Conclusion – Trilateral and Kissinger

The following excerpt is the conclusion of a recent speech by Henry Kissinger to the Trilateral Commission. Part two was yesterday.


Henry Kissinger:

So, it is an enterprise that must be undertaken, but it is an enterprise also that needs to be looked at or studied in the excruciating detail that it involves. It is not something that you can achieve with placards or in outbursts of pacifism. It is because when you ask yourself of the impact on the world of the reduction of nuclear weapons, each phase of this has its own aspects and each phase will lead to a very complicated political discussion.

I have been very much engaged in putting Russian-American relations on a new basis. In dealing with Russian strategists one learns that the notion we had in the 1970s of a Russia with unlimited reserves of manpower, threatening Europe militarily with its conventional force, that had to be opposed with nuclear weapons on the ground is totally reversed. It is Russia today that thinks that it is surrounded by countries with unlimited reserves of manpower and unlimited ideological commitment and that it, therefore, had its own necessities for nuclear weapons which cannot be simply analyzed in terms of the overall deterrence of the United States and Russian equation.

The issue of nuclear weapons has similarities to the Schleswig-Holstein Question in the 19th century, about which Lord Palmerston said there were only three people who had ever understood it: one was dead, the second was in a lunatic asylum, and he himself was the third and he had forgotten all about it. We have to be the third on this issue and we have to learn about it. This is one of the great challenges before us.

All of us here have been affected by the rise of China, and it has been an explicit and an unspoken aspect of many of our discussions. It has never happened before that a country of such magnitude entered the international system without conflict and yet this is precisely the challenge that our international order faces.

There are two aspects to this. One is, What is Chinese policy? Is it Chinese military policy to dominate the region? This is something one can affect, and must affect, by discussions. The second is the weight of China. Regardless of the intentions of Chinese leaders, the weight of China will increase. It is inevitable; it is a fact of life; and it must, therefore, be considered in any discussions we have about a new international system.

This requires, on the side of China, wisdom and restraint, and it requires, on the side of its surrounding countries, comparable wisdom and restraint. Looked at from this point of view, no conversation in the world today is more important than the American and Chinese strategic dialogue.

This does not derogate from any of our alliances; it is not a way of governing the world. Quite the contrary, it is a dialogue that makes it possible to create a multipolar world based on the recognition by two of the countries that are the principal carriers of international economic and strategic power of the role that they must play in this.

So what we need to think about is this. What matters can only be done, or can best be done, on a global basis? What matters should be done on a regional basis? What issues require specific, limited groupings to deal with them?

This afternoon, we have heard about the issue of Afghanistan, and that issue and the Pakistan issue involve, really, two problems. One is the traditional military problem of how do you deal with the challenge to order that has presented itself. But secondly, there is the necessity of creating a political system in the region that enables all of the countries that are potentially affected by this to act in a unified manner over an extended period of time.

On this we could find that India, China, Russia, Iran, and the United States have parallel objectives, and the challenge will be, first of all, to define these objectives to ourselves in a way that can be translated into action and, secondly, to use the combined pressures that they can exercise to diminish the purely American military aspect of it and merge it into this international system.

In a deep way, this is exactly the problem we face also with respect to North Korea and Iran. Whatever the debate is about the military significance of their weapons, the fact is that we have a situation in which the international community has expressed its determination that there not be nuclear weapons programs in those countries. If they now occur anyway, how can one then still speak of a meaningful international consensus? Of course, there could be a negotiation to achieve this.

Having described all of these complexities, let me leave us with a positive feeling. First, the international financial crisis can help the creation of an international political order for a negative reason. Every country is so preoccupied with its own domestic issues; no country has a great surplus of resources that it can devote to international adventures. So, if political leadership can develop, this is a good objective circumstance.

Secondly, we are living in a period in which, for the first time that I know of, no major country is challenging the international system. All of the challenges to the international system come from countries that, in relation to the overall order, are relatively fringe countries or from non-state actors. So, the opportunities that we can see in developing the global patterns that are inherent in this situation are very great despite the fact that the surface knowledge is the opposite.

To all of this I think this Trilateral Commission can make a significant intellectual contribution. It can raise issues; it can define them in a long-range point of view; and it can help with one of the great needs of this period, which is that governments are so preoccupied with the immediate issues that there is sometimes no focal point for a consistent application of long-range visions.

So we can raise issues, we can indicate directions, and in this way we can fulfill the vision that created the Trilateral Commission when it operated in a smaller framework and when one of its primary purposes was to bring Japan into a North Atlantic framework. Now it can help bring Asia and Russia into a coherent global framework.

Henry A. Kissinger is Chairman, Kissinger Associates, Inc., New York, NY; former U.S. Secretary of State; former U.S. Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; and Lifetime Trustee, Trilateral Commission

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