April 2002 Bulletin

Kissinger says fighting terrorism immediate foreign policy problem

In summer 2001, talk of foreign policy generally revolved around issues like global warming, the ballistic missle defense treaty and globalized economics. Everything changed September 11, and new dangers have evolved that are "absolutely unprecedented" in world history. Speaking before a standing room only crowd at the Annual Meeting, 2002 Presidential Guest Speaker Henry Kissinger, PhD addressed foreign policy issues now on everybody’s mind. The new terrorist threat he said, "creates a sense of insecurity and danger, and changes our way of life."

Breaking the link between governments, terrorist organizations

Secretary of State under presidents Nixon and Ford and a former National Security Advisor, Kissinger said the U.S. and other opponents to terrorism face an immediate problem. "It is true that terrorist cells exist all over the world and many remain dormant for many years or even a decade before they do something. It is also true these cells are organized and directed from central locations," he said. "The fundamental problem is to break the link between governments and terrorist organizations."

Many terrorist cells have hidden in European countries, such as Germany, where permissive laws prevented adequate exchange of information about their activities. On the other extreme, Taliban rulers in Afghanistan actively encouraged terrorist cells and became their headquarters. Kissinger said in the past, the United States also tolerated terrorist cells on the theory that the issue was criminal, not political.

Today terrorist cells may be headquartered in Syria, the Phillipines and Indonesia, Kissinger said. "What the U.S. is trying to do is break the link." Destroying Taliban rule is the first step, but "won’t be enough." The U.S. must create a situation in which governments understand that it is better not to tolerate terrorism.

The specter of biologial and chemical warfare and weapons of mass destruction being used by terrorists is another problem. In the past, U.S. foreign policy was to not interfere in what another country does domestically. But what about Iraq using such weapons against it’s own people and neighbors? Kissinger asked, "Can you live in a world where weapons being developed are capable of exterminating hundreds of thousands of people, and wait until they use them? President Bush deserves credit for raising the issue. An international system is needed so it doesn’t look like the U.S. is just throwing its weight around."

Conditions changing in Russia, China

Foreign policy dialogue with Europe is harder now than 25 years ago, Kissinger said. Today there is a challenge to build new relationships with European countries. "We must work out new forms of cooperation with democracies," he said.

Russia, which used to be the U.S.’s overwhelming enemy, "now feels threatened by Islamic fundamentalists," Kissinger noted. In this decade, U.S. foreign policy should emphasize cooperation with Russia when possible.

China, a 5,000 year-old nation of 1.5 billion people, has "undergone an unbelievable domestic revolution." If it continues, Kissinger said, "in 50 years it will produce a country of extraordinary strength." He predicted that China will become more powerful, and therefore potentially dangerous. "The danger in China is not communism, but nationalism." The U.S. must work out a system of dealing with China that does not encourage nationalism, Kissinger said, and prevent it from becoming dominant.

Unity and turmoil

Kissinger recalled entering government in the middle of the Vietnam War, when U.S. opinion was very divided. Quite the contrary, the current war on terrorism has produced "a sense of unity unseen since World War II," he observed, and "we have an extraordinary opportunity to deal with a range of problems." Kissinger said he agrees with the Bush Administration’s major directions.

Summarizing his talk on foreign policy, he paraphrased a Chinese proverb: "When there is turmoil under the heavens, little problems are dealt with as big problems; and big problems are not dealt with at all. When there is order under the heavens, big problems are reduced to little problems, and little problems won’t obsess us at all.

"We have the unusual opportunity to identify the big problems and reduce them to smaller problems," Kissinger said. "We need to take the lead, or no other country can."

Kissinger’s orthopaedic experience

On a personal note, Kissinger related his gratitude to orthopaedic surgeons who were there to help when he and his family needed urgent care. Kissinger’s mother had surgery on both hips at Massachusetts General, and his wife, Nancy, received prompt care when she broke her shoulder the night before Thanksgiving. Kissinger said an orthopaedic surgeon also saved his own life by recognizing that his complaints about shoulder pain were actually signs of a cardiac problem.

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