NATO’s Aggressive “Push Back” Russia/ China Strategy: Kissinger’s Warnings

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By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
In the last weeks a series of high level diplomatic meetings took place between US- and Russian representatives. On May 21rst there was a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in the context of the “Arctic Council” meeting in Reykjavik. At that occasion both politicians signaled their desire for a stronger “rapprochement” between Washington and Moscow. During a common press conference Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov underlined that Russia was ready to guarantee a “strategy of stability.”  Since both powers are armed with nuclear weapons, according to Lavrov, “we declared our readiness to start the dialogue and look at all factors that influence strategic stability, including nuclear and non- nuclear, offensive and defensive weapons.” The issues which both sides want to discuss include the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Afghanistan and from the Korean Peninsula, the revival of the JCPOA with Iran and a discussion about the situation in the destroyed Afghanistan.
The meeting was a prelude to the summit between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the 16th of June in Geneva – the first meeting of that kind since a long time. High level representatives from the US foreign ministry have stated, even if no breakthroughs are to be expected, the meeting is “a good start for a work concerning relations between both countries during the next weeks, months and years.” As Foreign Secretary of State Blinken underlined, President Biden wants “a calculable, stabile relation with Russia.”  Preceding the summit in Geneva, US President Biden will participate at the G7 meeting (in Cornwall, U.K), the NATO conference and the EU heads of state meeting in Brussels. The burning question at the moment is whether another round of “renewed” diplomatic talks between the US, Russia and China will shape the future, or whether some hard liners in the US and NATO will get the upper hand by demanding a much tougher line against Russia and China.
Need for a corrective of the NATO “Russia Push-Back” strategy
At various  international (online) seminars organized for example by the “German Atlantic Society” (DAG) in the recent weeks,  especially one which discussed the future relation of NATO with Russia, a harsh line and hostile attitude was advocated by some NATO representatives, like Stefanie Babst (Senior Associate Fellow, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy of NATO for a short time), who peddled the line  that “NATO needs to be newly restructured” and be prepared for a future war with Russia, including the need for strengthening its nuclear forces. One should add to this an essay that got written by German Professor Hannes Adomeit (senior research associate at the German Institute for International Politics and Security and research fellow of Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies), who in the May issue of the “US George C.Marshall European Center for Security Studies,” published an article: “Can and will Germany be a viable partner in a U.S. ‘Pushback’ Strategy towards Russia?” The essay was based on the line that Germany should more actively cooperate in the US strategy that “pushes back and contains Russia’s malign influence.”
Adomeit focused his particular attention on those German politicians which are looked at as “Russland- Versteher” such as NRW Minister-President and Chancellor Candidate of the CDU/CSU Armin Laschet. According to Adomeit he is seen as too soft towards Russia, by opposing “moral rigidity” vis-a-vis Moscow, in line with several minister-presidents from East Germany. In his essay Adomeit applauded the German Greenies who may likely be a “major constituent part of the (future) coalition government” who have “consistently criticized the Putin system and have been staunch advocates of actions, also stopping Nord Stream 2 for ‘geostrategic reasons’.” But he sees the danger that the Party “fails to point to the Kremlin’s military modernization effort and doubts their demand for the elaboration of a ‘new Strategic posture of NATO and a common threat assessment’ of the alliance.” Hence Adomeit concluded, that it may well be that the 26the German elections in September may not produce the desired affect and that there is a “negative bearing on the prospects of Germany participating in a “push back” against Russian malign behavior.”(!)
