“The statesman is, therefore, like one of the heroes in classical drama who has had a vision of the future but who cannot transmit it directly to his fellow men and who cannot validate its ‘truth’. Nations learn only by experience; they ‘know’ only when it is too late to act. But statesmen must act as if their intuition were already experience, as if their aspiration were truth. It is for this reason that statesmen often share the fate of prophets, that they are without honour in their own country, that they always have a difficult task in legitimising their programmes domestically, and that their greatness is usually apparent only in retrospect when their intuition has become experience. The statesman must therefore be an educator; he must bridge the gap between a people’s experience and his vision, between a nation’s tradition and its future. In this task his possibilities are limited. A statesman who too far outruns the experience of his people will fail in achieving a domestic consensus, however wise his policies; witness Castlereagh. A statesman who limits his policy to the experience of his people will doom himself to sterility; witness Metternich.” (Henry A. Kissinger, A World Restored, Victor Gollancz, 1973, page 329).
This is an extract from Kissinger’s doctoral thesis published belatedly only after he had won fame. It is one of his most insightful works. It is a study of European diplomacy around the time of the Congress of Vienna (1815). The last chapter on “The Nature of Statesmanship”, especially, is of enduring value.
Obituaries gave less credit to Mikhail S. Gorbachev than was his due. It was an American diplomat and scholar who judged him correctly: Raymond L. Garthoff in his illuminating work A Journey through the Cold War (Brookings Institution Press, 2001).
“Nations learn only by experience; they ‘know’ only when it is too late to act. But statesmen must act as if their intuition were already experience, as if their aspiration were truth.”Henry A. Kissinger‘A World Restored’
His judgment is strikingly sound. “Neither side was able to find a basis for stable détente, and both continued also to seek advantage in a continuing geopolitical competition. The first sustained effort with any notable success was in the Nixon-Ford years, but that too failed. The final effort came in the later Reagan-Bush years, and owing to the decisive change of ideological orientation by a Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, led beyond détente to an end of the Cold War.”
Soviet Union deceived
That was no small achievement. But the United States deceived him. The end of the Cold War hinged on an accord on the future of Germany. In the 1920s British Prime Minister David Lloyd George had said that as long as there was peace and order in Germany “a breakwater” existed between the Soviet Union and Western Europe. “Once this breakwater is swept away, I cannot speak for France. I trouble for my own country.”
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The issue in the 1980s was whether the Federal Republic of Germany, led by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, would agree to re-unification outside the NATO. The German Democratic Republic was ruled by the Communist Party; in truth, by the Soviet Union. It was one thing to ask Gorbachev to abandon East Germany and let it join West Germany; another to let a unified Germany join NATO. Gorbachev did agree, but on the basis of certain assurances— NATO would not expand eastwards.
In an attempt to loosen Moscow’s position, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker presented the Soviets with nine “assurances”. While these had all been offered already in various forms by both the Germans and the U.S., President George H.W. Bush’s staff put them in a comprehensive package:
1. The United States was committed to follow through on CFE (Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe) negotiations for all of Europe. 2. The United States agreed to advance the SNF (short-range nuclear forces) negotiations to begin once the CFE treaty was signed. 3. Germany would reaffirm its commitments neither to produce nor to possess nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. 4. NATO would continue conducting a comprehensive strategy review of both conventional and nuclear force requirements. 5. Extension of NATO forces to the former territory of GDR would be delayed during a transition period. 6. The Germans agreed to a transition period for Soviet forces leaving the GDR. 7. Germany would make firm commitments regarding its borders, making clear that the territory of united Germany would comprise only the FRG, GDR, and Berlin. 8. The CSCE (Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe, better known as Helsinki Accords) process would be strengthened, with a significant role for the Soviets in the new Europe. 9. Germany made it clear that it would seek to handle bilateral economic issues in a way that would support perestroika.”
The talks were based on a NATO whose borders did not go farther than those of a united Germany. According to those present at the crucial meeting, Soviet Generals shook with rage when they heard Gorbachev agree to a united Germany’s membership of NATO. The British Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Roddick Braithwaite, testified in these emphatic and precise terms: “James Baker (U.S. Secretary of State) assured Gorbachev in February 1990 and again in May that NATO jurisdiction and troops would remain to the West of the Elbe.”
Clinton flouted assurance
President Bill Clinton flouted this assurance. Fears of Ukraine joining NATO nettled President Vladimir Putin. He retorted with aggression, brutal and inhuman.
If Britain was fortunate in Braithwaite as Ambassador in Moscow, so was the United States in the brilliant Jack F. Matlock as its Ambassador. His book Autopsy on an Empire:The American Ambassador’s Account of the Collapse of the Soviet Union (Random House, 1995) is a definitive work not surpassed so far .
“He had obtained the presidency, abolished the Communist monopoly on power, reorganised the Party to diminish its influence, and now seemed poised to exploit the freedom of action the new situation provided. He was now ready to push, after so much talk, for real changes in the economic system. And, at the same time, he was carving an epitaph on the gravestone of the Cold War.”Jack F. Matlock‘Autopsy on an Empire: The American Ambassador’s Account of the Collapse of the Soviet Union’ (Random House, 1995)
He wrote: “Throughout the summer, Gorbachev made several enthusiastic comments about the Shatalin program, and it seemed likely that he would adopt it. The scenario I had imagined the preceding winter seemed to be the script for the drama we were witnessing. He had obtained the presidency, abolished the Communist monopoly on power, reorganised the Party to diminish its influence, and now seemed poised to exploit the freedom of action the new situation provided. He was now ready to push, after so much talk, for real changes in the economic system. And, at the same time, he was carving an epitaph on the gravestone of the Cold War.”
He was innovative. “We are coming to the conclusion that wider use should be made of the institution of U.N. military observers and U.N. peacekeeping forces in disengaging the troops of warring sides, and observing cease-fire and armistice agreements.
Also read: U.S. power play
“And, of course, at all stages of a conflict, extensive use should be made of every means for the peaceful settlement of disputes and differences between states, and good offices and mediation should be offered with the aim of achieving an armistice. The ideas and initiatives concerning non-government commission and groups to analyse the causes, circumstances and methods of resolving various concrete conflict situations appear to be fruitful.
“The Security Council’s permanent members could be guarantors of regional security. They could, for their part, assume an obligation not to use force or the threat of force, and could renounce a conspicuous military presence, as this is one of the factors that fan regional conflicts.” ( Soviet Review, September 17, 1987.)
Gorbachev was innovative. He wanted to end the Cold War. The U.S. did not.
A.G. Noorani is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.
- The question in the 1980s was whether West Germany would agree to unification outside the NATO, keeping East Germany out of the military alliance.
- Eventually Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to have a unified Germany join NATO but on the explicit understanding that NATO would not expand further east.
- The government of President George H.W. Bush gave nine assurances to the Soviets promising that Soviet security would never be compromised.
- But the West did not honour its promises.
- Gorbachev had wanted the Cold War to end.