“Where Do We Go From Here?” Transcript of remarks by Dr. Henry Kissinger Amway Grand Plaza Hotel October 24, 2006 Madam chairman, Marty, ladies and gentlemen, when I heard that introduction I found myself in the position in which I once was at a reception where a lady came up to me and said “I understand you are a fascinating man,” she said, “Fascinate me.” It turned into one of the less successful conversations that I’ve had. It means a great deal to me to be permitted to come here on the 25th anniversary of a president who I was honored to serve and of a man who is one of the best friends I’ve ever had. President Ford came into office in one of the most tragic moments in American history. It was the first time a President resigned in office. It was the first time the country had been torn apart since the civil war on an impeachment proceeding. And that occurred after a near decade of the Vietnam tragedy and crisis. He took over a demoralized government, and then represented this country to an uncertain world. And he had not been elected to that office, the first time that had occurred in American history. But he took over these responsibilities with a humanity, serenity and a matterof factness which characterized all of his conduct. He restored faith within the government, the faith of the American people, into the government, and faith of the rest of the world in the possibility that America could fulfill its obligations. All of this was done with a calm, and a sense of serenity that is difficult to come by in anyone’s life and exceptionally rare amidst the pressures of Washington. It was a great honor to be able to work with him and he was, he remained my friend all the years since then. We have served on boards together we talk on the telephone frequently in fact I talked with him last Sunday. Which was not the best judgment I had ever made when I called him, because he was watching a football game and I regret to report this he got be off the phone fairly rapidly. So thank you Marty for giving me this opportunity, and let me talk to you about the problems of foreign policy as I see them now. You know I came to this country nearly seventy years ago as a young boy. I lived in a dictatorship, and I had seen what oppression could be like. And so all during the periods of crisis in which I served I confess I sometimes was a little impatient with some of the critics not of the content of what we did which is what democracy is about but the assault on fundamental American purposes. Because I saw in my life what America meant. To people in the position that I found myself so you have to consider what I say is always influenced by the fact that I want America to stay strong in this work and that I don’t happily join discussions about how we could mitigate defeat. One may have to do that sometimes. But one has to look at it from the point of view of what I consider our necessities in this world. And it’s from this point of view that I want to discuss some of the contemporary problems with you. And then in the question period you can ask me about any aspect of it or anything that I didn’t cover. And I’ve told Mrs. Didier not to screen out unfriendly questions recognizing the fact that Grand Rapids is, I mean I get all the
unfriendly questions. But so for hospitality sake throw in a few unfriendly ones so that I feel that she’s really not letting me down by being too polite. Now, we’ve been in, since a country, since September 11, 2001, we’ve been very conscious of the phenomenon of terrorism. And the phenomenon of terrorism is not just violent acts for their own purpose, but they reflect a strategy of which radicals mostly in the Islamic world are trying to undermine confidence in the institution of the societies that the objective and those societies have gone, have ranged, from Bali in Indonesia, to Muslim countries like Tonisia, Iraq, or Saudi Arabia and Turkey, to European countries like Spain and England and potentially effects countries like India that have very large Islamic populations. And I want to make clear I am not talking about the populations I’m talking about the violent radicals the crucial element between these populations. Now in because of this summer we experienced a new phenomenon. We’ve been thinking of terrorists as people who hide in the population emerge to do their violent acts and then disappear. What would happen this summer is terrorists would have appeared not as hiding in the population but as a state within a state in Lebanon and to some extent, a lesser extent, in Iraq. They emerge as organized visible groups in the Hisbullah, Lebanon, controlled and specific territory it participates in the government but it isn’t bound by the decisions of the government. It conducts wars against the wishes of the government where it is located. And it puts angst on its own account. And all of this creates a new phenomenon, of a state within a state. And that is of significance for the following reason. Let me be prophetical for one second: the international system that we are familiar with that we sort of take for granted really evolved in the 17th century. After the religious wars in Europe in which about 30% of the population