Sunday 16 May 2021 | 07:32 | SYDNEY
Sunday 16 May 2021 | 07:32 | SYDNEY

Kissinger on sacrifice


Sam Roggeveen


21 November 2007 13:58

 The Wall Street Journal's interview with Henry Kissinger includes this passage:

But today, fundamental philosophical differences divide the U.S and Europe across a range of key foreign policy issues. Europeans and Americans, I suggested, disagree as to both means and ends--especially the legitimacy of the pre-emptive use of force without an explicit blessing from the Security Council, as well as in their basic assessment of the gravity of the threats posed by transnational terror networks, which cannot be either bargained with or deterred.

The real difference, Mr. Kissinger interjected, lay in "what government[s] can ask of their people." It is because "European governments are not able any more to ask their people for great sacrifices," he argued, that they have so readily opted for a "soft power" approach to so many foreign policy issues. This will, of necessity, make it harder for Europe to reach a consensus with the U.S.

But where's the evidence that the US is able to ask its people for great sacrifices?  Certainly the Bush Administration has never tested the theory. Bush had every opportunity in the aftermath of 9/11 to ask Americans to make do with less. But Bush's early advice to Americans who wanted to help included volunteerism and maintaining consumer spending.

Perhaps what Kissinger has in mind is different standards for casualty aversion between US and European armed forces. But this is surely just a matter of degree, and a pretty fine one at that. Despite some greater US willingness to take risks, enduring economic and tactical factors have asserted themselves. For the armed forces of all Western countries, troops are extremely valuable commodities, and cannot be risked in numbers such as those seen in World War II, Korea or even Vietnam. The 9/11 attacks didn't change that.

Photo by Flickr user tvol, used under a Creative Commons licence.