Mr. Secretary, Iraq has become a great problem for the global power America. What, in your opinion, has to happen in order for Iraq to achieve stability and remain united?
Kissinger: Iraq is no longer a problem for America alone. Whatever people may think about earlier decisions, if radical Islamists were to win, the effects would be felt by every country with a large Muslim population. In regions like South East Asia, even in India, it would be seen as a victory for the jihadists over the technically superior world which they have declared war on. In Iraq right now we are just about to have elections. After that we should sit down together with our allies, as well as with all the other countries involved, and look at how the political situation can be stabilized. International recognition is an important part of this stability.
SPIEGEL: But America seems to have run out of optimism. The majority of its citizens think that military intervention was a mistake. Has the war at home in America been lost?
Kissinger: I've got special experience of this sort from the Vietnam war. It is from this perspective that I am now looking at the war in Iraq. Nixon's government, which I belonged to as National Security Advisor, inherited a war which they had not begun. Leading members of the government which had started the war later joined the peace movement. Our main wish was to finish the war. And we wanted to finish it in such a way that international stability wasn't threatened. We also didn't want to damage the role that America played in defending its allies.
SPIEGEL: How is it possible to achieve both these aims in Iraq?
Kissinger: Of course, you can't compare every aspect of the situation in Iraq with that in Vietnam. But to bring the Iraq war to an end, we need a proper dialogue in America and the good will of all those involved. It doesn't make any sense right now to set a time frame for pulling troops out of Iraq. Is it possible for Iraq to be destroyed as a result of our domestic political situation? I have experienced something along those lines already. Everyone should do their utmost to end the war in a responsible way, in a manner which we and the rest of the world can live with.
SPIEGEL: You criticized the Europeans because they didn't help enough in Iraq. What should they do now?
Kissinger: We should talk about that as soon as Iraq has gone to the polls and Germany has a new government. Looking at America first, the neo-conservatives developed a great distrust of Europe. In the past, such points of view were cleared up by talking to each other. But the German elections in 2002 exacerbated the problem still further. Chancellor Schröder made Iraq, along with a type of anti-Americanism, the central aspects of his campaign. As a result, German foreign policy lost all flexibility in its relations with America.
SPIEGEL: But France attracted the anger of America more than Germany.
Kissinger: From my point of view that was more about a personal conflict between the leaders of both countries which ruled out all forms of compromise. Originally our people in Washington were convinced that, in the end, during the UN Security Council talks, France would agree. just as they had done in the Gulf War in 1991. Possibly with a few extra conditions. A French aircraft carrier was, after all, already on its way to the Red Sea. But after Germany staked out its position, France was forced to decide whether it should leave its neighbors isolated in the middle of the continent -- which would have meant that the role of leader against America's unilateralism would have fallen to Germany. I am not interested in criticizing anyone here, I am just analyzing how the behavior of Germany, France and America has led to this crisis.
SPIEGEL: What were the deeper causes of this severe falling out?
Kissinger: The very core of Europe has changed drastically. After all, the nation state has its roots in Europe. The state saw the sacrifice of its citizens as a legitimate way of achieving a global foreign policy objective. In the period after the Second World War, there were still leaders in Europe who represented weak countries, but possessed a sense of global foreign policy. Nowadays, on the other hand, there are politicians who represent pretty powerful countries, but whose citizens are not prepared to sacrifice themselves for the state. Europe is allowing the classic nation state to be sacrificed without having a community logistically and emotionally organized enough, such as a United States of Europe, to take its place. America on the other hand is still a traditional nation state.
SPIEGEL: In Europe there is a school of thinking which would like to see the old continent as a counterweight to America.
Kissinger: Yes, this trend does exist. I have read various remarks in SPIEGEL indicating that German foreign policy aims to meet America eye to eye. That may well be necessary in certain situations but confrontation with America should not be the determining factor in Germany's foreign policy.
SPIEGEL: In 1989, Bush senior generously said that Germany was a "Partner in Leadership."
Kissinger: For my generation the relationship with Europe was the central point of American foreign policy. Even during my time in government there was disagreement, sometimes very strong disagreement. But they were all like arguments within a family. We knew how painful a decision it was in the 50s and 60s to accept the division of Germany, so that one half could stay in the West. That was how George Bush Senior had thought as well. That was why it was easy for America to welcome the unification of Germany. I am not sure if the generation which doesn't have these experiences has the same view of things.
SPIEGEL: Many people in Germany think the chaos in Iraq is clear proof that the war was a mistake.
