A Posture for a New President

Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger was interviewed this month by Manfred Geist, chief editor of the West German newspaper Welt am Sonntag. These are excerpts from that session:

Geist: How will President-elect Bush handle the problems he is about to inherit?

Kissinger: The new President has a unique opportunity to make a contribution to permanent peace.

The fundamental decision that will have to be made by the President-elect, either tacitly or explicitly, is what his basic posture is going to be. Men like Charles de Gaulle or Konrad Adenauer are remembered because they had a few relatively simple ideas, but they said this is the truth and we stick to it. And in time these became dominant.


But will Bush do this? I think he has the capacity to do it, but will circumstances permit him to do it--that is the big issue.

Q: President Reagan has declared the end of the Cold War . . . .

A: I haven’t agreed with President Reagan’s policy in the last 18 months. But, in fairness, many European politicians were making the same declaration. It is our duty to look after the national security and the progress of our country. Properly conceived, that means we also have to take into serious consideration the national security concerns of the Soviet Union, because we cannot insist on agreements unilaterally to our benefit.

If the Soviet Union were to cut its military budget in half, and if it made a contribution in this way to its own reform, I would have no objection to our contributing to the Soviet evolution. But for us to say that peace will be achieved by helping the Soviet Union to become strong and that nothing else needs to be done, or nothing else significant needs to be done, that is an evasion of responsibility.


Q: What’s your expectation concerning the START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks) negotiations?

A: I think any student of the subject will have to agree that the best you can say for any of these agreements is that they do not change the situation. And they are defended domestically on the ground that they do not change the situation. When are we going to make an agreement that does change the situation?

About START, my concern is that it is part of a process of delegitimizing nuclear weapons. That would make the initiation of nuclear war on the part of the democracies more complicated, and since they need to initiate nuclear war if they’re going to defend Europe--the whole strategy being based on that--START will lead either to a revision of the security concept, no matter how these numbers are balanced, or to paralysis. So I would like to see it more brought into relationship with conventional disarmament. But then conventional disarmament has to be brought into some relationship to political concepts for the future of Europe.

Q: What’s your comment on the idea that we must help Gorbachev because if his system gets more liberal it becomes less threatening?

A: That idea reflects a number of assumptions, not one of which is provable and most of which are contrary to historical experience.

Since the Romanovs came to power, Russia has expanded in every century and has acquired neighbors in every century, one way or another. Russia has also often been invaded. But the key is that the Russian concept of security has been that its neighbors should be impotent.

This is a key problem. Now this has to be changed. It doesn’t mean that the Soviet Union does not have legitimate security concerns--it does. But they have to be solved in a system of equilibrium, because that is the only protection for others. That is the foreign-policy challenge of our period, and to say that automatically the transformation of the Soviet system will bring about peace really means that the Soviets are blackmailing us. It means that we are paying tribute to a weak Russia. That’s a great mistake. I repeat: If the Soviet Union shows significant foreign-policy changes, and if it changes its military arrangement so that it is less threatening, then we could well consider economic cooperation.

Look at Gorbachev’s problems. He has to undertake a revision of the Soviet governmental system as well as of the Soviet economic system. That must take him 15 hours a day. So it is quite conceivable to me that he is manipulating foreign policy for two purposes: One, to accumulate successes to impress his public or leadership groups at home. And he has done that well. Two, he has sort of paralyzed the Strategic Defense Initiative through the process of negotiation. He has established certain ideas, such as the defensive orientation of conventional forces. I have been trying to assess what conventional reductions could mean, and it’s very difficult. There are no examples in history of this having been done. It has already led to years of nothing except numbers being passed back and forth and that may become endless. In the process the fundamental issue may be overlooked: Any reduction of Soviet forces in Eastern Europe by enough to reduce the threat to Western Europe will also reduce the Soviet capacity to repress Eastern Europe. Are they willing to live with that? That is a key question.


I think we need an overall concept of what we are trying to do. And so what I say shouldn’t be taken as opposition in principle, but it is opposition to making one technical proposal after another without understanding what one is trying to achieve politically.