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Henry Kissinger:assessment of his impact on international relations

The former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger will celebrate his 100th birthday this month .An assessment of his impact on international relations would always be a challenge if not controversial .His admirers would view him as the greatest statesman alive ,while his detractors may regard him as one associated with serious war crimes or even worse, crimes against humanity.
Born a German Jew in Fuerth ,Bavaria ,on May 27th 1923 ,he was fortunate to have highly educated parents ,and his childhood was nurtured in an environment of books ,culture and music .With the advent of Hitler and the Nazis in early 1933 ,things changed drastically for the Kissingers ,as it did for millions of other German Jews, and following the promulgation of the racist Nuremberg Laws in 1935 his father would lose his teacher's job. Luckily ,his father chose to leave Germany with his family in 1938 in the nick of time. They were doubly fortunate in that the family did not linger on in any neighbouring European country and migrated straight for the US via London. Henry ,by now in his teens had seen enough of Nazi segregation in that he had experienced beatings and ostracisation in his student circles.Thus ,with his arrival in the US and settlement of the family in New York in the midst of fellow German-Jewish immigrants ,Henry would begin life as an American .Being already endowed with an academic bent of mind ,he excelled in his studies .During the day he worked in a factory ,and attended school by night .As for the traumatic events he witnessed during his childhood in his native country ,and whether these weighed on his mind in the conditioning of his thought and behaviour later  in public life ,he seemingly betrayed no sign.
Kissinger served as an intelligence officer in the US Army during 1943-47 ,and on return ,benefitting from the GI Bill ,enrolled in Harvard College and acquired a BA in 1950 ,a MA in 1952 ,and a PhD from Harvard University later .His dissertation which was published in 1957  bore the title -"A World Restored : Metternich ,Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace 1812-22". That Kissinger should choose a topic going back more than 130 years ,at a time when the Cold War of the 20th century had begun ,intrigued many of his academic contemporaries .Kissinger drew out the contrasting world views (essentially European) of two famous diplomats of the post - Napoleonic era viz Castlereagh the then British Foreign Secretary ,and Metternich the Austrian Chancellor ,as articulated at the Congress of Vienna .He rightly brought out Castlereagh's espousal of Britain's traditional preference for a balance of power in the Continent ,as against Mettetnich's interest in legitimacy as manifest in survival of monarchical systems ,which were seemingly acceptable to their subject people at the time .In short ,a conclave of monarchies at peace .
It has been argued that this consensus produced nearly a century of peace in Europe after 1815 - with some exceptions like the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.The question is whether Kissinger drew on his thesis in his own making of foreign policy in the 1970s ?Here ,it would be pertinent to mention that his period of active association with the US govt was between Jan'69 and Jan'77 ,spanning the Nixon and Gerald Ford Administrations  ,when he would serve initially as National Security Adviser (NSA) ,then as both NSA and Secretary of State concurrently ,and finally as Secretary of State alone ,till he demitted office in Jan'77  following the departure of Ford .This period would also see him become the first naturalised American ever to become Secretary of State .On the question of lessons drawn from his thesis ,it would seem that he did endeavour like Castlereagh and Metternich did ,to maintain stability and order in the international stage .His 'triangular diplomacy' involving  the Soviet Union and China (PRC) together with the US following his China initiative of 1971,and pursuit of detente with the Soviet Union  has been viewed in this context .
Among his diplomatic exploits ,his successful China initiative should certainly rank as his greatest triumph .As is well known ,the US chose not to recognise Communist China after Mao tse tung's takeover of the mainland in 1949 and consequent ouster of Chiang Kai shek and his nationalists to Formosa ( now Taiwan), and preferred to maintain the fiction that Chiang's regime continued to represent all Chinese for over twenty years.This policy  had its origins in Chiang's Kuo-min-tang nationalists being one of the five founding permanent members of the UN Security Council .It also had  it's background in the Harry Truman initiated Cold War of the later 1940s ,followed by the John Foster Dullesian foreign policy of the 1950s( characterised by its pathological hatred for the communist world ).However , in 1969 the Nixon-Kissinger team felt the pressing need for an opening to the now nuclear China ( PRC),and were uncomfortable with the limited bilateral contact afforded by conversations between the US and Chinese Ambassadors in Warsaw,Poland .The ideological differences between the Soviet and Chinese Communist  parties had been simmering through the 1950s and '60s ,with Krushchev's criticism of the late Joseph Stalin in 1955 triggering the process .However serious territorial disputes over the 4,500 mile long frontier eclipsed the ideological divide ,and huge clashes between the two Armies erupted along the Amur-Ussuri river frontier in 1969 .Quick to spot the opportunity ,Kissinger with Nixon 's support  sought a visit to Peking to meet Chairman Mao  and the Chinese PM Chou Enlai . 
