Although his bad acts as a government official during the Nixon and Ford Administrations will continue to define his personal and historical reputation, he does have some coherent "realist" ideas on foreign policy that are still worth noting. Like the President Richard Nixon he served, Kissinger combined some bad acts and bad ideas with some constructive policies, particular on relations with China and the Soviet Union and on nuclear arms control.
So his comments on Vladimir Putin's Russia are notable.
SPIEGEL: So let's talk about a concrete example: How should the West react to the Russian annexation of Crimea? Do you fear this might mean that borders in the future are no longer incontrovertible?Something I'm not seeing discussed is the effect that Russia's official annexation of the Crimea would have on any attempt to bring Ukraine into NATO. NATO is a military collective defense alliance. And part of nations obligating each other to defend their borders is defining what borders they are defending.
Kissinger: Crimea is a symptom, not a cause. Furthermore, Crimea is a special case. Ukraine was part of Russia for a long time. You can't accept the principle that any country can just change the borders and take a province of another country. But if the West is honest with itself, it has to admit that there were mistakes on its side. The annexation of Crimea was not a move toward global conquest. It was not Hitler moving into Czechoslovakia.
So, if we bring Ukraine into NATO, it seems we would have two choices: officially recognize Russia's annexation of Crimea and agree only to defend the current borders controlled by the Ukrainian government; or, declare war on Russia over Crimea.
Recognizing the annexation of Crimea as an accomplished fact is probably a sensible thing to do. But the US has gone a long time never officially recognizing the government of Cuba that has been in effective control of that country since 1959. But as a practical matter, unless the US and its NATO partners really are willing to go to war with Russia to "liberate" the Crimea that voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to join Russia and which Russia regards as strategically vital its national security, they are going to have to accept it as a reality in practice. But even assuming Russia would allow Ukraine to join NATO without Russia taking further actions to prevent that, the US and NATO would presumably be hesitant any time soon to make a treaty with Ukraine that involved formal recognition of Russia's annexation of the Crimea.
A referendum by a portion of a country to secede or join another is not a sufficient reason in international law and practice for recognition of that choice, by either the original nation or anyone else. With neo-Confederate sentiment in the US Republican Party seemingly becoming stronger by the day, that's something worth emphasizing in this context.
Kissinger's position on this issue seems pragmatic; it may come off as amoral, as well. But that goes without saying: this is Henry Kissinger we're quoting here:
SPIEGEL: What was it then?The advantage of Kissinger's amoral perspective is that he's not inclined to express self-righteous outrage at the amoral behavior of leaders like Putin, unlike the neoconservatives and liberal interventionists who endlessly moralize about liberty and human rights and international law while they gleefully trample them into the dust in the real world:
Kissinger: One has to ask one's self this question: Putin spent tens of billions of dollars on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The theme of the Olympics was that Russia is a progressive state tied to the West through its culture and, therefore, it presumably wants to be part of it. So it doesn't make any sense that a week after the close of the Olympics, Putin would take Crimea and start a war over Ukraine. So one has to ask one's self why did it happen?
SPIEGEL: What you're saying is that the West has at least a kind of responsibility for the escalation?
Kissinger: Yes, I am saying that. Europe and America did not understand the impact of these events, starting with the negotiations about Ukraine's economic relations with the European Union and culminating in the demonstrations in Kiev. All these, and their impact, should have been the subject of a dialogue with Russia. This does not mean the Russian response was appropriate. [my emphasis]
SPIEGEL: It seems you have a lot of understanding for Putin. But isn't he doing exactly what you are warning of -- creating chaos in eastern Ukraine and threatening sovereignty?It's sad when Henry Kissinger makes more practical good sense on an issue than most of mainstream opinion.
Kissinger: Certainly. But Ukraine has always had a special significance for Russia. It was a mistake not to realize that.
SPIEGEL: Relations between the West and Russia are tenser now than they have been in decades. Should we be concerned about the prospects of a new Cold War?
