Henry A. Kissinger Looks Back on the Cold War
Session Four: A Conversation With Henry A. Kissinger
Chairman, Kissinger Associates, Inc.; Former U.S. Secretary of State; Former Assistant to the President for National Affairs
President, Council on Foreign Relations
Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger joins CFR President Richard N. Haass to discuss Kissinger's role in the Cold War. Kissinger reflects on the events, personalities, and thinking that characterized the United States and Soviet Union's leadership.
This meeting is part of the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall Symposium.
HAASS: Well, good afternoon. And either welcome, or welcome back, to the Council on Foreign Relations. We've had an extraordinary day here. Three panels looking at the origins of the Cold War, the conduct of the Cold War, and the end of the Cold War, all of it obviously timed to the 25th anniversary of the fall of the wall on 11/9/1989.
In the tradition of saving the best for last—and I hope that those members of the previous panels will not take umbrage at that --
I think it's important to every now and then exercise my diplomatic skills.
We're working on it. We're working on it here. Remedial diplomacy class is later.
We've got, as you can see, Henry Kissinger. To make a very long story short, Henry is the preeminent scholar-practitioner of his era. And I would date the era essentially the post-World War II era, which is another way of saying roughly over the last seventy years, I believe that Henry combines scholarship, as well as ability to be effective in government. And when you add them up, I believe he stands apart from anyone else who has served over this three-quarters of a century.
What we are going to do here is talk about some of the issues central to the origins, conduct, and end of the Cold War. For those of you whose appetite is whetted simply by all of this, there's copies of Henry's most recent book on world order, available for a reasonable price outside.
He and I will have a conversation for a bit, and then we'll open it up to you, our members. And there's one other reason that I'm so glad to have Henry here. I'd like to think that the way he in some ways got his start was in this institution sixty years ago, when he was the rapporteur of a study group looking at then the emergent technology of nuclear weapons. And in the same way that some people today are beginning to sit down and say, what is the consequence of all these new technologies in cyber and what might they mean for the conduct of American foreign policy and international relations, Henry, with some of the giants in the field at that time, met here at the Council to really do the intellectually groundbreaking work on the critical emerging technology of that era.
He wrote about it, among other places, in Foreign Affairs—I think he did about a dozen articles in our magazine before he went into government in the Nixon administration. And he has done several since. In the administration, as you know, he served as national security adviser, as secretary of state, and, uniquely, for several years as both. I once described that to him as playing tennis and calling lines on both sides of the court. And it was a period I thought, of again, tremendous accomplishment.
Let's start chronologically, sir, if we may, with in some ways what might be the most fundamental historical question when one looks at great power relations throughout history. Here you had after World War II the United States and the Soviet Union occupying by scale a unique position or—a shared position. Was Cold War inevitable, simply given the lessons of history and what drives great powers?
KISSINGER: First of all, let me thank you for inviting me to come here and for the objective and fair introduction...
... which you made.
KISSINGER: Let me tell you, the audience, this is a fascinating topic for me. And I've lived through much of it, but I haven't systematically addressed some of these issues recently, so what you are hearing is ideas that pop into my head.
In 1945, I was a staff sergeant in the 84th Infantry Division of the American Army on the Elbe River and I had sort of the view that the Russians were probably permanent allies. I had no fixed foreign policy—foreign policy views at the time, because I hadn't gone to college before (inaudible)—the one thing I remember very much is, we met a Cossack division of the Russian—of the Soviet army. And from the beginning, they treated us—they were under strict instructions to limit their contact, and one had the impression, at my low level, of—I wouldn't say necessarily—adversarial assistance.
Now, speaking as a professor, do I think the Cold War was inevitable? Certainly, as it was evolving, I did think it was inevitable, because if you read what Stalin was saying at the time about the nature of international systems, it was imperative for him to have a confrontational atmosphere between the two systems.
Partly, I think now because he needed to rally his own society after the disasters and suffering of the war, and with so many prisoners returning, but partly because if you read the many—I can't think of any really conciliatory statements of an operational nature in, say, the first five years of the Cold War. So I think it was inevitable. I think it was inherent in the nature of the two societies.