“Know the History of the other” – learning lessons from Henry Kissinger
On the background of the above-mentioned unfolding events, it is worthwhile to pay attention to a several hour long international online Seminar that was organized at the occasion of Henry Kissinger’s 98th birthday on May 27th. The event took place in the city of Fürth (Bavaria), where Henry Kissinger was born. It was moderated by Prof. Schlie, who received the “Henry Kissinger Professorship” at Bonn university (2020), by the “Ludwig Erhard Center” in Fürth and by the “Deutsch- Atlantische Gesellschaft”.  The main focus of the Seminar was a dialogue that was held online between Henry Kissinger (New York) and his two friends, Karl Kaiser, former Chairman of the” Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik”, as well as Theo Sommer, former Chief Editor of “Die Zeit”.  A very interesting film produced by TV journalist Evi Kurz featured the Kissinger family in Fürth, the childhood and education of Henry and Walter (who died in May), whose father taught at a secondary School in Fürth until the moment when the Jewish family Kissinger had to flee from the Nazis in 1938, to New York.
Kissinger got portrayed as one of the “most experienced historian and diplomat” of the US, the roots of which were laid in his youth, where Kissinger was reading works from Friedrich Schiller, J. W. Goethe and F. Dostojewski, as he told in an interview with film producer Evi Kurz.   After the Second World War, during which he served on the side of the American army, Henry Kissinger, being a very promising scholar at Harvard – and promoted by his mentor Fritz Kraemer-, became one of the key architects of the German / American transatlantic relationship. The former chairman of the DGAP, Karl Kaiser, spoke about the tremendous role which Kissinger played in respect to Willy Brandt’s “Ostpolitik.” Egon Bahr, the key advisor to Willy Brandt in the seventies, functioned as the main “backchannel” to Henry Kissinger, who after having served as National Security Advisor (1969), became Secretary for Foreign Affairs under US President Richard Nixon in 1973. Without Brandt’s Ostpolitik, Kaiser stated, there would have never been the rapprochement between East and West, which much later led to German reunification under Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
It was reported that Kissinger personally got to know all German Chancellors up to this day. That he had for example great admiration for the first German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, as Kissinger stated in the dialogue, since “Adenauer had the courage to prepare the ground for Germany’s reconstruction, knowing that the partition of Germany would last for a long time. On this basis what he did was a tremendous achievement.” He also emphasized his close friendship with former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt (SPD) who despite “disagreements often tried to lecture me.” But he also had a very good memory about CDU Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who, even if he had a different personality, as Kissinger stated, “contributed in a different way to the evolution of Germany.”
The consequences of new technologies
Some key remarks were made by Kissinger during the discussion, which were clearly reflecting his concern about the “future world order” as well as the inherent dangers represented by Artificial Intelligence in the Military domain: “We are now in a moment where the political structure of the world changes substantially, uniquely,” Kissinger stated.  “The global technology is changing – i.e. we are in a process which is only comparable to the beginning of the Enlightenment – where the whole concept changes.”  Trying to answer where he saw “future challenges”, Kissinger answered that “it is the first time in human history that the international system is truly global. During the Pandemic we saw this grand strategy. We were thinking about Europe and other countries. Not only are countries connected –technology imposes a totally different perception than before. The destruction of modern technology is such that many things have to be altered (either by experience or by human insight.) “We have to avoid a catastrophe and have human insight,” he warned. He mentioned that he was involved in the writing of a book about Artificial Intelligence. “The new technologies which we know can produce consequences – and we don’t know why they are this way. We need a new definition of human thinking. We should work together about what this means. Our philosophy has been based on this basis of enlightenment.”  According to Kissinger the “next German Chancellor and American President and Intelligentsia must develop a concept that enables us to deal with the new issue. What we need is a “new way of thinking.”
Being asked by Theo Sommer hon advising governments how to deal actually with the challenges from China and resurgent Russia, Kissinger answered that the only way out is a reinforced “dialogue” with both countries.  Russia of the Cold War and the period after, this is different, Kissinger stated.  “The Russia of the Cold War was military. Russia is still today a very powerful military force. It has no capacity by its own to dominate the world.  It has to find its way to have relations with Europe.  I have understood that you can’t exclude Russia! Therefore there is a ‘need for dialogue.’  During the Cold War we had the task to stop Russia’s expansion of power and Germany made a big contribution to this. The West made efforts to see whether a pattern could be built for cooperation. He strongly emphasized that he was “happy and approves the meeting between US President Biden and President Putin. Not that great results are likely to emerge but to establish a conversation.”
