Business News/ Politics / Kissinger: for the safety of Europe, get Ukraine into NATO

Over two days in late April 2023, The Economist spent almost eight hours in conversation with Henry Kissinger. We have published an article assessing how America’s former secretary of state and national-security adviser sees an urgent need for America and China to repair their relations. We have also published a transcript of the interview. What follows here are eight highlights.

Mr Kissinger lauds Volodymyr Zelensky as an “extraordinary leader", who is wise to welcome Chinese diplomatic efforts in Ukraine. He explains how he has changed his view to support Ukraine’s membership of NATO (saying it is in Russia’s interest, too), warning that Europe’s leaders are wrong to waver on its membership.

He is deeply worried about the threat posed by confrontation between America and China, and by artificial intelligence. He questions the future of the China-Russia relationship, damns the quality of political leadership in America, expects Japan to become a nuclear power soon and praises India’s government for its conduct of foreign policy.

1) Why Ukraine should join NATO—for the sake of Europe and Russia

“What the Europeans are now saying is, in my view, madly dangerous. Because the Europeans are saying: ‘We don’t want them in NATO, because they’re too risky. And therefore, we’ll arm the hell out of them and give them the most advanced weapons.’ And how can that possibly work? We shouldn’t end [the war] in the wrong way. Assuming the outcome is the probable outcome, that would be somewhere along the line of the status quo ante that existed [prior to February 24, 2022]. The outcome should be one in which Ukraine remains protected by Europe and doesn’t become a solitary state just looking out for itself."

“If I talked to Putin, I would tell him that he, too, is safer with Ukraine in NATO."

“We have now armed Ukraine to a point where it will be the best-armed country and with the least strategically experienced leadership in Europe. If the war ends like it probably will, with Russia losing many of its gains, but retaining Sevastopol, we may have a dissatisfied Russia, but also a dissatisfied Ukraine – in other words, a balance of dissatisfaction.

“So, for the safety of Europe, it is better to have Ukraine in NATO, where it cannot make national decisions on territorial claims."

2) On the threat of global conflict arising from confrontation between America and China

“We’re in the classic pre-World War One situation, where neither side has much margin of political concession and in which any disturbance of the equilibrium can lead to catastrophic consequences."

“Both sides have convinced themselves that the other represents a strategic danger," he says. “We are on the path to great-power confrontation."

“The two greatest dangers to peace right now are us two [America and China]. In the sense that we have the capacity to destroy humanity."

3) On Ukraine being ready to talk to China about the war

“The Ukrainians want the relationship. Zelensky has proven an extraordinary leader, and it is an exercise in wisdom on his part, because they could have thought, after the pledge of the ‘partnership without limits’ [between Russia and China], that China would never enter on a diplomacy parallel to NATO."

“Ukraine is now a major state. The Chinese talk about joint relations."

4) On the looming threat from AI

“[China and America] are two powers of the type where, historically, a military confrontation was inevitable. But this is not a normal circumstance, because of mutually assured destruction and artificial intelligence. We are at the very beginning of a capability where machines could impose global pestilence or other pandemics – not just nuclear, but any field of human destruction. The circumstances require responsible leaders, who at least make an attempt to avoid conflict."

5) His doubts about China’s relationship with Russia

“Until the agreement between Putin and Xi at the Olympic Games, when Xi stated his opposition to NATO expansion—I don’t think any Chinese leader had expressed a view on European evolution before this. Xi must have known that Putin would go into Ukraine. That is a serious Chinese commitment."

“I have never met a Russian leader who said anything good about China. And I’ve never met a Chinese leader who said anything good about Russia, they are sort of treated with contempt."

6) Japan will become a nuclear-armed state in five years

“[On] Japan. It has a pretty clear view of where they’re going; they’re heading towards becoming a nuclear power in five years. And they always want to be close to us. Except I wouldn’t exclude their making deals inconvenient to us. But they will always be worried about China, and the power relationship between them. Similarly, I don’t think Japan has any intention of being a permanent member of a global multilateral system that will constrain them."

7) On domestic American polarisation and the lack of appeal of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden

“...a comparable situation to Watergate could lead to civil-war-type conditions, and that deeply worries me. The nature of a political debate is so different from when I first came to Washington."

“I don’t think Biden can supply the inspiration and…I’m hoping that Republicans can come up with somebody better,… Look, it’s not a great moment in history, but the alternative is total abdication."

“...even in the Nixon period with all its animosities, there was still a degree of unity. It started weakening in every administration, but I think Trump and now Biden have driven it over the top."

8) On the success of India’s foreign policy, and the need for closer ties between America and India

“You know, the practising political leader that is quite close to my views is the Indian foreign minister."

“I’m very enthusiastic about close relations with India. I’m wary of the anti-Chinese definition of [American policy], but I’m not in favour of withdrawing from Asia."

“I agree with strengthening India militarily with respect to its conflict with China."

“In India today, there is scope for alignment. I have very high regard for the way the Indians conduct their foreign policy now, because it shows balance."

Read the full transcript

© 2023, The Economist Newspaper Limited. All rights reserved. From The Economist, published under licence. The original content can be found on

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Updated: 18 May 2023, 03:35 PM IST
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