Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger came to campus Friday afternoon to discuss his experience as a diplomat and his views on international relations.
University President Richard Levin and history professor John Gaddis interviewed Kissinger to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his book, “Diplomacy,” as part of a two-day conference sponsored by the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. Kissinger, who served as secretary of state from 1973 to 1977 under former presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford during the Cold War, emphasized the connection between the academic study of history and the work of real-world diplomatic policy to effect change.
“I do not accept the distinction between realism and idealism,” he said. “You can not walk into a policy-making situation and say, ‘I have this abstract notion.’”
The study of history “should be almost a prerequisite for higher office,” Kissinger said, adding that his work has been more influenced by reading history and biographies than theories of international relations.
Kissinger also touched on his outlook on the United States’ current and future relations with China, North Korea, Europe and the Middle East.
Since the opening of China in the early 1970s, Kissinger said every U.S. president has identified the relationship between the two nations as one that requires moving from adversaries to cooperative partners.
“They feel that a conflict between China and the United States would have worse characteristics even than World War I,” he said.
Kissinger said he does not see North Korea as a major threat to the United States and is not worried about a large-scale Korean attack because an attack would be “suicide” for Kim Jong-un’s “inherently fragile regime.”
In the formation of the European Union, he said, he sees “an enormous decline in what made Europe what it is.” He thinks Europe should emphasize political integration in the coming years to create a Euro Zone that can accommodate a common fiscal policy, he said. He added that the United States must maintain a strong relationship with Europe in the coming years.
Kissinger said he thinks it is time to reconsider the role of the United States in the Middle East since the conditions in the region today are very different from those that existed during the Cold War. He discussed the problem of re-establishing authority following a revolution, adding, “the best-organized group, often a minority, prevails.”
Attendees of the talk — who included Global Affairs majors, Gaddis’ students, and students in Directed Studies — said they enjoyed the opportunity to hear from one of the most prominent diplomats of the 20th century.
“It was an amazing opportunity to hear a person that shaped American diplomacy and diplomacy in general,” Joao Pedro Drechsler ’16 said.
Andrew Grass ’16 said he had previously read “Diplomacy” and was familiar with Kissinger’s views but still found the discussion to be cohesive and fascinating.
Kissinger donated his papers to the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs in June 2011.