Thursday, October 23, 2014


"Kissinger attempted to apply the theoretical principles of classical realism to achieve what he saw as a global equilibrium of power. Together with Nixon, he promoted détente with the Soviet Union, established relations with China, ended the Vietnam War, and pursued shuttle diplomacy to end the 1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel and the Arabs. In essence, Kissinger outmaneuvered the Soviets in both China and the Middle East. Kissinger’s aim was not to launch a crusade against the Soviet Union, but to formulate a creative response to promote a balance of power in the mold of the Congress of Vienna, which secured the peace for much of nineteenth-century Europe before the big bang of World War I, when a rising Wilhelmine Germany embarked on a reckless bid to relegate the British Empire to the second tier of world powers. IN HIS NEW book, World Order, Kissinger does just that....He offers a meditation and a mode of thinking about events that is starkly at variance with much contemporary foreign-policy discourse. Diplomatic history has largely fallen into desuetude in the American academy, but Kissinger expertly mines the past to draw parallels between it and the present. Kissinger returns to his central concern of the difficulty of establishing an equilibrium among the great powers. He has been preoccupied with this problem since his first book, A World Restored, in which he examined the efforts of Metternich and Castlereagh to create a stable Europe in the nineteenth century. It is remarkable how consistent his thought has remained over the decades. He argues that the central challenge of the twenty-first century is to construct a new international order at a time of mounting ideological extremism, advancing technology and armed conflict. Kissinger begins by returning to the tension in Europe between the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and the French Revolution. He next turns to Islam and the Middle East. He follows his scrutiny of the Ottoman Empire and Islam with a study of China’s rise and its implications for its neighbors. But his most extended thoughts are reserved for what he sees as America’s ambivalence about its status as a superpower. He traces the rise of the United States from Theodore Roosevelt down to today, discussing his own tenure in the Nixon administration to explore the unresolved tensions in U.S. foreign policy between isolationist and crusading instincts. Throughout, he aims to reconcile American universalist aspirations with the stark reality of competing powers intent on protecting and projecting their own visions and concepts of order".
Jacob Heilbrunn, "Kissinger's Counsel". The National Interest. 26 August 2014, in
"The deepest problem of the contemporary international order may be that most of the debates which form the headlines of the day are peripheral to the basic division described in this article. The cleavage is not over particular political arrangements---except as symptoms---but between two styles of policy and two philosophical perspectives....As for the difference in philosophical perspective, it may reflect the divergence of the two lines of thought which since the Renaissance have distinguished the West from the part of the world now called underdeveloped (with Russia occupying an intermediary position). The West is deeply committed to the notion that the real world is external to the observer, that knowledge consists of recording and classifying data---the more accurately the better. Cultures which have escaped the early impact of Newtonian thinking have retained the essentially pre-Newtonian view that the real world is almost completely internal to the observer".
Henry A. Kissinger, "Domestic Structures and Foreign Policy". Daedalus. (Spring 1966), pp. 526,528.
"Whatever the qualities of Soviet Leadership, its training is eminently political and conceptual. Reading Lenin or Mao or Stalin, one is struck by the emphasis on the relationship between political, military, psychological and economic factors, the insistence on finding a conceptual basis for political action and on the need for dominating a situation by flexible tactics and inflexible purpose. And the internal struggles in the Kremlin ensure that only the most iron-nerved reach the top....As a result, the contest between us and the Soviet system has had many of the attributes of any contest between a professional and an amateur. Even a mediocre professional will usually defeat an excellent amateur, not because the amateur does not know what to do, but because he cannot react with sufficient speed consistently."
Henry A. Kissinger. Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy. (1957), pp. 434-435.
Jacob Heilbrunn's essay quoted above is if nothing else illustrative of the aura which still surrounds the man who was once called 'the Doctor of diplomacy', Henry Alfred Kissinger. And let there be no mistake: regardless of the less than positive comments about him which are to follow, I am quite willing to be the first in acknowledging that with the exceptions perhaps of Theodore Roosevelt, George Kennan, and Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger possessed the preeminent mind in American foreign policy in the twentieth century. Anyone who has had the pleasure of reading both his memoirs and his diplomatic cables and communications while in office, readily sees that he is dealing with someone who evinces a superb mind and intellect as it relates to diplomacy and foreign relations. With however that being said, what does one make of his current book, World Order? First thing that comes to mind and which needs to be repeated again and again when one discusses the mind, art and indeed 'philosophy of power' of the former Secretary of State is that he is not, and has never been a historian. Certainly not a diplomatic historian. For many of course my statement appears to be an odd one insofar as Kissinger's first and perhaps best book, dealt extensively with early 19th century European diplomatic history, A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace 