Speeches and Public Statements
US Naval Academy Forrestal Lecture
April 11, 2007
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. It is a privilege to be here this evening to introduce our distinguished speaker, the honorable Dr. Henry Kissinger. Born in Furth, Germany, Dr. Kissinger became a United States citizen in 1943 and served in the army from 1943 to 1946. He earned his bachelor's, master's, and PhD degrees from Harvard University. He served on the faculty of Harvard University for 15 years in the Department of Government and the Center for International Affairs. From 1969 to 1975, Dr. Kissinger served as the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. In 1973, he was sworn in as the 56th Secretary of State. Since then, he has served as the chair of the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America, as a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence and Advisory Committee, and as a member of the Commission on Integrated Long-term Strategy of the National Security Council and Defense Department. He is now a member of the Defense Policy Board. Dr. Kissinger has many books and articles on foreign policy, international affairs, and diplomatic history. In 1958, he was awarded the Woodrow Wilson Prize for his book "Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy." His syndicated column appears in several leading U.S. newspapers and over 40 foreign countries. Dr. Kissinger received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, and the Medal of Liberty in1986. It is my distinct honor to introduce such a distinguished leader. Please join me in welcoming the honorable Dr. Henry Kissinger.
Dr. Kissinger: I very much appreciate this introduction. It sort of leaves me in the position in which I once found myself when a lady came up to me at a reception and said, "I understand you're a fascinating man," she said. "Fascinate me." [ Laughter ] Turned into a...I want you to know how inspiring it is for me to come to this institution and to see the men and women dedicating their careers to service of our country. I live in New York, where people know what's wrong with the country but not where the country ought to go. And so, I'm very grateful to the Naval Academy to give me this opportunity to talk to you. Now, of course, I realize most of you were not born when I was Secretary of State. And the world, in many respects, is different. But in its fundamentals, the issues have a great similarity. Every policy maker has to decide where his country is and where it should go. I've been a professor, and I've been a policy maker. And the difference between a professor and a policy maker is this -- The professor can pick his subject. He can work on it for as long as he chooses. He can come up with the best answer he thinks he's capable of. And the next year, he can write another book with the opposite conclusion. The policy maker cannot pick his subject. Most of the time, the subject comes to him. He has to operate under enormous pressure of time. When I was in high office, I used to joke at the end of the day, "Now we have to make the decision whom we are going to insult by not returning their telephone calls." There's therefore the danger that you pick the urgent over the important and that you are driven by short-term considerations. The policy maker, unlike the professor, is responsible not only for the best that can happen but also for the worst that might occur. And therefore, there are some experiments he cannot try because the consequences would be too serious. But whatever he decides to do, he has to make an assessment that he cannot prove true when he makes it. Therefore, the most important quality of a leader, in my opinion, is character and courage -- Character to give you the strength to face adversity and courage to give you the strength to go on the road on the basis of an assessment and not of certainty. If you wait for certainty, you doom your country to stagnation. If your assessment is too far separated from what is feasible, you are going to overextend yourself and fail. So, these general problems exist now at a moment when the international system is changing at a rate and in a depth for which there is literally no precedent. For one, of course, it has never been possible before to conduct a global foreign policy or a global strategy. Until this century or the latter half of the last century, the various continents operated in isolation from each other. And then, for 300 years, Europe was dominant, and the other parts of the world were not active. This is the first time that international affairs are truly global. But they have changed their essential character. The international system that is taught in most textbooks was created in Europe in the 17th century. After the religious wars that killed about 1/3 of the population of Europe in the 17th century, they developed the idea of sovereignty, of national interest, and of international law. These were not characteristics of any international system before that. Before the 18th century, the very concept of nation was unknown. But in the 17th and 18th century, they developed the notion of the state that was sovereign over its own territory, and it led to the conclusion that aggression is when military units go across recognized borders into the sovereign territory of another state. That was the essence of the international system as we have known it. And that international system is now in the process of disintegration and disintegration in a different way in different parts of the world. And that puts on the United States an enormous burden. This is a country that has never had to conduct a permanent foreign policy until the second half of the 20th century. This is a country that has been protected by two great oceans. And this is a country that has believed that every problem could be solved by the mobilization of resources in a finite period of time. And these maxims are very hard to apply in the contemporary world and especially if they have to be applied in a differential manner. The concept of nation is beginning to weaken in different parts of the world, and it weakens in a different way in different parts of the world. In Europe, the various countries are giving up a substantial part of their sovereignty to the European Union. And principles that used to be considered sacrosanct 50 years ago are being abandoned by treaty. The result of this is that European governments find it increasingly difficult to ask for sacrifices from their populations in the name of the nation. And on the other hand, the European Union, which is supposed to replace the nation, has not yet developed the loyalties and the cohesion that characterize the nation-state. So, Europe, in a way, is trapped between its past, which it is abandoning, and