HAASS: Can I just interrupt you there? When you say it was inherent in the nature of the two societies, do you see the principal driver of the Cold War the ideological differences between the two countries and societies? Or do you see the principal driver more the geopolitical aims of the two?
KISSINGER: I think it was a combination of both. It took the United States a while to accept that it had any geopolitical objectives. And so America slid into the Cold War because countries appeared to be threatened and we had to explain why we should assist them, like the Greek-Turkish aid program, and then that had to be done in the terms of a threat, and then that had to be done being American in terms of a program that had a time limit and, therefore, the time limit had to have some eschatological outcome, and
-- because that's the nature in which American foreign policy is made.
On the Soviet side, I really think that Stalin thought he had to reinvigorate society with a Communist interpretation. He—you know, the Berlin airlift, and so many of the—and not just the actions he took.
I have in this book I have out there, a conversation I had with Gromyko, in which long afterwards, when he was president of the Soviet Union—he had been retired and so he had time to (inaudible). I said, what were you people—I asked him—what were you people thinking when you did the Berlin airlift? You had just lost 20 million people in the world, what were you thinking about when you did the Berlin airlift?
He said, A number of people said that to Stalin, and he either disregarded or dismissed them, and he said three things: the Americans will never fight a nuclear war over Berlin, allegedly. Secondly, if the Americans attack along the autobahn, you're ordered to resist, you don't have to come to me. If the Americans mobilize along the whole front, come to me. So his view clearly was that what temporarily—what (inaudible) I don't—I mean, there was a move in the early '50s of offering perhaps neutrality to Germany if—and unification if it accepted neutrality. But that was not a—that was a move of removing America from the continent. It was not an anti-Cold War. That was an aspect of the Cold War.
HAASS: We'll have a chance to circle back all this when we open it up to our members, but I wanted to ask you about something I mentioned before, which is the role of nuclear weapons. How central do you think nuclear weapons were to keeping the Cold War cold? Or put it another way, if nuclear weapons hadn't been invented or introduced, is it your sense that this great power competition would have gone the way of most other great power competitions and would have led to conventional war?
KISSINGER: Yes, I think there was a high likelihood that it would lead not necessarily to all-out war, but that it would have led to conventional war somewhere in which Soviet and American forces were involved. And nuclear weapons prevented—created a situation of producing reluctance to get the conflict started at all.
HAASS: You mentioned Gromyko before. I wanted to talk about somebody else who you spent a lot of time dealing with, I assume, which was Brezhnev. And he was described this morning—I can't remember by whom, I apologize—as, quote, unquote, "a lot steadier," unquote, than Khrushchev. And was that—what was your take on Brezhnev in terms of his conduct of Soviet foreign policy and his management, if you will, of the Cold War from the Soviet vantage point?
KISSINGER: You know, I have never heard anyone else express this view, so—I looked at Brezhnev in retrospect as a kind of forerunner of Gorbachev. He, in my opinion, he thought he had sort of a messy system to deal with and—but he was not the most penetrating mind. And so...
He didn't want to—he didn't want conflict. He was eloquent in saying these things. But I also thought that in his conduct, in the various crises in which we confronted him, and from the little we know of the dialogues that went on, I think he genuinely wanted a relaxation of tension with the United States. He had no very precise idea how to get there, but I talked—I dealt at that time with Kosygin and Podgorny and Gromyko and all of the other top people. And I thought they were sort of fixed in the Communist ideology, and he was fixed in the Communist ideology, too.
But I—I do think that he sought a relaxation of tensions. Unfortunately, at the time that we were in a position to proceed, then the debate evolved in the United States in which every aspect of the so-called détente became controversial and every aspect of the nuclear agreements, we thought of the nuclear discussions as a means of educating the Soviets in our thinking on the nature of our strategy.
