World order By Henry Kessinger-Book review

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In history when we speak of some legends of the art of diplomacy the names of men like Talleyrand, Cardinal Richelieu, Count Metternich etc instantly come to the tip of our tongue. In recent history up to our present times there has been only one man who has dominated the international diplomatic stage for about half a century. Mr Henry Kissinger served as United States’ 7th National Security Advisor and 56th Secretary of State under the tenures of Presidents Nixon and Ford.

Orignially a German born Jew, Kissinger immigrated to America along with his family to escape from Nazi persecution of his community in Germany. When the cold war was at its tipping point, Mr Kissinger through his tact and skill diffused mounting tensions between not only US and USSR but also with communist China and warded off catastrophe that could have enveloped the entire global community at the time. In 2014 his book World Order was published by Penguin and became an instant classic and authoritative text on international relations. I shall attempt here to provide my own perspective and opinion while reviewing it.

The book is Eurocentric in its theme as it roots the foundation of the concept of balance of power, pivotal in defining the way in which nations deal with one another, in the treaty of Westphalia that culminated the thirty years war that ravaged Europe in the 17th century.

In the opening chapter he credits Richelieu the Chief Minister of France during the reign of Louis XIII with creating this first European system, which would later have universal underpinnings, through shifting loyalties and supporting the protestants against the catholic counter-reformation led by the rival Hapsburg dynasty. The author takes up historical events to make a case for a system of alliances that would allow no state to gain so much power as to disturb the peace of the region.

The presence of counter balancing forces that would proscribe a hegemonic state’s freedom have its way is an imperative in this system. Often when we are read about the Great War we are led to believe that the war was a result of numerous military alliances between European countries that dragged at first the continent and then the entire world in a chaotic conflict.

Kissinger on the other hand believes that reunification of Germany under Bismarck made it such a powerful military force that it was capable of defeating all other European nations combined together and triggered the unexpected. The century after Congress of Vienna achieved a heretofore unprecedented peace mainly because the European states restored France to its pre-Napoleonic borders back with its monarchy and integrated it in the alliance system.

As a renowned proponent of realism Kissinger posits that the most pragmatic foreign policy is not conceived through ideological or religious bindings but through choosing that course of action which is in the best interest of achieving peace and strength for the country.

The policy at its incipient stage must be chalked out after rigorous calculations and should be assessed based on its longer run outcomes. In today’s post-modernist world realism has little place but Kissinger touches upon watershed moments in world history, for example Talleyrand’s betrayal of Napoleon, when realistic approaches to diplomatic relations had augured well for regional order.

In the middle part of the book, he explores the dynamics of the Islamic world strangely titled ‘A World in Disorder’. The legitimacy of the Islamic government historically has always been rooted in religion which we see that even in our times political leaders in Muslim countries often invoke religion to gain political capital.

For better or for worse Islam to a large degree has served as a uniting force in the Muslim world as opposed to Christianity in Europe. The Islamic world order is essentially focus on maximum number of believers under the banner of Muslim brotherhood which collapsed with the end of Ottoman empire and fragmented into various conflicting ideologies that have resulted in militancy and infighting within the muslim world today. Each group with its own vision of pan Islamism is struggling for legitimacy which is the ground through which power can be exercised.

China has been a closed civilisation that locked its doors to the outside world. Therefore still it appears to be such a mystery to much of the world. Because of its introverted nature China never made any effort to impose its system onto other nations. It has been a universe in itself for most part of the history.

But at the same time he acknowledges China’s growing influence in the world stage and it is destined to become a superpower. For that matter it is really important for US and China to cooperate together and build a working relationship on not just on bilateral issues but decisions pertaining to the future of the world.

About the US he has likened its role in the world stage to that of a ‘managing director of an enterprise’. US has been a strange case in history since it is the only nation to become a world power without having any pretensions of imperial conquests.

His support for Iraq war does warn against the ills of ambitious and dictatorial leaders like Saddam but does not empathize with the millions of Iraqis who suffered at the hands of American army. The US in Iraq and Afghanistan left these countries even more devastated and failed to install and sustain a stable regime there which allowed that void to be filled by militant outfits, making it a centre of terrorism.

Kissinger emphasises the role of America in maintaining the balance of power in a multipolar world and multilateral for a like the UNSC should be empowered to give representation of less developed countries without being crushed by the powerful ones. Similary presence supranational bodies at regional levels can aide in embedding the order down to grassroots level.

Leaders today are more disconnected from the past which is clouding there decision making ability. The world has not yet gotten out of the nuclear threat and today it faces a host of other challenges as well such as climate change which could potentially alter the make up of our planet. In face of such pressing threats, it is all the more important for a World Order to exist and can be enforced in this age of connectivity that we dwell in.

Nations need to cooperate even more and todays emerging powers will be at the helm of affairs sooner than we can imagine. These rising powers may put the west in a Thucydides trap but the way forward would be to synergize their aspirations and the statesmen will have to recalibrate a new order in which cooperation would take precedence over conflict.

SM Hassan Raza
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SM Hassan Raza is affiliated with an Islamabad based research institute.

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