NATO is active in Afghanistan, that is a new mission and very controversial and with all kinds of limitations on the deployment of forces. And actually the same reasoning you apply to Afghanistan you could apply to Iraq. So what is the mission of NATO, how give it another mission, and then how you merge this with the European Union which is also expanding outside of its region? I don't have the answers. But this ought to be a task which should occupy us. And at some point we have to ask ourselves what is the limit to the expansion of NATO. I personally feel much more comfortable with Ukraine in the European Union than with Ukraine being in NATO because the NATO membership produces a significant crisis with Russia which we maybe do not want to undertake. But at least it ought to be considered: what are we trying to accomplish and what is the mission. And I haven't thought through that proposition

Patten: I think that we have to bring things to a close at this point otherwise Dr. Kissinger will be questioned all afternoon. And I would to thank you very much indeed for another master class in geopolitics. When ambassadors are taking notes, you know that very serious things are being said.

Kissinger: But I want them to understand that I'm speaking entirely for myself.

Patten: Absolutely, but we all noticed that there were several occasions when you made three points.