An understanding with China ,Kissinger correctly reasoned ,would tilt the strategic balance with the Soviets ,and make the latter more amenable to an understanding towards 'detente' and in managing crises in other parts of the world .In his opening to China ,the US received great support and help from President Yahya Khan's Pakistan ,given the close relations the latter enjoyed with Peking .Thus ,when Kissinger undertook his secret flight to Peking in July '71 ,he did so from Peshawar ,throwing international media off his trail ,through the subterfuge of " falling ill" , and recuperating in Muree hill station .Kissinger's successful parleys with Mao and Chou ,led to Nixon's own pathbreaking visit to Peking in Feb'72  to meet the Chinese duo.This would pave the way to subsequent establishment of diplomatic relations ,and in later years, the downgradation of American relations with Chiang's Formosa (Taiwan) ,and replacement of Nationalist China by PRC as a permanent  member of the UN Security Council .This cloak-and-dagger initiative must surely rank as Kissinger's  greatest contribution to his country ,as in subsequent summit meetings that Nixon would have with Soviet leaders Brezhnev ,Kosygin and Andrei Gromyko ,he certainly had negotiating strength on his side.
It is necessary that the Nixon- Kissinger duo's handling of the developments in erstwhile East Pakistan following the brutal Pak Army crackdown on the student agitators in Dacca University in March'71 ,and leading upto the war of liberation in Dec'71 ,be discussed immediately after Kissinger's China initiative ,given the overlap between the two events .It is well known that the Pak army atrocities led to a genocide involving the forcible displacement of no less than 10 million refugees ,all East Pak citizens and their influx into India .It is also well known that with the then Awami League chief Sheikh Mujib having won a majority in the Yahya Khan conducted election to the National Assembly ,it was feared by the West Pak ruling classes that he was a threat not only to their hegemony ,but to the unity of Pakistan itself .This resulted in his arrest and transfer to West Pak followed by a sham trial ,conviction and award of a death sentence .These developments ,and in particular ,the immense human suffering were treated with callous indifference by the Nixon-Kissinger team ,as they were far more concerned with the success of Kissinger's China breakthrough ,in which Pakistan's " go-between " role was critical .Nothing was to be allowed to upset the Pak connection in Kissinger's grandiose vision of a new Great Game .Without getting into unnecessary detail ,it would suffice to say that as soon as Nixon announced in a nationally televised address on July 17th '71 that a week earlier Kissinger had visited Peking and conferred with Mao and Chou ,PM Mrs Indira Gandhi saw no reason to hesitate in securing India's position ( should war break out with Pakistan) ,against both Chinese and American machinations by hastening to sign an Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace and Friendship on Aug 9th 1971.
This infuriated the US govt and Nixon, already renowned for his pathological hatred for Indians generally ,and Mrs Indira Gandhi in particular ,gave vent to his feelings in internal conversations with extremely forceful expressions and gender biased statements .Kissinger who wrote about this in his memoirs - "The White House Years "- was economical with the truth about his own reactions about Indians and Mrs Gandhi ( which were also on tape) which seemed to make Nixon almost decent in comparison !Serious attempts by the US to pressurise India into committing against attacking Pakistan in the East followed ,without addressing the fundamental cause ,which was subversion of the elections by the Yahya regime and the incarceration of Sheikh Mujib .This included an attempt to bring in the UN which was stoutly resisted by India .The visit of the then UN High Commissioner of Refugeees Sadruddin Agha to the refugee camps ,followed by a mischievous statement by him falsely minimising the gravity of the situation ,were part of this US orchestrated scheme of things .
