This book allows you to read a political history of the modern world as well as a book by a Secretary of State. I had just finished Fukuyama's Origins of Political Order and Political Order and Decay, so those books are in my comparison. This is the first book by Kissinger that I have read. My opinion of Kissinger was primarily shaped by two other books, Nixon in China by Margaret MacMillan and The Case for Democracy by Natan Sharansky. The first book showed Kissinger's wiles as a diplomat, the second was highly critical of Kissinger's detante policies toward the Soviet Union, arguing that it prolonged Communism and the suffering of pro-freedom Soviet dissidents.
I actually enjoyed the Kissinger book, for the most part finding it quite readable, he sweeps through centuries of history in a few paragraphs. His arguments are not always precise and he does not give the same attention that Fukuyama does to the role of the rule of law and the evolution of political institutions. There is no grand hypothesis he's trying to prove, and his arguments about the Westphalian Order have been made by others. Kissinger's goal is not so much to look at how countries developed internally but rather how they've come to their place in the world order, and how the balance of power between East and West has shifted over time. It is also a warning about the present need to defend the Westphalian Order and an analysis of why that is difficult today.
Some have criticized Kissinger's statements in the book for being contradictory to what he has said publicly or written elsewhere. He also avoids taking hard stances, it's hard to tell what he'd do about Syria or Crimea today. He writes that he supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and praises President Bush personally, but does not like how it was managed. Right, next time could be different. He seems to take a pro-Israeli stance, hailing Israel as a Westphalian island in a sea of chaos, but parses his words in examining certain governance movements in the Arab world, like the Muslim Brotherhood. Actually, there is much less inclusion in this book of Kissinger's personal experiences or contributions to "world order" than I expected. John Micklethwait of the NY Times writes that "it is a book that every member of Congress should be locked in a room with — and forced to read before taking the oath of office," and that is a bit much. But there are many things that Kissinger's dealings with various countries have taught them about their overall cultures and values that are educational.
Kissinger's expertise is obviously America, so the book is heaviest in America's role in the world and how it became the guardian of the Western order. His basic theory is that the Western order arose at Westphalia where the treaties of Münster and Osnabrück were negotiated, ending the Thirty Years' War between Protestants and Catholics in 1648. Kissinger does not address much of the history and previous failed treaties leading up to this event, but looks at subsequent treaties as a basic continuation of the Peace of Westphalia. The treaties were agreed upon by 200 representatives from multiple states with diverse backgrounds and established a balance of power such that no one could dominate another. Borders and sovereignty were established. This both "shaped and prefigured modern European cooperation."
The Order of Westphalia is one of pluralism and a respect for different ethnic and religious viewpoints. Ambitions of any one nation over the other could be curtailed, and this idea was tested with the rise of Napoleon, Hitler, etc. Britain played the original guarantor of this Order by using its industrial might to defend the weak against would-be conquerers. The Congress of Vienna (1814) continued the spirit of Westphalia in re-drawing borders and restoring a balance of power to maintain peace after the Napoleonic Wars. Kissinger writes that Europe "thrived" on its divisions and contrasts this to other cultures-- like Islam-- with their monostate model.
Kissinger plays the role of national psychologist, examining the psyche and goals of various nation-states over time. Like Fukuyama, Kissinger notes that Russia suffered under extractive Mongol rule for centuries, leaving scars that matter today. While Fukuyama faults the Russian Orthodox for not establishing and upholding a canon rule of law in Russia, such as the Catholic and later Protestant churches did in the West, Kissinger writes that the Orthodox Church always say itself as the defender of Christendom against Islam after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Russia has always seen itself as a "third Rome" and clinged to a belief that Russia would eventually be hailed and admired by the West and no longer an "orphan" cut off from the rest of the developed world.
The aftermath of the Congress of Vienna was the rise of nationalism and self-determinism in the European states. The Crimean War started initially as a dispute over rights of minorities (Catholic versus Eastern Orthodox) in Ottoman Jerusalem and other territories, but led to greater questions about the rights of minority peoples within European states as well. The Industrial Revolution had wrought greater speed of travel and militarization, and suddenly a united industrial Germany under Bismarck threatened the stability of the Westphalian Order. While skipping the details of WWI, the authors describes how the Treaty of Versailles condemned the Allies to vigilance and guaranteed imbalance. As others pointed out at the time, the Treaty demanded reparations from Germany which could only be enforced at the point of a gun-- something the Allies were no longer willing to use after the Great War's great cost. The League of Nations had no clear definitions of order in its charter, using words like "aggression" that could be interpreted in many ways. Stalin and the USSR weaved between international rule of law and fascist power-grabbers, basically waiting for the capitalist countries to start the next war.
