World According to Henry K
I have been browsing Henry Kissinger’s latest volume, World Order, and had a chance to hear him live and close-up in New York City.
Kissinger is a dying breed in the world today: a practicing diplomat who is also a great geopolitical theorist. Connecting the dots about events across the globe and then being able to tell how a government should respond at the policy level is the stuff of statesmen.
Yes, the Blood Telegrams and so on have reminded us of his amorality. But a moral statesman is frankly, at least in the present world, a rarity. And a geopolitician with a moral focus is an oxymoron.
Kissinger says this about the world: the Westphalian system that has dominated relations between countries was a product of Europe’s religious wars and spread because of Europe and America’s global domination. At the heart of the Westphalian system was today’s concept of sovereignty: you can’t attack a country because of how it runs its affairs at home, you can do so because of what it does outside its borders.
But today, he argues, the world is overrun by regional systems that don’t actually believe that any more. Europe, for starters, is a post militaristic and post sovereignty structure that supports the idea of cross-border intervention for humanitarian reasons – but no longer as the means to defend or even promote this view to the rest of the world.
The Islamic world is in a state of multiple and simultaneous revolts and revolutions that have led to widespread state disintegration and worse. Kissinger sees this as akin to the 39 Years War that killed about a third of northern Europe’s population and led to the Peace of Westphalia in the first place. But this is becoming a pre-Westphalian region.
Asia is where the Westphalian system continues to hold out. Asian countries are sovereign conscious, not prone to proselytizing and generally territorially coherent. But Asia is big, Kissinger has written and said in several places, big enough to have several regional geopolitical games going on at the same time. China is a big part of all of them.
Kissinger has long pushed for a G-2 kind of relationship between the US and China – and continues to do so today. The original G-2 failed and so far all subsequent attempts have not worked. “When has the US and China together ever got anything right,” one former deputy secretary of state said once.
Kissinger, the geopolitician and a long student of the great power consensus that lay behind the Congress of Vienna, holds fast to the need for the world’s number one and number two to develop a working relationship – or else see the black bean sauce hit the fan.
A Chinese narrative today is about the US trying to encircle and contain Beijing. The US one is of China trying to push it out of the Western Pacific. If either of these, he said, comes to dominate the policy of either the US and China then conflict is inevitable.