Further ,on Aug 25th '71,Kissinger had in a meeting with LK Jha ,Indian Ambassador to the US ,been ambiguous  about American support in the event of a Chinese attack on India in the middle of an Indo-Pak war .Given this adverse sequence of events ,it was not at all surprising that the early November '71 meeting Mrs Indira Gandhi had with Nixon was a diplomatic disaster ,and a dialogue of the deaf .Understandably this led to a stiffening of Indian distrust of US intentions .The 13 day Indo-Pak war and it's outcome is well known.The dangerous US act of sending a 7th fleet squadron into the Bay of Bengal to intimidate India was unsuccessful .UN resolutions hostile to our security interests inspired by the US were resisted ,and an  adverse resolution supported in the UN Security Council by the US was vetoed by the Soviet Union .With the entire Pak army contingent in East Pakistan surrendering to the Indian armed forces and a new nation of Bangladesh being formed ,US policy in the subcontinent was an unmitigated disaster for both Kissinger and his mentor.
In fairness to the Nixon-Kissinger team which assumed office in Jan '69,they did not start the Vietnam war .Actually US intervention took place 15 years earlier ,shortly after the Geneva Accord of July 1954 ,temporarily partitioning VietNam along the 17th parallel .Two months earlier ,the French colonists had been decisively defeated at Dien Bien Phu by the Viet Minh ( the then name of the communist forces of North Vietnam )under Ho chi Minh and Gen Giap .Between 1954 and 1964 - spanning the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations -the US mission was small and confined to helping S. Vietnam as an anti communist bastion ,south of the 17th parallel .In Aug 1964 a relatively minor incident concerning the US destroyer USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin ,was used by President Johnson (LBJ) to sharply escalate US involvement by bombing the North Vietnamese cities of Hanoi and Haiphong.Within the space of two years, the US presence was increased from just 16,000 in 1964 to 5,50,000 .The war escalation based on falsification of the magnitude of the Maddox incident would ultimately cost North Vietnam and it's southern affiliates 2 million civilian deaths ,and 1.1 million combatant deaths .As for the US ,the total combatant deaths would be 58,220 and 1,50,000 wounded - over 20,000 of these ,permanently disabled .Interestingly ,Nixon who came to power  in Jan'69  on the campaign promise of "peace with honour",had given the impression that American troops would be brought back by Christmas of '69.As it turned out ,the war would be prolonged under the stewardship of Nixon and Kissinger for five more Christmases ,and cost the Americans 21,000 more deaths( included in the figure of 58,220) and many more  wounded .In the interregnum ,the Nixon-Kissinger team would widen the conflict into Laos and Cambodia on the grounds that the so-called Ho Chi Minh trail passing through the two countries parallel to the Vietnamese border was being extensively used by North Vietnam to infiltrate men and material into South Vietnam to sustain their war effort .
The savage bombing of the trail by B-52 bombers based in Guam ,to add to the pounding of North and South Vietnam by US carrier based bombers only resulted in horrendous casualties .Even before LBJ demitted office ,his adm had initiated peace talks in Paris with the North Vietnamese in mid-'68.While the US delegation was headed by veteran diplomat Averell Harriman ,the North Vietnamese delegation was initially headed by the suave diplomat Xuan Thuy - later to be replaced by North Vietnamese politburo member Le Duc Tho .The US vision of " peace with honour" as articulated by Kissinger was to keep the North Vietnamese out of South Vietnam ,gradually 'Vietnamise ' the conflict in South Vietnam by suitably equipping them,and facilitating a US pullout .Here ,the US believed in enforcing the theory of linkage on the Soviets by preventing them from aiding North Vietnam ,and offering in return ,the sop of progress in 'detente' including in arms limitation talks .Contrary to claims in his subsequent writings ,Kissinger actively supported the linkage concept . On another plane Kissinger began to actively participate in the Paris talks and meeting Le Duc Tho - keeping both Secretary of State William Rogers and the head of the US delegation to the Paris talks ,entirely in the dark about his  parallel negotiations 
In late 1973 ,he persuaded Nixon to sack Rogers from the post of Secretary of State ,and had himself appointed in his place ,thus holding both the posts of Secretary of State and NSA simultaneously .Earlier that year ,a peace accord would be signed in Paris, and very controversially ,Kissinger would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with Le Duc Tho - which Kissinger would accept ,but Tho would decline on the ground that the Americans were violating the peace accord.The fact was that the Americans would delay their final departure by nearly two years till April 1975 in their futile quest for an anti-communist process of Vietnamisation ,after which the North Vietnamese would takeover the whole of Vietnam .What Kissinger achieved was certainly not " peace with honour" but a systematic devastation of three countries viz Vietnam ,Laos and Cambodia ,with enormous human losses .It was the spectacular failure of Kissinger to recognise that though they were communist ,the North Vietnamese were fundamentally nationalist, who sought unification of their country ,having historically fought against the Chinese ,the Japanese ,the French and now ,the Americans .
