Henry Kissinger’s peace plan for the Ukraine is ridiculous, outdated and a fantasy.
Henry Kissinger now joins the list of prominent figures whose efforts to draft a peace plan for Ukraine reveal only their delusions about the nature of the conflict. In his view, the splendor of fantasy is fueled by nostalgia for Golden Age panaceas that are of no panacea value for the war that is actually going on.
In an article this weekend Viewer, the former statesman-historian proposes a ceasefire and a return to the borders prior to the invasion this past February. In other words, he is suggesting that Russia withdraw all its troops from the areas of Ukraine it conquered this year, but not from Crimea or the thin portion of eastern Ukraine it annexed or occupied in 2014. The disposition of those territories, he argues, it must be negotiated or resolved through an internationally supervised referendum.
This idea is neither new nor particularly ingenious. Kissinger points out that he proposed the idea in May; others present similar ideas before that. There is, and always has been, just one problem: Russian President Vladimir Putin has absolutely no interest in accepting it.. He has no interest in withdrawing troops from him, an act he would view, appropriately, as a defeat. And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, also quite correctly, has no interest in a ceasefire, which the Russian military would use as an opportunity to regroup and mobilize, unless Putin first withdraws all troops from it.
In other words, the idea is a failure, the article a complete waste of time, except in one sense: it exposes the limits of one way of thinking about international politics, at least when it comes to the war between Russia and Ukraine. , and exposes the limits of Kissinger’s relevance for 21st century.
Kissinger is 99 years old. It’s natural, even for those a decade or two younger, to long for the glory days of yore, or at least to view current crises through the prism of a more orderly past. Out of power for nearly half a century, eager to preserve his status as a public intellectual worthy of attention and influence, Kissinger must fondly remember the work that first marked his status as a serious scholar: his Ph.D. dissertation, which he turned into the 1957 book a world restored. In it, he told the story of how the two great statesmen of the early 19th centurythe Austrian Chancellor Klemens von Metternich and British Foreign Minister Viscount Castlereagh forged a new European order at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, an order that kept the peace for 100 years.
It remains an exciting book and, more importantly, a model for the branch of international realism:realpolitik— who sees balance of power politics as the key to peace at all times. Seen in this context, Kissinger’s Spectator article is an attempt to impose the lessons of his dissertation on the war in Ukraine. The problem is that the two don’t fit together.
Kissinger begins his article with a brief summary of the First World War. He began in 1914, when, as he points out, the leaders of Europe sleepwalked into a conflict that none of them would have entered if he had foreseen the consequences four years later. It started almost by accident. The assassination of the Austrian crown prince triggered an automatic escalation, as the leaders of two sets of alliances activated their rigid schedules for troop mobilization: Germany attacked Belgium to defeat France, France reacted accordingly, and other countries entered the fray. fray, as their allies. dictated commitments. Two years into the war, the fighting nations, mired in a trench warfare stalemate, sought U.S. mediation, but President Woodrow Wilson delayed for another two years, until after his re-election, at which point which had mobilized another 2 million soldiers. sacrificed
Kissinger then asks, “Is the world today at a comparable turning point in the Ukraine, as winter imposes a pause on large-scale military operations there?”
The question doesn’t make sense. There are no parallels between the wars of 1914 and 2022. The current war started when Russia invaded the Ukraine, period. Russia was not provoked to invade by any interlocking alliance. (Putin may have feared that Ukraine might join NATO, but there was absolutely no such prospect on the horizon.) Ukraine was not tied to any alliance at all. (The United States and its NATO allies gradually helped Ukraine with weapons and intelligence as Russia intensified its aggression, but have resolutely avoided fighting directly.) And neither Russia nor Ukraine plead with anyone to stop the war; the leaders of both countries believe they can still gain an advantage: Ukraine hitting the Russian army on the battlefield, Russia hitting Ukrainian cities with drones and missiles.
Nevertheless, Kissinger continues:
I have repeatedly expressed my support for the Allied military effort to thwart Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. But the time is coming to build on the strategic changes that have already been achieved and integrate them into a new structure to achieve peace through negotiation.
These are chin-scratching words, but they mean nothing. First, there is the elusive phrase “time is approaching”, which allows Kissinger to continue to plead his case even if the time has not yet arrived several months from now. Second, the “strategic shifts” he mentions are Ukraine’s emergence as a major nation and its de facto alliance with (if not membership of) NATO. That’s fine, but it’s not entirely clear how this improves the chances for peace.
But his main point comes with the next sentence, about integrating these changes “into a new structure.” It’s complete gibberish, unless you read it with Kissinger’s dissertation in mind. Kissinger wants to be the new Metternich, who shapes a new European order by restoring the principles of the old order.
His peace plan, the ceasefire, followed by Russia’s withdrawal from territories taken after February, which would then be followed by negotiations over land annexed or occupied in 2014, is nothing more than a means to this end. He states the point clearly:
The objective of a peace process would be twofold: to confirm the freedom of Ukraine and to define a new international structure, especially for Central and Eastern Europe. Eventually, Russia should find a place in such an order.
This last sentence is amazing. “Finally Russia should find a place in such an order”? “Finally Russia should find a place in such an order”? What is Kissinger talking about? Right now (as Kissinger postulates that the time for diplomacy is “approaching”), the real existing Russia, personified in Putin, does not want a place in that order. Putin questions the existence, let alone the freedom, of a Ukrainian nation. He dreams of restoring Peter the Great’s Great Russian Empire, not a Metternichian vision of Europe; a revived Congress of Vienna is not part of his vocabulary, let alone his agenda.
Kissinger seems not to realize this. “For all her propensity for violence,” he writes, “Russia has made decisive contributions to the global balance and balance of power for more than half a millennium. The historical role of her must not be downgraded”.
This is also an amazing statement. You are right to reject the views of some that Russia should be rendered powerless, even divided into several smaller states, by this war. That would unleash several civil wars that, given Russia’s nuclear arsenal, could turn catastrophic for the world. Yet Russia has hardly been a constant force for peace or stability in the last 500 years. His genuinely “decisive contributions to global balance” came during the Cold War, but at the expense of the freedom and prosperity of hundreds of millions of people, including his own citizenry. More to the point, Putin is not interested in a balance of power now, not one that will help balance. The world he wants to restore is one in which Russia dominates a large part of the map, including all of Ukraine.
Kissinger concludes: “The search for peace and order has two components that are sometimes treated as contradictory: the search for elements of security and the demand for acts of reconciliation. If we can’t achieve both, we won’t be able to achieve either.”
He is correct. The problem is that Putin has a fanciful vision of security and no desire for reconciliation. That is the problem we face with this war. Kissinger’s peace plan solves nothing it’s.