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November 19, 2014

Kissinger's World Order

Scott Stockdale

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While championing the Westphalian system of world order in his latest book World Order, Henry Kissinger is astute enough to know that outside of the American sphere of influence, few, if any, countries share this point of view.

The Westphalian system of sovereign states was established in 1648 as part of the Peace of Westphalia. There were three core points to the treaty: the principle of state sovereignty; the principle of (legal) equality of states; the principle of non-intervention of one state in the international affairs of another.

World Order is a panoramic view of how civilization as we know it evolved to form states which have managed to coexist for a time -punctuated by conflicts in one form or another, including two World Wars and counting.

Reading quotes such as:  “an inexorably expanding cooperative order of states observing common rules and norms, embracing liberal economic systems, forswearing territorial conquest, respecting national sovereignty, and adopting participatory and democratic systems of governance,” one could easily get the mistaken impression that world order is something tangible – a inevitable outcome. Yet Dr. Kissinger gives numerous examples of this world order he speaks of being decimated by a couple of world wars, among a long list of conflicts.

On page 66, he explains what happens when challenges confront the Westphalian world order: “a balance between legitimacy and power and the relative emphasis given each... When that balance is destroyed, restraints disappear, and the field is open to expansive claims and the most implacable actors; chaos follows until a new system of order is established.”

An obvious propagandist for American exceptionalism, on page 125 Dr. Kissinger wrote, regarding the attempts to bring democracy to Egypt: “Western tradition requires support for democratic institutions and free elections. No American president who ignores this ingrained aspect of American moral enterprise can count on the sustained support of the American people. But applied on behalf of parties who identify democracy with a plebiscite on the implementation of religious domination that they treat as irrevocable, the advocacy of elections may result in only one democratic exercise of them.”

Yet when he wrote on the same page:

“As a military regime has again been established in Cairo, it reproduces one more time for the United States the as yet unsolved debate between security interests and the importance of promoting humane and legitimate governance.  And it appears also as a question of timing: To what extent should security interests be risked for the outcome of a theoretical evolution,”

He's tacitly admitting that America's support for democracy, human rights and the rule of law was, is and, for the foreseeable future, will be trumped by “security interests,” as there is never any talk of cutting aid to autocrats who do America's bidding, in the Middle East and any other part of the world, for that matter.

On p. 142 – 143, Dr. Kissinger indicates just how precarious – some may say disingenuous - America's call for democracy, human rights and the rule of law is, in fact, and how in reality security interests trump idealism.

“Yet where factions within a state adhere to different concepts of world order or consider themselves in an existential struggle for survival, American demands to call of the fight and assemble a democratic coalition government tend either to paralyze the incumbent government (as in the Shah's Iran) or fall on deaf ears (the Egyptian government led by General Sisi – now heeding the lessons of its predecessors' overthrow by tacking away from a historic American alliance in favour of greater freedom of manoeuvre.) In such conditions America has to make the decision on the basis of what achieves the best combination of security and morality, recognizing that both will be imperfect.”

However, one would be hard-pressed to find examples of America choosing morality over security interests.

On China, he cites a Harvard study that concluded that in 15 cases in history when an established power interacted with an emerging power, ten ended in war.  However, unlike current commentators, Dr. Kissinger can see how “the other” views the situation. On page p. 216 he wrote: “In the modern era, Western representatives with their own sense of cultural superiority set out to enrol China in the European world system, which was becoming the basic structure of international order... What the West conceived of as a process of enlightenment and engagement is treated in China as an assault.”

However, although Dr. Kissinger realizes that two conflicting views of world order exist between two superpowers, on page 233 he gives an insightful analysis of not only of this conflict in views, but how it can be peacefully dealt with.

“For over a century – since the Open Door Policy and Theodore Roosevelt's mediation of the Russo-Japanese War – it has been a fixed American policy to prevent hegemony in Asia. Under contemporary conditions, it is an inevitable policy in China to keep potentially adversarial forces as far from its borders as possible. The two countries navigate in that space. The preservation of peace depends on the restraint with which they pursue their objectives and on their ability to ensure that competition remains political and diplomatic.”

The above comment becomes more poignant when Dr. Kissinger discusses nuclear proliferation and the possibility of nuclear war, which he doesn't discount. While acknowledging that diplomatic resolution is essential in disputes between major powers, in chapter 9 he said if a major power can avoid becoming involved in a nuclear conflict between two nuclear powers, it will reap the rewards of the destruction of the two combatants. He also said world powers must decide what to do if two regional powers engage in a nuclear war.

In the same chapter, entitled Technology, Equilibrium and Human Consciousness, Dr. Kissinger said world leaders must come up with a code of conduct to police their internet activity because he sees the real possibility that damage caused by a cyber attack could result in retaliation in the physical realm.

While clearly promoting American exceptionalism throughout the book, Dr. Kissinger demonstrates not only that he's aware that much of the world outside of American influence is diametrically opposed; he also demonstrates that in most cases he understands why.

The current crop of Neoconservatives in the United States and elsewhere in the developed world may want to heed the warning Dr. Kissinger issues on page 82, while giving his analysis of what led world leaders into World War I.

“The war that overturned Western civilization had no inevitable necessity. It arose from a series of miscalculations made by serious leaders who did not understand the consequences of their planning... In the end, military planning ran away with diplomacy. It is a lesson subsequent generations must not forget.”

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