its future, which it has not yet reached. Most European countries know what reforms they ought to undertake. They simply cannot get their political process to ask of their populations the sacrifices that are needed to make them. And that accounts also for the timidity with which European foreign policy is, on the whole, being conducted. If 15 British sailors had been taken in the 19th century, there is no question -- It's inconceivable that there would have been no resistance by the sailors and that the debate would be, "For God's sakes, resort to diplomacy." I'm not opposed to diplomacy in such situations, but one fundamental principle that I have learned in diplomacy is you cannot separate diplomacy from the consequences of action. The idea that you can have a diplomacy that is conducted like a graduate seminar without the rewards and penalties that attach to actions, it's a fantasy. And one of the problems that has existed in the relationship between some European countries and America is that this country still is a national state like the national states of the 18th, 19th, and 20th century. The American government can ask its people for sacrifices. The American government can plan for a long-term future with all the difficulties we have domestically at any one moment. But at any rate, the result of the movement away from the nation in Europe, it's that the basic principles of military strategy that used to characterize European politics very rarely apply.It is not probable that any European state will enter a conflict with any of its neighbors. The problems in the North Atlantic area are mostly problems of economic structure. They are mostly problems of the internal arrangements of the European Union and much less problems of historical European conduct or foreign policy. And I say this -- Even though NATO continues to exist and even though there are many useful roles it plays, I'm talking about the intangibles of the conduct of policy. And when you come to the Middle East, you're dealing with the exact opposite phenomenon. There the nation is also disintegrating. The nation-state is also disintegrating. But it is disintegrating for the opposite reason. In Europe, the nation-state was strongly developed but had produced great catastrophes in wars. In the Middle East, the nation-state was never highly developed. It was brought into the region by the European and other outside countries at the end of World War I, drawing borders that did not reflect any of the historical realities of the traditional nation-state. And therefore, for that reason alone, the region has been more explosive by far than Europe is at the moment. But more importantly, the principle of legitimacy by which the European system was organized -- namely, the fact that borders are sacrosanct and the state is sovereign -- is not recognized under conditions when religion is more important than political loyalty and when the affiliations of the society and of its people attach to their values and not to their histories. And under those conditions, a regional conflict is inevitable. And under those conditions, also, it is impossible to solve it by actions in only one country. But it is also impossible to solve it by withdrawing from the conflict because the consequences in the rest of the region are enormous. But let me turn to Asia, which I know has been the major focus of this conference. Asia actually is the region which is most similar to the traditional international system as we have known it. In Asia, there are well-defined national states, which quite well recognize international borders, that conduct foreign policy on the basis of the strategic assessment they make of the role they can play in the world, on the impact they can have on their neighbors, and on the consequences they want to bring about by their conduct. The states are larger than the European model. In China, most provinces, or many provinces, have a larger population than the largest European countries, as individual provinces. India is, of course, another phenomenon of the same type. Japan is the second-largest economy in the world. So, there you have major countries interacting with each other in a partly strategic and partly foreign-policy sense. And each of them is undergoing a transition of its own. Japan, at this moment, is moving from a period when acquiescence of the American leadership role was the condition of its economic growth and when Japan did not conduct a very active foreign policy. But I think Japan, at this moment, is considering three options. One -- to continue the present relationship with the United States. Two -- to have an independent course in which they will pursue their interests primarily through an elaboration of the national interests.Three -- moving towards Asia and even towards China into some sort of community. At this moment, they're still committed to the American relationship, but the discussions beneath the surface are looking at these options in a way that has not happened previously. Then we have the situation in Korea, which is fundamentally an issue of whether it is possible to have an imposed denuclearization of the country. Now, the issue of proliferation -- I will tell you from my own experience in government. The issue that concerned me most when I was in government and that has continued to concern me was the decision to resort to nuclear weapons. The consequences of using nuclear weapons are so out of proportion to any casualties that any previous generation has experienced that it can -- that it threatens either paralysis or catastrophe. Now, that was managed as long as there was a 2-power world in nuclear weapons. But if one imagines a world of 30 or 20 nuclear countries, each making the calculations we made during the Cold War with respect to deterrents, to safeguarding weapons, to warning systems, then one almost has a prescription for catastrophe. But one of the weird things of the present situation is that here you have U.S., China, Japan, Russia, South Korea all lined up against a country of 20 million with the most miserable economy in the world and the most oppressive government, and it has not yet been brought to the full denuclearization of Korea. And now we face again a situation in which there's an agreement for denuclearization, but every step of the way, it's contentious. And the fact remains that if it is not completed, the impact on the rest of the world in demonstrating how you become a nuclear power is so enormous that it simply cannot be permitted. So, now let me say a few words about China. I got to know China when I took my secret trip in 1971. At that time, if anyone had told me what Chinese cities would look like, as they did when I was there last week, I would have thought it was a fantasy. In 1971, China had no