go to top

Kissinger on World Politics and U.S. Foreign Policy

Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007

Opinionjournal.com has an interesting interview by David Rivkin Jr. with Henry Kissinger. We would suggest reading the whole thing, but here's an excerpt:

. . . He pointed out that the world we have known for 300 years now--the "Westphalian" international system that arose after Europe's wars of religion and is based on the nation-state--is "collapsing." This may be a much more profound shift than the move from dynastic to national motivations following the 1814-15 Congress of Vienna (about which Mr. Kissinger has written) and a more serious challenge to international stability than that posed by states such as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. The nation-state is weakening in Europe, he observed, and has met with mixed success in other parts of the world. "Only in Russia, the United States and Asia can it be found in its classic form."

Meanwhile, across the Middle East and southern Asia, although nationalism remains a powerful force, many cast themselves as a part of a greater Islamic community defined in opposition to the West. In Mr. Kissinger's view, a single formula will no longer adequately describe this international system.

This brought us inexorably back to America's most important relationship--with most of the world's other democracies in Europe. Mr. Kissinger pointed out that, in the immediate post-war period, "Europe was far weaker than today, but still prepared--with leaders like Adenauer, Schuman and Monnet, to conduct a real and assertive foreign policy--even if under the American security blanket and with a modicum of trans-Atlantic discord."

But today, fundamental philosophical differences divide the U.S and Europe across a range of key foreign policy issues. Europeans and Americans, I suggested, disagree as to both means and ends--especially the legitimacy of the pre-emptive use of force without an explicit blessing from the Security Council, as well as in their basic assessment of the gravity of the threats posed by transnational terror networks, which cannot be either bargained with or deterred.

The real difference, Mr. Kissinger interjected, lay in "what government[s] can ask of their people." It is because "European governments are not able any more to ask their people for great sacrifices," he argued, that they have so readily opted for a "soft power" approach to so many foreign policy issues. This will, of necessity, make it harder for Europe to reach a consensus with the U.S.