Kissinger's handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict of Oct'73 ,better known as the Yom Kippur War was pathbreaking in that it significantly advanced US interests in the Middle East .It maybe recalled that following the Six Day war of June'67 in which the Israelis had decisively defeated the combined forces of Gamal Nasser's Egypt ,Hafez Assad's Syria and King Hussein's Jordan ,they held the whole of Sinai upto the Suez Canal ,the Syrian Golan Heights ,and the West Bank of the Jordan including the previously Jordanian held half of Jerusalem .After the death of a heartbroken Nasser in Oct'70 ,his successor Anwar Sadat wrestled with problems of a deteriorating economy on the one hand ,and a restive and demoralised nation on the other .In short ,Sadat seemingly had only war as an option ,to redeem Egyptian prestige and recovery of lost territory .Further ,it should be mentioned that his relations with the Soviet Union ,which had blossomed in Nasser's time ,had begun to sour .In 1972 ,Sadat had demanded the withdrawal of thousands of Soviet advisers from his country .Also ,when Sadat expressed a desire to recover Sinai through force of arms ,the Soviets had been extremely discouraging ,even though they had restored Egyptian military equipment losses incurred during the Six Day War .They had predicted another Egyptian defeat ,and were also not keen to upset progress towards 'detente' with the staunchly pro- Israeli Americans .Nevertheless ,Sadat began the Yom Kippur War - so named after the Jewish holy day - on Oct 6th 1973 ,in concert with the Syrians ,simultaneously striking the Israelis in Sinai and Golan respectively ,catching the normally very efficient Israeli intelligence and the US CIA completely by surprise .Following a ding dong battle lasting three weeks ,the Israelis had gradually gained the upper hand ,after initially suffering serious reverses .This is when a UN sponsored ceasefire took effect .
Spotting a golden opportunity Kissinger would step in and seize the initiative for launching what came to be famously known as " shuttle diplomacy "ie his frequent flights  ,to and fro ,between Cairo and Damascus on the one hand ,and to Tel Aviv on the other ,to confabulate with the three belligerents .This initiative coincided with Sadat's disenchantment with the Soviets ,and a sharp reduction in their influence in Egypt ,providing Kissinger with the  'raison d' etre' to intervene ,assured as he was of a tilt in the balance of influence in the region .He had three broad objectives viz to mollify the oil producing Arab States which had enforced an oil embargo in sympathy with the Arab States that had fought Israel ,and now demanded the latter's withdrawal from the Arab lands seized in 1967; to wean Egypt ,the most populous and powerful among the Arab States away from Soviet influence ;and finally to persuade Egypt to move away from a posture of unrelenting hostility towards Israel ,and come to a permanent peace with the latter .Kissinger would enjoy an unhindered mandate to do what he wanted ,thanks to Nixon's increasing preoccupation with his growing problems concerning Watergate.
Without going into the painstaking and protracted negotiations he presided over ,Kissinger would emerge successful in meeting all three objectives . The Israelis would be persuaded to withdraw from Sinai and a portion of the Golan Heights ,under UN supervision ,and though Kissinger would demit office in Jan'77 ,these peace initiatives would pave the way for Sadat's historic visit to Tel Aviv later that year ,and in 1978 to Camp David meetings with Israeli PM Menachem Begin with President Carter playing host.In later years ,Kissinger would describe his initiative as incremental and within the realms of the possible .Following the ouster of the Soviets ,the US enjoyed unbridled influence in the Middle East .A lasting solution to the festering Palestinian issue was never their intention .Viewed purely from the point of furthering US strategic goals in the region ,Kissinger was remarkably successful.
