The Kissinger Doctrine and Chile

17 November 2005


The Kissinger Doctrine and Chile
Richard J. Barnet
In The Lessons of Chile
Edited by John Gittings
Transnational InstituteSpokesman Books, 1975

The role of the United States in the destruction of Chilean democracy offers us the first clear vision of how the Number One Nation, as Lyndon Johnson used to call the American Empire, is adjusting to the new political realities of the 1970s. The complicity of the United States in the overthrow of the Allende experiment is evident; only the extent and character of its participation remains to be analysed. My focus is not on the details of the US, intervention in Chile but on what that event teaches us about the evolution of the Nixon-Kissinger Doctrine and its application around the world.

It is necessary, however, to recall a few details concerning the operations of American strategy before e the assumptions behind it. We know that three years before the coup Henry Kissinger stated privately that the success of the Unidad Popular would present the "gravest problems" for American interests in the rest of Latin America and even in Europe. We know that the official US lending agency, the Eximbank, refused to continue credits to Chile to permit the importation of vital materials, spare parts and food, from the United States. We know that the US used its dominant position in the multilateral agencies IDB and the World Bank, to boycott loans to Chile (with the exception of two conservative universities). We know that US aid was cut off except for a few training grants, visits of the American Institute of Free Labor Development, the AFL-CIO organisation that seeks to preserve American influence in the Latin American labour movements, and Military aid. (In the last pre-Allende year US military aid was down to $800,000. In 1972, it was $12.3 million.) We know that Brazilian businessmen and conservative Chileans in Brazil, some working for multinational corporations, financed the subversion of the Allende government. (The Brazilian magazine Veja reports the direct involvement of an official of an American business organisation in this operation.) We know that ITT, Kennecott, and other multinational companies have pursued strategies to produce "economic chaos" and to squeeze the Allende government. We know that despite cautious public rhetoric the Nixon Administration has welcomed the coup and sees it as a vindication of its policies.

The Chilean catastrophe seemed indeed, to confirm all the new assumptions about the world that Henry Kissinger brought to the White House. First, the Soviet Union will not, it appears, use its power to protest another socialist experiment in the Western Hemisphere. Probably the most important revision of US cold war theory was the replacement of what might be called the J. Edgar Hoover conspiracy theory of international communism. Today, unlike the Acheson-Dulles-Rusk era, the Soviet Union is regarded as a modestly ambitious status quo power interested in defending its security, preserving aid, and, where possible, cautiously expanding its power, building an industrial consumer society in its huge expanse, and controlling its own populations. In Kissinger's view, it is not interested in making a revolution anywhere including Russia. The continuing nightmare of the Rusk era that liberation movements were puppets on a long string from Moscow has been replaced by a much more realistic assessment. Kissinger is confident that he can isolate the liberation movements from the Soviet Union, and, in particular, can insure Soviet non-interference in American plans for the Western Hemisphere, by offering the Kremlin an ambiguous junior partnership in building a "generation of peace". The confrontation over Cuba is not to be repeated. So encouraged was the United States by the neutralisation of Soviet power in Vietnam that it seemed virtually assured that the Kremlin would adopt a hands-off policy towards Chile. (Whether Kissinger's assumptions are valid for the future remains to be seen.)

The second new assumption that Kissinger brought to the White House was the "rollback", as Dulles used to call it, of Soviet and Chinese power was impractical. Until Nixon, it was a basic tenet of US foreign policy that the continued application of massive economic and military power on the periphery of what used to be called the Sino-Soviet bloc would eventually cause the dissolution or radical transformation (in a conservative direction) of Soviet and Chinese power. To make international pariahs of Russia and China would deny them the legitimacy they would need to survive. But Nixon and Kissinger have understood that socialism cannot be dislodged from the Soviet Union and China except at the cost of nuclear war. Therefore it is time to recognise the Soviet Revolution of 1917 and the Chinese Revolution of 1949.

Kissinger is now willing to accord legitimacy to established revolutionary power in order to isolate it from revolutionary movements which at all costs must be denied legitimacy. Acceptance of Soviet and Chinese power is thus the price of preventing further revolutionary inroads into the Third World. Revolutionary power is to be managed with the judicious use of the carrot and the stick. The largest carrot is the accord of legitimacy itself. Smaller carrots include trade arrangements, wheat deals, and credits. But with respect to the Soviet Union particularly the stick remains crucial. The United States hopes to contain Soviet power by maintaining a massive superiority of nuclear weapons, highly manoeuvrable strike forces (principally Air Force and Navy), and a network of Deputy Peacekeepers, such as South Vietnam, Greece, Iran, and Brazil, who are able to maintain American influence in strategic areas of the world without the direct involvement of US troops. Some of these pillars of Kissinger's "structure of peace" do their job merely by surviving. Some like Brazil and Iran are playing an active policeman's role in other countries of the region. Brazilians helped to train and finance the September 11 coup. "Subversion against Allende was surprisingly cheap", a Brazilian businessman is quoted in an authoritative Washington Post report. "The money we sent would go a long way on the black market". In the Middle East the Shah of Iran is amassing one of the largest armies in the world and is playing approximately the same role in relation to South Yemen as Brazil played with respect to Chile.

But, as Kissinger has frequently pointed out in his writings, a military capability no matter how enormous is not sufficient if it is not backed up by a strong will to commit it. To counter any Soviet "misunderstanding" that as a result of Vietnam the US is becoming passive, the Pentagon has resorted to a world-wide alert, has given new importance to tactical nuclear weapons in strategic doctrine, and has proposed once again a first-strike counterforce posture for the Strategic Air Command. The Soviet Union is to be admitted in certain parts of the world as junior partner but it must be continually reminded not to presume upon the relationship.