in Europe died as a result of religious, of tense make people conform to religious preferences. The rulers of that period decided they needed a new system, and they developed what we now take for granted. The concept of the modern state, that state was suppose to be sovereign, within its own territory. And it was suppose to be free from interference in its domestic affairs by outside countries. Aggression was defined as the movement of the military units across established borders of the sovereign state. And international law was developed, all of this from the 17th century on. In order to regulate how states should deal with each other. Now all of this is under attack now. Because the terrorist groups of course don’t think of themselves as terrorists they think of themselves as representatives of a new order which is trying to overthrow the states system in the creation of which they had no role. But the basic issue is whether the state system can continue. And if the states starts integrating then on what is international order and international law to be based that at the heart of the issue and this is why one talks of solving these problems either the systems of states can be resurrected or we are going to be living in a world of extreme turmoil in which issues will be settled by force until something new emerges. We don’t recognize this fully because we live in the established state that has no real challenge but even in Europe there’s states that we knew are sort of weakening and they are trying to find a new system based on the European union but they are doing it by constitutional means and by the methods that
they grew up as nations. But that is not the situation in the Middle East. And so we live in a world in which there are really three or four different international systems occurring simultaneously. As I said in Europe the nation state is weakening and the dilemmas of Europe are that the nations are caught between their past that they are trying to overcome and their future in the European union which they haven’t yet reached and so they find it very difficult to make sacrifices in case of domestic reform. Where they all know what is needed but they cannot bring themselves to make sacrifices for a future they can not quite fully find. But in Asia we have countries that still act like the European states did in the 19th century. They still think of each other as potential rivals. And but with those countries we have some practical problems but no conceptual problems. It’s in the Middle East that the conflicts are conducted like they were in Europe in the religious wars. In where the state boundaries are not taken very seriously because many of them were only established after World War One. There was no Iraq or Jordan, or for that matter Saudi Arabia until 1920. It all merged out of World War one and not out of a history like America, or Europe and therefore these terrorist groups or whatever you want to call them have a special power in those regions. Now all of this is made even more difficult when you look at weapons of mass destruction. Until the discovery of weapons of mass destruction wars could be terrible between the sacrifice of a war and the purpose of a conflict. But when you look at a war that could cost tens of thousands casualties you have to ask yourself what’s the purpose of political life is? I can tell you from my personal experience I would be one of the three or four people who would be asked if nuclear war was ever considered by a president, including of course President Ford when he was president. We never reached that point but you have to consider the weight, especially on the president, who has, who knows that if he is ever asked to make the decision tens of millions could be killed in a matter of days. Then you can say of course that nobody should do that. But if you do that, if you say that, you turn the world over to the most brutal, genocidal, ruthless rulers threatening you with these weapons. Now, we in the administration I have served to all other American administrations of both parties managed to navigate this problem in the Cold War because we were up against only on adversary, and that adversary with all his shortcomings and it turned out weaknesses had a somewhat similar interpretation of the balance between risks and goals. But that was a two parable, so now we are facing countries like Korea and Iran. Korea is, almost, an incomprehensible country in a place like Grand Rapids. The population has been so undernourished for the whole period of communist rule, that today you can tell the difference between North Koreans and South Koreans by their height and not just occasionally but as a standard feature. It is a country in which every house has a radio that they cannot shut off so that the government is in a position where they can talk to the population every minute of the day and night. It is a country in which hundreds of thousands have starved to death and in which the diplomats, the diplomats, are not getting a salary but have to support themselves by counterfeiting in the other illicit trade they can come up with. Well such a country having nuclear weapons is a menace to the whole world.