And I—my impression was that in the European Security Conference negotiations, he was on the side of the more moderate—on the more moderate side. There was one moment—after he'd had his stroke, after he'd had his stroke at Vladivostok, at the—there was a European Security Conference—during I think it was the Helsinki conference—anyway, at some meeting between Ford and Brezhnev. And Brezhnev could work about two hours a day, and then he got awfully tired, and he really wanted to be done with it.
And so we had worked our way through some arms control stuff. And by that time, the two hours had elapsed, and Ford said, "Well, we still have the Middle East to discuss." And Brezhnev said, "Why don't we let Henry deal with it?"
HAASS: That was his revenge.
KISSINGER: Getting back to—if we could have taken a photograph of Gromyko at that point—I don't think this is—I—you know, there are not many people who will support my view, but I think that within the limits that he understood, I always looked at Brezhnev as the one who really wanted to explore a relaxation of tensions, partly because the maintenance of his system had to become apparent to him by that time.
HAASS: In some ways, you've anticipated my next question. When Kennan wrote about containment, he obviously had the idea of resisting what he called, you know, the Soviet encroachment and spread, but he also predicted that if we were successful with that, it would encourage or bring about internal change. So when you all developed and elaborated the notion of détente, what was the balance in your thinking between simply making conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union less likely, if you will, calming the Cold War? And to what extent was your objective, also, to bring about fundamental change within the Soviet Union?
KISSINGER: We had no fixed idea about the latter. The thing that concerned us was we had inherited a war in Vietnam, which showed what can happen in the United States if the American people lose faith in their leadership. And so we were sort of obsessed with the idea that we had to show to the American people that if there were a crisis, we had done everything that could rationally be done to avoid the crisis.
And as some of you—maybe many of you remember, we were very adamant when there was any challenge to the balance of power and very willing to resist and go to great lengths to resist in specific challenges. But we thought there were—there were things to be accomplished. One, to demonstrate to the American public that we were serious and that we had a concept of peace and of international order. Secondly, to convey to the Soviet Union that if they wanted to behave like a national state, pursuing national interests, it was possible for—at least to explore accommodations with us. We thought in a vague way that in this process the Soviet Union would probably have to modify its domestic institutions.
But I don't want to predict—pretend that conversion of the Soviet system was the top item on this list. The top item on the list for us was to manage the Cold War and to transform it into an international system. We did think that in the course of it, the Soviet system would probably not be modified, but it's the first two items to which we gave attention. And we conducted the European Security Conference from that point of view.
We were strong supporters of the Basket III, which was the human rights aspect. But we did it initially because we thought it would give us a platform to resist if the Soviet Union intervened in upheavals that might take—we thought it would create an international legal basis that if the Soviet Union had committed itself to certain human rights principles in Eastern Europe, and if they then cracked down, we could resist in the name of an international agreement.
I do not pretend that we foresaw the way courageous people inside the Soviet—inside Poland and Czechoslovakia then used those principles. But the strategy we had was to weaken the Soviet control by making repressive conduct an international issue. And that, of course—the long-term strategy there was to separate the Eastern Europe countries from the Soviet Union, and I think Nixon was the first president to systematically visit. He went to Romania, Yugoslavia, and Poland. I don't think any president had gone to Eastern Europe before. And that was certainly a way, in our mind, of weakening Soviet control.
HAASS: Why do you think it was so hard to persuade—particularly people in the Republican Party of the—of that logic? Why was it so hard to sell that idea domestically?
KISSINGER: Well, a strange thing—a strange thing happened in this period, not just in the Republican Party. The Democrats had been lacerating Nixon for hardline policies, and then détente came along, and then one could not avoid the impression that some Democrats thought, if Nixon was for détente, maybe a little confrontation wouldn't hurt.
HAASS: Not referring to a certain senator from the state of Washington, are you?
KISSINGER: So—so it was—but I think it also reflected a significant change within the Republican Party. When the détente policy started, the Rockefeller Republicans were still a realistic force, and the Republican—the Eastern establishment was considered to be maybe dominant or at least extremely influential in the Republican Party.
