Kissinger’s obvious intent is to leave a legacy of his foreign policy doctrine, its continuing relevance for solving contemporary problems and defending America’s unique role of establishing or reestablishing world order.
As a historian used to working at the highest academic level, Kissinger is in his element when he charts the progress of the Westphalian Peace Treaties of 1648 in terms of international order. From then on, the papacy was confined to its religious role while states big or small, Catholic or Protestant, respected each other as sovereign entities by not interfering in each other‘s internal affairs.
As regards sovereignty, Kissinger seems unintentionally close to such conservative authors as Carl Schmitt. Even after the Second World War, when writing his concept of world order: “The Nomos of the Earth – in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum“, Schmitt suggests keeping war as a legal instrument of foreign policy by regulating it.
Considering the Westphalian System as a leap forward for international order, it is unsurprising that Kissinger views major disturbances of the European balance of power as its shortcoming. That was the case with Napoleon achieving and then losing hegemony, with World War I and of course with the calamity of Nazi Germany’s wars of aggression.
Many of the judgements made in his historical review of statesmen repeat what has been explained in detail in preceding books. In World Order they are only referred to in the context of a historical summary providing the intellectual tools needed to tackle conflicts growing on the periphery from non-statal entities. But the “Westphalian“ analysis appears unable to address the enemies of order and the authors of unprecedented atrocities by any means other than airborne attacks. Air strikes failed to stop the North Vietnamese.
After elaborating thoughtfully upon America’s slow affirmation of its world role since Theodore Roosevelt, Kissinger leaves no doubt about the indispensable character of U.S. leadership today. The U.S. – according to Kissinger – has no right to withdraw from that role. The U.S. remains indispensable, he writes, because America is the only Western democracy which is unequivocally ready to pursue its interests and defend its values by warfare. His comments on the soft power approach by the European Union lay bare Kissinger’s scorn, verging upon contempt for such an attitude.
Here the resemblance with the belligerence of an author like the controversial Carl Schmitt is striking. But belligerence today sits awkwardly in the media and Kissinger deserves praise for having the courage to remind the Europeans in general and the EU in particular that the exercise of politics includes at times, the resolute confrontation with adversaries. History demonstrates that moral suasion has in most cases remained a political instrument of idealists, sometimes with disastrous consequences.
On the basis of his vast experience, Kissinger elegantly describes striking trends and contemporary developments: the structural disorder in the Middle East increased through Islamic extremism, the special challenge of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the emerging order in Asia. Kissinger is abreast of all these developments and able to give the reader thought-provoking analysis and astoundingly realistic assessments. However in his assessment of the second war against Iraq – Kissinger calls this „ undertaking regime change“ – the critical reader – in light of the subsequent continuing disorder – becomes reluctant to understand the author‘s line of thought. That deficit in arguments is not overcome by Kissinger’s allegiance to President George W. Bush “who guided America with courage, dignity and convicton in an unsteady time“. It is surprising that a man with such accurate and realistic judgements as Kissinger takes the risk of luring the reader into fallacy. This flaw is even more surprising after reading a little further on Kissinger’s doubts about the emergence of statesmen in the digital age who can inspire their people and persist in the endeavour.“ The mindset for walking lonely political paths may not be self-evident to those who seek confirmation by hundreds, sometimes thousands of friends on Facebook.“
Nomos is the Greek word for the first partition of land from its primeval division and distribution. When we describe Kissinger’s nomos, we use the word not in its spatial sense. The nomos of Kissinger is a world of reason based on in which irrationalities, inspired by error or hatred leading to warfare and instability, are addressed by politics that, reasonably applied, achieve stability. Ever since his dissertation, Kissinger has been on that path inspired by Metternich, the Austrian Chancellor – apparently the hero of his young academic years. Metternich initiated a series of international congresses which drew the national boundaries of post-Napoleonic Europe. The contemporary question however, is whether the Metternich model continues to have an impact on U.S. policy. Hopefully it will.
Controversial in his defence of U.S. foreign policy, crystal-clear in his historical insight and far-sighted as to the challenges ahead of us, Kissinger’s masterpiece should be read by every European. To better understand America’s role today and its potential future pitfalls.