Kissinger: Germany managed to keep out of the military phase of the war. It would be only fair to the American government to ask what the alternative might have been. After Sept. 11 it was hard to imagine that Saddam's regime should remain untouched. The UN confirmed numerous infringements of the ceasefire agreement of 1991. Saddam possessed oil, he had the region's largest army and there was the well-founded worry that he could have weapons of mass destruction. The decision to do something was based on good reasons. Whether you can still say that today, is another question. But I have also thought, right from the outset, it is false to believe the occupation of Iraq would be as free of problems as that of Germany or Japan.
SPIEGEL: Is democracy in Iraq and in the Middle East the solution to the problem?
Kissinger: The Western concept of democracy is based on the idea that the loser of an election has the possibility next time round of being the winner. But in the case of an ethnically or religiously divided country, in which minorities don't live peacefully together, this necessary balance can't be properly guaranteed by democracy. When each ethnic group arms itself, it is not surprising that the army of a new state is viewed by part of the population as an ideological militia.
SPIEGEL: You are known as the most prominent advocate of the realistic school of thought which lays great importance on stability in international relations. You are also skeptical of major changes, such as what the neo-conservative have in mind for the Middle East. Are politicians like you enjoying a comeback?
Kissinger: For me realism in foreign policy means careful consideration of all aspects pertinent to the issue, before taking a decision. This is the only way you can move from where you are to someplace else. Realists aren't focused as much on power as people like to believe. Realism is made up of a clear set of values, since difficult foreign policy decisions are often decided with the narrowest of majorities. Without any sense of what is right and wrong, one would drown in a flood of difficult and pragmatic decisions. Even Bismarck believed, the best a politician can do is "make sure that you see the Lord marching through world history. And then to jump and hang on to his coattails, so that you are carried along as far as possible."
SPIEGEL: At the moment you are writing a book in which you want to lay out the basic differences between statesmen and prophets.
Kissinger: Yes, statesmen think in terms of history and view society as an organism. Prophets are different since they believe absolute aims can be achieved in the foreseeable future. More people have been killed by crusaders than by statesmen.
SPIEGEL: One of the prophets was Mao who, in a new book, which has attracted a lot of attention, is portrayed as the 20th century's mass murderer.
Kissinger: It is true that he caused his people an incredible amount of suffering, and he is an example of the prophets I write about. When Richard Nixon met Mao in 1972 he told him that his teachings had transformed China's culture and civilization. Mao answered: All I have changed is Beijing and a few suburbs. It was a nightmare for him that after 20 years of fighting and all those efforts to found a communist society, he had achieved so little of lasting value. That is what led him to sacrifice more and more lives to his achieve his work within his lifetime. He believed that otherwise his legacy would be destroyed.
SPIEGEL: The irony of history is that in the end the prophets bring about their own failure.
Kissinger: By attempting to prevent their own failure they flee more and more into violence and in this way, hopefully, bring about their own downfall.
SPIEGEL: To which statesman do you accord most the respect -- Bismarck, Churchill?
Kissinger: I have a lot of respect for Charles de Gaulle as well. Bismarck I value, but conditionally. He brought about German unity, which none of his predecessors managed. However he also left those who came after him with a task which was beyond their means. For Bismarck foreign policy was primarily about the balance of power. Those who came after him lacked the restraint which he possessed.
SPIEGEL: Getting back to today's leaders: American foreign policy has changed in the last few months. A member of the "axis of evil," North Korea, is now meant to receive aid deliveries worth billions in return for not continuing with its military nuclear program. And in the case of Iran, despite all the setbacks, Bush's government is resorting to diplomacy. Is this change of direction a result of conviction or pure necessity?
Kissinger: From what I can see the government does not feel under as much pressure as the media reports. And besides, American politics are normally a result of pragmatic and not philosophical reasoning. No one in Washington has said we now prefer multilateralism. In the case of North Korea, I am optimistic. That is not an American problem. The spread of weapons of mass destruction is something which affects all of us. Neither Japan, China nor Russia want to see another atomic power in Asia. These joint efforts will lead to a result. There will be a bit more to and fro as far as the details are concerned, but the basic decisions have been made.
SPIEGEL: Are you similarly optimistic about the situation in Iran?
