71. Address by Secretary of State Kissinger1
America’s Permanent Interests
I deeply appreciate the honor you bestow upon me today, not only because it is given me by old Massachusetts friends but also for the name it bears. Throughout his long career as legislator, Governor, and Secretary of State, Christian Herter2 embodied the ideals of selfless public service and responsible patriotism which have always marked our nation’s great leaders. Most of all, Christian Herter was a man who had faith in his country and its goodness. He understood the decisive role this nation must play in the world for security and progress and justice.
In this election year, some 10 years after Chris Herter’s death, we would all do well to remember his wisdom. For America is still the great and good country he knew it was, and our participation in the international scene remains decisive if our era is to know peace and a better life for mankind. We must never forget that this nation has permanent interests and concerns that must be preserved through and beyond this election year.
This can be a time of national renewal—when Americans freely renegotiate their social compact. Or if the quest for short-term political gain prevails over all other considerations, it can be a period of misleading oversimplification, further divisiveness, and sterile recrimination.
This Administration has for many months been prepared to put its policies, its premises, and its design for the future before the American people. The President has often spoken about our concerns and hopes in the world. In the past 14 months alone, I have given 17 major speeches, some 20 major news conferences, and countless interviews across this country, and I have testified 39 times before congressional committees.
Certainly there is room for differences on the policies to be pursued in a complex and dangerous world. But those who challenge cur[Page 383]rent policies have an obligation to go beyond criticisms, slogans, and abuse and set forth in detail their premises and alternatives, the likely costs, opportunities, and risks.
America has come through a difficult time—when our institutions have been under challenge, our purposes doubted, and our will questioned. The time has come, as Adlai Stevenson3 said, to “talk sense to the American people.” As a nation we face new dangers and opportunities; neither will wait for our decisions next November, and both can be profoundly affected by what we say and do in the meantime. Complex realities cannot be resolved or evaded by nostalgic simplicities.
Throughout the turmoil of this decade, our foreign policy has pursued our fundamental national goals with energy and consistent purpose:
—We are at peace for the first time in over a decade. No American fighting men are engaged in combat anywhere in the world.
—Relations with our friends and allies in the Atlantic community and with Japan have never been stronger.
—A new and durable relationship with the People’s Republic of China has been opened and fostered.
—Confrontation in the heart of Europe has been eased. A four-power agreement on Berlin has replaced a decade and a half of crisis and confrontation.
—We negotiated an interim agreement limiting strategic arms with the Soviet Union which forestalled the numerical expansion of Soviet strategic programs while permitting us to undertake needed programs of our own.
—We are now negotiating a long-term agreement which, if successfully concluded, will for the first time in history set an upper limit on total numbers of strategic weapons, requiring the Soviet Union to dismantle some of its existing systems.
—Significant progress toward a durable settlement in the Middle East has been made. Much work and many dangers remain, but the peace process is underway for the first time since the creation of the State of Israel.
—There is a new maturity and impetus to our relations with Latin America reflecting changing realities in the hemisphere and the growing importance of these countries on the international scene.[Page 384]
—The United States has taken the role of global leadership in putting forward a comprehensive agenda for a new and mutually beneficial relationship between the developed and developing nations.
—We have defended human rights and dignity in all international bodies as well as in our bilateral relations.
This is a record of American accomplishment that transcends partisanship, for much of it was accomplished with the cooperation of both parties. It reflects the ideals of the American people. It portends for this nation a continuing role of moral and political leadership—if we have the understanding, the will, and the unity to seize the opportunity history has given us.
Thirty years ago this country began its first sustained peacetime involvement in foreign affairs. We achieved great things, and we can continue to do so as long as we are prepared to face the fact that we live in a more complex time:
—Today the Soviet Union is a superpower. Nothing we could have done would have halted this evolution after the impetus that two generations of industrial and technological advance have given to Soviet military and economic growth. But together with others we must assure that Russian power and influence are not translated into an expansion of Soviet control and dominance beyond the U.S.S.R.’s borders. This is prerequisite to a more constructive relationship.
—Today scores of new nations have come into being, creating new centers of influence. These nations make insistent claims on the global system, testing their new economic power and seeking a greater role and share in the world’s prosperity.
—Today the forces of democracy are called upon to show renewed creativity and vision. In a world of complexity—in a world of equilibrium and coexistence, of competition and interdependence—it is our democratic values that give meaning to our sacrifice and purpose to our exertions. Thus the cohesion of the industrial democracies has a moral as well as a political and economic significance.
