GENEVA -- Nuclear diplomacy on North Korea and Iran has achieved nothing because national assertiveness has undermined the collective security ideal on which it is based, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said on Friday.
In a speech to a conference of the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank, he said efforts to rally joint action on sanctions was undermined by countries, in particular in Asia, calculating their interests on a more individual basis.
"A decade of U.N.-backed negotiations on Korea and Iran has produced no significant results, much less an end to Iranian or Korean programmes," the veteran former architect of U.S. foreign policy told the meeting of military officers and strategists.
"It becomes a method used by proliferators to gain time. Negotiations on proliferation and sanctions come to be defined by their attainability, not by their consequences. In this manner collective security begins to undermine itself."
The West is concerned that Iran may be trying to develop an atomic weapon, which Tehran denies, and several rounds of U.N. sanctions have been imposed to persuade the Iranian leadership to back down and halt sensitive activity.
Washington views the atomic capabilities of North Korea as a threat to allies South Korea and Japan and a proliferation risk.
Russia and China, which have strong economic ties with Tehran, have at times resisted sanctions on Iran.
China has pressed North Korea to abandon its arsenal but has also said Washington should do more to offer Pyongyang diplomatic and security assurances. Russia has joined China in warning against cornering North Korea with harsh sanctions.
WORLD WILL HAVE TO CHOOSE
Kissinger said it was not that Russia and China did not share Western concerns over proliferation. But China "has a deep concern for the political evolution of North Korea and Russia for the internal consequences for a confrontation with Islam."
Other countries, too, displayed a tendency to elevate national priorities over the global collective security system developed by the international community after World War Two.
Kissinger, who called the Pacific and Indian Oceans the new centre of gravity of world affairs, said many of these countries were newly confident, emerging powers in Asia, a region where "the term national interest has no pejorative implication".
Vietnam had a "ferocious readiness" to vindicate its definition of national interest, he said, while India analysed its own security in ways more comparable to early 20th century Europe than the multilateral Europe of today.
He said the trend would one day force big powers to choose whether to live with the emergence of nuclear weapons powers or take whatever further action was necessary to stop them.
"Time is not neutral," he said. "The drift regarding proliferation will, within a measurable point, oblige the international system to choose whether to take decisive measures -- however defined -- or to live in a proliferated world."
Israel's rightist government says a nuclear-armed Iran would be a mortal danger. Israeli officials would once make veiled threats to strike Iran, but now they often try to warn the West against accommodating any Iranian nuclear weapons ambitions.
As secretary of state under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Kissinger shaped policies behind major world events of the 1970s, like the Vietnam peace accord, the reopening of U.S.-China relations and U.S.-Soviet arms control talks.
After his departure from government, Kissinger has continued to be an independent diplomatic influence. (Editing by Jon Hemming)
© 2015 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.