In the period after that, the center of gravity of the Republican Party moved towards the West and towards a part of the American population that did not have the experience—the experience of Europe. And then also, the foreign policy that we represented was one of gradualism and of understanding historical evolution and using it to the maximum extent.
The classically American approach is that a problem is definable, can be expressed in a program, the program can be given a time limit, and if you cannot do it that way, then somebody is violating basic premises of American policy. So the idea of bringing the confrontation with the Soviet Union to some colossal ideological conclusion—and it became dominant, and it led to theological, esoteric debates about arms control issues, which were similar to—in the 19th century, there was an issue called the Schleswig-Holstein question, about which Lord Palmerston once said only three people have ever understood it, one was dead, the second was in a lunatic asylum, and he was the third, and he had forgotten it.
So if one goes over those debates, there were big debates about the so-called SALT I agreement. And then all the people who attacked it lived by it when they came into office. So we thought that the key issues were the geopolitical issues, and that in the arms field, we were substantially ahead and were preserving margins. Those were the debates of the '70s, and it was a pity that they took that form.
And then Reagan, in a way, resolved them by adopting the practice of the preceding administration and the rhetoric of—it really didn't add all that much in the weapon field, but the concept of missile defense, which he introduced, apparently convinced the Soviets that it was a hopeless process.
HAASS: So that was my next question. There's something of a debate about why the Cold War ended when it did, and there's at least a half-dozen different hypotheses. One is that missile defense had—another's Afghanistan, another is the cumulative effort of NATO over decades. There's the Gorbachev himself, either by design or that he essentially lost control of what he was setting in motion. There's the idea that the people of Eastern and Central Europe essentially brought it about by—by with their—with their feet.
What's your sense, if you had to essentially—one can say all of the above and all that, but if you had to basically say what more than anything else from your perspective brought about the events of '89, what's your take on it?
KISSINGER: I think now—maybe not so explicitly then—but I think now that the Soviets became gradually aware of the unworkability of their system. And I think, as I pointed out before, that Brezhnev sort of felt it, but he didn't know how to translate it into action, and maybe he was wiser than Gorbachev in the sense that he knew that if you fool around with that system, that there was no margin there to adjust it, and that when you try to adjust it, it was almost bound to collapse.
What we now know of the Soviet system—if I look at some of the arms control negotiations we were engaged in and all the technical aspects that—where we kept elaborating our weapons and—for them to keep pace with that must have been an almost insoluble problem.
If I look back at the '73 war...
HAASS: The Middle East war. The Middle East war.
KISSINGER: ... Middle East war...we had Watergate. And I mean, they—you would have said they really had—but they shrank back. And every time we made—and given the conditions, even reckless move like sending a whole airlift into—the Soviets always backed off. And that really indicated, I think, that they were exhausted by the Cold War. That is my—that is my dominant view.
That doesn't mean that I thought so at the time. I thought we were stronger, and I thought we were in a better position to take it someday, but I still thought they were extremely formidable.
HAASS: And just one last question, and then I'll open it up. Did you ever think in your lifetime that you would see the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union? Was that something that you even imagined?
KISSINGER: I thought I would see the collapse of the satellite empire. I did not think the Soviet Union would collapse or the Soviet system would collapse, but I thought that the Eastern European countries, the satellite orbit, would gradually edge out of the Soviet camp, but I thought it would take much longer.
When Bush 41 became president, he asked me what I thought the big event of his presidency would be, and I said, the gradual disintegration of the satellite orbit over the next decade. So I didn't think it would happen within a year.
HAASS: And what about the basic geopolitical construct of the Cold War? Did you take that as something of a given for international relations?
KISSINGER: No. We—we looked at the opening to China as opening a new period of geopolitical relations, because not only did it open a second front for the Soviet Union, and not only did it threaten the unity of the Communist bloc—first of all, we thought that it explained to the American public that we had a notion of world order and that this was not just—we were not just engaged in defending a corner of Southeast Asia, but that we had a vision of how countries could relate to each other.
Secondly, we thought that if we played it well, we could achieve a position in which we would be closer to each of the Communist contestants than they were to each other. And so we—so this was our geopolitical model, and we carried this out by correctly informing each side what we were doing with the other.
