Diplomacy represents Henry Kissinger’s most important and controversial book, having the purpose of clarifying and illuminating the public and the readers over the concept and meaning of diplomacy. Through his personal perspective and interpretation Kissinger manages to describe the way in which the art of diplomacy and the balance of power have created the world we are currently living in, as well as the problem regarding the Americans and their idealism and mistrust of the Old World that sought to conduct the world to a unique kind of foreign policy.
Covering more than three centuries of history, Kissinger demonstrates how modern diplomacy emerged from the trials and experiences of the balance of power, of warfare and peacemaking and also why America refused at some point to learn its lesson. Based on a personal experience and knowledge, Kissinger provides the reader a series of famous and intimate portraits of the world leaders, namely de Gaulle, Nixon, Hitler, Reagan, and Gorbachev. The reader is simply stuck in front of the splendor of the detailed and original observations on the secret negotiations, great events and the art of statesmanship. Analyzing the differences in the national styles of diplomacy, Kissinger shows how various societies produce special ways of conducting foreign policy and also how Americans, from the very beginning, sought a distinctive foreign policy based on idealism.
What makes this book so valuable is the fact that Kissinger illustrates all his points with personal insights and examples from his own experience. The history begins in Europe in the seventeenth century, but quickly advances up to the World Wars and then the Cold War. Kissinger refers to himself numerous times in the book, especially when recounting the Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford presidencies.
This book is structured in 31 chapters, starting with the chapter entitled The New World Order and ending with the one named The New World Order Reconsidered. The chapters I decided to focus my attention on are the first 12 chapters – up to the end of the Second World War, as well as chapters related to the Cold War. Of course that the idea of the balance of power and international relations is well developed by Kissinger in the other chapters regarding The Korean War, The Concepts of Western Unity, Vietnam War as well as chapter related to Nixon’s Triangular Diplomacy.
Kissinger begins his masterpiece with focus on America and its tour among international politics. In the twentieth century, no other country has influenced international relations as decisively and at the same as ambivalently as the United States. Kissinger sees America as having two different approaches to foreign policy: the first one where America acts as a beacon and the second one where it acts as a crusader. Both schools of thoughts conceive as normal a global international order, based on democracy, free commerce and international law. The fact that the new world order is marked by a contradiction of fragmentation and globalization, determines Kissinger to point out that all the major nations are actually facing a new world order within a multistate system in which they have had no experience. America must align its values and historical experiences in order to reach to the new world order. Kissinger concludes this chapter by expressing the differences between the analysts of the international system and the statesman, saying that the real burden rest on the statesmen’s shoulders.
In the second chapter, entitled The Hinge: Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, Kissinger studies the two American presidents – Roosevelt and Wilson – after America was projected into the world affairs due to two factors: the fast expanding of the power and the gradual collapse of the international system centered on Europe. Both Roosevelt and Wilson recognized that America had a crucial role to play in world affairs. On the one hand, Roosevelt – who was a sophisticated analyst of the balance of power – believed that America’s national interest and global balance of power demanded an international role of America. On the other hand, Wilson justified an international role as an obligation to spread America’s values. During Wilson Administration, America emerged a key player in the world affairs, proclaiming principles which marked a revolutionary departure for Old World diplomats. These principles concern that peace depends on the spread of democracy, that state should be judged by the same ethnical criteria as individuals, and that the national interest consist of adopting a universal system of law. Wilson was the originator of the vision of a universal world organization, the League of Nations, which has the role to maintain the peace through collective security rather than alliances. The idea that peace depends above all on promoting democratic institutions has remained a staple of America thought to the present day.
Roosevelt was the first president to really go global by invoking the Monroe Doctrine (proclaimed in 1823); the same doctrine that asserted America’s isolationist stance. Roosevelt’s failed to convince his people of the need to fight in World War I. Wilson, however, moved his people to war by proclaiming its cause to be none other than spreading American ideals and by his view that freedom for America was no different from freedom for the world.
The third chapter: From Universality to Equilibrium: Richelieu, William of Orange, and Pitt, manages to present the importance of the balance of power and of the equilibrium. The European balance of power system emerged in the seventeenth century from the final collapse of the medieval aspiration to universality – a concept of world order that represented a blending of traditions of the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church. During the seventeenth century the Roman Empire had the potential to dominate Europe. France and Great Britain were two states who respected this domination. However, the Holy Roman Empire had never succeeded in achieving the whole control over the world because of the lack of transportation and communication system. The main conflict regarded the church and the control separation within the church. At the fringes of Europe, France, Great Britain and Spain did not accept the authority of the Holy Roman Empire, though they remained part of the Universal Church.
