A week ago Monday Henry Kissinger addressed a dinner in London sponsored by The Atlantic Bridge, an organization dedicated to the U.S.-U.K. special relationship in global affairs. He delivered an unmistakable warning about the direction of American foreign policy.
Introducing Kissinger were Dr. Liam Fox (all but certainly the UK’s secretary of defense following the next election) and Senator John Kyl (R., AZ). Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made a now-infrequent public appearance to present Kissinger with an award named after her. The audience included a British and American political and journalistic luminaries, the kinds of people you would expect at such an affair.
Here are my notes on what the former Secretary of State had to say:
- Around the world the fundamental vehicle for organizing global affairs, the national state, is undergoing massive changes.
- In Europe it is on decline as countries subordinate themselves to the European Union. The EU is no substitute for the nation state.In the Middle East countries that pass for nation states are disintegrating, coming apart under the challenge of a universalist ideology that rejects their legitimacy.
- In Asia new states are emerging as global players, creating new global challenges.
- On its own the U.S. cannot create a new order from this changing environment.
- Not only is the U.S.-U.K. special relationship still valid but essential in the emerging environment.
- Regarding the major global security decision before the two countries today, Kissinger said that troop levels in Afghanistan needed to reflect the conditions on the ground and what is at stake.
- We must act before we are confronted with far greater challenges.
- We must not allow Pakistan to become a failed state.
- If Pakistan should become a failed state, the crisis will quickly spread to India, with its large Muslim population and history of conflicts among groups.
- As prime minister, Kissinger added, Margaret Thatcher knew our countries should stand together.
During the question period that followed his remarks, Kissinger addressed the future of China:
- People often compare, he said, China today and Germany before the First World War.
- World War One was brought on by a quarter century of clumsy, tactless German diplomacy.
- He seemed to believe that Chinese diplomacy was more tempered and skillful than that of late 19th,early 20th century Germany.
- Still, he noted, in the China-U.S. relationship, the diplomatic DNA of the two sides could lead to conflict, China with its desire to create an Asian block, the U.S. with its often intemperate sense of missionary purpose.
- In the 19th Century, the Congress of Vienna created a balance among the major powers that lasted nearly a century.
- But Europe’s 19th century peace – broken only by the relatively limited Crimean War and the Franco-Prussian War – covered a comparatively small geographic area.
- It is essential for the U.S. and Europe to work together in this emerging world.
- Implicit was that the task of producing a stable global order in the decades ahead could prove more challenging than the task the diplomats who met in post-Napoleonic Vienna faced.
Unspoken also, but also implicit in the Secretary’s remarks regarding Afghanistan, was concern about the lack of resolve and decisiveness in American security policy under the current administration. Do the president and his advisors understand the character of America’s adversaries – or the essential role in our global stance played by our friends? Do they know who are our friends are?
Over the following week, I interviewed a number of past and in all likelihood future British government officials as well as journalists and intellectuals. Most but not all were explicitly part of or close to the Conservative Party apparatus. Here is what I heard:
- A Tory takeover following the next election is regarded as a certainty within the political class in London.
- One American journalist told me a hung Parliament was possible, as did a prominent think tank analyst. But among those actively preparing for the next election, there was no dissent. The Conservatives are all but in.
- All felt they would be assuming governance of a country in more serious financial straits than the U.S. – higher taxes, deeper debt compared to their GDP, more profligate spending.
- In global affairs, the time our president has been taking to decide on Afghanistan was widely seen as a sign of indecision and lack of stomach for the fight.