1812-1822. Unfortunately, the fact that Kissinger received his doctorate not in history but in the Department of Government at Harvard University is made evident by the book's contents: there is no evidence of archival research and Kissinger is quite happy to admit his reliance upon the existing published primary and secondary sources for his evidence. Accordingly, notwithstanding the fame that the book gave to its author from that time to this, historians in the field have largely chosen to ignore it almost entirely 1. With almost no one now adhering to the Kissinger's thesis that the post-Congress of Vienna peace was due to "an equilibrium among the great powers" 2. Similarly, Kissinger's rather humorous (post-facto) comments on the positive aspects evinced by the leadership qualities of Mao, Stalin or Lenin read distinctly odd to put it mildly. And indeed given the fact that they were published after Nikita Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin's 'the cult of personality', one is somewhat amazed that Kissinger would ignore the same and publish these comments. And of course in his public praise for Chou En-lai found in his three volumes of memoirs, one sees a almost willful ignorance of the fact that Chou was at his very best of more subtle enabler and enforcer of Mao's more demonic and catastrophic actions, then the suave and grand statesman that Kissinger makes him out to be 3. As for the idea that in his time in office, particularly in the more creative, earlier years, Kissinger endeavored to: "to formulate a creative response to promote a balance of power in the mold of the Congress of Vienna", unfortunately the historical record that has come out in the past twenty years clearly show that in fact whatever Kissinger was endeavoring to do, promoting a balance of power was most certainly not one of his goals. As the writings of Raymond Garthoff among others have clearly shown 4. Which is not to gainsay the fact that at times, Kissinger was indeed a very skillful diplomat and very good tactician. Merely that Kissinger's time in office shows that with the exception of being mesmerized by Peking and its denizens, he had no use for, nor any wish to recreate a stable equilibrium between the United States and the Soviet Union. Much less between the United States and its allies as well as China and the Soviet Union.
With all that being understood what does the reader make of Kissinger's new book? Well I for one am amused that it conjurors up the same inaccurate and or outdated diplomatic history of the 18th, 19th and 20th century that Kissinger has trotted out time and again for a good number of years now. Additionally of course he in a sotto voce fashion intentionally endeavors to confuse the reader as to what he and President Nixon were endeavoring to do while in office. Which as we have seen had absolutely nothing to do with trying to create or recreate 'equilibrium' between the various powers that he dealt with. For the most part, the book is nothing more than a re-hash of some of the points made in two of his more recent books: that on China in 2011 and his book on diplomacy in 1994. Among which are: i) the need to appease Peking, at almost whatever cost to Western interests and prestige, in order to avoid a repeat of the clash between the United States and China; ii) the need for existing Great Powers to accommodate 'rising ones', in order to avoid a breakdown in the diplomatic equilibrium, the failure of Great Britain to so accommodate Imperial Germany being of course from Kissinger's own (rather out-dated) perspective the primary cause of the outbreak of the Great War 5. In short, while endeavoring to be kind, there is nothing substantive or penetrating about Kissinger's newest book. For those who enjoy reading Kissinger's own take on diplomatic history in the 18th, 19th and 20th century, his book of twenty-years ago was both much more interesting and cogent in its arguments and assertions. For those interested in his observations on the contemporary scene, aside from its boringly blatant call for appeasing Peking, there is nothing of real interest or substance. Which given Kissinger's advanced age is perhaps par for the course. In short, the 'Doctor of diplomacy' book of remedies for contemporary international scene is perhaps best ignored or if given one as a gift, put up on the bookshelf for display but not for reading. Much less for understanding the world that is going on around us. Past, present or indeed future.
1. On this see: Paul Schroeder. The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848. (1994). Where it is quite noticeable that Schroeder does not cite Kissinger once in the entirety of the text of more than seven-hundred pages.
2. Ibid. See also: Paul Schroeder, "Did the Vienna Settlement Rest on a Balance of Power". The American Historical Review. (June 1992), pp. 683-705. See also: Robert Jarvis, "A Political Science Perspective on the Balance of Power and the Concert". The American Historical Review. (June 1992), pp. 716-724.
3. For the more egregiously sycophantic statements by Kissinger on Chou see: Henry A. Kissinger. The White House Years. (1979), pp. 741-749. See also, volume two of the memoirs: Years of Upheaval. (1982), pp. 45-49 and passim. According to perhaps Kissinger's best biographer, Jussi Hanhimaki, Kissinger had: 'an extraordinary positive view of the Chinese premier [Chou]'. See, The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy. (2004), p. 142.
4. For this see: Raymond Garthoff. Détente and Confrontation. Revised Edition. (1994), pp. 24-36 and passim. See also: Hanhimaki, op cit., pp. xviii-xix and passim.
5. For the recent reviews of the historical literature, see: Hew Strachan, "Review Article: The origins of the First World War." International Affairs. (March 2014), pp. 429-439; William Mulligan, "The Trial Continues: New Directions in the Study of the Origins of the First World War." English Historical Review. (June 2014), pp. 639-666. Romedio von Thun-Hohenstein, "Review." The Royal United Services Institute. (February / March 2014).


Post a Comment

<< Home