Americans are a realistic people who have never considered the definition of a challenge as a prophecy of doom or a sign of pessimism. Instead, we have seen it as a call to battle. “. . . the bravest,” said Thucydides, “are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it.” That has always been the test of democracy—and it has always been the strength of the American people.
Equilibrium and Peace
Let me now deal with America’s permanent interests: peace, progress, and justice.[Page 385]
Since the dawn of the nuclear age, the world’s fears of catastrophe and its hopes for peace have hinged on the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union.
In an era when two nations have the power to visit utter devastation on the world in a matter of hours, there can be no greater imperative than assuring that the relationship between the superpowers be managed effectively and rationally.
This is an unprecedented task. Historically, a conflict of ideology and geopolitical interests such as that which characterizes the current international scene has almost invariably led to conflict. But in the age of thermonuclear weapons and strategic equality, humanity could not survive such a repetition of history. No amount of tough rhetoric can change these realities. The future of our nation and of mankind depends on how well we avoid confrontation without giving up vital interests and how well we establish a more hopeful and stable relationship without surrender of principle.
We therefore face the necessity of a dual policy. On the one hand, we are determined to prevent Soviet military power from being used for political expansion; we will firmly discourage and resist adventurist policies. But at the same time, we cannot escalate every political dispute into a central crisis; nor can we rest on identifying foreign policy with crisis management. We have an obligation to work for a more positive future. We must couple opposition to pressure and irresponsibility with concerned efforts to build a more cooperative world.
History can inform—or mislead—us in this quest.
For a generation after World War II, statesmen and nations were traumatized by the experience of Munich; they believed that history had shown the folly of permitting an adversary to gain a preponderance of power. This was and remains a crucial lesson.
A later generation was chastened by the experience of Viet-Nam; it is determined that America shall never again overextend and exhaust itself by direct involvement in remote wars with no clear strategic significance. This, too, is a crucial lesson.
But equally important and too often neglected is the lesson learned by an earlier generation. Before the outbreak of the First World War, there was a virtual equilibrium of power. Through crisis after crisis, nations moved to confrontation and then retreated to compromise. Stability was taken for granted until—without any conscious decision to overturn the international structure—a crisis much like any other went out of control. Nation after nation slid into a war whose causes they did not understand but from which they could not extricate themselves. The result was the death of tens of millions, the destruction of the global order, and domestic upheavals whose consequences still torment mankind.[Page 386]
If we are to learn from history, we cannot pick and choose the lessons from which we will draw inspiration. The history of this century tells us:
—That an imbalance of power encourages aggression;
—That overcommitment cannot be sustained domestically; and
—That an equilibrium based on constant confrontation will ultimately end in cataclysm.
But the lessons of history are never automatic; each generation must apply them to concrete circumstances.
There is no question that peace rests, in the first instance, on the maintenance of a balance of global stability. Without the ultimate sanction of power, conciliation soon becomes surrender. Moderation is a virtue only in those who are thought to have a choice.
No service is done to the nation by those who portray an exaggerated specter of Soviet power and of American weakness, by those who hesitate to resist when we are challenged, or by those who fail to see the opportunities we have to shape the U.S.-Soviet relationship by our own confident action.
Soviet strength is uneven; the weaknesses and frustrations of the Soviet system are glaring and have been clearly documented. Despite the inevitable increase in its power, the Soviet Union remains far behind us and our allies in any overall assessment of military, economic, and technological strength; it would be reckless in the extreme for the Soviet Union to challenge the industrial democracies. And Soviet society is no longer insulated from the influences and attractions of the outside world or impervious to the need for external contacts.
The great industrial democracies possess the means to counter Soviet expansion and to moderate Soviet behavior. We must not abdicate this responsibility by weakening ourselves either by failing to support our defenses or refusing to use our power in defense of our interests; we must, along with our allies, always do what is necessary to maintain our security.
It is true that we cannot be the world’s policeman. Not all local wars and regional conflicts affect global stability or America’s national interest. But if one superpower systematically exploits these conflicts for its own advantage and tips the scales decisively by its intervention, gradually the overall balance will be affected. If adventurism is allowed to succeed in local crises, an ominous precedent of wider consequence is set. Other nations will adjust their policies to their perception of the dominant trend. Our ability to control future crises will diminish. And if this pattern is not broken, America will ultimately face harder choices, higher costs, and more severe crises.[Page 387]
But our obligation goes beyond the balance of power. An equilibrium is too precarious a foundation for our long-term future. There is no tranquillity in a balance of terror constantly contested. We must avoid the twin temptations of provocation and escapism. Our course must be steady and not reflect momentary fashions; it must be a policy that our adversaries respect, our allies support, and our people believe in and sustain.
