The Brief — Vintage diplomacy –

I envy the three journalists from The Economist who spent eight hours over two days talking to Henry Kissinger, publishing a fascinating transcript of more than 16,000 words last week. The transcript mentions Russia 55 times, China 177 times, and Europe 50 times.

On Saturday (27 May), the legendary Germany-born US diplomat – still a controversial figure and viewed with scepticism by many – will turn 100. Questioning him about his relationship with Richard Nixon or Chairman Mao is as fascinating as travelling with a time machine.

Not only that but being able to pick his razor-sharp brain about how to avoid World War III against the background of the current issues, such as Russia’s aggression against Ukraine or US-China tensions, is a unique opportunity.

If there is a vintage style in diplomacy, Kissinger embodies it, even if his opponents blame him for allegedly tolerating or supporting war crimes committed by the West. The originator of “shuttle diplomacy” may be an “old hand”, but his ideas are surprisingly buoyant, and he hasn’t lost his stamina.

I enjoyed reading it also because Kissinger is anything but a pessimist.

He believes that the crisis in Ukraine may be approaching a turning point. “Now that China has entered the negotiation, it will come to a head, I think, by the end of the year,” he said. “We will be talking about negotiating processes and even actual negotiations.”

The former US state secretary is known for thinking out of the box. He advocates the membership of Ukraine in NATO as the best way to protect this country from itself.

He says the current position of the Europeans, who deny Ukraine NATO membership because they think it’s “madly dangerous”, should be overcome.

He explains: “We have now armed Ukraine to the point where it will be the best-armed country with the least strategically experienced leadership in Europe”.

The idea is that it is better to have them in NATO so we can better control them. Better for the West and better for Russia.

“If I talked to Putin, I would tell him that he, too, is safer with Ukraine in NATO”, he says. Which, in itself, may be seen as a forecast that the Russian president will stay in power.

“Putin has to be perceived as a character out of Dostoevsky, not as Hitler”, says Kissinger, who escaped as a child from Nazi Germany in 1938, and who has seen and engaged with dictators responsible for the death of millions of people to name only Mao Zedong.

To re-establish a lasting peace in Europe, Kissinger argues that Russia should not be totally defeated. He also imagines that normal relations with Russia are possible and advisable.

“And after the war, [we can] declare its membership in Europe an important objective. Though it will be impossible—and understandably—to get the Eastern Europeans to agree to something like that easily”, he said.

Kissinger’s masterpiece is perhaps Washington’s rapprochement with communist China in the 1970s, which pulled the rug from under strong relations between China and the USSR.

This resembles ancient history today when US-China relations are at an all-time low while Beijing and Moscow celebrate their “no limits” partnership. What a contrast!

But the Taiwan issue was already present when Washington and Beijing subscribed to the formula that the solution would be sought without use of force, and Washington accepted the one-China policy.

“We can wait 100 years [to solve the Taiwan issue]”, Kisinger said, quoting what Mao told him more than 50 years ago.

Kissinger explains that this policy was overturned when Donald Trump, who, while pursuing a better balance on trade, presented the agreement as being exacted from China.

“That was a turning point. Now, the Biden administration is pursuing a Trumpian foreign policy towards China with liberal rhetoric,” he said.

Biden and Trump appear to be the only politicians against whom he spared no criticism.

“I think Trump and now Biden have driven [animosity] over the top,” Kissinger says.

“I don’t think Biden can supply the inspiration, and […] I’m hoping that Republicans can come up with somebody better,” he says.

But Kissinger doesn’t think that the US and China will go to war.

“Having lived in Nazi Germany, I know that war was inevitable because Hitler needed it. I don’t think the Chinese need it”.

Vintage diplomats have the merit of having avoided the nuclear holocaust during the Cold War. For their successors, work is still outstanding.

Without being asked, Kissinger names the current political figure “quite close” to his views. Surprise-surprise, he is not European – it’s the Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

How about Kissinger’s views of the future security architecture? He mentions India again.

“A former Indian Cabinet Secretary said that the international system should be based on non-permanent alliances geared to the immediate necessities, and foreseeable needs, rather than these huge multilateral structures which then tie you up.”

“I think it’s possible that you can create a world order on the basis of rules that Europe, China, and India could join, and that’s already a good slice of humanity. So if you look at the practicality of it, it can end well—or at least it can end without catastrophe, and we can make progress.”

Happy birthday, Mr. Kissinger!

The Roundup

Talks on Germany’s future electricity market are heating up as all parties await a key analysis from grid operators amid looming threats from Brussels to split up the country’s wholesale market bidding zone.

Defying its own impact assessment, the European Commission refrained from proposing a full ban on sales commissions for financial advice in its Retail Investment Strategy (RIS), proposing instead a limited ban of inducements on advice-free sales and more cost transparency.

At the European Trade Union Confederation’s (ETUC) 50th anniversary Berlin meeting, labour leaders and EU lawmakers pushed for faster implementation of the Minimum Wage Directive and criticised the role of corporate profits in rising prices.

The EU Commission should not accept member states’ demands to reduce the EU budget but rather respond to citizens’ needs, said MEP Siegfried Mureșan, as discussions on the EU budget for 2024 and revising the Union’s long-term budget approach.

Talks on Germany’s future electricity market are heating up as all parties await a key analysis from grid operators amid looming threats from Brussels to split up the country’s wholesale market bidding zone.

Don’t miss this weeks EU Politics Decoded: Europe’s next illiberal democracy.

Look out for…

  • Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers speech at New European Bauhaus Collateral Event of 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia on Friday.
  • Commission Vice-President Vĕra Jourová speaks at ALDE Party Congress in Stockholm.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Alice Taylor]

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