He skips WWII but examines the postwar order, treaties, and balance. He recounts George Kennan's "Long Telegram," and supports Kennan's idea of containment. Kissinger includes an analysis of Stalin's psyche from history and his own conversations with Soviet ambassadors. Stalin was ultimately an idealogue who believed that peace among capitalist countries were always the means of creating the next war. The author also critiques FDR's naivete in handing Stalin at Yalta, FDR misunderstood Stalin's intentions. He quotes FDR as believing Stalin would ultimately work toward world stability and even democracy. I find this criticism of FDR somewhat concerning given that Natan Sharansky wrote similar criticims of Kissinger and Nixon's detante toward the USSR from the viewpoint of a persecuted Soviet dissident. Sharansky wrote that dissidents hated detante and that Kissinger was taking too soft a stance, they only saw freedoms granted when the West took harder stances. Kissinger examines NATO from a Westphalian lense and opines that the EU is a "global version" of Westphalia that the U.S. should support.
Kissinger pivots the Middle East where he describes the rise of Islam. He remarks that treaties were never considered permanent because the end goal was to create one united world under Islam; treaties simply gave time for the troops to regroup. After the death of Mohammed and debates over succession, he skips ahead to the Ottoman caliphate. The post-WWI Arab territories, through colonialism, were brought under the Westphalian system. The post-WWII Arab states saw the rise of Pan-Arab nationalism and Baathist ambitions taking on religious jihad. In an awkward note, Kissinger gives a disclaimer about not favoring one school of Islam versus another, but examines the divide between Shia and Sunni. He chronicles the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood beginning with the treatise of M'alim fi al-Tariq (Milestones), written by Sayyid Qutb from his Egyptian prison. Milestones, Kissinger writes, is the manifesto of Wahhabism and the Islamic State that we see today. Qutb wrote that Sharia law was incompatible with and superior to man-made laws, and any ruler who ignored it should be overthrown. This movement is obviously incompatible with the Westphalian order, so East versus West continues.
Kissinger doesn't quite mention that the Arab League often acts as sort of a Westphalian order in the Middle East. The Saudis and Qataris are spending money both to keep ISIL from gaining territory and also working to keep Iran from tipping the balance of power militarily through the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Instead, Kissinger oddly examines Westphalia-like orders within nations; such as the Saudi royal family's deal with wahabbist clerics. He writes that U.S. and Western military intervention in Syria against Assad or ISIL is not feasible as it requires a cohesive world order and long-term military presence. What, then, shall we do? Kissinger concludes that "pragmatism" should guide foreign policy. Well, duh.
Kissinger writes that the Persians have always had a feeling of cultural superiority which greatly affects its negotiations and interactions with the West. Under the Ayatollah, it has maintained a "Westphalian" balance of power internally. An elected President and Assembly, with an Ayatollah who controls the powerful Revolutionary Guard. Is Iran a country or a cause? It must decide. He chronicles the West's softening on Iranian negotiations, Kissinger seems to prefer a harder line as Iran has "moved the red line." The Ayatollah still preaches that he is pursuing jihad, so that casts doubt on the legitimacy of any nuclear agreement. In the end, Kissinger reminsices about how Anwar Sadat stood up to extremists, preached pluralism, and made peace with Israel, for which he was killed. He hopes that a similar leader will arise and make peace based on ideas rather than "reality." Good luck.
On Asia, Kissinger gives a fast overview of development in Japan, India, and China. Japan will make its foreign policy decisions going forward based on what is sees the U.S. doing and how permanent the Obama "pivot" toward Asia actually is. India was not a nation until Britain made it so. Kissinger writes that China has always seen itself at the center of the world and all nations as tributary. China does not look on other nations as "peers." Although China does not seek conversion of others into its sphere (Tibet, anyone?) it seeks to induce respect. Kissinger does a better job than Fukuyama on the psychology of culture but one wonders how accurate (and how offensive?) Kissinger's words are.
Lastly, the author delves into American history and strategy. Like all countries, America sees itself as special, and Kissinger quotes Winthrop's "City on a Hill" sermon. But Kissinger is no Niebuhrian, he evidently believes in American exceptionalism. He notes that President Obama believes in this idea "less so" than previous Presidents. America's role, according to Kissinger, has been traditionally to make American intervention unnecessary in the future. In "making the world safe for democracy," the U.S. supports the Westphalian order among nations and regions, so that they can police themselves. You will not find the idea of American interests (oil companies, defense contractors, etc.) influencing foreign policy or shaping treaties or trade agreements to their benefit. This is rather facetious, in my opinion. He writes, however, that Manifest Destiny was America's version of imperialism and that the Spanish-American War changed the world order and made America a colonial superpower. He largely ignores the role that the Monroe Doctrine has had on development in South America, which is something Fukuyama addresses in Political Order and Political Decay.
Like many in government and foreign policy schools, Kissinger hails Woodrow Wilson; he considered Nixon to be a Wilson disciple. Wilson believed that self-determination would lead to universal democracy. As minority groups demanded more rights and were given their own states, they'd be brought into the Westphalian Order. I think the European land-grab in the Middle East after WWI shows that Europe was never on board with Wilson's self-determination, nor was American foreign policy. The consequences of self-determination in the Middle East of both the pan-Arab nationalist/socialist and the religious jihadist notions (as shown above) have been incompatible with democracy.
