2002 September 12 Thursday
Why is Henry Kissinger interpreted in so many ways?

From the UK Spectator comes a humorous analysis by Frank Johnson of the mind and opinions and intent of Henry Kissinger:

The incident emphasises again the West’s difficulty in knowing what to do about Dr Kissinger. There is little doubt that he possesses opinions. The question, as it has always been, is whether he is prepared to use them. True, he seems to have some sort of delivery system. Certainly, he was able to hit the front page of the New York Times with an opinion. The issue: what was it? Pro-war or anti-war? This will not be known for sure until he opens his article to unrestricted UN inspectors. Even then, we may not to be sure. Inspectors who favour war will say that the article favours it, and vice versa.

Many of us do not mind admitting that we do not know how to deal with this troublesome figure. It is all very well to say that his opinions pose no direct threat to the United States. The fact remains that they can reach Europe. There, they could cause untold damage. But that depends on whether he makes clear what his opinions are.

This is inspired by an opinion piece that Dr. Kissinger wrote in the Washington Post. People with a variety of positions in the Iraq debate found things in it that they felt confirmed their positions (the NY Times misrepresented Kissinger's views on its front page). Lots of people jumped in to interpret Kissinger's words and motive. But its hard to see what all the fuss is about. Kissinger makes his views very clear on the key issue of whether deterrence and retaliation are sufficient to deal with attacks commited by nation-states and terrorist groups in this era. First, Kissinger establishes the historical origins of the existing international law:

The new approach is revolu­tionary. Regime change as a goal for military intervention challenges the international system established by the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which after the carnage of the religious wars, established the principle of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other states. And the notion of justified preemption runs counter to modern interna­tional law, which sanctions the use of force in self-defense only against actual, not potential, threats.

Then he proceeds to explain why the current international law rules about just war have been obsolesced by a combination of technological advances and the rise of transnational groups:

The international regimen follo­wing the Treaty of Westphalia was based on the concept of an imper­meable nation-state and a limited military technology which gene­rally permitted a nation to run the risk of awaiting an unambiguous challenge.

But the terrorist threat transcends the nation-state; it derives in large part from the transnational groups that, if they acquire weapons of mass destruction, could inflict catastrophic, even irretrievable, damage. That threat is compounded when these weapons are being built in direct violation of UN resolu­tions by a ruthless autocrat who sought to annex one of his neigh­bors and attacked another, with a demonstrated record of hostility toward America and the existing international system. The case is all the stronger because Saddam expelled UN inspectors installed as part of the settlement of the Gulf War and has used these weapons both against his own population and against a foreign adversary.

This is why policies that deterred the Soviet Union for 50 years are unlikely to work against Iraq’s capacity to cooperate with terrorist groups.

The most important thing to notice is that Kissinger does not take the position that we should be restrained by the international law arguments. He argues that preemption is such a necessary strategy that in certain instances the need to pursue a strategy of preemption is absolute:

The imminence of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the huge dangers it involves, the rejection of a viable inspection system, the demons­trated hostility of Saddam combine to produce an imperative for preemptive action.

Note that he uses the word imperative to describe the need for preemptive action. This is key. The first definition of imperative from the Random House Dictionary Of The English Language:

absolutely necessary or required; unavoidable: It is imperative that we leave.

Now, Kissinger inserts qualifiers (read the full article) about how the US should conduct its diplomacy and how it might be able to eliminate the threat from Iraq without an invasion. He is a diplomat after all and cares about such things. But the most important issue in this debate isn't about which diplomatic tactics may be wisest in the run-up to an attack on the Iraqi regime. The most important issue is whether technological advances, by making the creation of weapons of mass destruction too easy, are helping to create conditions in which preemption is an imperative strategy. On this most crucial question it is gratifying that Kissinger is willing to state publically that preemption is necessary.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 September 12 12:47 PM  US Foreign Preemption, Deterrence, Containment


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