US statesman and politician Henry Kissinger is celebrating his centennial on Saturday.
Kissinger is the only official in US history to have served as both secretary of state and presidential national security adviser. He is considered to be the patriarch of US diplomacy, guided by his pragmatism in foreign policy matters as he played a key role in shaping Washington's policy in the 1970s on a wide range of issues. Kissinger was one of the fathers of the policy of "d•tente" in relations between the US and the Soviet Union as well as an advocate of dialogue with Communist China, helping lay the groundwork for the establishment of Washington's diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979. In addition, he negotiated the end of the war in Vietnam and preparations for the Paris Peace Accords. As a result, Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 along with Vietnamese diplomat and statesman Le Duc Tho. But Le Duc Tho refused to accept the prestigious award (Kissinger, however, did not come to the awards ceremony and, according to the US media, tried to return the prize). The Vietnam war would end in 1975 (two years after the agreement was concluded). Finally, Kissinger is known for his active efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict by engaging in "shuttle diplomacy."
At the same time, the diplomatic heavyweight is responsible for, among other things, subversive activities against Chile’s President Salvador Allende, supporting the military coup in that country as well as dictator Augusto Pinochet, the expansion of the bombing campaign in North Vietnam, strikes in Cambodia and Laos, and interfering in the internal affairs of Angola. Declassified US archives show that in 1976, he advocated for a military operation against Cuba as a response to Havana's military support for the central government in the Angolan civil war, despite Washington's recognition that there was a threat of direct conflict with Moscow in the event of such US aggression. Some human rights activists have accused Kissinger of committing war crimes.
Kissinger, a frequent visitor to Moscow, has spoken out consistently over the past couple of years in favor of a negotiated solution to the crisis over Ukraine. He warned that a new Cold War would be potentially more dangerous than the first one, and urged the West to keep Russia in the pan-European space.
In a March 2019 interview with TASS First Deputy Director General Mikhail Gusman, Kissinger called Russia a great country with a great history, admitting that he found it difficult to imagine an international order in which Russia would not be among the major actors. Russia must have a say in all of the world's problems, and ultimately it will, Kissinger said at that time.
Nevertheless, he revised some of his own viewpoints relatively recently and called for Ukraine's inclusion in NATO. He argued that "it is better to have Ukraine in NATO, where it cannot make national decisions on territorial claims" and launch military adventures. In the same interview with The Economist, the 56th secretary of state suggested that Russia's 2021 proposals for security guarantees might have been a basis for a dialogue between Moscow and Washington, but were not taken seriously by the US administration. He characterized the US-China standoff as the chief threat to peace and the very existence of humanity today.
The deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, entered into a long-distance polemic with Kissinger after the publication of that interview. He stressed that NATO was already waging a hybrid war with Russia, while "the Ukrainian nationalist regime will not give up its attempts to regain lost territories," which means that Moscow "will have to respond to this with all possible means."
In case of such a scenario, NATO could not rule out the possibility of using Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which enshrines the principle of the alliance's collective defense, Medvedev warned. "Subtle considerations about preventing existential threats do not work in bloody conflicts."
Emigrant, intelligence officer, professor
Henry Kissinger is a naturalized American. He was born on May 27, 1923 in the Bavarian town of Fuerth, Germany, into a middle-class Jewish family (birth name Heinz Alfred Kissinger). His father was a schoolteacher and his mother, a housewife. In 1938, the family moved first to London and then emigrated to the United States (New York).
After high school, Henry Kissinger went to City College in New York, where he studied accounting, but did not complete his studies. In 1943, he was drafted into the army. That same year, he became a US citizen.
Kissinger participated in World War II. In 1943-1946 he served in military counterintelligence (first as a private, then promoted to sergeant). He was a translator from German with units that were fighting in Germany and creating the authorities of occupation. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal. From 1946-1949, he was a captain in the Military Intelligence Reserve.
In 1947, he returned to the United States. In 1952, he got his master's degree, and in 1954, a Phd in political science from Harvard University. After defending his doctoral thesis he started a lecturer’s career at Harvard (formally he was listed as a professor at the University up to 1971). There, he led (as well as in some US think tanks, such as the Council on Foreign Relations) a number of foreign policy and national security research projects.
In 1957, his first book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, was published, in which he suggested abandoning the military and political doctrine of "massive retaliation" in favor of a more flexible strategy of limited use of nuclear weapons. This concept would later form the basis of President John F. Kennedy's "flexible response strategy."
As a security expert, Kissinger worked in government agencies under Presidents Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961), John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) and Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969).
In 1969, he became national security adviser to President Richard Nixon (1969-1974). He held this position from January 1969 to November 1975. Starting in September 1973, he also served as US Secretary of State.
Kissinger remained US foreign policy chief under President Gerald Ford (1974-1977) and stepped down as chief of US diplomacy in January 1977.
As a presidential national security adviser and secretary of state, he played, according to local observers, an unprecedented role in US foreign policy. Under Kissinger, the first Soviet-US agreements on limiting strategic offensive arms and the ABM Treaty (1972), along with the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (1975) were signed. In addition, Kissinger's "shuttle diplomacy" in 1974 produced agreements on the disengagement of troops between Egypt, Syria and Israel. Kissinger's efforts also contributed to OPEC lifting the US oil embargo, which had been imposed in 1973 in retaliation for Washington's supply of arms to Israel and had a serious impact on the US economy.
The "most disastrous" decision
Kissinger believes that his "most disastrous" decision, as he recalls in his memoir, was to give an interview to Italian journalist and writer Oriana Fallaci in November 1972. Asked about the reasons for his popularity, he said it was primarily due to his wish to always act alone and compared himself to a cowboy, describing this image as close to the American mentality. "The main point arises from the fact that I’ve always acted alone," he recalls. "Americans like that immensely. Americans like the cowboy who leads the wagon train by riding ahead alone on his horse, the cowboy who rides all alone into the town, the village, with his horse and nothing else."
President Nixon is reported to have reacted, to put it mildly, without enthusiasm to this "cowboy metaphor." Kissinger initially tried to deny that he had said any such thing, but Fallaci produced an audio recording of the conversation.
In the private sector
After retirement, Kissinger taught for some time at Georgetown University. In 1982, he founded Kissinger Associates, a consulting firm which still exists today, based out of New York City. In the decades following his retirement from civil service, he has authored several books and numerous op-eds, spoken regularly at various respected international forums and as a foreign policy commentator in the US and foreign media. He has chaired a number of independent commissions set up by the US administration, served on advisory boards for the Pentagon and the White House National Security Council.
Family and awards
In 1977, Kissinger was awarded the highest US civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1995, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, of Great Britain.
In 1949-1964, he was married to Ann Fleischer. The couple had two children: Elizabeth and David. In 1974, he married second and current wife Nancy Kissinger (nee Maginnes).
BDST: 1148 HRS, MAY 28, 2023