Henry Kissinger speech, July 23, 1982

This is a truncated speech by Henry Kissinger given at the Grove. It is estimated about 1/2 of the entire speech.


… Gentlemen, Bohemian Henry Kissinger … (Kissinger enters to the sound of an organ playing “God Bless America”).

“Oh fellow Bohemians, that tune was “Heil to the Chief”. (Laughter to comments “heil” in the background). I rather resent some of the introduction of Mr. Mayhew. If he hadn’t told you where I was born, you would all think I was talking with a Harvard accent. (Laughter) In fact I must tell you, when I was told that I’d have the opportunity to talk to such a distinguished group, I was rehearsing my remarks, which are written down here, before a mirror all week long. And now that I’m here and see you all in various states of disillusion, I must tell you candidly that even that thrill doesn’t match the one of the rehearsals. (Laughter)

And when I was invited to speak to you; I was told I could talk about any subject I wanted, and I was really intending to. read to you from the latest volume of my memoirs. But there was no way I could cut it, even if I took out the word “I”, (laughter) that we could be through in time for the Low Jinx. The other thing I was told is that anything one says here is strictly off the record. There has, in fact, never been a. leak from the Grove. I know what you people are thinking but … (laughter) what. do you think my friend Li Kwan Yu is going through right now? But, um, I must. tell you that was one of the most discouraging things that was told to me. What’s the point of being .brilliant if you do it in obscurity? If you don’t like my remarks, you have only have yourself to blame.

I tell you that it is a very elevating and encouraging thing to speak in the presence of the current Secretary of State, of the former Secretary of State, of the two heads of government, all of whom are going to disavow everything that I’m going to say just as soon as they get back to the drinking hour. Except I have on advantage, they can’t get back to the drinking hour until I stop talking.

My title, which comes from the poetry department of the Bohemian Grove, is “Challenges of the 80’s.” Since I don’t know what it means, I will discuss my view of the current state of international relations. Le me begin with a philosophical point: I think the biggest foreign policy problem of the Unites States isn’t any of the issues that form the headlines of the day. It is for the Unites States to get used to the concept of foreign policy the way other nations have had to conduct it throughout their history. Except for the first thirty years of our history, we have either been so removed from world affairs, or so dominant economically that we never had the problem of priorities and we never had to face the issue of continuity in a situtiona in which there are no final answers.

At the end of World War II, which is often considered the great period of American foreign policy, to which we are asked to return, we had some 55% of the world’s gross national product. In those circumstances foreign policy becomes an aspect of domestic policy. Foreign governments become lobbyists in the American decision making process. And the worst penalty for a mistake is that you have throw more resources at the resulting problems.

Every decade since then, our relative share of the world’s gross national product has declined by 10%, and we are now between 20 to 25%. That still makes us the single most powerful nation in the world. But it also means that if all the rest of the world combined against us, or fell under hostile domination or were denied to us, its resources would outmatch ours by a huge margin. That imposes on us a kind of policy for which we have no tradition, the sort of foreign policy that Britain had to conduct vis a vis the continent for some 300 years. For some three centuries Britain had the view that if the continent of Europe were united against it, its resources could not match it. And out of this grew the concept of the “Balance of Power.”

We are now in a comparable position with respect to the rest of the world. We have the obligation to maintain the equilibrium. Without a balance of power, there can be no peace. And there can be no creative foreign policy. An yet, that concept has a rather checkered history in our thinking. If you read textbooks on international relations and history, there’s always some pejorative term in front of it. What it means, what it requires, though, is that we develop a concept of our national interests. That we defend that interest, not because we are friends particular countries, though that helps, but because we believe it is in our interest and in the interest of the values we represent. It means also that these values and these concepts cannot change every 4 to 8 years. Every new administration obviously comes in with a view that it will chance the world. We, alone among nations of the worlds, but begin our new administrations with the belief that they created the world. (Laughter) Ahem! That cannot go on indefinitely. Sooner or later there has to be some settled perception of what our goals are and what our fundamental interests are. And these must change occasionally, with the changing constellations of power. And we’ve had, in my view, three obstacles to this view. One that I’ve already mentioned, the reluctance to face to the fact that were are now part of history, and that history has not terminal point, that tensions are inevitable as part of the process of change.