So then, as time went on, the outline of a new international system began to emerge. But the hole in all this geopolitical thinking has always been the position of Europe. Can Europe translate, or could Europe translate, its potential economic strength, and its conceivable unity, into being an element like we thought of the Soviet Union and China. And that's still the open question.
And so I—if you read the speech Richard Nixon made at that time, we thought of these countries as units in an international global system and that we were just beginning the process, we weren't going to be able to complete it. And that's not retroactive; you can read that.
HAASS: That was in Nixon's article in Foreign Affairs, actually. Previewing some of that.
Ok, why don't we take some questions, just raise your hand and wait for the microphone and keep it as concise as you can. Hari Harihan?
QUESTION: So from then to now, we now have sanctions as a new weapon. I just want to know, what do you think about the efficacy of sanctions in terms of what it does to the target, and the spillovers it creates for the rest of the world.
KISSINGER: Let me separate it into two parts. Into sanctions against individuals, and economic sanctions.
I am very uneasy about this concept of sanctions against individuals, because I always—I always think the first question you have to ask as a policymaker is, what are you trying to accomplish? And, secondly, what's the conclusion of it? So are you trying to accomplish some resistance to the government by punishing the people you are sanctioning? And what kind of international system do you have if every country goes around punishing individuals in other countries? And then how do you end it? Supposing the Russians do something that we approve, then we say, everybody from A to K is removed from the sanctions list? So I don't—I think it is a bad system for international relations.
The economic sanctions, they've been very useful with respect to Iran, and partly because we've been able to get the whole international community involved. In the long run, one has to ask oneself that if we believe in a globalized economic system and at the same time use economic sanctions for specific foreign policy purposes, will not countries that might find themselves in disagreement with us seek to protect themselves against being the targets of sanctions? And does that not, in fact, encourage a kind of mercantilism?
And so as a general principle, I am cautious, but at the same time, I do not think we can accept the proposition that a country can simply slice off a part of another country, regardless of its provocation. So to the extent that one—I wouldn't use sanctions, I would try to use some other method to make clear our extreme displeasure and to impose some penalties.
HAASS: Let me—I see a hand in the back, but I can't see to whom the hand is connected.
QUESTION: It's connected to somebody.
HAASS: Hey, Jeffrey. Jeffrey Rosen.
QUESTION: Jeffrey Rosen. Dr. Kissinger, do you see—you described the motivations of Stalin I think immediately after the Second World War. Do you see many parallels between his motivations and his techniques at the time and Mr. Putin's today?
KISSINGER: Actually, no. I see parallels between Putin and almost any czar I can think of. I don't think that Putin believes that the system of government in Russia is inherently incompatible with the system of government in the West. He feels deeply aggrieved by Western actions and he reacts in a manner that Peter the Great would have understood. It's brutal. But I do not think we face the same phenomenon.
HAASS: I'm going to try to encourage questions more about the history side of life, which is, again, on the origins, conduct, and conclusion of the Cold War. So we can go there—sure. Let's wait for a microphone and in the front row.
QUESTION: Nice to see you, Henry. So I wanted to ask a question about terrorism in the Cold War. One of the issues you dealt with in the 1970s was, of course, the issue of terrorism. And what role did it play in American national security thinking in the 1970s from the historical point of view? And then what historical lessons did we learn coming out of the Cold War, not necessarily talking about today, but just the history of that for that period? What did we learn, and how did it affect American policy?
HAASS: Are you talking about specifically state-sponsored—or what?
QUESTION: I mean, the airplane hijackings, for instance, in the early 1970s, which, again, Dr. Kissinger knows better than I do, were major national security discussions at the time.
KISSINGER: Well, we considered terrorism an aberration of the international system. And we took the position that we would make absolutely no concession to terrorism, that we wouldn't negotiate with terrorism. If any subordinate negotiated—we had an ambassador once in country who negotiated the release of some kidnapped people. We removed him, because in the conditions of that time, none of these groups were viewed by us as ever being potential negotiating partners.