The Holy Roman Empire aspired to translate the universal claims to a political system. With the concept of unity collapsing, the emerging states of Europe needed some principle to justify their heresy and to maintain their relations. They found it in the concept of raison d’état and the balance of power. The two concepts are interdepended. The balance of power replaced the nostalgia for universal monarchy with the consolation that each state would somehow contribute to the safety and progress of the others.
Moving further to chapter four – The Concert of Europe: Great Britain, Austria and Russia, the reader encounters the idea covered during the Congress of Vienna, which established a century of international order uninterrupted by any war. No war at all took place among the Great Powers for forty years, and after the Crimean War in 1854, no general war for another sixty years. Paradoxically, this international order, which was created more explicitly in the name of the balance of power than any other before, relied at least on power to maintain itself. This unique state of affairs occurred because the equilibrium was designed by everyone. But the most important thing was that the Continental countries were knit together by a sense of shared values.
Chapter five: Two Revolutionaries: Napoleon III and Bismarck emphasizes that after the collapse of the Metternich system which nearly produced two decades of conflict: the war of Piedmont and France against Austria in 1859, the war over Schleswig-Holstein of 1964, the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, a new balance of power emerged in Europe. France, who had already participated in three wars, lost its position of predominance to Germany. A new use of term for unrestrained balance of power appeared: the German word Realpolitik replaced the French term raison d’état, without changing its meaning. Two adversaries – Emperor Napoleon III and Otto von Bismarck started to base their policy on Realpolitik.
The concept Realpolitik is widely developed by Kissinger in chapter six: Realpolitik Turns to Itself. Realpolitik refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on power and on practical and material factors and considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic or ethical premises. The practice of Realpolitik avoids armaments races and war only if the major players of an international system are free to adjust their relations in accordance with circumstances. Realpolitik policies were created after the revolutions of 1848 as a tool to strengthen states and tighten social order. The most famous German advocate of Realpolitik was Otto von Bismarck, the First Chancellor (1862–1890) to Wilhelm I of the Kingdom of Prussia. Bismarck used Realpolitik to achieve Prussian dominance in Germany.
By the end of the twentieth century’s first decade, the Concert of Europe had stopped to exist. The Great Powers had thrown themselves into a bipolar struggle that led to the petrification into two power blocs, anticipating the pattern of the later Cold War. In the age of powerful nuclear weapons, avoiding a war it would be simply impossible because of the foreign policy goal. At the beginning of twentieth century, wars could be started with a touch of frivolity. This chapter: A Diplomatic Doomsday Machine: European Diplomacy before the First World War tries to figure out, as many historians have done before: who must bear responsibility for the outbreak of the First World War? Each of the major powers contributed to this war. The nations of Europe transformed the balance of power into an armaments race without understanding that modern technology has another purpose.
By 1914, the confrontation between Germany and Austria-Hungary, on the one side, and the Triple Entente on the other, had turned deadly earnest. The statesmen of all major countries had helped to construct the diplomatic doomsday mechanism that made each succeeding crisis progressively more difficult to solve. Chapter entitled Into the Vortex: The Military Doomsday Machine presents the decisions for war taken in the capitals of the major powers of Europe, during July and August 1914. The doomsday procedure effectively removed the casus belli from political control. On 28 July 1914, the First World War began and it would last until 11 November 1918. It involved all the world’s great powers, which were assembled in two opposing alliances: the Allies (based on the Triple Entente of the United Kingdom, France and Russia) and the Central Powers (originally the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy; but, as Austria–Hungary had taken the offensive against the agreement, Italy did not enter into the war). On 28 July, the conflict opened with the Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia, followed by the German invasion of Belgium, Luxembourg and France, and the Russian attack against Germany. The war had ended in victory for the Allies.
On November 11, 1918, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George announced that an armistice between Germany and the Allied Powers had been signed. Kissinger tries to present the process and evolution of the Treaty of Versailles as well as Wilson’s perspective during chapters nine-twelve. Wilson took personal control of negotiations with Germany, including the armistice. In 1918, he issued his Fourteen Points, his view of a post-war world that could avoid another terrible conflict. In 1919, he went to Paris to create the League of Nations and shape the Treaty of Versailles, with special attention on creating new nations out of defunct empires. What is important to mention is in fact chapter twelve – The End of Illusion: Hitler and the Destruction of Versailles and this represent the chapter where I decided to focus my attention and to develop the entire event.
