Henry Kissinger says Brexit will bring Britain closer to the US

US diplomat believes EU exit is chance for UK to renew transatlantic alliance while keeping some ties with Europe.

Henry Kissinger believes Brexit is a chance for the UK to renew the transatlantic alliance – but that Britain would be mistaken if it left Europe altogether.

The former US national security adviser and secretary of state revealed that when the referendum first came up he was “automatically a supporter of remain” because it was “familiar” to have Britain in the EU.

But the 94-year-old said since then his thinking had evolved as he saw the need for “a new articulation of the Atlantic partnership”, and now he believed Brexit could strengthen Britain’s role.

Kissinger told a conference in London on Tuesday: “I thought of Britain returning to some of its more historic contributions of bridging the Atlantic and as a security leader of the western world. I still hope that, as these negotiations develop, Britain will be able to continue its role in forming the Atlantic relationship, so that even if some links to Europe are being severed other links will be built with the United States.

“But at the same time Britain will not leave Europe completely but contribute to an Atlantic partnership in a way that is more relevant to the emerging world.”

He said the transatlantic alliance had changed greatly since the end of the cold war – owing to the rise of new powers and the weakness of the nation state. He urged Nato be refashioned, warning that China could fill the vacuum unless there was stronger strategic thinking in the west.

Kissinger told the Centre for Policy Studies conference that Nato cooperation should amount to more than just article 5, which calls on each member state to come to the aid of another. Kissinger, who has acted as an occasional adviser to Donald Trump, made no reference to the US president, who called Nato obsolete during his election campaign.

“If the west withdraws providing stability, China and India will step in, as will Russia. World politics will be revolutionised. If the west engages in conflict without strategic concept, chaos will ensue.”

Kissinger, who was the architect of a changed US relationship with China under Richard Nixon, said the country now had a degree of equality in terms of strategic significance with the US.

He said the Chinese “Belt and Road” initiative would shift the geopolitical centre of gravity from the Atlantic to central Asia, placing Iran, India and Turkey at its core.

He also said the nation state and old world order was collapsing in the Middle East. He said in the past it was possible to form necessary alliances in the region but that was increasingly not the case. “The maxim no longer applies in the Middle East that your enemy’s enemy is your friend. Now, they’re probably your enemy too,” he said.

The world order, he said, had been based on nation states cooperating and competing according to a set of mutually agreed rules, but he believed the great challenges the west faced now cannot be contained within this system, which was why they were such challenges.

Kissinger told his audience he was against social media and modern technology, saying the cyber world was changing the human character. “Its instantaneousness risks removing the need for sequential thinking,” he said. “When you can acquire information instantaneously at the push of a button you lose the reflectiveness.” He added that it led to “narcissism and emotiveness”.

Speaking at the same conference, General Sir David Richards, a former UK chief of the defence staff, said there was no appetite in the west to act or to develop a grand strategy. The west, he said, needed to come to terms with China dominating the world within 10-30 years.