consumer industry and no automobiles, no significant heavy industry, no trade with the United States. When we opened to China, one of the moves we made to show the Chinese that we were willing to deal with them was to permit American tourists visiting Hong Kong to buy $100 worth of Chinese-manufactured goods. That was the extent of our trade with China 30 years ago. Now China is running a huge export surplus. And last week, I made a speech in China in which I said, "The rise of China is inevitable."And that is true. And that we have to get used to. There's nothing we can do to prevent China from continuing to grow. The question we can answer is -- I received some letters after that saying, "Are you implying that America is on the decline?" My answer is, "No, I'm not saying America is on the decline, but the outcome of the rise of China depends importantly on how we handle international affairs from here on in." First of all, China is a country that, while it is growing, has enormous problems of its own. At any moment, there are 100 million Chinese on the road, looking for jobs, coming from the countryside into the cities. The cities require a new infrastructure. The interior of China is at the level of the least developed countries. The coast of China is at the level of the most advanced countries. It has never before happened that a country could develop in this manner. And that is the big challenge to the Chinese. And this is why I believe for the next decade or so, they will not engage in international adventures. At the same time, their influence, because of their economic capacity, their political skill, and their growing military strength in the surrounding countries, is going to grow. And therefore, it is a challenge to American strategy to do two things. One -- not to permit a vacuum to emerge. Secondly, to see whether the generation of Chinese that is now growing up can develop a sense that the United States is a potential partner rather than a permanent adversary. That will determine how China will use its strengths 10, 15 years from now. And that seems to me to be a fundamental challenge that we face in that relationship. And that's partly a cultural problem. American history is 200 years. That is shorter than the history of most individual Chinese dynasties. Americans think -- and I agree with that -- that they have the best governmental system in the world. But the Chinese think that they have staggered through 4,000 years of history before America ever existed and that therefore they react neurotically to American lectures on how they should reform themselves. Americans are very pragmatic. They think every problem has a solution and that that solution can be achieved in a very brief period of time. The Chinese, in my encounter with them, are the best and most consistent strategic thinkers that I have encountered. So, how to mesh the long-range thinking of the Chinese with the practical thinking of America is one of our big tasks in the decades ahead. And this gets me to my last point. Whether we want to or not, the prospects of order, of stability, and progress in the world depend on the United States, not in the sense that we can impose our preferences, but our role is essential in order to create a framework within which cooperative actions are possible and in which aggressive actions are discouraged. It means that -- I have now seen three American wars. Well, I've participated in World War II as a lowly infantryman. But I've seen three American wars in Korea, in Indochina, and now in the Middle East. In each war, we began with a unified country. In each war, it ended up with divisions, particularly in Vietnam and now in Iraq. And that means a number of things. One -- We should not set ourselves military objectives which our political system will not sustain. If we wanted to unify Korea, we had to be willing to run the risk of war with China. If we were not willing to run that risk, then we had to abandon attempting to unify Korea. That was the issue in the Korean war. If we wanted to win in Indochina, we had to be willing to cut the supply lines of the enemy. It is not true that that war was not winnable. It was not winnable only if the enemy was given uninterrupted supply lines, the capacity to create sanctuaries and confine us to defensive actions against this kind of war. And in fact, the war had been won, but our political system failed to support it. So, synchronizing military and political objectives at the beginning of an enterprise is absolutely essential. In Iraq, we set ourselves an objective of democratizing a country that had never been a nation, that was divided by ethnic conflicts. In the middle of the Arab world, that was not attainable by military means. What might have been attainable is to replace one government by another and then have a kind of technocratic government. But my point here is not to argue what the precise policy should have been. It is to argue that we have to bring our political and military objectives in line with each other. It is essential because if my description of the world is accurate -- that is, if we have structural changes going on all over the world -- then crises are inevitable because that is the mechanism of change. If we want to contribute to these crises, we have to know what objectives we can achieve and which are sustainable. That is our national task. Third, we have to understand that history is longer than an American electoral period, and the idea that we can start a reassessment of American foreign policy every four years and rip up all the trees to see whether the roots are still there and begin with a re-examination is contrary to every historical experience of every other society. So, we have a big challenge ahead of us. But if it isn't for us, then nobody else can play the decisive role. And so, I would want to conclude with two quotes, one from an alleged Chinese proverb. I say "alleged" because I sometimes think the Chinese invent these proverbs as they go along. The proverb goes like this -- "When there is turmoil under the heavens, little problems are dealt as if they were big problems and big problems aren't dealt with at all. When there is order under the heavens, big problems are dealt with as if they were -- The big problems are dealt with first, and little problems need not upset us." So, our national problem is to be sure we identify the big problems and not wear ourselves out by debating little problems. And Winston Churchill said that best when he said, "There are periods in history in which it isn't enough to say you've done your best, when the only test is whether you have done what is necessary." And talking to a group like this, which has devoted itself to national service, gives me great hope that these two questions can be answered.