Americans always debate the role of foreign policy as isolationism gives way to interventionism in major crises such as Pearl Harbor and 9/11, then back again. Kissinger writes that national consensus broke down after the Kennedy assassination, exacerbated further by Vietnam. The nuclear policy of mutual assured destruction was unpopular and containment as a policy broke down in Vietnam. South Vietnam itself had never been a functioning state with a history of liberal institutions. America's defense of dictatorships as a better alternative to communism or religious fundamentalism is part of the "reality" of foreign policy that Kissinger says has to be figured out all the time, there are no absolute rules.
He then provides a fast overview of American foreign policy since Nixon and poses questions that he doesn't answer: How do we forge a regional order (India, Pakistan, Russia, China, Iran, etc.) to help maintain peace in Afghanistan? How do we build and defend liberal institutions in Iraq without a long-term costly military presence and intervention? How do we balance the risk that democratic elections will lead to radicalism, such as in Palestine or Syria (and Nazi Germany and other places where bad outcomes were chosen by voters)? Does technology help or harm foreign relations? The author holds up research showing that our culture of texting and wikipedia creates short memories and lack of familiarity with our history and societal foundations. There are now so many meetings and so much communication between ministers that it's become almost impossible to forge a long-term strategy. The destruction of privacy has decreased the supply of capable people willing to go into politics and get involved in foreign policy.
"Every international order faces two inevitible challenges: Redefinition of its legitimacy or a realignment of its balance of power." When the values are altered by those who maintain the order, the latter happens. Americans used to assume that liberty was a universal value, but now terms like "liberty" and "human rights" are debated even though they are still defined in the U.N. charter. The post-war optimism of capitalism and democracy spreading liberty all over the world and a new world order of cooperation now in doubt. There is now a rejection of Western market-based ideas in the aftermath of both the 1998 East Asian financial crisis and the 2007 financial crisis, where problems with the U.S. housing and financial markets were exported globally. The weakness of the Westphalian system, Kissinger writes, is that it does not supply a direction or define "how to generate legitimacy." When previous powers become unwilling or unable to maintain the previous order, the order collapses. This appears to be the risk now as Russia has invaded the Ukraine, and annexed Crimea, and launching submarine patrols in the North Atlantic. "Calculations of power without a moral dimension will turn every disagreement into a test of strength." The West no longer holds to the same Westphalian values, it appears, so Russia and China (South China Sea islands)-- like Napoleon, Hitler, and others before-- see a weakness they can test militarily. While developed countries de-proliferate and disarm, developing countries are pursuing arms and greater military power.
1. The nature of the state itself has been attacked and dismantled. Europe has tried to transcend nation states by forging a loose political and firm monetary union and this has not gone well. ISIS in the Levant, and warlords in North Africa are also attacking the idea of the state.
2. Political and economic organizations of the world are at odds with eachother. Globalization ignores frontiers whereas policy observes frontiers.
For example (from Fukuyama), Southern Italy and Greece not in sync with rest of Europe. Prosperity is dependent on globalization, but globalization often fuels political reform and revolution (witness the Arab Spring).
3. Lack of effective mechanisms for cooperation. He notes that this seems odd given that UN and other institutions for cooperation exist like never before (G8, apec, etc.. Work against long-run strategy. But there are too many meetings, not everyone is able to gather at one time, everyone wants a seat at the table, etc.
4. I didn't catch the fourth dimension if it actually existed.
Kissinger writes that the celebration of universal principles must still respect cultures and histories of others. A genuine world order requires the modernization of a Westphalian system (200 delegates). "History is a matter to be discovered, not declared."
I found a list of questions Kissinger posed in a 2008 essay in the Washington Post that were repeated in this book, again without answers.
"No previous generation has had to deal with different revolutions occurring simultaneously in separate parts of the world. The quest for a single, all-inclusive remedy is chimerical. In a world in which the sole superpower is a proponent of the prerogatives of the traditional nation-state, where Europe is stuck in halfway status, where the Middle East does not fit the nation-state model and faces a religiously motivated revolution, and where the nations of South and East Asia still practice the balance of power, what is the nature of the international order that can accommodate these different perspectives? What should be the role of Russia, which is affirming a notion of sovereignty comparable to America's and a strategic concept of the balance of power similar to Asia's? Are existing international organizations adequate for this purpose? What goals can America realistically set for itself and the world community? Is the internal transformation of major countries an attainable goal? What objectives must be sought in concert, and what are the extreme circumstances that would justify unilateral action?"
If you're looking for policy prescriptions, this is not your book-- it is annoyingly devoid of them. If you're looking at an examination of the evolution of world order and foreign policy in the West, this is a decent overview of the post-Cold War period. If you want a thought-provoking piece on the questions facing policy-makers, then this is decent. You will not find Kissinger trumpeting his foreign policy successes here, nor will you have much introspection on the long-term (forseen and unforseen) consequences of past foreign policy decisions (which could have made this book better). I have yet to decide whether to check out other Kissinger books. 3.5 stars out of 5.