There was a slight exception with respect to the PLO, which we classified as terrorists, did not negotiate with, but maintained some intelligence contact for emergency situations. But that showed that the international structure of the '70s was totally different from today. There were no ungoverned territories out of which groups emerged that had no geographic base. Terrorist acts were individual—were individual acts.
And—but our basic position was never to negotiate and never to pay any ransom, because we did not want—we wanted the terrorists to—we wanted no terrorist group to think that they—but it was a much easier position to take at the time. It was sometimes not easy to implement, because one was under pressure to pay ransom and similar things, but it can't be compared and it can't be applied this way in the modern period.
HAASS: I want to come back to one thing about—in the early '70s, when you had negotiations with the Soviets not about arms control, but about how to conduct what you might call geopolitical competition around the world and what would be, if you will, the rules about pressing advantage and so forth. How far do you think the United States and the Soviet Union came to a shared view of international conduct?
KISSINGER: Well, we negotiated a document that expressed these views. And, of course, it was not applied strictly, but we thought that the exercise of negotiating it presented an opportunity at least for people to have to study the view of international conduct, and it gave us a weapon in crises to accuse the other side of having violated the international agreement.
Of course, the counterargument of the anti-détente people, which is not unreasonable, it's that we thereby created the impression of an illusion of progress that worked against—that worked against our basic objective. Now, there is a little book by—I forget now the name—there was a note-taker in the Politburo discussions in 1973 who published a book on those discussions. And that actually shows how, especially Brezhnev, took seriously some of the things we had said to him and indicated some restraint—or at least arguments for restraint—that were raised when the issue came up how to respond—how much airlifts should they do, what negotiations were possible.
HAASS: I can't see who it is. I see a hand right there.
QUESTION: Richard Cohen. Of the Soviet leaders during the Cold War, which ones had a sense of humor?
KISSINGER: Brezhnev had sort of a robust sense of humor. Kosygin—I once—we were supposed to fly on an airplane, Soviet airplane, VIP plane, to the south, and the thing broke down. And so we were sitting there, and Kosygin was trying to console us. And he—so he said, "Whom do you want us to execute?"
And I said, "You know, Mr. Prime Minister, you have to look at it from the point of view of the wickedness of objects." "For example," I said, "If you drop a coin, it always rolls away from you. It never rolls towards you and easier to pick up." He thought, and he said, "That isn't right. I've dropped coins that rolled towards me."
So you'd have to say there was a certain limitation.
HAASS: What about—you spent probably the most time in conversation with the foreign minister, with Mr. Gromyko.
KISSINGER: He actually had a good sense of humor. He—his central view—he could construct extraordinarily complicated double negatives.
And jokes. But I would—he had sort of a sense of humor.
QUESTION: This question comes from my experience because of my geographical location of being a survivor of the Cuba missile crisis.
KISSINGER: Of the what?
HAASS: Cuban missile crisis.
QUESTION: And I'm haunted by the two statements of Eisenhower, which he said that nuclear weapons are the most useless weapons ever invented. And he also said famously that one of these days, the leaders of the world will have to get out of the way of the people of the world and let them have peace.
My question is, what should we in the public be thinking and doing now to press our leaders to make in all possible ways to keep those missiles out there in the farmland of Montana staying right where they are in those silos without ever being used and without us having to trust to dumb luck to prevent a nuclear war?
KISSINGER: Here's the dilemma: that to the extent that you have great public demonstrations, if your adversary becomes convinced that you are unwilling to use nuclear weapons, you may encourage him to use nuclear weapons. I can tell you, if people ask me, what worried me most when I was in office, it was, What will I say when the president calls me in and says I've exhausted all diplomacy, let's go with—called SIOP—it's Strategic Integrated Operations Plan—because you know that implementing that kind of war would cause casualties of a scale that will end—the world cannot possibly be the same after that.