The Nixon-Kissinger intervention in Chile resulting in the military coup of Sept'73 and suicide of President Salvadore Allende is the most blatant  among US manipulations abroad ,which led to a 17 year long murderous rule by Gen Augusto Pinochet .In this case ,even before leftist President Allende's democratic election in Dec'70 ,both Nixon and Kissinger were deeply involved in efforts to prevent his electoral success .However ,on failing to do so ,they spared no effort to ensure that Allende would be unable to govern effectively .Published US NSC documents of the period testify to this .A policy of denying Allende's govt loans from international agencies ,to create difficulties in the sale of Chile's most important export viz  copper ,and to discourage other Latin American govts from cooperating in many common endeavours ,was unleashed .Allende's leftist govt was overthrown in Sept'73'by a junta headed by Gen Pinochet .While smoking gun evidence that US agencies were involved in the actual overthrow  may not be available ,it is an incontrovertible fact that the US govt generally  ,and Kissinger in particular ,were to be the staunchest supporters of the Pinochet led junta which would rule with an iron fist till 1990 .It was a junta which specialised in torture and disappearance of innumerable political opponents .
It went so far as to airlift many of them over the remote South Pacific and push them into the ocean .Such brutal furtherance of US policy had happened earlier in Latin America ,when the democratically elected President Arbenz of Guatemala was thrown through CIA intervention in 1954 during the Eisenhower period , just to protect the interest of an American fruit company.  Then , in Brazil in 1964, the democratically elected President Goulart was overthrown during the LBJ Administration ,but never before in favour of a regime as brutal as Pinochet's in Chile .Kissinger's direct complicity in this cannot be overemphasized.
Henry Kissinger has the disadvantage of outliving all the national and international contemporaries he had interacted with in his heyday .As a consequence ,his career of public service is perhaps subject to a more stringent and harsher scrutiny than would otherwise have been the case .A frequently levelled criticism is that of the man being hesitant ,if not totally indifferent in his commitment to democratic principles .Could he have drawn deeply adverse conclusions on the failure of the Weimar democracy in Germany ,not merely to protect Jews and other targetted minorities ,but in stemming Nazism itself ? Did he perceive similar shortcomings in other European democracies of the time ? His subsequent conduct  showed a marked preference for authoritarian regimes like those of Pakistan over the credentials of democratic India .This was also seen in his persistence with  the South Vietnamese dictatorship for six long years .Despite having experienced discrimination first hand in Nazi Germany ,he showed no concern whatsoever for the plight of black South Africans under the Apartheid regime ,or for the incarcerated leader Nelson Mandela .His responsibility for the savage bombing ,not only of North Vietnam but also of Cambodia and Laos ,seen together with the assumption of power by Pinochet's brutal regime which he catalysed ,seem to make him an eminent candidate for a war crimes investigation .Even his acclaimed " shuttle diplomacy " in the Middle East did not  resolve the critical Palestinian question ,without which there could be no abiding peace for Israel ,which he professed to empathise with.
Kissinger could legitimately claim to have made contributions towards 'detente' with the Soviet Union through the signing of the SALT I agreement in Moscow in May '72 and in laying the foundations of SALTII which would be signed much later in 1979 after Kissinger's departure .In the ultimate analysis ,despite his scholastic brilliance and thorough understanding of various philosophies ,histories and cultures ,Kissinger failed to evolve any policies which would suggest an idealistic and sympathetic approach towards various countries on different continents .Instead ,he was constrained by an anti Communistic fixation in his mind ,acquired possibly  during his undergraduate days in Harvard which coincided with the beginning of the Cold War .It seemed the patriotic thing to do for an ambitious German-Jewish immigrant who had escaped the Nazi death camps in Germany in 1938 ,and then had to cope with anti-Semitism in the US .
(Analysis done by Ramesh Narayanaswami,  a retd IAS officer)

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