By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Henry Kissinger
Narrated by: Nicholas Hormann
“World Order”, Henry Kissinger’s latest book could have been titled World Engagement. Kissinger is a consummate diplomat who crafts opinions that resonate with many interested Americans.
“World Order” confirms Kissinger’s historic diplomatic’ credential. As most know, Kissinger negotiated America’s withdrawal from Vietnam and the opening of China; neither task unanimously appreciated at the time of action. Some feel Kissinger, as National Security Adviser and later Secretary of State for President Nixon, abandons the South Vietnamese and wastes American blood and treasure in a dishonorable peace; and others think communism is rewarded by America by formally recognizing the largest communist country in the world, at the expense of Nationalist China.
Kissinger’s view is that his and Nixon’s diplomatic action in Vietnam and China are justified by the evolution of both countries’ systems-of-government and the “real politic” of sovereign nations. Kissinger believes in and, formerly practiced, a form of foreign policy that recognizes an inherent American’ conflict between power and principle.
Kissinger, as a scholar and historian, notes leadership strengths of past and present American Presidents. He briefly profiles Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, two Bushes, and Barack Obama. Kissinger explains how each of these leaders handles American government power and principle to form and execute foreign policy.
Reader/listeners’ of “World Order” will draw their own judgments about Kissinger’s book. “World Order” will confirm disparate political prejudices of its audience; i.e. every political pundit will find something to like or dislike. However, a fundamental belief of this wizened and wise intellect is that America must stay engaged in the world. America cannot let the Middle East or Africa devolve into tribal fiefdoms by withdrawing from conflicts over religion, tribal territoriality, terrorism, and/or nationalist fervor for independence.
President Trump, in contrast, seems to be doing the exact opposite of what Kissinger counsels. Rather than recognize the economic contribution of Mexico and its people to America’s economy, he chooses to vilify Mexico for theft of American jobs. Rather than constructively consulting NATO in its effort to ameliorate nationalist conflict, he insults its existence. Rather than carefully considering the real-politic value of the Iran nuclear non-proliferation treaty, he accuses Iran of violating the treaty and threatens to re-impose sanctions.
Rather than condemning Putin for invading Ukraine and Crimea, he panders to Russian leadership. Trump goes so far as to imply America is on the same moral and ethical plane as Putin when it comes to killing alleged enemies.
Trump seems to be driving the United States to a new isolationism; like the isolationism preached by Joseph Kennedy before WWII. Like Joe Kennedy, Trump seems to believe everything is negotiable, even when dealing with madmen. Now, it is Putin in 2017. (Kissinger undoubtedly does not agree with this characterization of Trump because he may think it is a feint by Trump to gain advantage. Time and Trump’s intelligence will reveal the truth. Trump is not Kissinger.)
Kissinger relies on lessons of history to make his point. Reaching back to the 17th century, Kissinger cites the Peace of Westphalia as a turning point in the history of world peace. Two treaties, signed in Germany in 1648, ended the Thirty Years’ War in the Holy Roman Empire and eighty years of war between Spain and the Dutch Republic.
The Peace of Westphalia provides a formula for peace based on three concepts. The first is “every nation’s right to sovereignty”; the second is the principle of “balance of power”, and the third is the centrality of international law based on the aforementioned principles.
To have peace, diplomacy requires engagement that respects national sovereignty, with an eye to a balance of power between sovereign nations. Kissinger makes the point that America cannot become an isolationist superpower and expect the Middle East to resolve their political, religious, and social differences. No nation is an island unto itself. Each nation must engage with others to establish the inviolability of nationhood with appreciation of “agreements to disagree” on sovereign’ political, religious, and cultural beliefs. Kissinger’s argument is bolstered by evolutionary histories of India, China, Japan, Iran, Afghanistan, and the USSR.; i.e. they show the evolution of government, based on sovereign’, sometimes disparate tribal’ self-interest.
What makes this a “sticky” proposition is nuclear weapon-equipped’ nations that have greater potential for violating non-nuclear nation’s sovereignty through intimidation, destabilization (terrorist support), and invasion (or reputed annexation).
