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Giants' last dance

The criticism of Kissinger's Oslo visit is justified – but it is a crossroads that he is referred to as a mild dove in his own country.


The 11. December last year, two of the Cold War giants Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski gave lectures in the University Hall in Oslo. The University of Oslo and the Nobel Peace Prize Forum had invited the distinguished guests, who talked about the US and Europe's relations with China and Russia, and about possible world orders we can imagine for the future. The conversation was moderated by the Nobel Institute director Olav Njølstad.

Several authors criticized Kissinger's participation. Kissinger was co-responsible for the killing of nearly four million people, primarily in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Laos, Kampuchea and East Timor). Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme equated the bombing of Hanoi in 1972 with the Nazi atrocities. Kissinger was also responsible for tens of thousands of executions and hundreds of thousands of cases of torture in Latin America during Operation Condor (according to the Condor archive in Asuncion and the National Security Archive in Washington). In the evening post the 11. In December, Pablo Sepulveda Allende held Henry Kissinger responsible for the coup d'état in Chile in 1973, as well as for the killing of his grandfather, Chile's President Salvador Allende. The widow of Italy's Prime Minister Aldo Moro has also said that it was Henry Kissinger who threatened to kill him if he did not scramble the ideas of cooperation with the increasingly "Social Democratic" Communist Party in Italy.

The ways of power. Many believe that Kissinger must be convicted of crimes against humanity, and that as an intellectual one has a moral responsibility to stand up for an international legal order. But what about James Schlesinger, who was Secretary of Defense at the time of Kissinger? Was not Schlesinger also responsible? We had James Schlesinger visit in connection with a PRIO conference on nuclear weapons almost 14 years ago (which was otherwise organized by Olav Njølstad). Schlesinger gave me important information as a background for analyzing power: The Swedish security state was not only separated from the democratic state – it was integrated into the American system. And what about Robert Komer, who I visited in Washington and who was a national security adviser before Kissinger? Komer was responsible for the Phoenix program in Vietnam, which executed about 30 Vietnamese. Bill Colby was the CIA chief after Schlesinger (when Schlesinger was Secretary of Defense), and was directly responsible for the Phoenix program after Komer. I was at Bill Colby's home in Georgetown to talk about Sweden and the Swedish power system. He had just published his book on the war in Vietnam, Lost Victory, which Schlesinger rightly thought consisted of nonsense. What about Kissinger's assistant John Lehman, who was Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan and the symbol of Reagan's most risky strategy? Lehman taught me how Kissinger's system was inherited by CIA chief Bill Casey in the 1980s, and how they operated with covert operations in Sweden. You do not need equal power to talk to it and learn from it, and without such conversations it becomes difficult to understand what power looks like. We cannot come close to a real democracy if we do not understand how power acts. That war criminals should be convicted may seem obvious – but even more important for a democracy is to understand the parallel state, the state of power or the state of security, which operates alongside the democratic state. One could say that a truth commission is more important than a trial.

If one had not known how many murders Kissinger has been responsible for, one would think that he was a social democrat.

Chairman of the Committee. It must first be said that it is true that Henry Kissinger was largely responsible for the bombings, massacres, political killings and coups. As National Security Adviser and Secretary of State to President Richard Nixon and then to President Gerald Ford, Kissinger was apparently directly responsible for these crimes against humanity – but so were Schlesinger, Komer and Colby, and even more so presidents such as Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. As chairman of The 40 Committee for seven years, Kissinger was the highest-ranking official responsible for all US coups and political assassinations during this period, in Chile and in other parts of the world. This was about coups and killings that the president formally should not know anything about. The American system is organized so that the president – and preferably also the foreign and defense minister – should not know anything about these sensitive things (they should have "plausible deniability"). The 40 Committee was an "inter-agency" committee with the ultimate responsibility for this type of case. It included the National Security Adviser, the CIA chief and the Deputy Ministers of State and Defense. Kissinger was the chairman of the committee – a position he held when he took over as foreign minister in 1973. He had practically inherited the system from Allan Dulles, McGeorge Bundy and Komer in the 1950s and 60s, and he passed it on to Zbigniew Brzezinski and then Bill Casey in the 1980s. But even though Dulles, Bundy and Casey, as much as Kissinger and Brzezinski, were the brains of the power state, they did not write heavy books. They were not like Kissinger and Brzezinski – the academic giants of power.