Hitler’s coming to power marked one of the greatest calamities in the history of the world. The fact that Germany emerged from the process as the strongest nation on the continent, was in fact inevitable. Due to his demagogic skills, Hitler became the leader of Germany and throughout his career he shunted his opponents from disadvantage to disadvantage, until they were completely demoralized and ready to obey him. Abroad, Hitler was most successful when the world perceived him as normal and objective. All his great foreign policy triumphs occurred in the first five years of his rule, 1933-1938 and were based on his victims’ assumption that his aim was to reconcile the Versailles system with its principles. Hitler insisted that Germany could be defeated only by itself, not by foreigners.
Like the Peace of Westphalia, the Treaty of Versailles left a powerful country confronting a group of much smaller and unprotected states on its eastern border. The difference, however, was that while this was international at Westphalia, quite the opposite was true of Versailles. Versailles and Locarno had smoothed Germany’s road into Eastern Europe.
Tired of harassment by the ever growing Nazi Party, demoralized by the Depression and political chaos, a conservative German leadership appointed Hitler as Chancellor and tried to reassure itself by surrounding him with respectable conservatives. With a few burlesque strokes, he made himself dictator of Germany within eighteen months of taking office.
The Western democracies’ initial reaction to Hitler’s ascendancy was to accelerate their commitments to disarmament. Hitler’s accession to power strengthened Great Britain’s determination to pursue disarmament. Some British diplomats even thought that Hitler represented a better hope for peace than the less stable governments which had preceded him.
France’s main problem remained how to find security if Germany rearmed and Great Britain refused a guarantee. France’s main nightmare was that Great Britain could not be relied on to defend what it would not guarantee. Hitler himself put an end to the evasions and the hypocrisy: on October 4, 1933, Germany left the Disarmament Conference forever because Hitler was afraid that German demands for the parity might be met. A week later, Hitler withdrew from the League of Nations. In early 1934, he announced German rearmament. By rearming, Hitler was in fact implementing what most members of the League had already conceded in principles. The leaders of the Western democracies avoided the pain of being obliged to make ambiguous choices. Hitler offered to limit the German army to 300,000 men and the German air force to half the size of that of France. France refused the offer, declaring it would look after its own security. Great Britain drew the conclusion that disarmament had become more important than ever. The Great Britain was developing new models of aircraft; having nothing to produce until these were ready, Baldwin was making a virtue out of a necessity.
Great Britain and France decided to let German rearmament unfold because they did not know what else to do. Great Britain was not yet prepared to give up on collective security and the League and France had become so dispirited that it could not bring itself to act on its act in concert.
In his first two years in office, Hitler was mostly concerned with solidifying his rule. But in the eyes of many British and French leaders, Hitler’s foreign policy style was more than counterbalanced by anticommunism and by his restoration of the German economy. In 1930s, British leaders were too unsure about Hitler’s objectives while the French leaders were too unsure about themselves to act on the basis of assessments which they could not prove. So taking all these into account, there was a struggle among historians: whether Hitler had been a misunderstood nationalist or a maniac bent on world domination.
Realpolitik teaches that, regardless of Hitler’s motives, Germany’s relations with its neighbors would be determined by their relative power.
The leaders of the democracies refused to face the fact that, once Germany attained a given lever of armament, Hitler’s real intentions would become irrelevant. The rapid growth of German military strength was bound to overturn the equilibrium unless it was either stopped or balanced.
France sought shelter behind accumulation of halfhearted alliances by transforming the unilateral guarantees of Czechoslovakia, Poland and Romania of the 1920s into mutual defense treaties. That meant that those counties would now be obliged to come to France’s assistance even if Germany chose to settle scores with France before turning east. Poland balanced its commitments to France with a nonaggression treaty with Germany so that, in case of an attack of France, Poland’s formal obligation would cancel each other out – namely they would leave Poland free to choose that alignment which promised it the greatest benefit at the moment of crisis.