And Iran has its own version of fanaticism; it is a more advanced country than North Korea but an extraordinarily fanatical country, and now ruled by a president of extreme aggressiveness. Now, therefore the spread of nuclear weapons is not an American project it is a project that affects the whole world and more than that we’re now in a position in which in respect to Korea the five permanent members of the security council have made certain demands to end the nuclear program, with respect to Iran, the five permanent members of the security council was including us plus, Germany, have made the same demands of Iran. Those are the major nations in the world, now if nothing happens, and if things continue to go unchecked, what’s it going to keep any other nation from going the same route. And what will happen in a world where thirty or forty countries have nuclear weapons some of them having already demonstrated their genocidal tendencies. And few of them having the capacity to safe guard them into having warning systems of the sophisticated kind that existed between the United States and the Soviet Union that is the challenge of the nucleation. Now then there is a debate, who should we negotiate with? Then we separate this into two parts, let me take Korea first. From the point of view of securing Japan, China, South Korea, and even Russia are far more immediately threatened than the United States. And therefore it would be senseless for the United States to say “We will conduct this as a separate negotiation between us and North Korea.” When we are in a position that the other five nations substantially agree with us. So far North Korea has refused to negotiate, once it negotiates I have no doubt that we will take part of the six power group and within the six powers we will of course find opportunities to talk to Korea. But the public debate that we should split this thing off and make it a separate American effort makes no sense to me. Now Iran is more complex in the sense that we have a long history of friendly relations with Iran as a nation, including the Ford Administration. And Iran as a nation, it’s an important feature of the Middle East. So with Iran, it would be theoretically possible to conduct negotiations with the five plus us separately. But we have to understand what the framework is. The challenge that Iran represents now is: is it a nation or is it a cause? If it is a nation we can find a dialogue, it won’t be easy but one can conceive how it would evolve. If it is a cause, if Iran looks at the world and says “we have many benefits here, that we’re in our direction, we have a potential vacuum in Iraq, we have the possibility of uniting the Shiite and Sunni people, groups by attacking America and Israel. We can try to split Europe from America.” If that’s their policy, then it will be very difficult to have a negotiation either with the six, or with us. And that’s the real challenge we face. So we have a huge series of issues before us, and then of course we are all concerned about Iraq. And let me simply say it, what some of the issues are with respect to Iraq. It’s not something which you can simply express in one sentence, or with a belief that’s one formula to solve it. There are, there are a number of threats occurring simultaneously. There is the insurrection in the Sunni regions against mostly the American president. And this presents the classic dilemma of a guerilla war, the guerilla usually wins if it doesn’t lose while the defender has to win or he loses. This is one
problem, second problem is, that Iraq has never been a nation before 1920. Before 1920 it was covered as part of the Ottoman Empire, in three regions, a Kurdish, a Sunni effected Sunni region, and a Shiite region by different governments the third is that these very – and the Kurdish region – that these groups have an enormous sense of their identity. And the fourth is that they are split among each other, within each other, so that last weekend you had a battle between to Shiite groups in the southern part of Iraq. So a solution will have to have a military component, a political component, and something that has really not yet been addressed an international component, because whatever emerges in Iraq will have to get some kind of international recognition. Now I’m not going to stand here and pretend that I have the answer to all of these issues, but I do say, we as a nation will go, will have to consider the consequences of unwise decisions because this is not a problem that will end locally because as I said earlier the people who are contributing, producing this turmoil have a global perspective so that the consequences will spread. Now the main point I want to make here is after our election we are going to need a serious national debate…on where we should go in this respect. And I am sure that the administration is going to play a major, make a major contribution to this, as will others, like various commissions. And this gets me back to where I started I’ve been outlived so long that history repeats itself in my own lifetime. I’ve seen some of these debates when I was responsible for part of the management of the crisis and now some of the same debates are starting again. And the major thought I want to leave you with is, President Ford made many important contributions, but there is no contribution he made that was more important than the fact that he enabled Americans to be able to trust each other again. Whatever the disagreements were, I never heard him say a malicious word about his opponents and amazingly differed the mood in Washington. I can’t think of any malicious words that were said about him as a person. So this is the spirit that I hope will animate us, we are in a period of great complexity but it’s also a period in which unbelievable changes have taken place. When I first came to China in 1971 if anyone had described to me what China looks like today I would have thought they were mad. So you have China, and India emerging as major features, you have Japan returning to a more national direction, you have a global economic system but a national political system. So we have huge tasks before us and they are on the whole the opportunities for creating a world order are as great than the dangers and we have to make them greater. I have a Chinese acquaintance who claims it is the fallen Chinese proverb as he claims because I’m not sure there are as many proverbs as they tell us, I think they make them up as they go along. But that proverb is suppose to go like this, when there is turmoil under the heavens little problems are dealt as though they are big problems and big problems aren’t dealt with at all. When there is order in the heavens big problems are reduced to little problems, and little problems should not obsess us. That’s the real challenge of our period and that is what we should keep in mind when we go through the headlines of the day that the world is in change that you cannot fix everything at the same time but you can move it in a beneficial direction. And let me close this with a word of Winston Churchill he once said “sometimes