Kissinger: At some point in Washington the most important decision will have to be taken. The question is who will get the upper hand: those who believe in regime change or those who favor negotiations? But let me make one important point: I was involved in decision-making processes when there were two superpowers. At that time one could be pretty sure that both sides would exert the same amount of restraint before starting an atomic war. And on top of that just imagine what complicated thought processes both went through trying to work out the opponent's possible behavior. The whole system of international relations is going to have to change. We have to bear this in mind when looking at Iran. The democratic countries have to keep an eye on the consequences of the spread of nuclear weapons and ask themselves what they would have done if the Madrid bombs had been nuclear. Or if the attackers in New York had used nuclear weapons, or if 50,000 people had died in New Orleans in a nuclear attack. The world would look very different than it does today. So we have to ask ourselves how much energy we want to put into fighting the problem of further proliferation of nuclear weapons.
SPIEGEL: At what point should the UN Security Council start dealing with Iran's atomic program?
Kissinger: We should avoid another confrontation in the Security Council until we know exactly what we want to and are able to achieve. Iran is more important than North Korea. It is a more significant country and there are more options.
SPIEGEL: Is there a military option?
Kissinger: Tactically speaking it would be unwise to rule out a military option. But every time someone says America should have this as an option, all hell breaks loose. It is important that we agree on the dangers of proliferation. And by this I don't mean just having another meeting of foreign ministers. We should see what pressures and incentives we have at our disposal. But Iran must also understand that we all mean it seriously. Naturally nobody wants another crisis in this region.
SPIEGEL: In the Middle East everything always revolves around strategic interests and oil. "Access to natural resources can become a question of survival for many states," you once wrote. "It would be an irony of history if oil became the modern equivalent of the argument over the colonies in the 19th century." Has the new "great game" already begun?
Kissinger: Yes, to a certain extent it has. Access to energy is today not only a purely economic but also political problem. As long as resources are limited and demand is still increasing, consumerist countries should come to an agreement before the competition leads to serious tensions.
SPIEGEL: Is the conflict driven by China's hunger for energy?
Kissinger: Compared to other countries China actually has a conceptional foreign policy. China drives the need to develop itself economically. Globalization will in turn create more industrialized countries. This will lead to further competition for resources.
SPIEGEL: In America there is a political camp that would like to behave just as ruthlessly to China as it did to the Soviet Union. Would this be a good idea?
Kissinger: The challenge is that China is a country with an enormous population which is systematically working on its economic development and aiming for unparalleled growth rates. This means that the center of gravity of global politics is shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific. But this is not a challenge which can be answered with military or ideological confrontation.
SPIEGEL: China has learned from the fall of the Soviet Union that it must develop itself economically and become stable, without giving up its communist doctrine.
Kissinger: China is a one party state and the party calls itself communist. But the system is not based on central planning. This means people can develop themselves in a manner which was never possible in the Soviet Union. The Soviet system was always Stalinist, even during phases of reform. Nevertheless, sooner or later China will get to the point when the new social classes, which have emerged thanks to economic success, will have to be integrated into the political system. There is no guarantee that this process will run smoothly.
SPIEGEL: Is nationalism as a replacement ideology a massive temptation for China.
Kissinger: I am against portraying China as the demon of the global community. China has grasped more quickly than other countries what globalization means and what it demands. The country has learned how to use other people's innovations for itself. India, incidentally, is not far behind China in this respect. Both are not nations in the European sense, but rather cultural communities with enormous markets. The challenge of the future is to work out how to deal with that.
SPIEGEL: In America people hope to be able to oversee China's rise, and therefore control it somewhat.
Kissinger: I've often said that the desire to lecture China on how it should behave in the world is wrong. China was around for thousands of years even before America existed. It could even be that China's growing power will allow itself to be slowed down. But as long as this immense empire doesn't fall apart, it will become an important factor in global politics.
SPIEGEL: When you talk about China, it's clear you have a lot of respect for the country.
Kissinger: I have been observing China for more than 30 years and am impressed how logically and wisely it tackles its problems. Obviously the international system could be unbalanced by China's rising power -- if we don't prepare ourselves for the new competitive situation, that is. But it is an economic challenge, not aggression on the level of Hitler.
SPIEGEL: Do you find the world more peaceful now, or in the days of the Cold War?
Kissinger: Oh, you know, people are now starting to explain the Cold War. Even in the crises at that time the survival of millions of people was at stake. And we had to threaten the other super power with retaliation to prevent it from doing something to us. No, those were not happy times. We were lucky because the Soviet Union was weaker than we thought. Today we live in a world in which a lot of things are in flux. That creates a lot of fear. But it is also a time of great opportunity. And I would call on today's statesmen to not allow their thinking to be directed by fear.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Secretary, thank you for this interview.
The interview was conducted by Georg Mascolo and Gerhard Spörl in New York.
Translated from the German by Damien McGuinness