Kissinger: There clearly is this danger, and we must not ignore it. I think a resumption of the Cold War would be a historic tragedy. If a conflict is avoidable, on a basis reflecting morality and security, one should try to avoid it. [my emphasis]
Here he affirms the unlikelihood of NATO actually going to war over the Crimea and the practical risks of economic sanctions against Russia:
SPIEGEL: But didn't the annexation of Crimea by Russia force the EU and US to react by imposing sanctions?Robert Parry cites Kissinger's interview in his article, Letting the Neocons Lead Consortium News 11/17/2014.
Kissinger: One, the West could not accept the annexation; some countermeasures were necessary. But nobody in the West has offered a concrete program to restore Crimea. Nobody is willing to fight over eastern Ukraine. That's a fact of life. So one could say we don't have to accept it, and we do not treat Crimea as a Russian territory under international law -- just as we continued to treat the Baltic states as independent throughout Soviet rule.
SPIEGEL: Would it be better to stop sanctions even without any concessions from the Russians?
Kissinger: No. But I do have a number of problems with the sanctions. When we talk about a global economy and then use sanctions within the global economy, then the temptation will be that big countries thinking of their future will try to protect themselves against potential dangers, and as they do, they will create a mercantilist global economy. And I have a particular problem with this idea of personal sanctions. And I'll tell you why. We publish a list of people who are sanctioned. So then, when the time comes to lift the sanctions, what are we going to say? "The following four people are now free of sanctions, and the other four are not." Why those four? I think one should always, when one starts something, think what one wants to achieve and how it should end. How does it end?
SPIEGEL: Doesn't that also apply to Putin, who has maneuvered himself into a corner? Does he act out of weakness or out of strength?
Kissinger: I think out of strategic weakness masked as tactical strength. [my emphasis]
I would say that Parry's articles on Ukraine have been a little one-sided for my taste, though I feel weird writing that. I basically agree with his analysis of the West's bad policies over Ukraine and on expanding NATO generally. But in reading his columns, I find myself wishing for a bit more context on the ambitions of the Russian side and the internal dynamics driving Putin's regime. The West, the US in particular, has been reckless in much of its post-1989 policies toward Russia. But that doesn't mean that Russia's actions, even in pursuit of legitimate security concerns, have always been free of reckless impulses, either. But neither do I want to see people aping bad Cold War habits of crouching every criticism of US policy with a Both-Sides-Do-It or Russia-Is-Evil qualifiers in a useless gesture to try to avoid being accused of being pro-Russian by the Dick Cheneys and Ted Cruzes of the world.
But Parry is spot on with this:
In a rational political system, the American neocons would be the most discredited group in modern U.S. history. If not in the dock for complicity in war crimes – from Central America in the 1980s to Iraq last decade – they would surely not be well-regarded scholars at prominent think tanks and welcomed as op-ed columnists at major publications.He's doing well to calling attention to how little practical difference there is in cases like the new non-war war in Syria and Iraq between the neocons and the so-called liberal hawks or liberal interventionists.
But the United States doesn’t currently have a rational political system. Instead of being prosecuted or ostracized, the neocons continue to dominate Official Washington’s foreign policy thinking. They and their “liberal interventionist” sidekicks continue to demonize disfavored “enemy” leaders – just as they did in Central America and Iraq – and bait doubters for “weakness” if they don’t climb onboard. [my emphasis]
In The Neocons — Masters of Chaos Consortium News 10/17/2014, Parry writes:
The neocons and their “liberal interventionist” junior partners have kept the “regime change” pot boiling with the Western-orchestrated overthrow and killing of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the proxy civil war in Syria to oust Bashar al-Assad, the costly economic embargoes against Iran, and the U.S.-backed coup that ousted Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych last February.This is also a context in which news from Latin America needs to be evaluated, especially in Venezuela and Argentina. The Obama Administration has been way too enthusiastic about "regime change" plays and overconfident in their ability to achieve constructive results.
All these targeted governments were first ostracized by the neocons and the major U.S. news organizations, such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, which have become what amounts to neocon mouthpieces. Whenever the neocons decide that it’s time for another “regime change,” the mainstream U.S. media enlists in the propaganda wars.