Monday, September 29, 2014

My Amazon Review of Henry Kissinger's "World Order"

You can’t be a Kantian in a Hobbesian World

Herr Doktor Professor Kissinger proves that a 19th Century man can offer much needed foreign policy advice for the 21st Century.  Although it would be ideal to bring reason and rationality to bear to solve the world’s problems, we unfortunately live in a world that is an inherently dangerous place. The goal of U.S. foreign policy is to “achieve equilibrium while restraining the dogs of war” while being mindful that “our universal principles don’t necessarily hold in other parts of the world.”

“World Order” is a logical follow-up to Kissinger’s “A World Restored,” his history of The Congress of Vienna and its aftermath and “Diplomacy,” his treatise on the history and craft of international relations of Europe since the middle ages. As always he is a fan of the Westphalian System created in 1648 which gave birth to the modern state. The four principles of the Treaty (ies) of Westphalia are 1) noninterference in the domestic affairs of other states, 2) inviolability of borders, 3) that states are sovereign and 4) encouragement of international law. All these four principles were to be enforced by a balance of power among the various states. When the balance of power was disturbed, war was the result. Further, because Westphalia was value neutral, it did not speak to legitimacy. You have to take the good with the bad.

His heroes are the grandmasters of the Westphalian system. Among them are Cardinal Richelieu, Metternich, Castlereagh, Talleyrand and Palmerston. He also admires Kautilya of ancient India and Theodore Roosevelt. Each and every one of them are foreign policy realists. His greatest disdain is for Woodrow Wilson who placed values, many of them noble, over the need to preserve the peace.

Unfortunately radical Islam, for example, does not play by Westphalian rules. This is especially true because there are so many non-state actors associated with it. Indeed one of the most vexing foreign policy questions we face is whether Iran is a state or an Islamic movement.

“World Order” is up to date in that he discusses the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Kissinger also devotes an entire chapter to the role of the internet. Here this 91 year old man was tutored by Google’s Eric Schmidt. Would we all be actively learning at that age? He discusses the implications of cyber warfare and the hyper speed of communication that can outrun more deliberate pace of diplomacy. This makes life more difficult and dangerous because when the chips are down states people have to act on limited information.  

You don’t have to agree with all of it and his personal history is far from perfect but, Kissinger has written a book that should be required reading for President Obama, Secretary Kerry and all of the candidates for president in 2016.  We can’t afford the foreign policy disasters of the past dozen years.

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