it isn’t enough to do your best, it’s crucial to do what’s necessary.” And that is what we face today. That is what I’ve tried to explain to you, and that is what President Ford did when he took over as President of the United States in a time of crisis, unexpectedly and under circumstances which seemed extremely difficult then to, then let me stop here and take some questions, thank you very much. Question: “What is your assessment of the current state of our relationship with Russia? Has our interest in fostering freedom there turned President Putin against us? Um, that is a very good question, in order to assess Russian policy, one has to look at Russian history. Here is a country whose defining characteristic through most of its history has been a kind of imperialism. Russia at all times in its modern, in its history since the 17th century has been expanding in all directions, into Europe, into Asia, into Central Asia. Its imperialism was towards neighboring countries not toward distant colonies like the European, like that of the European nations and so it has, so its strange phenomenon that it has never defined itself by its domestic achievements but it has translated its foreign efforts into domestic achievements. So this has now come to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union and Russia is now back to where it started under Peter the Great at the beginning of the 18th century and Russia now faces a challenge of finding a domestic mode of action, in its own construction. But that requires a reeducation in many respects of fundamental Russian attitudes. And it’s always easier for the leaders to mobilize public attitudes along familiar lines towards the Ukraine, towards Georgia, towards the territories that use to be part of the Soviet Union. Now the instinctive reaction from Russia has always been to have a strong central government, and even more than a strong central government, a strong leader. And throughout Russian history even when Stalin was murdering tens of millions of people, the public belief was usually that the top leader was relatively benign and if anything went wrong it must have been done by insubordinates. This is the history in which most Russians grew up, now Putin who’s vilified and outraged is extremely popular in Russia. All public opinion polls show that he has an approval rating of about 74% and while he pretty much controls the television the newspapers are relatively free so one can read contrary views, contrary views to Putin. It is probably true that he interprets some of American actions both in Ukraine and Georgia and towards Russia as an attempt to weaken the way he governs. And I think it is probably true that this has lead as the question implies to a worsening of relations. Some of this was perhaps unavoidable, some of it perhaps avoidable. But I think the question is well put and I would agree as a factual analysis that it has a lot of merit. Question: Has the United Nations outlived its usefulness? Or was it ever useful? If so, when and how? The U.N. represents about a hundred and ninety sovereign countries, and when it started it had about fifty countries in 1945. So it has undergone enormous changes. These countries in the general assembly vote as nations and sometimes they cannot be
instructed properly. For example, I can give you an example from my personal experience. We conducted a negotiation when I was in office about deep sea mining. How to put it? Under some sort of international law nations access some of the results while having special benefits for the nations or groups of nations that actually do the mining. Leaving aside the merit of that dispute, there was one representative from the developing country minor, it’s a very small developing country that had no coastline so it wasn’t even who A made himself a tremendous expert on the subject and secondly made our life hell in the negotiation. And so I went to his government to see why they were doing this and it turned out that the government did not have the foggiest idea about deep sea mining and that he was doing this on his own. Now as a general proposition I would say this, there are a number of things in which the United Nations can do a very good job for example, refugees, disaster relief, technical subjects that do not involve disagreement among the great powers, the United Nations has also done great work when the big powers have agreed on settling a dispute in supplying forces that can check an agreement in which both side have agreed. What the United Nations has never done well is instead of peacekeeping contributing to peace making that it’s introducing forces that would actually change the attitudes of a parties. They have not been able to do it at, in the security council unless the permanent members agree, and they have not been able to do it there on the ground. And we will soon have see, seen this tested in Lebanon, because we have introduced, or the U.N. has introduced a peace keeping forces in Lebanon but in order to do it by United Nations principles they have to do it with the approval of the host country. But the government of the host country in Lebanon is weaker than Hasbula. So they, the host country has no power in respect to Hasbula, and if Hasbula manages to take over the local government the peace keeping force will be operating in a