Kissinger questions and answers how leaders must conduct foreign policy. Kissinger argues for diplomatic engagement, based on the Peace of Westphalia’ principles; couched with a clear understanding of power and principle held by respective sovereign nations. As an example, Iran, and America must negotiate a treaty involving sanctions while pressing for non-proliferation of WMD (weapons of mass destruction). It is in Iran’s self- interest to have sanctions removed. Iran’s sanctions are imposed by a group of sovereign’ nations. By the same token, Iran is left with a sovereign’ choice of living with sanctions or agreeing to abate their nuclear weapons’ program.
Kissinger is sanguine about this kind of diplomatic engagement by suggesting things work out for the best when sovereignty is respected; particularly, when power and principle are exercised by responsible nations.
Kissinger infers removing tyrants, like Bashar al-Assad of Syria, is a violation of the sovereignty principle of the Westphalia’ treaties. One may extend that principle and suggest it is a mistake to remove evil nationalist leaders like Saddam Hussein. President H. W. Bush may have been right in not pursuing Hussein in the first gulf war; while President George Bush may have been wrong because he violated Westphalia’s sovereignty’ rule. Kissinger infers engagement with nationalist’ leaders, without encroachment on their sovereignty, would result in either a modification of their leadership or an eventual revolution.
Kissinger’s point is that a leader cannot indefinitely survive if he is not operating in the sovereign’ interest of the nation; i.e. a point that Kissinger argues is repeated in history; e.g. the English revolution in the 17th century, the French revolutions of 1789 and 1848, the Russian revolution in 1917, the Chinese revolution in 1949.
Kissinger races through histories of France, China, and America to show the divergent ways in which they became super powers. China once reigned as the great Middle Kingdom but lost power to the Huns and then the Moguls. Chinese isolation existed before and after the Hun and Mogul invasions based on an inherent belief in cultural superiority. With the rise of Mao in the 1940s, belief and practice of political and social disequilibrium compelled China to reinvent itself to test its cultural superiority. As modern China, once more re-invents itself, it becomes a world power influencing most nations of the world.
In contrast to China, America’s rise to superpower status comes from a cultural belief in Manifest Destiny. American’ growth is protected by early geographic isolation offered by two oceans. Kissinger recounts the giant ambitions expressed for America by Thomas Jefferson and later, Theodore Roosevelt. Early geographic isolation and abundant natural resources provide fuel for American hegemonic growth and influence.
In summary, Kissinger argues that America, nor any other superpower, can ignore world’ conflicts. However, Kissinger suggests that no superpower or independent state may, or should, violate another nation’s sovereign rights, with an expectation of peace. To seek peace, superpowers and independent nation-states must engage in the world; without interfering in independent nation’ sovereignty. Some may interpret that to suggest Iran’ sanctions may or may not be lifted, based on the details of a nuclear non-proliferation agreement. The sanction decisions were made by agreement among sovereign nations. Obama’s nuclear non-proliferation agreement is important because it reflects engagement without infringing on Iran’s independent rights as a sovereign’ nation. Iran makes its own choice in regard to the suffering of its people .
One may infer, from Kissinger’s book that a two state solution is the only viable option for Israel in the Middle East. Without a Palestinian’ nation, Israel is negotiating with conflicting anarchic tribes. Israel’s leadership is constructing walls to keep terrorists out, rather than building bridges to remove terrorists within. Kissinger argues that peace can only come through negotiation that respects the rights of sovereign nations. A “World Order” acknowledges international agreements will not meet all nations’ needs or desires. However, Kissinger suggests failure to establish and engage foreign policy based on understanding a nation’s power, cultural principles, and inherent sovereignty, will compel disagreement, produce chaos, and encourage armed conflict.
Kissinger ponderously and broadly sets the table for his arguments for nation-state’ engagement in international affairs. Once past the table setting stage of the book, Kissinger offers a compelling argument for America to remain fully engaged in the troubles of the world. At the end of “World Order”, Kissinger infers that cyberspace is the new frontier for nation-state’ international relations. Though undoubtedly true, it seems the Westphalia’ protocol remains relevant to diplomacy for peace.