Therefore we have sought with the Soviet Union to push back the shadow of nuclear catastrophe—by settling concrete problems such as Berlin so as to ease confrontations and negotiating on limitation of strategic arms so as to slow the arms race. And we have held out the prospect of cooperative relations in the economic and other fields if political conditions permit their implementation and further development.
It goes without saying that this process requires reciprocity. It cannot survive a constant attempt to seek unilateral advantage. It cannot, specifically, survive any more Angolas. If the Soviet Union is ready to face genuine coexistence, we are prepared to make every effort to shape a pattern of restraint and mutual interest which will give coexistence a more reliable and positive character making both sides conscious of what would be lost by confrontation and what can be gained by cooperation.
And we are convinced that when a vigorous response to Soviet encroachment is called for, the President will have the support of the American people—and of our allies—to the extent that he can demonstrate that the crisis was imposed upon us; that it did not result from opportunities we missed to improve the prospects of peace.
No policy will soon, if ever, eliminate the competition and irreconcilable ideological differences between the United States and the Soviet Union. Nor will it make all interests compatible. We are engaged in a protracted process with inevitable ups and downs. But there is no alternative to the policy of penalties for adventurism and incentives for restraint. What do those who speak so glibly about “one-way streets” or “preemptive concessions” propose concretely that this country do? What precisely has been given up? What level of confrontation do they seek? What threats would they make? What risks would they run? What precise changes in our defense posture, what level of expenditure over what period of time, do they advocate? How, concretely, do they suggest managing the U.S.-Soviet relationship in an era of strategic equality?
It is time we heard answers to these questions.
In short we must—and we shall—pursue the two strands of our policy toward the Soviet Union: Firmness in the face of pressure and [Page 388] the vision to work for a better future. This is well within our capacities. We owe this to our people, to our future, to our allies, and to the rest of mankind.
The World Community
The upheavals of this century have produced another task—the fundamental need of reshaping the structure of international relations. For the first time in history the international system has become truly global. Decolonization and the expansion of the world economy have given birth to scores of new nations and new centers of power and initiative.
Our current world, numbering nearly 150 nations, can be the seedbed for growing economic warfare, political instability, and ideological confrontation—or it can become a community marked by unprecedented international collaboration. The interdependence of nations—the indivisibility of our security and our prosperity—can accelerate our common progress or our common decline.
Therefore, just as we seek to move beyond a balance of power in East-West relations, so must we transcend tests of strength in North-South relations and build a true world community.
We do so in our own self-interest, for today’s web of economic relationships links the destinies of all mankind. The price and supply of energy, the conditions of trade, the expansion of world food production, the technological bases for economic development, the protection of the world’s environment, the rules of law that govern the world’s oceans and outer space—these are concerns that affect all nations and that can be satisfactorily addressed only in a framework of international cooperation.
Here, too, we need to sustain a complex policy. We must resist tactics of confrontation, but our larger goal must be to shape new international relationships that will last over decades to come. We will not be stampeded by pressures or threats. But it is in our own interest to create an international economic system that all nations will regard as legitimate because they have a stake in it and because they consider it just.
As the world’s strongest power, the United States could survive an era of economic warfare. But even we would be hurt, and no American true to the humane heritage of his country could find satisfaction in the world that confrontation would bring in its wake. The benefits of common effort are so apparent and the prospects of economic strife so damaging that there is no moral or practical alternative to a world of expanded collaboration.[Page 389]
Therefore, at the World Food Conference in 1974,4 at the special session of the U.N. General Assembly last September,5 and in the Conference on International Economic Cooperation now underway in Paris,6 the United States has taken the lead in offering programs of practical cooperation. We have presented—and are vigorously following through on—a wide range of proposals to safeguard export earnings, accelerate industrial and agricultural growth, better conditions of trade and investment in key commodities, and meet the plight of the poorest countries. In every area of concern we have proposed forms of collaboration among all nations, including the other industrial countries, the newly wealthy oil producers, and the developing countries themselves.
It is the West—and overwhelmingly this nation—that has the resources, the technology, the skills, the organizational ability, and the good will that attract and invite the cooperation of the developing nations. In the global dialogue among the industrial and developing worlds, the Communist nations are conspicuous by their absence and, indeed, by their irrelevance.
