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The Chinese way

August 02, 2014

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The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

NEXT month, Allen Lane will publish a major new book by Henry Kissinger, entitled World Order. It proposes to answer the 21st century’s ultimate challenge: how to build a shared international order in a world of divergent national perspectives and interests.

It could not have made a more timely appearance because China, the country whose leaders he has been cultivating for the last few decades — for reasons of business, among others — has just begun to articulate its concept of a new global order.

Kissinger’s cynical politics have overshadowed the enduring relevance and worth of his earlier scholarly writings. The one fundamental he espoused with brilliant insight and conspicuous consistency is the need for a world order which all can accept. He shot to fame in 1957 with his seminal work Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy and never looked back since.


China has just begun to articulate its concept of a new global order.


In a chapter on ‘Sino-Soviet Strategic Thought’, he analysed the efforts of a revolutionary or revisionist power to recast the existing equilibrium of power in order to establish a new pattern of relationship; for example, Napoleon’s France and Hitler’s Germany.

He wrote “An international order the basic arrangements of which are accepted by all the major powers may be called ‘legitimate’. … A legitimate order is distinguished by not pressing the quest for security to its limits; by its willingness to find safety in a combination of physical safeguards and mutual trust. It is legitimate not because each power is perfectly satisfied, but because it will not be so dissatisfied that it will seek its remedy in overthrowing the existing system.”

In 1960 came his book The Necessity for Choice which the newly elected President John F. Kennedy admired. The theme was pressed forcefully. “The stability of an international system depends on the degree to which it combines the need for security with the obligation of self-restraint. … Where to strike this balance cannot be determined in the abstract; it is what makes diplomacy an art and not a science. But the balance must be established if the international order is stable.”

Daedalus, a highly respected journal, published in 1968 an issue on ‘Studies in Leadership’ to which Kissinger contributed an essay on Bismarck based on original research in German sources. He reiterated his view: “The stability of any international system depends on at least two factors: the degree to which its components feel secure and the extent to which they agree on the ‘justice’ or ‘fairness’ of existing arrangements. ... Equilibrium is needed for stability; moral consensus is essential for spontaneity. In the absence of agreement as to what constitutes a ‘just’ or ‘reasonable’ claim, no basis for negotiation exists.”

Clearly the present world order does not satisfy valid tests. The US calls the shots.

As practitioner, Kissinger discarded the truths he had told as a scholar. He became besotted with power. His book On China notes its quest for a “global role”, but holds that the US should “retain its competitiveness and its world role” — as the sole superpower after the collapse of the USSR. This ‘new world order’ was proclaimed by president George H. W. Bush in 1991.

This is precisely what China has always rejected. But in recent days it has gone farther still. In a series of pronouncements China has articulated the need for a new world order besides a ‘new Asian security concept’, based on the equality of states, which emphasises the roles of regional groups such as SCO, Saarc, Asean, and the Arab League. There will be a “new type [of] major — power relations in handling big power relations”.

On June 11, 2014 ambassador Wei Wei urged “we should push the world towards the direction of multi-polarisation.

Developing countries should have more representation in international affairs, and [new] international rules should be made through equal and collective consultations. The UN, G20, SCO, Brics and other multinational regimes should get full scope for the role they play, with a view to make international governance more just and reasonable.”

Recently, President Xi Jinxing explicitly demanded “a new architecture of Asia-Pacific security cooperation that is open, transparent and equality based”. He amplified that it is “unacceptable to have security just for one country or some countries while leaving the rest insecure”.

As a scholar, Kissinger held the same view. Now, after Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, the developing world feels the same way. American predominance poses a threat to the legitimacy as well as the stability of the existing world order. China pursues its campaign adroitly without antagonising the US. The developing world must support it; especially Pakistan and India.

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2014