THE foreign policy of a country reflects the latter’s image on the global dais. It is also a comment on the aspirations of its architects. But the international community has seen many formulators of foreign policy exit the world stage, with states forgetting their contributions but continuing to work within the foreign policy framework they have left behind. Some, however, have remained relevant and continued to shed light on world interactions even when no longer in office.
At 99, Henry A. Kissinger, who served as US secretary of state and national security adviser under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, has produced yet another masterpiece, Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy.
The author of over a dozen titles, he has now completed six studies on political personalities that he has known. They are Konrad Adenauer, Anwar Sadat, Margaret Thatcher, Lee Kuan Yew, Charles de Gaulle and Richard Nixon. (It has been asked why he has not included Mikhail Gorbachev under whom the Soviet Union went through a sea change in its interactions with the rest of the world.) Kissinger has focused on how the strategies adopted by these leaders have redefined international diplomacy.
The embodiment of realpolitik, Kissinger has been denounced and appreciated in equal measure. His own world strategy, though often questioned and critiqued, has a lot to teach us. For him, security has been an indispensable part of the themes of leadership and world order.
At 99, Kissinger remains a relevant voice.
According to Kissinger, “The stability of an international system depends on the degree to which it combines the need for security with the obligation of self-restraint. To rely entirely on the continued goodwill of another sovereign state is an abdication of statesmanship and self-respect. But to seek security entirely through physical domination is to menace all other countries. For absolute security for one country must mean absolute insecurity for all others. 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 to be stable.”
This was written several decades ago in 1959. But over the years, he doggedly struck to the theme. What of India, which is now emerging as the major power in South Asia? Calling India a “newcomer” as a nation-state, though acknowledging its role in the non-aligned movement, Kissinger had written that “it has yet to assume a role commensurate with its size on the international political stage”.
Clearly, Kissinger was not taken in by the rhetoric, and his summing up of India’s foreign policy is flawed only in that it overlooks at times the fact that Indian policymakers mistook standard rhetoric for the principles of policy. “India,” he wrote, “did not conceive of foreign policy as a debate in the Oxford Union, however its diplomats might pretend that they were in that discriminating audience with the right to choose a winner purely on the basis of moral merit. India’s leaders had attended schools in England and had read American classics. They combined the rhetoric of Wilson and Gladstone with the practices of Disraeli and Theodore Roosevelt. From the Indians’ point of view, this made eminent sense as long as their interlocutors did not delude themselves into thinking that Indian rhetoric was a guide to Indian practice, or that Indian foreign policy was governed by abstract, prior morality.”
Besides a balance of power, a viable international order must be based on shared values and a consensus on the fundamentals. The balance of power inhibits the capacity to overthrow the international order, and agreement on shared values thwarts the desire to overthrow it.
There follows a typical Kissinger bon mot: “Power without legitimacy tempts tests of strength; legitimacy without power tempts empty posturing.” He puts it in sharper focus when he approvingly recalls Metternich’s belief that “a shared concept of justice was a prerequisite for international order”.
In 1989, Kissinger had proposed what came decisively to be known as Yalta II in which Moscow would agree to allow liberalisation in Eastern Europe, and in return the US would agree not to exploit these changes in a way that would threaten Soviet security (such as trying to take Moscow’s allies out of the Warsaw Pact). It was to be, of course, a secret deal.
It was suggested to George Bush and James Baker in December 1988, with flattering references to the historic opportunity to end the Cold War. Kissinger explained it to Gorbachev in 1989. The Washington Post shot it down: “Some specialists on European affairs in the State Department have expressed dismay bordering on horror at Kissinger’s concepts.”
Kissinger has been a tall man in thin company of dwarfs. For all his plans and strategies, he remains a man of greatness.
The writer is an author and lawyer based in Mumbai.
Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2022