A Machiavellian diplomat


World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History
Author: Henry Kissinger
Published by: Penguin, New York
Pages: 420

HHenry Kissinger held teaching posts in history and government in Harvard University for 20 years. He became a celebrity after he became the National Security Adviser (NSA) to Richard Nixon (1969-1974), and continued under Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford (1974-1975). He also held the post of the Secretary of State (1973-1974) under Nixon and under Ford (1974-77).

Beginning from the Kennedy administration in 1961, there have been pernicious conflicts between Secretaries of State in the State Department and President’s NSAs in the National Security Council (NSC). This has been highly damaging to the product and process of foreign policy. Madeline Albright, Secretary of State under Bill Clinton wrote in her memoirs: “It is a standard observation in Washington that the only time the NSC and the State Department worked together well was when Henry Kissinger was in charge of both.” That was the period from 1973 to 1975 when Kissinger held both the posts. During the period Kissinger used to tell journalists enquiring how should they address him – Mr. Secretary of State or the NSA – he enjoyed telling them to call him simply, “Your Excellency!”

Henry Kissinger in 2014 came out with the voluminous work of 420 pages – World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History (published by Penguin, New York, in 2014, pp.420). What does he mean by ‘world order’? When we read so much about disorder everywhere, is it an aspiration or a reality? What does he mean by character of nations? Do nations have a collective character? How can we speak of nation’s character when individuals wielding power of a nation, as in the case of Richard Nixon for instance, use power to shut dissent or assassinate the character of individuals opposing him?

The world order that Kissinger speaks of does not truly embrace the entire world, nor has it ever seen one global world order. Since there isn’t a universally accepted world order, he speaks of historically evolved world orders in major regions in the world.

Kissinger’s roll call of nations
Europe gets the maximum coverage.Kissinger has devoted two chapters to the European World Order that covers from its formation in 1648 to his reflections on the future of Europe. European scholars – Kissinger as a German immigrant to the United States (US), is more European than American – when they speak of world order, they speak of the Westphalia System that emerged in Europe in 1648 after the end of the Thirty Years of Religious Wars (1618-48). Kissinger has been an admirer of the European Balance of Power. Balance of Power refers to a perception of distribution of power, in a pluralistic world order, in a manner that no one nation by itself or in alliance with others can disturb peace. Britain often acted as a balancer to maintain peace or punish a nation that disturbed the Balance of Power.

Middle East dominated by Islam and Iranian statecraft form the next two chapters. Kissinger argues that Middle East under Islam is a world in disorder. He is predictably correct in stating that “Middle East seems destined to experiment with all of historical experiences simultaneously – empire, holy war, foreign domination, a sectarian war of all against all – before it arrives (if it ever does), at a settled concept of international order. He doesn’t treat Iran in the chapter on Islam, but clubs it with the US. Reasons for it are not far to seek. He knew about the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran while serving under Nixon and Ford.

He must have also anticipated that relations between the Sunni kingdom led by the Saudis and the revolutionary Shia Republic of Iran led by Ayatollahs since the 1979 overthrow of Shah of Iran, could only deteriorate further. After all, during his eight years in the American government, both Saudis and Iranians were very close allies of the US. But two of these American friends were also historic rivals. While Iran ceased to be an ally, Saudis may be on their way out. Are they now turning enemies? Recently, Saudi chief cleric, Al al-Sheikh stated that Iranians “are not Muslims…”. Iranians have boycotted Hajj as during the last Hajj season hundreds of Hajjis, including Iranians were killed in a stampede.

Be that as it may, Kissinger devotes two chapters – ‘Multiplicity of Asia’ and ‘Towards an Asian Order…’ with the focus mainly on China and whether the emerging Asian world order is one of confrontation or partnership? The current trend is one of China’s confrontations with every nation in Asia and beyond. He devotes about 20 pages to India. Much of his description of Indian history can easily be skipped by anyone in India deeply interested in his writings. But he says that Britain saw itself in India, funnily, “as a neutral overseer and civilizing uplifter of multifarious people and states!”

It is undoubtedly true that Britain played a role in unifying India and creating a political sense of nation. However, that was possible because despite all diversities exhibited by Indians then, as they exhibit today, there was and there is, an underlying bond of common civilisation – historically, more than 10,000 years old. He appreciatively refers to the work of Kautilya (fourth century B.C.), and admits his Arthashastra provided “circle of states”, the Mandala theory, which was “analogous” to balance of power, though conceived “millennia before European thinkers developed factson the ground into a theory of balance of power…”

But, while in government, Kissinger excelled in running down India and Indians, especially during the Bangladesh War in 1971. Kissinger found Hindus “complex” while Muslims simpler and more direct. He went to the extent of meeting Chinese Ambassador in a CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) hideout in New York to urge China to do something instead of merely criticising India! But Mrs. Gandhi excelled in Kautilya’s statecraft and Kissinger lost despite his pursuit offoreign policy devoid of ethics in Machiavellian style.

Three more chapters consider the US and its concept of World Order, as an ambivalent Super Power and one area in which it still excels – superior technology, before he reaches his conclusions on “World Order in Our Time.” Kissinger sees American history through the prism of balance of power.I had the unique privilege of meeting all NSAs in the US since the formation of NSC in 1948 until Jimmy Carter (1977-1981). Some of them like Kissinger’s predecessors, McGeorge Bundy, Walt Rostow and his successors, Brent Scowcroft (1975-1977) and Zbigniew Brzezinski (1977-1981) were great minds. But Henry Kissinger successfully dodged me following a combination of tactics described by Kautilya and Machiavelli!


Dr. P. M. Kamath

Dr. P. M. Kamath was formerly Professor of Politics, in Department of Civics & Politics of Mumbai University. He specialised in the American Politics, Foreign Policy, and National Security. Currently he is the Chairman and Director, VPMs Centre for International Studies affiliated to Mumbai University. He continues to reflect on his academic areas ofinterest.