On the other hand, if you give the impression in high office that this is what worries you, you may tempt the other side to go further and further towards the edge. So it's very easy for demonstrators to express their abhorrence to nuclear weapons. But for those in office, if they're serious people, they can—at one and the same time—be committed not to use nuclear weapons and yet feel that they have to demonstrate their readiness to use them.
Well, luckily, in this present world, that particular threat is much less, but what is a greater threat in this world is that as nuclear weapons spread, and the ability to protect them, or to acquire intelligence about them diminishes, that countries may be tempted to use them against each other and that then nuclear weapons become a sort of conventional weapon.
And that would be a grave problem. And you could argue—I would argue that if that ever were to happen, some of the big nuclear powers really should see how to put an end to it before it gets totally out of control.
HAASS: Let me get some people who didn't speak up here. I apologize. I see a hand—do I see—thought I saw a hand up. I guess not. OK, then we'll go. Andrew, sorry.
QUESTION: Dr. Kissinger, Andrew Nagorski. One of the points you made about managing the Cold War relationship. A by-product of that certainly was the impression that the administrations you served in were rather uncomfortable with, for instance, the Soviet dissidents who were coming up in those days, Solzhenitsyn and so forth. It wasn't until Carter and then Reagan that there was a very different tack taken.
Was there any—is that perception right? And was there any discussion within the administration about how to handle the dissidents differently to do something other than what appeared to be an arm's-length approach in those days?
KISSINGER: We made a distinction between what we would do publicly and what we would do privately. We—I visited Sakharov several times in Moscow. I forget now whether I was in office or just out of office. We tried to make a distinction, and in the emigration from the Soviet Union, we—we said to the Soviets, when Nixon came in, 900 people came up. We said to Dobrynin, we will not embarrass you with this issue and we will make no publicity of it, but we will notice what you're doing. And so the emigration went up and never recovered after the Jackson amendment.
So (inaudible) a proposition, when Solzhenitsyn was here, Ford was willing to see him. He did not want to make it a public demonstration. It may have been wise or unwise, and that was probably unwise. But it followed—it was not a lack of respect for Solzhenitsyn. It was a different strategy for dealing with the problem.
And those who wanted to make the demonstrations also wanted a more confrontational foreign policy. And they used their demonstrations to show that it was not possible to deal with the Soviet Union. We were on the other side of the debate, but it was not lack of respect for the dissidents with whom we dealt whenever we could on a private basis and whose cause we tried to adopt, but once it—it may be that we carried what was a good policy at one point to two logical extremes.
The Solzhenitsyn case was a particularly—actually—well, it gets (inaudible)—it started as a debate between Helms and Ford. It was not even a national security—but it then got out of control.
HAASS: Professor Talbott?
QUESTION: What is your assessment of Gorbachev as a statesman?
KISSINGER: I liked Gorbachev as a person. I enjoyed talking with him, and I believe he was one of the major features of the period in the consequences of his actions. I also think he did not understand the nature of the system that he was running and that many of the consequences that he produced, he didn't intend. So we should honor him for his consequences. But we were lucky that he was in office. I mean, we—anybody who is concerned with freedom, and his motives were—he is in many ways an admirable person.
He thought he was strengthening and reviving a system that he was collapsing. But the historical impact of him was huge.
HAASS: I'm going to try to squeeze in two more...
KISSINGER: If unintended.
HAASS: All right. I'll try to squeeze in two more. In the third row here, and then Professor Cohen, we'll try to get those two questions in, and then we'll...
QUESTION: Actually, this is a follow-up to the previous question. I didn't expect the previous—oh, Norma Globerman.
HAASS: You don't have to answer—ask if you don't want to.
QUESTION: No, I don't, because it's not exactly the same. Given what was said not first by you, but also by panelists in the previous session about Gorbachev's preeminent role in the ending of the Cold War, it—I'm curious about your position on the great men of history theory, about the—the degree to which history as a whole has been determined by great men and women or not.
HAASS: Let's get to—Steve, you want to ask your question, and then we'll give Henry a chance to ask both?
HAASS: Yes, sir, just ask—we'll get both questions and we'll give Henry a chance to answer both.