Thank you very much.
Woman: Thank you very much, sir. Is it okay if we ask some questions?
Dr. Kissinger: Yeah. Where do I -- Do you want me here? I'll stay here.
Woman: Let me introduce some questions here. All right, we'd like to open up the floor for some questions. Okay. Up there in the back.
Yaffi: Sir, First Class Yaffi,* the 17th Company. Sir, I was wondering, in Robert Dallek's most recent book, he asserts the night the Soviets threatened to send troops into the Middle East, you raised the nation to DEFCON 3 without first getting President Nixon's approval. How accurate is that, sir?
Dr. Kissinger: Ask any serving officer here whether this is a conceivable proposition. I mean, I haven't read the book. I've just read some summaries. And what is -- It's a generation now of -- There's a generation of writers who specialize in trying to prove that we were run by paranoids, by people who were asserting their own selfish interests. When you serve in high office, you have the national interests at heart. The people in the room when that decision was made were the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the Director of Central Intelligence, the Assistant to the President, the Chief of Staff of the President, General Haig. The division of labor was that I would work on the drafting of what needed to be done. Haig would deal with the President because we were under time pressure with what we thought was a Soviet ultimatum. Incidentally, DEFCON 3, as the military hear now, is not a very high degree of alert. The strategic forces were at DEFCON 2 to begin with. So, the major purpose of DEFCON 3 was to create a lot of cable traffic that the Soviet Union would pick up as sailors were being called back to ships and military units were being asked to report back to their bases. But the same author is saying that when the war broke out between Israel and the Arabs, I kept it from the President for three hours. It is outrageous that such things can be said. There are telephone records that show what happened. And I go into this detail only so that you people can see what some of these debates are like. I was told at 6:45 in the morning. I had a message from the Israeli Prime Minister to tell the Egyptians that if their military preparations were because of a fear of Israeli attack, that Israel would give a guarantee that they had no intention to attack. I then got on the telephone with all the leaders around the world that I could reach, especially in Egypt, Israel, Soviet Union, Syria. After I had conducted these conversations, which took about an hour and 20 minutes, it was clear to me that a war would start. At that point, I called General Haig. So, we're talking about an hour and 20 minutes in which we responded to a piece of information which was not yet demonstrated. And I say this to you not to excuse anything. But I say this to you that in this kind of national debate, when a professor who pretends to do research can come up with a charge like this, there is no hope for the country. When we address questions of peace and war, we have to assume that serious people made serious decisions in the best way they knew how and not were maneuvering against each other. And the very idea that a presidential assistant and Secretary of State, which is the position I held jointly at the time, would start not bringing the President into actions is a kind of academic fantasy which is really inexcusable.
Yaffi: Thank you, sir.
Withington: Sir, Fourth Class Withington,* 13th Company. Do you have any regrets for the role the U.S. played in the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Chile in 1973?