vacuum. So right now when things are settling down that force is doing, I suppose, a reasonable job, but if rearmament were to start again and a conflict developed we would see what, what, can be done. So I think on the peace making aspect the United Nations has not been effective at all, it est, it in addition to other things I have mentioned it provides a forum where it is easy to start a dialogue with countries but it is not what it often is described in some of the more well meaning papers a force which can act as an international government, it has never come close to that. Question: What role have you played in advising the current Bush administration on foreign policy issues such as the War on Terror? Look I…I have taken the position that I will not talk about conversations I have with the president. Anybody who has seen presidents in action knows that they must have the possibility to call in some people for personal discussions, put up their feet and not worry how this will play in the press. In my life I have been available to help presidents in every administration from Kennedy on, I have never talked about my private conversations with presidents or whether they agreed with me or disagreed with me. But with respect to the War on Terror there have been some allegations made of what I recommended. Now you can assume that what I say privately is not different from
what I have written and so anybody can go to the internet, I’ve written nine articles on Iraq over the last years and you can read for yourself what I think about it and not accept the characterization that journalists make in their books and otherwise and I have a record, a public record of many of these issues and so you can determine for yourself what I’m likely to be saying. Question: Looking back over your lifetime what are some key lessons you have learned about the nature and practice of diplomacy? Let me say these are all very good questions. You know when I read discussions on diplomacy the argument is often made “why don’t we just get people around a table?” and then they’ll solve the problem. But that is not how diplomacy works, because when people get around the table there are several components but they are influenced by their fundamental concepts. And so a diplomatic negotiation depends on a balance between incentives and penalties. When you tell a nation you want it to do something that it hasn’t already done, you are trying to effect its calculations. Now those calculations depend on its general, national, purpose so I believe the first thing you have to do when you want to negotiate is to get clear on what you are trying to achieve. The second is you have to understand what the other side is trying to achieve. What I always try to do in my negotiations or negotiations in which I was involved is to tell the dialogue by telling the other side pretty precisely what I was aiming at because that could then help it understand my specific proposals. And I invited them to tell me what they were aiming at. Then you have to see whether some consensus can emerge but what you mustn’t do is talk yourself into the frame of mind that says “when there is a deadlock you always have to make a new proposal” because when you take that attitude then the other side in a negotiation has every incentive to produce a deadlock to see what the next compromised proposal will be. And there are sort of two attitudes towards negotiations, and I’m not saying which is better I’m just telling you how you, how one approaches it. You can either say “lets start with your maximum position and then do it like slicing a salami, make little proposals and see what happens along the way” That’s one approach that’s in fact what the majority of negotiators do the trouble with that approach is that the other side never knows when the end of the salami slice is…and they may keep waiting for the next slice. The other approach is which I prefer, is to get it as clear as possible about what is a reasonable objective and on which you should want to settle. And to keep in mind that no international agreement will be kept if the other side does not have an interest in keeping it. So to put forward a maximum position is good for publicity but it doesn’t usually end up getting you very far. From my view has always been to put forward as close to your final position right away. And just leave a little room for adjustments for the dignity of the other side. But that is a question of negotiating technique and you’ll probably find people at business schools who will tell you the opposite is the better approach but anyway this is my, some of the lessons that I would advise. Question: What guidance would you give them what lessons?
Well it’s, I think it’s a tremendous career and to represent your country towards the rest of the world is a great honor and a great challenge. In my view the best preparation for it is to read as much history as you can because of course history doesn’t repeat itself exactly but history is, it teaches not, you can’t use it like a cookbook but you can use it by analogy by trying to discover what type of a situation has happened before and to learn as much as you can about the characteristics of other countries. Foreign service is a demanding career because you are, not every post is agreeable but those who manage to stay in once they get in, it is a great way to serve your country and it’s when you’re secretary of state that you have this problem with the foreign service. Foreign service is a group of very able individuals but they’ve been abroad a lot and they’ve developed a certain amount of selfwealth so many of them think that the foreign, that the secretary of state probably couldn’t have passed a foreign service exam. So if you overrule them they think you haven’t understood them and they keep coming back at you in various variations but if, if you’re strong they’re a terrific group and they perform great service and I always urge young people who have that inclination that it is a very fulfilling career. Thank you very much.
Published on Jul 22, 2009
Published on Jul 22, 2009
The Honorable Henry Kissinger visits Grand Rapids, Michigan to deliver a lecture titled, "Where Do We Go From Here," for an event sponsored...