John Paton Wu Ningkun
INTERVIEW WITH DR HENRY KISSINGER
INTERVIEWER: Dr Kissinger to begin with, one of your greatest successes: China. What was the key reason for seeking a rapprochement with China?
DR HENRY KISSINGER: The principal reason for seeking a rapprochement with China was to restore fluidity to the overall international situation. If there are five players and you can't deal with one of them, it produces rigidity. Secondly, we wanted to demonstrate to the American public that Vietnam was an aberration, that we had ideas for the construction of peace on a global scale. And thirdly, we wanted to isolate Vietnam. And it began to dawn on us after we'd been in office for a while that there were genuine tensions between Russia and China, and that probably the Soviet Union was the cause of the tensions and not China, which was the opposite of the idea with which we entered. When I say "we", incidentally, I mean Nixon and me - it's not a royal "we".
INT: Having achieved the rapprochement, what was the principal advantage that that brought to United States foreign policy?
HK: Well, it set up a triangular relationship between Russia, the United States and China, in which we attempted to be closer to each of them than they were to each other so we could calibrate our policy in relation to specific crises that arose in relation to our national interests. It also gave us much greater flexibility in relationship with other Asian nations that were under the shadow of China.
INT: How did Moscow take it?
HK: My experience with Moscow is that whenever one makes a dramatic move, one is told that this will antagonize the Soviet Union forever and in my experience the opposite has always happened: they have always adjusted and tried to encompass the new reality in their own diplomacy - which incidentally is usually quite skilful. So the Moscow reaction was that the summit which we had tried to achieve before the trip to China, and in which they had been stonewalling us and tried to use to ... well, to put it kindly, blackmail us into untoward concessions, or concessions we thought were untoward... suddenly they agreed to the summit, they tried to move it to before China, and it unfroze our relationship with China... with Russia.
INT: You said you hoped that talking to the Chinese would isolate North Vietnam, and presumably you also hoped that China would help you, or that pressure brought to bear by China might help your negotiations to come with (Overlap) North Vietnam.
HK: (Overlap) No, no...
INT: Did you... was that the case?
HK: (Overlap) We did not expect that China would bring pressure on Vietnam to settle. We thought that the mere fact that China was dealing with us at a moment when we were conducting military operations in Vietnam, and continued the negotiations with us when we were intensifying military operations in Vietnam, would have a demoralizing impact. We never expected China to do anything active to help us.
INT: It didn't have a demoralizing effect.
HK: I think it did have a certain demoralizing impact.
INT: A personal note. What were your feelings when you stepped down from that Pakistani jet in Beijing?
HK: When you read about great events, people always think that there was an elevated feeling. When I stepped off that Pakistani jet in Beijing, my major concern was whom I was going to meet and how were we going to conduct the conversation. I didn't put my foot down and say, "Now I've just made history, and this will never be forgotten." I thought "Whom am I going to meet, and how am I going to bring it to a conclusion?"
INT: But when you went back with President Nixon, he thought that you were both making history, surely?
HK: On the way back from Beijing, I knew that we had made history...... on my way back from Beijing. But Nixon had a different problem from me: Nixon was President, and Nixon rehearsed what he would say when he reached China; and that was quite appropriate: he needed to make an impact.
INT: The Chinese had sent you signals; they were looking forward to your coming.
HK: Well, it didn't work... my coming was not our proposal: the Chinese sent us signals that ... signals that they were eager to open relations with us and wanted a dialogue with us; and they did not invite any particular person.
INT: Thank you. I want to move to the SALT negotiations and talk really about... partly about your method of conducting these negotiations. You set up a diplomatic back channel for that and for other of your negotiating activities, rather than conduct foreign policy negotiations through the more normal and usual channels.
HK: Yeah, we...
INT: What was the advantage of that?
HK: One has to separate two things. When I was Security Adviser, I did not command a bureaucracy, so therefore, if the White House were to conduct any negotiation, it had to be done by a back channel. When I was Secretary of State, there was in effect no back channel, because I could design the negotiation as I saw fit. Now one reason for the back channel negotiation was that President Nixon, who was very decisive and very capable of making big decisions, was not however capable to... in overruling subordinates to their face, and therefore he found it very, very painful - in fact he found it, for all practical purposes, impossible - to tell a bureaucracy, "I disagree with you, and you will do it my way." He'd rather set up a back channel, so that he avoided that problem. Secondly, by that time our bureaucracy had got so cumbersome and there were so many people, papers pushed back and forth, and moreover, the skill of the bureaucracy in interpreting presidential orders, even if they were clearly given, in an (unclear) that coincided with their preconceptions was so great, that Nixon decided that for the sake of coherence he was going to negotiate in a back channel. So there was a front channel which did the rough work, but then the fine-tuning was done in the back channel; and it worked pretty well.
INT: Were there disadvantages...
INT: ... politically?
HK: Well, first of all there were disadvantages in terms of the nervous demands on me, because there'd obviously be some character who was negotiating, not knowing what the White House was doing, and he might quite easily get into a direction that was not fully compatible with what we were trying to do. Politically, the disadvantage is if there's no... nothing is as irate as a bureaucrat scorned, or a diplomat scorned, and the people who do not participate in the negotiations are always very heroic about what they might have achieved, because they don't have to assume any responsibility for the concessions. So we created an opposition to ourselves, of people who, when they did not know that negotiations were going on, were always recommending much greater concessions than we made. But once we made the concessions, they of course could take the hard line.