Yet at the very moment when the industrial democracies are responding to the aspirations of the developing countries, many of the same countries attempt to extort what has in fact been freely offered. Lopsided voting, unworkable resolutions, and arbitrary procedures too often dominate the United Nations and other international bodies. Nations which originally chose nonalignment to shield themselves from the pressures of global coalitions have themselves formed a rigid, ideological, confrontationist coalition of their own. One of the most evident blocs in the world today is, ironically, the almost automatic alignment of the nonaligned.
The United States remains ready to respond responsibly and positively to countries which seriously seek justice and an equitable world economic system. But progress depends on a spirit of mutual respect, realism, and practical cooperation. Let there be no mistake about it: extortion will not work and will not be supinely accepted. The stakes are too high for self-righteous rhetoric or adolescent posturing.
At issue is not simply the economic arrangements of the next quarter century but the legitimacy of the international order.[Page 390]
Technology and the realities of interdependence have given our generation the opportunity to determine the relationships between the developed and developing countries over the next quarter century. It is the quality of statesmanship to recognize that our necessity, our practical aspirations, and our moral purpose are linked. The United States is ready for that challenge.
The Moral Unity of the Great Democracies
Our efforts to build peace and progress reflect our deep-seated belief in freedom and in the hope of a better future for all mankind. These are values we share with our closest allies, the great industrial democracies.
The resilience of our countries in recovering from economic difficulty and in consolidating our cooperation has an importance far beyond our immediate well-being. For while foreign policy is unthinkable without an element of pragmatism, pragmatism without underlying moral purpose is like a rudderless ship.
Together, the United States and our allies have maintained the global peace and sustained the world economy for more than 30 years. The spirit of innovation and progress in our societies has no match anywhere, certainly not in societies laying claim to being “revolutionary.” Rarely in history have alliances survived—let alone flourished—as ours have in vastly changing global and geopolitical conditions. The ideals of the industrial democracies give purpose to our efforts to improve relations with the East, to the dialogue with the Third World, and to many other spheres of common endeavor.
Our ties with the great industrial democracies are therefore not alliances of convenience but a union of principle in defense of values and a way of life.
It is in this context that we must be concerned about the possibility of Communist parties coming to power—or sharing in power—in governments in NATO countries. Ultimately, the decision must, of course, be made by the voters of the countries concerned. But no one should expect that this question is not of concern to this government.
Whether some of the Communist parties in Western Europe are in fact independent of Moscow cannot be determined when their electoral self-interest so overwhelmingly coincides with their claims.
Their internal procedures—their Leninist principles and dogmas—remain the antithesis of democratic parties. And were they to gain power, they would do so after having advocated for decades programs and values detrimental to our traditional ties. By that record, they would inevitably give low priority to security and Western defense efforts, which are essential not only to Europe’s freedom but to maintaining the world balance of power. They would be tempted to [Page 391] orient their economies to a much greater extent toward the East. We would have to expect that Western European governments in which Communists play a dominant role would, at best, steer their countries’ policies toward the positions of the nonaligned.
The political solidarity and collective defense of the West, and thus NATO, would be inevitably weakened, if not undermined. And in this country, the commitment of the American people to maintain the balance of power in Europe, justified though it might be on pragmatic geopolitical grounds, would lack the moral base on which it has stood for 30 years.
We consider the unity of the great industrial democracies crucial to all we do in the world. For this reason we have sought to expand our cooperation to areas beyond our mutual defense—in improved political consultation, in coordinating our approaches to negotiations with the East, in reinforcing our respective economic policies, in developing a common energy policy, and in fashioning common approaches for the increasingly important dialogue with the developing nations. We have made remarkable progress in all these areas. We are determined to continue. Our foreign policy has no higher priority.
The Debate at Home
This, then, is the design of our foreign policy:
—We have the military and economic power, together with our allies, to prevent aggression.
—We have the self-confidence and vision to go beyond confrontation to a reduction of tensions and ultimately a more cooperative world.
—We have the resources, technology, and organizational genius to build a new relationship with the developing nations.
—We have the moral courage to hold high, together with our allies, the banners of freedom in a turbulent and changing world.
The challenges before us are monumental. But it is not every generation that is given the opportunity to shape a new international order. If the opportunity is missed, we shall live in a world of chaos and danger. If it is realized we will have entered an era of peace and progress and justice.
But we can realize our hopes only as a united people. Our challenge—and its solution—lies in ourselves. Our greatest foreign policy problem is our divisions at home. Our greatest foreign policy need is national cohesion and a return to the awareness that in foreign policy we are all engaged in a common national endeavor.
