His legacy as an international statesman is in permanent question
The diplomat, an icon of American “realpolitik” in the Cold War, put pragmatism first in his relations with the superpowers
Former US diplomat Henry Kissinger celebrates 100 years today Saturday as the greatest exponent of the double face of US international politics during the so-called “era of containment” of the Cold War, one that combined a public normalization effort with the communist countries that the Kissinger himself described as part of the “axis of history” — with China and Russia at its head — and a secret policy against the expansion of the left in the southern hemisphere at the cost of tacit or explicit support for atrocious dictatorships in Latin America ( Chile, Argentina) and South Asia, led by the Pakistani genocide.
Official documents compiled by non-governmental organizations such as the University of Washington-based National Security Archive make clear Kissinger’s role in secret bombing campaigns in Cambodia, his involvement in illegal spying on then-President Richard Nixon, and his complicity in the overthrow of the government of the socialist Salvador Allende in Chile or with the Argentine dictator Rafael Videla.
During his work as the architect of his country’s international policy from 1969 to 1977 — either as Secretary of State or as National Security Adviser –, Kissinger embodied like few other American diplomats the spirit of “realpolitik,” a model of relations policies for which the US authorities ended up considering that their understanding of what they understood as “unappealable realities” had no choice but to prevail over respect for Human Rights and the rule of law.
If there is an example that is worth a template, it is the memorandum written by Kissinger on November 5, 1970 about Chile: “The election of Allende as president represents one of the most serious challenges that we have ever faced in this hemisphere,” he said. , before describing Allende as a leader whose highest goals were “the establishment of a socialist and Marxist state,” as well as the development of “close relations and ties with Cuba, the Soviet Union, and other socialist countries.”
Kissinger, who in the same text acknowledges without any doubt the democratic legitimacy of the Allende government, ends up recommending to President Nixon that he “decide to oppose Allende as forcefully as possible,” but “framing those efforts in such a way that it appears that they The United States is reacting” to any decision that the Chilean president adopts.
Official documents also certify Kissinger’s knowledge and permissiveness of Operation Condor, the campaign of political repression and State terrorism commanded by Latin American dictators in the mid-1970s. Kissinger was informed of this operation in August 1976 by the Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs, Harry Shlaudeman. On September 16, he gave the order not to take any action on the matter. Five days later, agents of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet killed in Washington D.C., with a car bomb, the former Chilean ambassador and prominent opponent Orlando Letelier.
This complicit silence extended to South Asia and, in particular, to one of the bloodiest episodes of the second half of the 20th century, the extermination campaign led by the Pakistani military dictator Yayha Jan against the Bengali population in the east of the country. The Government of Bangladesh currently estimates the death toll at three million and a campaign of systematic rape of between 200,000 and 400,000 Bengali women from March to December 1971.
The consul general in Pakistan, Archer Blood, wrote a harsh telegram on April 6 of that year in which he urged the White House to immediately denounce, as a military ally of Pakistan, what he describes as “genocide.” “Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy (…) has failed to denounce atrocities (…) and has demonstrated what many will understand as a moral bankruptcy,” wrote the consul. Nixon and Kissinger turned a deaf ear to their pleas. The president described the Pakistani general as a “good friend” and said he understood “the anguish of the decisions he had to make.”
A PRAGMATIC POLICY
Kissinger’s defenders argue that the lessons taught by the former Secretary of State in relations between great powers are still fully valid and highlight the success of his model of high-level negotiations with the Soviet Union that reached their maximum expression with the signing in 1975 with the Helsinki Final Act, a document agreed upon by 35 countries from both blocs on a very wide spectrum of areas, from arms control to the principles of territoriality; the heyday of a bilateral rapprochement that would decline again in the early 1980s.
Two years earlier, Kissinger had received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the negotiations to end the Vietnam War. Experts such as Stephen Kinzer, a researcher at the Watson Institute for International Affairs, highlight the division of opinion that reigns today around this award.
“Some admire the ‘peace with honor’ that Kissinger pursued, others believe that he ended up prolonging the war by settling in 1973 for an agreement that he could have closed four years earlier,” Kinzer argues for the ‘Boston Globe’, before highlighting another dichotomy. , this time of a more personal nature, which marked the Kissinger era: his inability both to extend his ability in negotiations with the superpowers to a world in which satellite countries acquired exceptional importance, and to assume the emergence of international movements of protest, which he always considered a threat to global stability.
The Colombian writer and Nobel Prize winner for Literature Gabriel García Márquez referred precisely to this question in “Why Allende had to die”, an article written in 1974 for the ‘New Stateman’ about the coup d’état in Chile. “Kissinger said in private to a group of Chileans: ‘I’m not interested in or know anything about the south of the world from the Pyrenees down,'” Márquez paraphrased him while Kinzer rescues a similar idea that Kissinger conveyed to a group of diplomats, also from Chile: “Nothing good comes from the south. The axis of history begins in Moscow, continues in Bonn, crosses Washington and ends in Tokyo. What happens in the south is of no importance”.