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Kissinger on Gorbachev's New Challenge

March 15, 1987| This interview with former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger was conducted in Los Angeles by Jack Burby, assistant editor of The Times' editorial pages, and Art Seidenbaum, Opinion editor. and

The Times: Do we root for Mikhail S. Gorbachev to succeed? And if he is successful, especially domestically, does that pose a greater threat or a lesser threat?

Kissinger: In principle, an improvement in Soviet living standards and human rights reflects American aspirations. But for peace, the issue is whether domestic reform automatically leads to a conciliatory foreign policy. Experience with Khrushchev suggests not.

It's characteristically American to believe that when your adversary becomes stronger the prospects for peace increase. I would say that if Gorbachev succeeds in his domestic program and does not change his foreign policy, he will be much more formidable. Indeed, it would be a paradox: The Soviet reform program, unaccompanied by foreign-policy adjustments, can be a greater threat to us whether it succeeds or fails. If it succeeds, the Soviet Union will be stronger and in a position to be much more insistent. If it fails, they may have to decide before they slip into a position of relative underdevelopment whether they should not use the capacities in which they are best, namely their military strength; not so much to attack us, but to create security belts around them--in China, the Middle East and elsewhere. So, the Gorbachev revolution is a major challenge to us, and the major challenge is to define what we mean by peaceful order and to try to negotiate it now and not slide along on the old and well-worn grooves.

Life is more complicated for us now, but it also has more opportunities. Gorbachev has a more interesting mind than his predecessors. So there is a bigger challenge, but if Gorbachev would put that interesting mind to work on foreign-policy programs, it might be possible to arrange a code of coexistence that would last a decade or two. I do not believe any of the issues now being negotiated will lead in that direction. That is my worry.

Q: Is your code of coexistence something that Secretary of State George P. Shultz should raise when he goes to Moscow next month?

A: Soviet leaders have to balance conflicting bureaucratic considerations, and you cannot automatically assume that domestic reform is equated with a peaceful foreign policy. Nor can you assume that they have a very long-range foreign policy. They run a bureaucracy that is even more complex than our own. They have to deal with that bureaucracy, not only to solve specific problems but as an issue of political survival.

So I have always felt that a dialogue with the Soviets should begin on the philosophical level. You tell the Soviets what it is you're trying to accomplish and why and that enables their leader to go to the Politburo and say, "This is what the Americans say they are trying to achieve. Why don't we at least examine it?" The other way, numbers on nuclear weapons are strained, first through our bureaucracy and then through theirs. By the time it reaches Gorbachev or whomever, he will find it difficult to determine what the purpose is. So to answer your question, yes, we could have a really confidential level of conversation, maybe during the time that Shultz is there. I think the most useful thing he could do is say, "Yes, I acknowledge that you are concerned with your domestic situation and that's your problem. As to common problems, here is our analysis of the situation. This is where we think we ought to try to go in the next 10 to 15 years. Obviously, whatever is done has to be in the common interest."

The inherent dilemma of communism is that the Communist Party is a great instrument for seizing power, but not a good instrument for exercising power. It establishes a monopoly of power but has no governmental function. How do you avoid party leaders becoming like the Buddhist monks in Tibet, a sort of a supernumerary class that has prerogatives but no role?

Gorbachev is a considerable man who wants to become relatively even with us or Japan or Western Europe. But to do that, he's jeopardizing the existing system of control and he's launching himself onto uncharted seas. I would not be amazed if he didn't last, if somewhere along the line he was turned out of office.

Q: Turning to arms control, SALT II is gone, the ABM Treaty may be going and space defense research chugs along. How long can we go on that way?

A: SALT II is something of an absurdity. Where is the restraint in an unratified treaty that would have lapsed if it had been ratified? The irony is that the United States, by not ratifying the treaty, gave the Soviets 300 extra missiles because they were not required to scrap missiles as they would have if the treaty had been in effect. So they're selling us those 300 missiles a second time in their 50% cut proposal.

I think the most useful thing Reagan could do in his last two years would be to start a fundamental discussion with the Soviets. Instead of fraying the edges of every agreement and seeing what we can stretch, we would be better off if we would put a regimen in place that we really want to live with and that does some concrete good, and my ojection to the current arms-control negotiations is that they're either disadvantageous to us or meaningless.

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