Nuclear weapons. After President Gerald Ford was replaced by President Jimmy Carter, Carter's National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski became chairman of the NSC Special Coordination Committee, which had replaced The 40 Committee. Among other things, Brzezinski was responsible for arming and mobilizing Afghan mujahedin and Islamists from the summer of 1979, with the intention of destabilizing the Afghan regime – to trick the Soviets into invading Afghanistan, and again – in Brzezinski's words – to give them "their own Vietnam. " The idea was to set a trap for the Russians so that they were caught in a war that would break the Soviet system economically. Brzezinski was probably also responsible for the murder of Aldo Moro in 1978, and for the coup d'état in Turkey in 1980, which was staged by the CIA, according to the then CIA chief in Ankara. Like Kissinger, Brzezinski was not responsible for the killings of millions of people. But when his military adviser, Lieutenant General Bill Odom, called him in the middle of the night in 1979 and said that 220 – a number he soon changed to 2200 – Soviet nuclear missiles were on their way to the United States, Brzezinski was close to calling and waking President Carter to say that he had seven minutes to decide whether to launch a nuclear attack with hundreds of millions killed as a result. However, Odom called again at eleven o'clock and withdrew what he had said. It was an exercise program that was in the data. There were no missiles at all (according to Robert Gates).

Nixon's zeal. Perhaps one could say that Kissinger killed millions of people because he inherited a war, while Brzezinski did not kill as many because of coincidences. And it was not Kissinger, but President Nixon who wanted to bomb civilians, even with atomic bombs. Nixon's conversations were recorded on tape, and in a conversation with Kissinger about the war in Vietnam on April 25, 1972, it turns out that it is Kissinger who is trying to hold Nixon back. One can hear on the tape how Kissinger's dark voice protests against Nixon's proposal to deploy nuclear weapons, after realizing the catastrophe of bombing the water system:

Nixon: I still think we ought to take the dikes out now.

Kissinger: I think…

Nixon: Will that drown people?

Kissinger: That will drown about 200 000 people.

Nixon: Well, no, no, no. I'd rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that ready?

Kissinger: That, I think, would just be too much.

Nixon: A nuclear bomb? Does that bother you? … I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christ's sake! The only place where you and I disagree is with regard to the bombing. You're so goddamned concerned about civilians, and I do not give a damn. I do not care.

Kissinger: I'm concerned about the civilians because I do not want the world to be mobilized against you as a butcher.

"Stupid kind." In the United States, Kissinger is often described as a "dove", as overly cautious. To be a presidential adviser, he was unusually willing to listen. In a conversation I had with Bing West (Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Reagan), he described Kissinger as "stupid." Among the more belligerent neoconservative analysts, Kissinger was the object of great hatred. One of these Americans told me that when he negotiated with the Moscow leadership in the 1970s, he threatened the Russians with eliminating Kissinger if they did not give in. Kissinger was the American who was willing to embrace European views. The many supporters of President Reagan's "victory strategy" saw Kissinger as "impossible to have". It is impressive that he is still alive, 93 years old. Kissinger sought stability, not victory – and when German Egon Bahr in 2002 was to receive a Norwegian order, "Commander with a star", Bahr invited Mikhail Gorbachev and Henry Kissinger. Bahr is no warrior. When Kissinger praised Bahr's so-called Eastern policy in his speech, Bahr responded by saying that Kissinger would not do so in the 1970s.

Perhaps one could say that Kissinger killed millions of people because he inherited a war, while Brzezinski did not kill as many because of coincidences.

No social democrat. Zbigniew Brzezinski is "only 88 years old". He tries to use every conflict to advance the interests of the United States or Poland. Of the two elephants, Kissinger is the more sympathetic, and in recent years he has advocated reconciliation with Moscow to reduce the risk of a nuclear war. The younger generation does not understand the scope of this. If one had not known how many murders Kissinger has been responsible for, one would think that he was a social democrat. In the 1970s, he used Olof Palme's husband Pierre Schori as a connection to Fidel Castro, and Kissinger attended – unlike George HW Bush – in Palme's funeral ceremony in Washington in 1986. In the University's auditorium, it was Kissinger who talked about stability and peace, while Brzezinski believed that China would conquer Northeast Russia. Kissinger talked about alternative world orders (the European, the Chinese, the Islamic and the American), while Brzezinski was concerned about a strategic alliance between Russia and China. While Brzezinski promoted the global responsibility of the United States, Kissinger promoted the European scenario of independent states, not a Pax Americana – but he is not a social democrat. That he is described in the United States as a pigeon probably says more about the United States than about Kissinger.

Ola Tunander
Ola Tunander
Tunander is Professor Emeritus of PRIO. See also wikipedia, at PRIO: , as well as a bibliography on Waterstone

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