The third assumption undergirding Kissinger's new view of the world is that a successful foreign policy must be based on conservative, not liberal rhetoric. Like many writers on foreign policy of the United States, including de Tocqueville, the Secretary of State has worried since he was a graduate student about the difficulties of reconciling great imperial tasks with the hopes, fears, and prejudices of a democratic population. The anti-war movement that sprang up in reaction to the prospect of ever-escalating American casualties in a distant and uncertain war posed, in Kissinger's view, the most serious challenge to the projection of American power that had developed in the Cold War - far more serious than any threat posed by the Soviets.

If the American president was unable to act because he feared the pacifism and the isolationism of the American people, then the American Century was over. American power would ebb quietly away and other nations would move in discreetly to pick up the pieces. Thus the real danger of Chile from the perspective of the White House was that the presence of a self-acknowledged Marxist in the American Hemisphere appeared to confirm the fact that the US had lost its hold. (Just 20 years ago the CIA sent airplanes and troops against Guatemala City to overthrow a far more tentative nationalist who had dared to expropriate some banana lands.) Were the United States to tolerate a constitutional regime prepared to move to socialism in the American hemisphere, it would be interpreted as a licence for radical change around the world. The "domino effect" of a successful Chilean experiment, Kissinger understood, was far greater than the "domino effect" of a Cuba or a Vietnam because the conditions could be more easily duplicated in other strategic areas of the world. Liberation movements are not easily exportable but the idea of achieving socialism through constitutional process could be spread by a successful demonstration.

For the architects of American foreign policy the principal challenge was to construct a new consensus to replace the one that had collapsed in the Vietnam War, one that would permit the United States to take the minimum action necessary to prevent Chile and future Chiles from succeeding. The traditional anti- communist consensus was broken in the late 1960s. The Soviet Union was no longer monolithic and the embodiment of evil. It had become ally as well as enemy, trading partner as well as target. The Free World had been unmasked for many Americans as a motley collection of repressive, terrorist regimes. When the pictures of tiger cages in Vietnam and of US tanks being used to shoot down Greek students in the streets, and accounts of torture in Brazil began to filter into American consciousness it became impossible to repeat the John F. Kennedy rhetoric about America as the "watchman on the ramparts of world freedom". Since the days of Acheson and Dulles the US had fought the Cold War under the banner of liberalism and freedom. Kissinger, the student of Metternich, has understood the dangers of this. When nations profess morality some people at least will expect them to adhere to it. Moral inhibitions are an impossible strait jacket. The rhetoric of crusade leads to the contradictions of defending "freedom" in South Vietnam and "democracy" in Greece.

Henry Kissinger has understood that the rhetoric of peace is both more popular and more practical than the rhetoric of freedom. His vision is indeed of a "world restored" to use the title of one of his books. It is a world of the Peace of Westphalia where each sovereign is free to profess what he wishes within his own territory except to profess an ideology such as national liberation or socialism which threatens to undermine the system. Established socialist regimes, as we have seen, are accorded Westphalian treatment. Repressive regimes which are prepared to use massive brutality to suppress democratic social change no longer need to be the basis of embarrassment and apology. On Southern Africa, Brazil, Vietnam the position of the United States is now clear. Internal police repression carried on without pity and without restraint preserves "peace" and "stability" and obviates the necessity of direct American military involvement. To the extent that such regimes can act as their own policemen the United States can assume a lower profile in what Dean Rusk used to call "organizing the peace".

John Foster Dulles used to talk about peace with justice but Kissinger, to quote another of his book titles, knows that there is a "necessity of choice". He and Nixon have gambled heavily en the cynicism of public opinion across the globe, that people will Put up with invisible violence and the death sentence of starvation that hovers over millions and back room torture to avoid the visible violence of war and revolution. Peace is order and order is the continuation of the status quo. Kissinger is betting that a world that has been convulsed by war, revolution and confrontation for three generations would welcome a generation of peace under American hegemony, however unjust, however repressive of those who resist it. That he now appears as the world's most admired public figure, praised in Peking as well as Rio shows how acute his political instinct has been. The new "realism" of this generation's "tough guy", as Nelson Rockefeller calls him, has caught on. People are prepared to be deceived in exchange for a generation of peace, and that, quite literally, is all that he has promised.

As the stumbling blocks to peace, Brezhnev, Chou, Le Due Tho, Sadat, appear to fall in line, the Kissinger policy is greeted with almost universal admiration. "Peace with honour" in Indo-China is stipulated, and the stipulation is accepted by almost everybody despite the fact that in clear violation of the Paris accords, the United States is sending $1.7 billion in military and economic aid to the Thieu regime this fiscal year (1973-4), maintains over 10,000 US personnel in South Vietnam, and has supported completely Thieu's refusal to engage in a political contest for the future of Vietnam, as was clearly contemplated by the agreements. Vietnam has disappeared from the headlines, and that is peace. When the Chilean coup occurred it was frontpage news in the United States for about three weeks. As predicted, once the imposition of a fascist state was a fait accompli political concern in the United States virtually vanished, just as it had already vanished over Indo-China. The Watergate crisis which so undermined the credibility of Richard Nixon actually enhanced the credibility of the Kissinger foreign policy. First, Kissinger himself became a hero by default, an intelligent, occasionally witty man only peripherally involved with the cruder forms of espionage in which the rest of the Nixon entourage had specialised, who seemed unable to fail. But, more important, the barrage of Watergate revelations reinforced public cynicism. To a considerable extent the public accepted Nixon's defence. In foreign policy at least governments are duplicitous. Crime is a traditional instrument of rule. The liberal innocence which was at the heart of Much of the Vietnam protest is gone. The patriotism which took the rhetoric of freedom seriously has largely evaporated and people are both confused and numb, an ideal state of affairs for carrying on a Metternichean foreign policy.