QUESTION: Well, this is an unfair question—Stephen Cohen here—but a perfect question for you to end your day with. In light of current events, some people would say a new Cold War or a renewed Cold War between Russia and the United States, people have begun to think—historians, not only—both in Russia and Europe and now here—did the Cold War really end?
We can't answer that question today, maybe, but historians maybe a decade from now will look back and reopen that question of whether the Cold War, as we called that phenomena, actually ended or took a kind of twenty-three-year different form, a recess, because of circumstances. You above all probably could help us at least think about how to think about this question, looking back and ahead.
KISSINGER: Well, I'll answer that question first. And then I'll...
HAASS: We'll end with the other.
KISSINGER: ... answer the great men question. If one argues that the Cold War never ended, then one will also argue that what is happening now in Central Europe and in the Ukraine was inevitable and that therefore, if a Cold War restarts, it is really a resumption of what was ended twenty-plus years ago.
I don't hold this view. I believe that if a Cold War results from the present situation, it will be a great pity, because it will mean that people who think they're reasonable on both sides, making decisions that make some sense within the context of the immediate perspective, have produced an unnecessary situation.
Why I think this, you know, would take us very long. I'd say a few principles. From the very beginning of the crisis, I have said Ukraine is entitled to be an independent country—dealing, establishing commercial and other relations with any—with any other country—and that simply annexing parts of a territory is against the international system as we conceive it.
At the same time, one has to understand that this situation that arose is not simply an act of Hitlerian dimensions, where one ruler simply decided to—but then it evolved over a period of months in which I think that the Western side did not fully understand the implications of what was brewing and did not use the opportunities that might have been available to talk about the fundamental problem, which is the long-term relationship of Russia to the West.
In light of an overall strategic situation, so—so I am very distressed by the situation that is evolving, which is bringing neither peace to the Ukraine, nor stability to the international system.
I mean, to go further into it, then since you didn't offer us dinner, we'll...
HAASS: A lack of graciousness, I know.
KISSINGER: The role of great men, the role of men in general, I wouldn't say—there is in any decision in foreign policy must begin with analysis of the situation. And it must answer the question, where are we? And on the precision of this analysis, of course, much else depends. And that would be one aspect of importance.
The next question is, where are we going? Where we are going no matter what we do? And where should we be going? And when you answer that question, you have to calculate the limit of what is possible. If you keep your vision to what exists, the society stagnates. If you set goals beyond the capacity, the system explodes.
So I would say a great statesman operates at the outer limit of what is possible on the basis of a correct analysis, and it's the difference between greatness and mediocrity. And within those limits, I think the task of leadership is crucial, but I would also add Bismarck, who was supposed to be and was maybe the greatest realist of the 19th century statesmen, said the best a statesman can do is to listen carefully to the footsteps of God, get a hold of the hem of his cloak, and walk with him a few steps of the way. So you have—so I would affirm what I've said, that there is this second intangible element.
And just before we end, I must tell you one other anecdote, and then I'll leave. I was once at a dinner with Margaret Thatcher, and she spoke and somebody had asked me to move a vote of thanks for her speech. And I don't know what possessed me. I ended my vote of thanks by this quote from Bismarck, and Margaret nudged the man sitting next to him and said, "What's Henry talking about? What—what hem of what cloak is he talking about?" And the man said, "He's talking about a rather beautiful quote from Bismarck." She said, "Bismarck, the German?" And the man said, "Yes." So Thatcher said, "Time to go home."
HAASS: Well, Henry, thank you for acting at the outer edge of possibility.
More from this series
Frank Costigliola of the University of Connecticut, Melvyn P. Leffler of the University of Virginia, and Philip D. Zelikow of the University of Virginia join Andrew Nagorski, former president and director of public policy at the EastWest Institute, to discuss key events and ideologies that formed the origins of the Cold War.
Graham T. Allison of Harvard's Kennedy School, Jeremi Suri of the University of Texas at Austin, and William Taubman of Amherst College join Foreign Affairs editor Gideon Rose to discuss Cold War conduct.
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