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The Cepia Club Blog: The Cepia Club believes individual awareness and activism can lead to a peaceful and prosperous world. This blog contains the pertinent literature, both creative and non-fiction, produced by the Cepiaclub Director and its associates.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Review of: Kissinger, Henry. World Order.

Review of: Kissinger, Henry. World Order. New York: Penguin P: 2014.
By Tim Krenz

In the past 60 years, few people affected events in the world with the same singular impact as did Henry Kissinger. As an academic, Presidential Assistant for National Security Affairs, Secretary of State, adviser to the powerful, or consultant to the rich, Henry Kissinger helped define the foreign policies of the United States, and he encountered the limits of such power.

A successful commentator, and author of memoirs, his work and life get better explained in his own words. In his latest work, his quasi last-will-and-testament, Kissinger returns to the academic roots of his career, that of diplomatic historian. Coming to close the circle begun in his first major work in the 1950's, A World Restored, the new book, World Order, revisits his old and comforting friends, the concepts of legitimacy, national interests, the balance of power, and equilibrium.

Beginning with the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, when Europe's rulers agreed to end the brutal, religious-inspired Thirty Years War, Kissinger reviews history dominated by Western international law and the diplomatic relations between countries. He goes on to examine the Islamic civilization and Confucian-Chinese culture as they practice foreign affairs. The disconnect faced in 21st Century international relations between the West and the others in part arises from the wreckage of history strewn across the earth by the mingling of commerce, war, colonialism, and empire.

Because the United States until its entry into World War II remained mostly insular looking, internally developing, and focused on and protective of the Western Hemisphere, and because Asia stood divided and occupied by the Western and Ottoman powers, the international system of Europe dominated world affairs, creating “world order.” The peace treaties of 1648 brought to Europe's governments cleaner and more precise rules of conduct in peace and in war, including such things as diplomatic immunity and international conferences. The concept of legitimacy denoted the right of sovereignty, where no nation should interfere with the internal affairs of others, whether in religious or political or other issues. The balance of power, in short, dictated that no one power or no group of nations should ever become so strong as to overwhelm the others, with threats of war or wars of conquest.

As a the hand-maiden of the balance of power, equilibrium became the basis for limited wars in Europe, although fought around the world, and the stretches of peace that interrupted them. For 257 years in the Westphalian system of international relations, the maritime power of the British Empire choose to act as temporary friend of weaker coalitions to stop the stronger countries from dominating the politics and trade of the European peninsula, and by extension those of the globe. Examples of these strong powers include the empires of Austria, and later that of France. England ended its flexible, and necessary, role as the key to that balance of power in 1905, when it committed itself to alliances, first with Japan, and then later with republican France and the Russian Empire prior to the First World War.

Three “mega-events” ended the system of Europe's uneasy tightrope of deciding national interests, and eventually leads to the 21st Century's uncertainty in defining the present and future of world order. First came the French revolution and Napoleon's empire affronting Europe's system from 1789 to 1815. Next came the colossal changes in calculating national interests with the unification of Germany, 1871 to 1945. Reunification in 1990 has, however, a separate story in its own way, partially covered by this book. The third mega-event, the Soviet revolution from 1917 to 1991, forced America to follow its key involvement in defeating Germany in the Second World War with an open-ended engagement in world affairs, as the bulwark of Western liberal democracy and capitalism. This engagement continues today, and it creates its own new dilemmas. The US-Soviet Cold War became the bitter and expensive ($$) conflict fought violently not in the heart of Europe, but by proxy between the Superpowers on the peripheries where different national interests competed, i.e. in post-colonial Africa and the fringes of greater Asia.

As Europe's imperialism retreated following the gigantic cost and deaths of World War II, the emergence of independent nations in Africa and Asia gave rise to new ideas of self-perception in politics, such Mao's Communist philosophies. And it also resulted in the rebirth of identities like Confucian hierarchy in China, and that within Islam, with its dichotomy between the Sunni and the Shi'a interpretations. These non-European ideas began holding national power that challenged, and still challenge, the conventional wisdom, and the clarity, of the Western so-called rules of peace and war since 1648.

From these points of departure, Kissinger sets forth problems for not only current world leaders, but normal voters and future policymakers. The world must solve them to achieve some semblance of rules and procedures for diplomacy and resolution of conflicts of all national interests short of unending wars and under the shield and sword of nuclear weapons. Kissinger always gives brilliant exposition and keen observation, but he lives in controversy. In an important work like World Order, readers should demand no less than a critical analysis from an intelligent viewpoint, but also remind themselves of the true character and experience of its author while reading his requiem.


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