Kissinger for Abolishing Nuclear Weapons
January 5, 2007
I’m not making this up: Henry Kissinger is now in favor of abolishing nuclear weapons.
In a January 4 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Kissinger joins hands with George Shultz, William Perry, and Sam Nunn. “We endorse setting the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and working energetically on the actions required to achieve that goal,” state the Cold Warrior foursome. To reach this goal, they outline a series of measures, ranging from a substantial reduction in arsenals and elimination of short-range nuclear weapons to ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and a halt in the production of fissile material.
The four seem to be haunted by the possibility of nuclear proliferation, and a good part of their motivation seems to be to prevent more nations from going nuclear and to block terrorists from acquiring such weapons. To this end, they propose strict control of uranium and the enrichment process. These are not unreasonable concerns, and if such an approach leads to the eventual disarmament of the established nuclear powers and makes relics of nuclear weapons, then it’ll have a hugely positive impact on our planet.
But it is really odd, at this late hour, for Kissinger to get religion.
I’m not going to go into detail on the awfulness of Kissinger’s past record, both in and out of office, since it’ll be a tedious exercise for all of us. (For those interested, good places to start are Seymour Hersh’s “Price of Power” and Christopher Hitchens’s “The Trial of Henry Kissinger,” later turned into a documentary.) It suffices to say that he didn’t display much evidence of any principles during his years as Secretary of State and National Security Adviser. His attitude toward nuclear weapons betrayed the same cold-blooded approach. He wrote a book in the 1950s, “Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy,” a dry meditation on how nuclear weapons had forced a change in the nature of warfare.
“To Kissinger . . . nuclear arms control is a tool of statecraft, particularly useful in managing the past US-Soviet relationship,” stated Finnish Ambassador Pasi Patokallio at a 1999 disarmament conference in Peru. “Its purpose was limited: to reduce the dangers of surprise attack, accidental war or war by momentum, the kind that caused World War I. This approach always retained the option of modernization of nuclear weapons and took no risks with verification, i.e., relied on so-called national technical means only.”
Within this framework, Kissinger did help negotiate the SALT I and the ABM treaties with the Soviet Union, limiting the number of strategic arms that both sides possessed and prohibiting the deployment of certain types of weapons in space. (The Bush Administration announced its withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in December 2001.)
On the flip side, Kissinger served under a President who was prone to making nuclear threats against countries he didn’t care for. Often, Kissinger went along with his boss. According to declassified documents, Kissinger considered utilizing nuclear weapons during the Vietnam War, including to block a railroad pass to China.
Later when Nixon began to unravel, however, Kissinger served as a restraint on him. There is an incredible exchange between him and Nixon on the possibility of using nuclear weapons to demolish North Vietnam’s dikes:
Nixon: I'd rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry? Kissinger: That, I think, would just be too much.
Nixon: The nuclear bomb, does that bother you? . . . I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christsakes.
Who says that Henry doesn’t have a heart?
Seriously, it is sad that officials take such stances only after leaving office. In doing so, Kissinger is following the example of Robert McNamara, from whom he inherited the Vietnam War. Another official, Max Kampelman of the Reagan Administration, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times last year calling for abolishing nuclear weapons. (Please see an earlier column of mine on McNamara and Kampelman seeing the light.)
Still, Kissinger presents a special case. The master practitioner of ruthless realpolitik has signed on to a radically different agenda.
How many decades will we have to wait before Condoleezza Rice or Robert Gates become nuclear abolitionists, too?
And when will someone convert while in power for once?
That would be something to truly applaud.