Friday, October 31, 2014

World Order by Henry Kissinger

World Order This is a book that begs to be studied, not just read. Kissinger has spent his career thinking about world order and in this book he looks both forward and back, eliminating much of the static in the view we have of historical events. The result is a clear outline of national interests, power, and its balance through recent history, centered especially on the U.S. perspective, its intents and its perceived responsibilities.

The discussion is helpful, and useful. However, in eliminating the “noise” from the systems and structures he presents, Kissinger may lead us to think within the framework he has created. In looking forward, a new world order must be something outside any previous framework: “wisdom counsels that a different path must be chosen. To undertake a journey on a road never before traveled requires character and courage…” The cyber world developing around us changes everything.
A reconstruction of the international system is the ultimate challenge to statesmanship of our time.

Beginning with the Treaty of Westphalia after the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-48 in which nearly a quarter of Central Europe’s population was decimated, we see the structure of world order based on national sovereignty:
The Westphalian peace reflected a practical accommodation to reality, not a unique moral insight. It relied on a system of independent states refraining from interference in each other’s domestic affairs and checking each other’s ambitions through a general equilibrium of power. No single claim to truth or universal rule had prevailed in Europe’s contests. Instead, each state was assigned the attribute of sovereign power over its territory. Each would acknowledge the domestic structures and religions vocations of its fellow states as realities and refrain from challenging their existence. With a balance of power now perceived as natural and desirable, the ambitions of rulers would be set in counterpose against each other, at least in theory curtailing the scope of conflicts. Division and multiplicity, an accident of Europe’s history, became the hallmarks of a new system of international order with this own distinct philosophical outlook. In this sense the European effort to end its conflagration shaped and prefigured the modern sensibility: it reserved judgment on the absolute in favor of the practical and ecumenical; it sought to distill order from multiplicity and restraint.

Although China had little involvement with the world and no interest in the Westphalian system of order for centuries, it adheres to and calls on its principles now, when that system of beliefs is being eroded and perhaps even abandoned by the West. Kissinger points out that the Westphalian system of world order based on precepts of national sovereignty and non-interference in other nations’ affairs, is not working in the way it had been for centuries. Kissinger suggests that while in Asia states still adhere to the Westphalian model, the system is breaking down in Europe where economic and military interests are grouped while political power is based on the nation. Business interests of global corporations exceed national interests and boundaries. In the Middle East, a radical Islamic group seeks to operate regionally, ignoring state boundaries. Since 2001 the United Nations has adopted new responsibilities that directly challenge Westphalian principles: asserting the “the responsibility to protect and intervention as a duty of care” even within the boundaries sovereign states. The cyber world features asymmetric power imbalances in which one laptop outside the boundaries of a nation can disable powerful national and international systems.

Regarding technological changes that have changed our notion of speed, and information, Kissinger says
Cyberspace has become strategically indispensable…The history of warfare shows that every technological offensive capability will eventually be matched and offset by defensive measures, although not every country will be equally able to afford them, Does this mean that technologically less advanced countries must shelter under the protection of high-tech societies?...Nor is it possible to base deterrence in cyberspace on symmetrical retaliation, as in the case with nuclear weapons…In the end, a framework for organizing the global cyber environment will be imperative…
The dilemma of such technologies is that it is impossible to establish rules of conduct unless a common understanding of at least some of the key capabilities exists. But these are precisely the capabilities the major actors will be reluctant to disclose…In this manner, asymmetry and a kind of congenital world disorder are built into relations between cyber powers both in diplomacy and strategy. The emphasis of many strategic rivalries is shifting from the physical to the information realm, in the collection and processing of data, the penetration of networks, and the manipulation of psychology. Absent articulation of some rules of international conduct, a crisis will arise from the inner dynamics of the system.
I guess we have Snowden to thank for revealing that “all is known.” Warfare can now move to the psychological: What is it you think you know? There is perhaps no better time to think about the imperative for establishment of a new world order. Kissinger suggests that America must retain her moral compass but not abandon her sense of realism.
Society needs to adapt its education policy ultimate imperatives in the long-term direction of the country and in the cultivation of its values. The inventors of the devices that have so revolutionized the collection and sharing of information can make an equal if not greater contribution by devising means to deepen its conceptual foundation. On the way to the first truly global world order, the great human achievements of technology must be fused with enhanced powers of humane, transcendent, and moral judgment.
The suggestion that the technologists that bring us our systems for connection be involved in “deepening its conceptual foundations” is an interesting one. But perhaps more importantly, we need to move as the people of one nation to make that understanding of the internet's uses and abuses a part of our moral and ethical decision-making. These things can be taught.

The task ahead seems insurmountable, and the tasks addressed without knowing the outcomes of our choices. Kissinger reminds us that
the Westphalian system was drafted by some two hundred delegates, none of whom has entered the annals of history as a major figure, who met in two provincial German towns forty miles apart (a significant distance in the seventeenth century) in two separate groups. They overcame their obstacles because they shared the devastating experience of the Thirty Years’ War, and they were determined to prevent its recurrence. Our time, facing even graver prospects, needs to act on its necessities before it is engulfed by them.
Kissinger leaves us with a series of questions we need to ask ourselves in order to frame an outline to begin discussing this issue in earnest. It is a gift. Elder statesmen are rare beings, and whatever else he may have been called, Kissinger can claim that title. He is now an old man, an old man with long vision. He helps us by reminding us to get a grip, look within, take stock of our urgent responsibilities to our children, to be brave and take the steps needed to preserve and protect our country and our liberty.

To this point, I have addressed and quoted only the first and final pages of this book. In the rest of it, Kissinger gives us distilled observations, opinions, and insights from a lifetime of looking at historical underpinnings and the foreign affairs of nations, and of our own. There is no flab in these pages. It is enlightening. Kissinger was at his influence apogee in the Nixon administration and he speaks longingly of Nixon’s willingness and ability to think in strategic terms:
Nixon treated foreign policy as an endeavor with no end, as a set of rhythms to be managed. He dealt with its intricacies and contradictions like school assignments by an especially demanding teacher.
We have that teacher in this book, challenging us to lead.

I listened to the Penguin Random House Audio of this title, read with appropriate pacing and gravitas by Nicholas Hormann. Listening helped to bring some elements of the discussion into clarity. I supplemented listening with the text, published by Penguin.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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