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Kissinger's World View. He sees massive shifts, with Europe back on center stage

January 6, 1989

These comments were compiled from a recent dialogue between the Monitor's editorial board and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. I BELIEVE that the '90s, whatever we do, will be a period of tremendous structural change in international relations and it is a mistake to ascribe it all to Gorbachev or even primarily to Gorbachev - in fact it is selling the situation short to ascribe it to Gorbachev because that implies that it is an idiosyncratic change.

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And if you look at Soviet history, every general secretary has disavowed his predecessor and therefore it isn't even in our interests to say that Gorbachev is the only solution to our problem since he's mortal and will leave sooner or later. In fact the term of office of the president, if he sticks to it, is only 10 years - so by the late '90s he would be out of office. And much better for us to think in terms of structural changes that any sensible Soviet leader would want to follow. Even if he has a less dynamic personality than Gorbachev's.

Now, I think that the dominance of the two superpowers will erode in the '90s. You will have various powers. You will have the US, Soviet Union, China, India, Europe. All of which will be simultaneously economic, political, and military powers, and a little later I wouldn't exclude that Brazil and Mexico could be at least at the second rank of such a world.

This requires that we look at the world in a different way than we did in the post-war period. The Soviet Union will still be a major country; it will still have a major influence in world affairs. But we are very close to the goal of containment as it was defined in the 1940s.

Economic reform for the Soviet Union is not a favor they do to us. It's not something for which we should pay a huge price; it is something that they almost have to do. An aggressive Soviet policy would unite all of these powers on their borders against it and therefore they have reasons quite beyond Gorbachev to move into a period of conciliation.

So our task is to do something that Americans have not ever done before: namely, to think of a world of equilibrium. Not of a world in which we like to think of foreign policy as conversion - that Gorbachev comes along and he ends 70 years of communist history. He'd really have to end 400 years of Russian history.

How should he come to that view? What is it in his experience that would lead him there? There's no Jefferson in his past. There's no American tradition. But there is the compulsion of circumstance.

If we want to disengage ourselves from the front line of every confrontation, we have to learn to think of the structural balances that exist in the world and to decide whether we want to back whom we back.

It's sort of a balance of power concept, which in a modern global world is much more complicated. In that context, I think we can negotiate with the Soviets much more reliably than by being so obsessed about whether the President and the Soviet leader get along. And incidentally, I would also think that it also means that the emphasis on pure arms control gets us off the subject.

I'm not opposed to arms control as one of the many negotiations to conduct, but take Europe for example. In many ways Gorbachev is conducting a traditional Russian policy. He's trying to separate Europe from the US. And he has had major success in Germany in getting this German romantic feeling that they've got to have some sentimental attachment to somebody focused on the Soviets. That's a short-term victory if the world is bipolar.

In the process, however, Eastern Europe is becoming fluid and what we may see is a simultaneous disintegration of Western and Eastern Europe, with Eastern Europe disintegrating faster and in which even the seeming victories of Gorbachev are double-edged. Because to the extent that he gets the Germans more active in foreign policy, the place they have something to gain is in the East not in the West, and so he may be resurrecting the contest between the Teutons and the Slavs.

Now, that's what we've got to get beyond. And it's sensible that negotiation with the Soviets would be unavoidable in the next administration, and, in my view, the big issue will be Eastern Europe. Because whatever perestroika does in the USSR, it is undermining the communist regimes in Eastern Europe. So long as the Soviets identify their security with the maintenance of unpopular regimes, therein is a trap of their own making. If they go into one of these countries they will undermine everything that they have achieved with their policy of apparent moderation. And if they don't go in they start a process which may spill over into the Soviet Union.