Dr. Kissinger: Well, first of all, what happened in 1973? In 1973, the first thing to remember is that when Allende was elected, he had about 35% of the votes, and the only reason he was elected is because the Democratic opposition divided itself into two other -- into two parties rather that one. He then spent two years trying to undermine the system in Chile. And during the summer of 1973, when the revolution took place, the democratically elected Congress of Chile asked the Chilean military to participate in the government during that summer themselves. Every investigation has shown that the United States did not participate in the overthrow of the government of Allende in 1973. And if you'd take the trouble of reading the actual facts, you will see that what happened was -- [ Laughter and applause ] [ Murmuring ] So, I had not even heard the name Pinochet when the overthrow occurred. He became head of the armed forces only about a week before the coup took place. But do your own research, not on the basis of these fake arguments. Read serious books like by Paul Sigmund, Alistair Horne, and others that were unbiased observers. We were delighted when Allende was overthrown. So, we thought it was in the American interest. But we did not participate in it. He overthrew himself with his incompetence and with his bringing in outside arms and outside military forces.
deGolian: Dr. Kissinger, my name is Eleanor deGolian, from the University of North Carolina, and I was wondering how strong relations between the U.S. and Asian nations can positively influence our relationship with China.
Dr. Kissinger: Well, I don't know -- Let me assume it's the implication that if we had close relations with the Asian nations, it will antagonize China?
deGolian: I'm wondering in what ways it will positively influence our relationship with China.
Dr. Kissinger: I think it is in our interest and also in the long-term Chinese interest that the United States cultivates close relations with the Asian nations, countries like Indonesia, Thailand, and this whole group of countries, because this will discourage the notion of an Asian community which would tend to exclude the United States from Asia, which would be a very serious matter for us. We have close ties, military and political, with Indonesia, with Thailand, and we don't object to close ties of China with these countries. And therefore, they can be a bridge to good relations between China and the United States. But it is not in our interest to withdraw from these regions.
Woman: Up there on the top row.
Aslan: Yes, sir, my name is First Class Aslan,* and my question pertains to the Middle East. Specifically, I was wondering about our relationship with the Shah. Why is it that we felt so strongly about supporting him when we knew the nature of his regime? And also, why did we sell weapons to Iran when we knew they'd be used against the Kurds, sir?
Dr. Kissinger: You know, I'm beginning to worry about what books you read in this institution. [ Laughter and scattered applause ] Let me tell you my opinion. I'll go back into history in a minute. But let me tell you, I think the overthrow of the Shah of Iran was a disaster for America. If the Shah of Iran had been able to stay in office, I believe today Iran would be a constitutional monarchy, probably at the standard of living of South Korea and playing a role like South Korea. The Shah of Iran was not my idea of a great ruler, but compared to the oppression that followed him afterwards, he was a minor leaguer. Under the Shah of Iran, it was possible to imagine an evolution where the growing middle classes would sooner or later take over the government. Now, why did we cooperate with the Shah of Iran? Every American government from the 1950s on cooperated with the Shah of Iran. That was not an invention of the administration in which I served. We cooperated with him because the security of the Indian Ocean was of crucial importance to the United States then as it is now. We cooperated with him because in the 1973 war, he was the only country adjoining the Soviet Union that did not permit overflights of Soviet planes. In the same war, we were in a position -- We asked the Seventh Fleet to move from the Philippines to the Indian Ocean, confidant that it would receive all supplies from the Shah without even having gotten his approval. Iran is a crucial piece of strategic real estate, and the fact that it is now in adversarial hands shows why we cooperated with the Shah of Iran. Why did we sell weapons to him? Because he was willing to defend himself and because his defense was in our interest. And again, I simply don't understand why we have to apologize for defending the American national interest, which was also in the national interest of that region.
Aslan: Thank you, sir.
Woman: All right, this will be our last question. Up here.
Hoft: Sir, First Class Hoft.* You mentioned in your speech how the European Union was destroying individual loyalties towards their individual nation-states and how this might have played out with the British sailors. If you were Secretary of State today, how would you advocate to President Bush that America respond to a crisis like this?
Dr. Kissinger: How would I advise him on what?
Hoft: If it happened to our sailors, sir.
Woman: Would you like him to repeat the question? Should he repeat the question?
Dr. Kissinger: Can you repeat the question? She hasn't given me the full answer yet.
Hoft: Sir, if 15 American sailors were abducted by the Iranians and you were Secretary of State, how would you advise the President?
Dr. Kissinger: Well, it's a very hypothetical question. And I would try to find a way that would make it clear that if you seize American sailors, that it is a very costly enterprise. Now, what specific measure I would take, I don't know, but I would start from the premise that you don't rack your brain about what concessions you can offer. And I would not start with the premise that we have to reassure the hostage taker. I would think the opposite should be the objective.
Hoft: Thank you.
Woman: Thank you, sir.