Our domestic debate tends to be divided between those who think foreign policy is a subdivision of psychiatry, and that relations among states are like relations among people, and that good will and unilateral concessions can supply their own justification. And another group that believes foreign policy is a subdivision of theology, and that if the walls of Jericho haven’t crumbled yet, it’s because the right trumpet has not yet been blown. The fact is that neither of these courses are going to work. And third is the attempt to make our foreign policy by adversary procedures within our bureaucracies where different philosophies and different points of view are reconciled in a series of ad hoc decisions, each of which can be very sensible, but which tend to be made rather noisily, with a lot of media attention, putting us into the position of a chess player who plays against an opponent who has a strategy, while he loudly discusses with a group of experts the rationale for every move that he’s making, and occasionally somebody makes a move for him. And it is not easy to get a sense of direction in these circumstances.

These, I say, are national problems. They’re not problems of an administration. In fact in general I agree with the direction of this administration. I think they have asked the right questions, they have taken the correct initial steps to get to that goal. But, as a nation we must solve this philosophical problem before we can have a consistent, long-range foreign policy.

With this as a background, let me now make a few observations about individual issues of the day. And to put them in this framework, if I’m right about our fundamental foreign policy problem, then our strategy in general should be that we support the weaker against the stronger. And that our tactics should be that to the greatest extent possible, we should have more options that any potential adversary. Now with this, let me talk about the situation in the Middle East, make a few comments about Latin America, a few comments about East-West relations, and you’ll all make the great organ concert without difficulties.

First, East-West, uh, first, the Middle East: In the Middle East, and let me make one other comment before I get into the specifics. I believe that with all the crises we read about, we are now at a moment in which the international environment is more malleable than it has been in a long time. The opportunity exists for new departures and major breakthroughs that had I been asked to speak even six months ago, I would have not foreseen. So we should not confuse the turmoil with the outcome. Let me illustrate this to begin with in the Middle East. In the Middle East we face a number of concurrent challenges. Now you can’t say I didn’t get that word of my title into my remarks. First, the Soviet strategic thrust, which is consistent, which is long-range, and which can be seen by that pinta (?) movement represented by Afghanistan on the one side, South Yemen and Ethiopia on the other, Libya as a kind of surrogate, so that all of our friends are in a way surrounded either by Soviet strategic bases, or by Soviet military deployments. Secondly, the thrust of Islamic fundamentalists, represented by Iran. There is the challenge to friendly moderate regimes of secular radicalism. And finally, there’s the Arab-Israeli dispute, of which the recent crisis in Lebanon is the most conspicuous example. Now, until I’m of the view that for whatever reason, whatever Israel’s motives were in going into Lebanon, it has given us an opportunity to unlock to door to making a major step forward in the peace process in the Middle East. It has military defeated the PLO, which was supported from an intelligence point of view by the Soviet Union, and which tied itself to the radical Arabs, now the secular wing, now the fundamentalist wing. It forced to back off the conflict, Syria, which was again supported by the Soviet Union, totally equipped by the Soviet Union, and represented the radical Arab nationalist cause. And it has demonstrated that the Soviet Union can supply arms, but not solutions to any of these problems.

So now we have an opportunity. The Israeli argument that progress on the West Bank would automatically lead to the installation of a radical PLO state is no longer necessarily true. We now have the opportunity, on which in my view we must insist, that significant progress be made in West Bank negotiations within the next year to eighteen months, to demonstrate that only through the United States and only through a course of moderation, is it possible to achieve any of the aims of the reasonable people in the area. It seems to me, also, that in order to do this, it is in our interest to put Jordan and Egypt, and to the extent that it is feasible, Saudi Arabia, into the forefront of these negotiations and not to build up the PLO prematurely. The PLO will have to earn its way back, although its hopes should not be totally foreclosed if it adopts a moderate course. I think on this route we will be able to make major progress, though I don’t envy either the President or the Secretary of State in putting it through against the opposition that will develop on both sides of this negotiation. The Israelis have to make more concessions by than they have prepared to make, and the Arabs have to take less than their extreme program. But if it is not done in the next 12 to 18 months, I think we will have lost an opportunity that will not quickly recur.

With respect to the Iran-Iraq crisis which represents the other thrust of the equation, we face this problem when the war broke out with the act of diplomacy which Mr. Mayhew did not mention when introduced me. (Laughter) I said at a press conference that my only regret in this war is …