A new Franco-Soviet agreement signed in 1935 demonstrated the magnitude of France’s psychological and political demoralization. Before World War I, France sought a political alliance with Russia, but this did not last. In 1935, France’s position was too weak and it needed Soviet military support nearly desperate. France concluded a political alliance with the Soviet Union. As late as 1937, France would not permit Soviet observers to attend its annual maneuvers. Thus France ended up in a military alliance with countries too weak to help it – a political alliance with the Soviet Union with which it dared not cooperate militarily and strategic dependence on Great Britain, which refused to consider any military commitment. The only serious moves France made were in direction of Italy.
On September 1, 1939 the Second World War began with the German invasion of Poland; Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. Chapters thirteen – seventeen present in detail the actions and consequences of the Second World War as well as the portraits of Stalin, Hitler and afterwards Roosevelt.
What Stalin did at the beginning of the war was to put his ideology in the service of Realpolitik. In August 1939, after Stalin’s attempts to establish an Anglo-Franco-Soviet Alliance failed, he entered into a pact with Nazi Germany that divided their influence in Eastern Europe and allowed the USSR to regain some of its lost territories. However, German forces violated the agreement and invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, opening the largest and bloodiest theatre of war in history. On August 23, 1939, four days after the economic agreement was signed and a little over a week before the beginning of World War II, Ribbentrop and Molotov signed the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. Publicly, this agreement stated that the two countries – Germany and the Soviet Union – would not attack each other. If there were ever a problem between the two countries, it was to be handled amicably. The pact was supposed to last for ten years; it lasted for less than two.
What was meant by the terms of the pact was that if Germany attacked Poland, then the Soviet Union would not come to its aid. Thus, if Germany went to war against the West (especially France and Great Britain) over Poland, the Soviets were guaranteeing that they would not enter the war; thus not open a second front for Germany.
The threat to the European balance of power would have forced United States to intervene in order to stop Germany’s drive for world domination. As World War II loomed after 1938, with the Japanese invasion of China and the aggression of Nazi Germany, FDR gave strong diplomatic and financial support to China and Great Britain, while remaining officially neutral. Roosevelt’s goal was to make America the „Arsenal of Democracy” which would supply munitions to the Allies. In March 1941, Roosevelt, with Congressional approval, provided Lend-Lease aid to the countries fighting against Nazi Germany with Britain. With very strong national support, he made war on Japan and Germany after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He supervised the mobilization of the U.S. economy to support the Allied war effort. As an active military leader, Roosevelt implemented an overall war strategy on two fronts that ended in the defeat of the Axis Powers and the development of the world’s first atom bomb. After a long struggle for power, the Second World War ended on September 2, 1945.
Although Kissinger develops in detail all the events that took place for about three centuries and manages to present carefully all the event around the world after the Second World War, I would kindly stop my attention over the Cold War and the chapters related to the beginning and the end of the Cold War.
The emergence of the European balance of power in the eighteen and nineteenth centuries parallels certain aspects of the post-Cold War world. Then, as well as now, a collapsing world order spawned a multitude of states pursuing their national interests, unrestrained by any overriding principles.
The Cold War (1945-1991) had begun at a time when America was expecting an era of peace. The Cold War was a sustained state of political and military tension between powers in the Western Bloc, dominated by the United States with NATO and other allies; versus powers in the Eastern Bloc, dominated by the Soviet Union with the Warsaw Pact and other allies. This began after the success of their temporary wartime alliance against Nazi Germany, leaving the USSR and the US as two superpowers with profound economic and political differences. The Cold War was so named because the two major powers—each possessing nuclear weapons and thereby threatened with mutual assured destruction—did not meet in direct military combat. However, in their struggle for global influence they engaged in ongoing psychological warfare and in regular indirect confrontations through proxy wars.
In the 1980s, the United States increased pressures on the Soviet Union, at a time when the communist state was already suffering from economic stagnation. By 1989, the Soviet alliance system was on the brink of collapse, and, deprived of Soviet military support, the Communist leaders of the Warsaw Pact states were losing power. The aftermath of the Cold War continues to influence world affairs. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the post–Cold War world is widely considered as unipolar, with the United States the sole remaining superpower. The military-industrial complexes have great impact on their countries and help shape their society, policy and foreign relations..
Kissinger’s book ended with the chapter entitled: The New World Order Reconsidered where he presents the world during the twentieth and twentieth first century, as well as the fulfillment of America’s ideals – peace, stability, progress, and freedom for mankind.
From a historical viewpoint, Kissinger’s Diplomacy is a must for all readers interested in American’s position in the world.