The world watches with amazement—our adversaries with glee and our friends with growing dismay—how America seems bent on [Page 392] eroding its influence and destroying its achievements in world affairs through an orgy of recrimination.
They see our policies in Africa, the eastern Mediterranean, in Latin America, in East-West relations undermined by arbitrary congressional actions that may take decades to undo.
They see our intelligence system gravely damaged by unremitting, undiscriminating attack.
They see a country virtually incapable of behaving with the discretion that is indispensable for diplomacy.
They see revelations of malfeasance abroad on the part of American firms wreak grave damage on the political structures of friendly nations. Whatever wrongs were committed—reprehensible as they are—should be dealt with in a manner consistent with our own judicial procedures and with the dignity of allied nations.
They see some critics suddenly pretending that the Soviets are 10 feet tall and that America, despite all the evidence to the contrary, is becoming a second-rate nation. They know these erroneous and reckless allegations to be dangerous, because they may, if continued, persuade allies and adversaries of our weakness, tempting the one to accommodation and the other to adventurism.
They see this Administration—which has been condemned by one set of critics for its vigorous reaction to expansionism in Southeast Asia, in the Middle East, in Africa—simultaneously charged by another group of opponents with permitting unilateral Soviet gains.
They see that the Administration whose defense budgets have been cut some $39 billion by the Congress in the past seven years is simultaneously charged with neglecting American defenses.
The American people see all this, too, and wonder when it will end. They know that we cannot escape either our responsibilities or the geopolitical realities of the world around us. For a great nation that does not manage events will soon be overwhelmed by them.
If one group of critics undermines arms control negotiations and cuts off the prospect of more constructive ties with the Soviet Union while another group cuts away at our defense budgets and intelligence services and thwarts American resistance to Soviet adventurism, both combined will—whether they have intended it or not—end by wrecking the nation’s ability to conduct a strong, creative, moderate, and prudent foreign policy. The result will be paralysis, no matter who wins in November. And if America cannot act, others will, and we and all the free peoples of the world will pay the price.
So our problem is at once more complex and simpler than in times past. The challenges are unprecedented but the remedies are in our own hands. This Administration has confidence in the strength, resil[Page 393]ience, and vigor of America. If we summon the American spirit and restore our unity, we will have a decisive and positive impact on a world which, more than ever, affects our lives and cries out for our leadership.
Those who have faith in America will tell the American people the truth:
—That we are strong and at peace;
—That there are no easy or final answers to our problems;
—That we must conduct a long-term and responsible foreign policy, without escape and without respite;
—That what is attainable at any one moment will inevitably fall short of the ideal;
—That the reach of our power and purpose has its limits;
—That nevertheless we have the strength and determination to defend our interests and the conviction to uphold our values; and finally,
—That we have the opportunity to leave our children a more cooperative, more just, and more peaceful world than we found.
In this Bicentennial year, we celebrate ideals which began to take shape around the shores of Massachusetts Bay some 350 years ago. We have accomplished great things as a united people. There is much yet to do. This country’s work in the world is not a burden but a triumph—and the measure of greatness yet to come.
Americans have always made history rather than let history chart our course. We, the present generation of Americans, will do no less. So let this year mark the end of our divisions. Let it usher in an era of national reconciliation and rededication by all Americans to their common destiny. Let us have a clear vision of what is before us—glory and danger alike—and go forward together to meet it.
- Source: Department of State Bulletin, April 5, 1976, pp. 425–432. Kissinger made the address before the Boston World Affairs Council upon receiving the Christian A. Herter Memorial Award. Eagleburger’s February 24 memorandum to Kissinger suggested a strategy for this speech (Document 70 and footnote 8 thereto). Kissinger made similar remarks during a speech in Phoenix April 16. The text of that speech is in Department of State Bulletin, May 10, 1976, pp. 597–603.↩
- Secretary of State from 1959 until 1961.↩
- Former Governor of Illinois Adlai E. Stevenson II was the Democratic Presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956. He also served as Ambassador to the United Nations from 1961 until 1965.↩
- See Document 47.↩
- See footnote 8, Document 60.↩
- The Conference on International Economic Cooperation, with 27 participants comprised of developed and developing nations and OPEC members, convened in Paris in December 1975 and met sporadically throughout 1976. Four commissions on energy, raw materials, development, and finance considered a wide range of development issues. Documentation on the CIEC is in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXVII, Energy Crisis, 1974–1980.↩