He further added that in terms of the role Europe could play, “conceptually we and Europe must agree on the world we want to create. It must be on a cooperative basis.” He strongly warned about military confrontation between China and the West- which as he put it “would be worse than in the First World War which involved countries that didn’t know now how to win or how to end the war.”
Concerning the essence of politics, he further stated, that in negotiations it is important, to “fix whatever can be fixed and trust the historic evolution. We must learn that on a global basis. That is what I preach in the US. (…)  “I will work for closer cooperation between US and Germany- not in military terms and between the US and China.” (…) The dialogue between US and China has an inherent complexity. I believe the Chinese have a more affectionate approach than the US and the US should not stigmatize. We in America and you in Germany must work things out. We probably have an idea how to make confrontation lead to the “need of cooperation.” It takes two to do it. That’s our big challenge and I would like to contribute to it.”
Warning about potential future war between the US and China
A further insight which may illuminate the problem that Kissinger reflected about, was given during a zoom conference “World minds”, conducted by Rolf Dobelli. On May 5th the Swiss Daily NZZ reported about the dialogue which had taken place at that conference.  Kissinger warned at that occasion about a conflict with China, which would have no winners- and which like the conflict during First World War would end with the exhaustion of both parties. In the interview Rolf Dobelli asked Kissinger about whether a new Cold War is in the making between USA and China; or is there a danger in the development of Artificial Intelligence? And whether Kissinger expected such enormous rise of China?
Kissinger responded that when Nixon and he decided to open dialogue with China in the 70ies, they did this on the basis of having understood that American foreign policy had been fixated on the Vietnam War which had a very demoralizing effect.  “Therefore President Nixon and I wanted to have a broader perspective for our foreign policy. 2nd – The Chinese signaled that they wanted opening, 3rd – “We thought it important for the world to think foreign policy in a global scale and not in terms of liberation wars. Even if it had been possible to slow down the rise of China, we wanted that it progressed.” Kissinger talked about “two phases” of relationship in US- Chinese relations, which till 2017 were characterized by a “cooperative phase.”  Being asked by Dobelli about a new Cold War between USA and China, he stated that while under Trump tensions grew, he had “the impression that the Biden Administration has understood that a confrontation with China can’t be in interest of both nor of the world. They would produce a conflict without winners.” He however also pointed to the domestic problems which the Biden administration is facing, since the “public opinion looks at China as permanent enemy. It will be difficult for the new administration to fight a way out of conformation and develop a future oriented strategy. The complexity of our relations will demand strong political leadership.”
In a concluding discussion which featured a group of leading German historians discussing about the concept of “History and Politics”, their debate was like a healthy warning for the political elites. German historian Prof. Stefan Fröhlich (university of Erlangen) concluded, that “whoever does not study history should not deal or understand foreign policy. Kissinger always talked about history. The history of the partner, of each country, of each negotiating partner – this all is result of historical conditions. “Successful negotiations come into being when one also knows the interests and history of the other.” He further underlined that historians like George Kennan, Toynbee and Morgenthau who had a strong spiritual influence on Kissinger, stood for “classical realism” and that Kissinger having had experience as politician, corresponded to that kind of “realist school.”  Historian Prof. Michael Stürmer who is an expert on the 19th century history of Germany, emphasized that historians should not give “cooking recipes”, but could point to analogies and similarities. In reference to the Greenie phenomenon in Germany, he stated that the Greenies have a long romantic antecedent. You don’t get automatically 30% trust from so many. There is “that Romantic streak in the German World” – which strikes an “eerie feeling in me”. And he added that the more confusing the world is, “the more longing for charismatic leaders.” During the seminar,  98 year old Henry Kissinger gave  a lot of incentives and food for thought for the political elites which are “fixated “ and must learn that political actions should be based on a sound political  realism and human wisdom, which always goes together with a principle of uncertainty.

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