Henry Kissinger, the legend! Secretary of State and National Security Advisor during perilous times. Went on the covert trip to China in the 1972. Playboy diplomat. Now (2017) 93 years old. He’s one person I had heard about, but did not know much about. His life has been so storied that it seemed decent to learn more about him. So when I heard about his latest book World Order (2014), I picked it up at the library. Thanks to Sally French and Josh Brown for an article mentioning this great book (and others–also reading Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker, a book exposing commonplace fallacies on what it takes to be successful).
Kissinger – Author Blurb
Henry Kissinger served as National Security Advisor and then Secretary of State under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and has advised many other American presidents on foreign policy. He received the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Medal of Liberty, among other awards. He is the author of numerous books on foreign policy and diplomacy and is currently the chairman of Kissinger Associates, Inc., an international consulting firm.
World Order – Back Blurb
Henry Kissinger offers in World Order a deep meditation on the roots of international harmony and global disorder. Drawing on his experience as one of the foremost statesmen of the modern era–advising presidents, traveling the world, observing and shaping the central foreign policy events of recent decades–Kissinger now reveals his analysis of the ultimate challenge for the twenty-first century: how to build a shared international order in a world of divergent historical perspectives, violent conflict, proliferating technology, and ideological extremism.
There has never been a true “world order,” Kissinger observes. For most of history, civilizations defined their own concepts of order. Each considered itself the center of the world and envisioned its distinct principles as universally relevant. China conceived of a global cultural hierarchy with the Emperor at its pinnacle. In Europe, Rome imagined itself surrounded by barbarians; when Rome fragmented, European peoples refined a concept of an equilibrium of sovereign states and sought to export it across the world. Islam, in its early centuries, considered itself the world’s sole legitimate political unit, destined to expand indefinitely until the world was brought into harmony by religious principles. The United States was born of a conviction about the universal applicability of democracy–a conviction that has guided its policies ever since.
Now international affairs take place on a global basis, and these historical concepts of world order are meeting. Every region participates in questions of high policy in every other, often instantaneously. Yet there is no consensus among the major actors about the rules and limits guiding this process, or its ultimate destination. The result is mounting tension.
Grounded in Kissinger’s deep study of history and his experience as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, World Order guides readers through crucial episodes in recent world history. Kissinger offers a unique glimpse into the inner deliberations of the Nixon administration’s negotiations with Hanoi over the end of the Vietnam War, as well as Ronald Reagan’s tense debates with Soviet Premier Gorbachev in Reykjavik. He offers compelling insights into the future of U.S.-China relations and the evolution of the European Union, and examines lessons of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Taking readers from his analysis of nuclear negotiations with Iran through the West’s response to the Arab Spring and tensions with Russia over Ukraine, World Order anchors Kissinger’s historical analysis in the decisive events of our time.
Provocative and articulate, blending historical insight with geopolitical prognostication, World Order is a unique work that could come only from a lifelong policymaker and diplomat.
What I Learned
I learned that the modern concept of world order originated from the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. There, the European nations, decimated by the Thirty Years’ War and plague (decimated is too light a word, the toll of ‘total war’ was over a quarter of the population) came up with a framework for a modern world order. The sovereign state, respect for boundaries, respect for sovereign nations to make their own laws, and respect for sovereign states to their own religion were some of the tenets of the Treaty of Westphalia. The concept of ‘balance of power’ was also on the minds of the negotiators who divided Europe into a host of smaller states, none of which was large enough to conquer all the others.
From the Treaty of Westphalia, Kissinger looks at how Napoleon changed the game, and then goes beyond Europe, looking at conceptions of world order in Asia, the Middle East, and America. It turns out that this idea of democracy as the be all and end all is one of many approaches to world order.
Not only is Kissinger’s book a good history lesson, but it’s worth reading just for his little anecdotes which occur at the rate of one every forty pages or so. They’re like little ‘behind the scenes’ peeks at what goes on with our power brokers. Here’s a memorable one:
In 1981, during his last visit to Washington, President Sadat invited me to come to Egypt the following spring for the celebration when the Sinai Peninsula would be returned to Egypt by Israel. Then he paused for a moment and said, “Don’t come for the celebration–it would be too hurtful to Israel. Come six months later, and you and I will drive to the top of Mount Sinai together, where I plan to build a mosque, a church, and a synagogue, to symbolize the need for peace.
Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I’m Doing Melpomene’s Work.