An American Faces the Facts

Kissinger at Davos, 2022 

Kissinger is aware of the possible catastrophe looming as a result of American action in Ukraine


Henry Kissinger: [00:02:59] Let me thank you for letting me return to Davos, because it is such a crucial forum for the exchange of ideas all over the world. But the outcome of this turning point — it’s not yet obvious, because there are a number of issues which are still under consideration within the realm of the decision-makers and of course, many evolutions that are going on that will affect the outcome. 

Let me sketch the issues. The most vivid at the moment is the war in Ukraine, and the outcome of that war, both in the military and political sense, will affect relations between groupings of countries, which I will mention in a minute. And the outcome of any war and the peace settlement, and the nature of that peace settlement — it will determine whether the combatants remain permanent adversaries, or whether it is possible to fit them into an international framework. 

About eight years ago, when the idea of membership of Ukraine in NATO came up, I wrote an article in which I said that the ideal outcome would be if Ukraine could be constituted as a neutral kind of state, as a bridge between Russia and Europe. Rather than, it’s the front line of groupings within Europe. I think that opportunity is now- does not now exist in the same manner, but it could still be conceived as an ultimate objective. In my view, movement towards negotiations and negotiations on peace need to begin in the next two months so that the outcome of the war should be outlined. But before it could create upheaval and tensions that will be ever-harder to overcome, particularly between the eventual relationship of Russia, Georgia and of Ukraine towards Europe. Ideally, the dividing line should return the status quo ante. I believe to join the war beyond Poland would draw- turn it into a war and not about the freedom of Ukraine, which has been undertaken with great cohesion by NATO, but into against Russia itself and so, that seems to me to be the dividing line that it is just impossible to define. It will be difficult for anybody to gauge of that. Modifications of that may occur during the negotiations, which of course, have not yet been established, but which should begin to be the return of the major participants as the war develops, and I have given an outline of a possible military outcome. But would like to keep in mind that any modifications of that could complicate the negotiations in which Ukraine has a right to be a significant participant, but in which one hopes that they match the heroism that they have shown in the war with wisdom for the balance in Europe and in the world at large — a relationship that will develop as a result of this war, between Ukraine — which will be probably the strongest conventional power on the continent — and the rest of Europe will develop over a period of time. 

But one has to look both at the relationship of Europe to Russia over a longer period and in a manner that is separated from the existing leadership whose status, however, will be affected internally over a period of time by its performance in this in this period. Looked at from a long-term point of view, Russia has been, for 400 years, an essential part of Europe, and European policy over that period of time has been affected, fundamentally, by its European assessment of the role of Russia. Sometimes in an observing way, but on a number of occasions as the guarantor, or the instrument, by which the European balance could be re-established. Current policy should keep in mind the restoration of this role is important to develop, so that Russia is not driven into a permanent alliance with China. But European relations with it are not the only key element of this [unintelligible]. 

China and United States, we know that in the next years have to come to some definition of how to conduct the long-term relationship of countries, it depends on their strategic capacities, but also on their interpretation of these capacities. In recent years, China and the United States evolved into a relationship that is unique in each side’s history. That is that they, from the point of view of strategic potential, they are the greatest threat to each other — in fact, the only military threat that each side needs to deal with continuously. And so the challenge, the period in which I was involved in the creation of this relationship, in which it was thought that a period of permanent collaboration might emerge of the two countries becoming [unintelligible] has been partly jeopardized and for the period probably terminated by the growth in the strategic and technical competence of each other. So on that level, there is an inherent adversarial aspect. The challenge is whether this adversarial aspect can be mitigated and progressively eased by the diplomacy that both sides conduct and it cannot be done unilaterally by one side. So, both sides have to come to the conviction that some easing of the political relationship is essential because they are in a position that has never existed before — plainly, that a conflict with modern technology, conducted in the absence of any preceding arms control negotiations, so they have no established criteria of limitations, will be a catastrophe for mankind. 

Whatever their differences within the context of historical politics, the leaders have an obligation to prevent this and ensure, at a minimum, permanent consultations, serious consultations on the subject, legal gameplays on a permanent basis. And then it’s an evolution of this. 

Of course, there are many unfinished periods in the future of world. The emergence of additional nuclear powers, of which the most urgent is the rise of Iran and the consequent divisions in the Middle East. And as in the period directly affected by the Ukrainian issue, but affected by the balance that will emerge, the rise of countries like India and Brazil and other countries, will have to be integrated into an international system. They seem to me to be the key issues, together with the fact that the Ukraine conflict has produced a rupture in the economic arrangements that have been made in the period before, so that the definition and operation of a global system will have to be reconsidered. 

It is these challenges I put forward as an analogy, but I believe they must be overcome, if we are not going to live in an increasingly confrontational and chaotic world. 

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