Former secretary of State Henry Kissinger recommended that emergency measures be taken to deal with the intensifying international financial crisis, telling a top-level audience yesterday that "business as usual" no longer can handle the debt problems of poor nations.
Addressing a conference sponsored by Georgetown University's Center for Strategic and International Studies, Kissinger described the crisis in the gravest of terms, warning that "the international situation is no longer a framework for solvency."
Kissinger, who as secretary of State in the Nixon and Ford years never pretended that economics was one of his strong suits, conceded, "I don't know the answers to these problems," but he made it clear that, if nothing new is done except to offer rescheduling of the Third World's debts, "it will lead to an unimaginable loss of confidence" in the existing financial system.
Third World countries had accumulated foreign debts of $540 billion by the end of last year, according to International Monetary Fund Managing Director Jacques de Larosiere at the recent joint annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank in Toronto. Many of these countries, unable to meet their obligations, have petitioned the private banks -- to whom they owe 60 percent of the money -- to reschedule or postpone interest as well as capital repayments.
Kissinger assailed the pattern, which he said was developing, for the creditors to demand that the borrowers "make themselves creditworthy by austerity measures." That, he said, "misunderstands the nature of the developing countries."
And when the IMF demands strict "conditionality" -- the austere terms on which it lends money -- "it only provides an alibi for what many of them would be doing anyway, and in many cases, the cure IMF loans may be worse than the disease."
Another possibility, he said, is that countries borrow from the IMF, never intending to carry out the harsh terms established, and then later these conditions "provide the rallying cry for economic nationalism."
In his brief discussion of the international financial and debt problems, Kissinger seemed to imply that an emergency international conference should be scheduled, out of which "something like Bretton Woods should emerge." That conference, at the end of World War II, established the World Bank and the IMF to guide the world economic system.
The Georgetown conference, which is concerned with threats to the industrial democracies in the 1980s, is being attended by key public officials and business people from Europe, Canada, Japan and the United States. It will conclude tomorrow with discussions of relations with the Soviet Union and China, including a speech by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger on "the Soviet threat" during this decade.
In another address yesterday, U.S. Trade Representative Bill Brock said that international financial difficulties are intertwined with trade problems, and that none of the nations represented at the Georgetown conference would be able to reverse protectionist trends unless economic growth can be restored in those countries.
Brock again assailed proposed "local content" legislation to protect U.S. auto industry jobs, saying it was "one more way to shoot ourselves in the foot." Coincidentally, a report by the Institute for International Economics released here warned that congressional reciprocity bills, also intended in large part to protect the auto industry, would wind up "severely hurting the U.S. economy itself."
Brock stressed the importance of the November ministerial meeting of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in Geneva, where the United States hopes the GATT will agree to set a timetable for establishing international rules governing investment and the export of services -- comparable to rules now in effect for trade.
But he was warned by Sir Roy Denman, the new Common Market ambassador to the United States, that there will not be an easy path to a successful GATT negotiation. "There are dangers" in insisting on "too much litigation in a system that depends so much on conciliation," said Sir Roy. "GATT will never be a Supreme Court" because that would impinge too closely on "delicate areas of sovereignty."
Kissinger brought up the question of the growing international financial crisis at the end of a list of major problems facing the Western World. His inventory included the escalating Middle Eastern situation revolving about Beirut, and a number of economic problems between the United States and Europe, including East-West trade in general, and the Soviet gas pipeline in particular.
On that issue, he supported the administration's sanctions against all companies, including European firms, now making deliveries for the pipeline. Kissinger was sharply critical of "the confrontational reaction" in Europe to the American sanctions. He suggested bluntly that Europe merely wanted to sustain its business relationships, "hiding behind its contractual obligations."
He said the West must be able "to exact a political quid pro quo for economic benefits bestowed on the Soviet Union . . .
"The question raised is fundamental, and I'm not a willing supporter of grain sales either. I don't believe in a boycott of the Soviet system, or that the aim of the West should be to bring that about. But I wouldn't go into mourning if it happened."