A question for Kissinger

Print edition : September 01, 2001

Does America Need A Foreign Policy? by Henry Kissinger: Simon and Schuster, New York, $30, pages 318.

America is therefore the land of the future, where, in ages that lie before us, the burden of the world's history shall reveal itself.

- Hegel, 1770-1831 The Philosophy of History

A BOOK by Henry Kissinger is no longer an event. He turned 78 in May 2001. His self-serving memoirs ran into several thousand pages. The latest demolition of Messrs Nixon and Kissinger is done by Larry Berman in his book, No Peace, No Honour: Nixon, Kissinger and Betrayal in Vietnam.

Can you believe it? Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973. For what? Allegedly for bringing peace to Vietnam. His co-awardee, Le Duc Tho of Vietnam, did not accept the prize. Someone has recently suggested that Kissinger should, even at this late stage, return the prize. His role in Vietnam was both brutal and immoral. I am not aware of any spiritual halts in his over-exposed (by himself) life. He has worshipped success. I wonder if the witty Dr. Kissinger ever recalled Albert Camus' great observation, "In the best ordered life a moment always comes when the scenery collapses." For Kissinger the conservative Republican, the scenery collapsed a long time ago.

Having got that off my chest, one must concede that Kissinger has an analytical mind and a conceptual intellect. And when he was not playing to the gallery he did come up with penetrating insights. And in this book we get an overview of American policy for the 21st century. The time-frame of 100 years is unrealistic. Only an astrologer can tell what will occur in the next 10 decades. So let us settle for a decade or two.

The book's seven chapters are: 1. America at the apex: Empire or leader; 2. America and Europe; 3. The Western Hemisphere; 4. Asia: The World Equilibrium; 5. The Middle East and Africa; 6. The Politics of Globalisation, and 7. Peace and Justice.There is also a final section on Information and Knowledge.

The opening page of the first chapter states the obvious and undeniable fact that, "At the dawn of the new millennium, the United States is enjoying a pre-eminence unrivalled even by the greatest empires of the past..." How is America coping with this unrivalled pre-eminence? The Europeans are uneasy with what they term the unilateralism of the U.S. Russia is worried about the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation(NATO) up to its borders. Even Kissinger says that today the priorities of NATO are ambiguous. China is apprehensive of National Missile Defence. In West Asia neither Arafat nor Sharon are heeding American honest brokerage. Iraq is neither bending nor bowing. Globalisation is inevitable but it is at the moment a mixed blessing. Peace and justice remain the desired goals. The concept of humanitarian intervention could further decrease the importance of the near-bankrupt U.N. Knowledge and Information proliferate, but not wisdom.

Kissinger concedes that the "United States finds itself in a world for which little in its historical experience has prepared it." That is the worrying part.

The other unresolved challenge for America is again from within. How to reconcile the claims of idealism and power. The U.S. Congress from time to time ensures that neither U.S. foreign policy nor its diplomacy make sense, even to America's friends.

And here we come to India, to which Kissinger devotes a sub-chapter. The author paddles his pet hobby horse - from Singapore to Aden is India's sphere of influence - a raj legacy. And he promotes an unusual and not unwelcome theory when he writes:

In fact India's conduct during the cold war was not so different from that of the U.S. in its formative decades. Like the Founding Fathers, India's leaders of the Nehru dynasty believed they would protect their young country best by staying aloof from quarrels not affecting vital interests. And, again like the U.S., India did not apply its rejection of power to the region affecting its immediate security interests.

This is a departure from the tone and substance of what he wrote about India in his last book, Diplomacy. Earlier books were downright offensive.

His conclusion is interesting, but I would be a bit cautious:

With the passage of time, India's role in the region will become more important. There is a certain commonality of interests between India and the United States with respect to stability in the Gulf, especially regarding the spread of fundamentalism in the region. But as has been pointed out... India is at least as worried about Saudi and Taliban support for its own dissidents as it is about the security balance in the Gulf. And it is occasionally tempted to play a role of mediator between the U.S. and the Gulf radicals - a role America will find helpful only if coordinated with U.S. long-range strategy. Still as time passes, the Gulf should play a major role in an increasingly intensive strategic dialogue with India.

Is Dr. Henry A. Kissinger abandoning the strategic role for Pakistan in the Gulf? That is a far cry from his famous 1971 "tilt" towards Pakistan. Why this change? What is behind it, and should we fall for it? Not in my judgment. India should, as a non-aligned country, firmly keep before its mind's eye what Ronald Reagan used to say about his interaction with Gorbachev - Doveryai no proveryai, Trust, But Verify.

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