World Order

My second Henry Kissinger Book.

Absolutely not an easy read but I think the knowledge is essential for anyone who wants to understand how different countries and regions define world order and how equilibrium of power can help to maintain world peace.

I read this book in just 5 days, from 20 May to 25 May but it was not until 7 months later that I finished writing the summary. It was like reading the book one more time, but with a much slower pace and really taking time to appreciate every point of view from the author and connect his views with what’s currently happening in the world.

You would find the following passage at the very end of the book. Upon reading it, a part of me felt quite sympathetic to the now-93-year-old Kissinger who received the controversial Nobel Peace Prize award in 1973 for the work on the Paris Peace Accords which prompted the withdrawal of American forces from the Vietnam war.

Long ago, in youth, I was brash enough to think myself able to pronounce on ‘The Meaning of History.’ I now know that history’s meaning is a matter to be discovered, not declared. It is a question we must attempt to answer as best we can in recognition that it will remain open to debate; that each generation will be judged by whether the greatest, most consequential issues of the human condition have been faced, and that decisions to meet these challenges must be taken by statesmen before it is possible to know what the outcome may be.

Part I – World Order

According to the author, our world deals with three levels of order: “World order” describes the concept held by a region or civilization about the nature of just arrangements and the distribution of power thought to be applicable to the entire world. An “international order” is the practical application of these concepts to a substantial part of the globe—large enough to affect the global balance of power. “Regional orders” involve the same principles applied to a defined geographic area.

In the past, the idea of world order was applied only in the geographical boundary of a region because the then-prevailing technology did not encourage the operation of a single global system. For example: China was the centre of its own hierarchical and theoretically universal concept of order. Islam had its own vision of a single divinely sanctioned governance pacifying the world and Europe with its “Westphalia principles”.

Of all concepts of world order, Westphalia principles are the sole generally recognised basis of what exists of a world order, where each nation-state has sovereignty over its territory and domestic affairs to the exclusion of all external powers and that each state (no matter how large or small) is equal in international law. As European influence spread across the globe, these principles became central to international law and to the prevailing world order.

Part II – Europe

1. Napoleon’s Ambition and The Congress of Vienna (1814 – 1815)

Every system of order bases itself on two components: a set of rules that define the limits of permissible action and an equilibrium of power that enforces restraint where rules break down.

A good example of how equilibrium of power worked was Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat in the Battle of Nations. Even though his armies crushed all opposition in Western and Central Europe, he couldn’t overcome a united forces of the rest of Europe with England and Russia as the main defenders.

The British helped to maintain peace in Europe just by its way of switching alliance and by identifying its national interest with the preservation of the balance of power “Neither Russia or France could count on British support as a certainty and neither could write off the possibility of British armed opposition if it carried matters to the point of threatening the European equilibrium.”

Russia partly acted as the balancer of the equilibrium in Europe/Asia and at the same time stood as an implicit challenge to the traditional European concept of international order “It has started more wars than any other contemporary major power, but it has also thwarted dominion of Europe by a single power, holding fast against Charles XII of Sweden, Napoleon, and Hitler when key continental elements of the balance had been overrun.”

The Congress of Vienna was convened in 1815 by the four European powers which had defeated Napoleon: Britain, Prussia, Austria, and Russia. The first goal was to establish a new balance of power in Europe which would prevent imperialism within Europe, such as the Napoleonic empire, and maintain the peace between the great powers.

The Congress also addressed the dilemma of Germany “when Germany was weak it tempted foreign (mostly French) interventions; when unified, it became strong enough to defeat its neighbours single-handedly” by setting aside Prussia and grouping the remaining thirty-seven German states in an entity called the German Confederation.

The basic features of the reorganisation of Europe from Vienna survived for more than 5 decades and only began to fray in the middle of the nineteenth century under the impact of three events: the rise of nationalism, the revolutions of 1848, and the Crimean War.

With Germany unified in 1871 and aligned itself with Austria-Hungary to become Central Powers, Britain abandoned its “splendid isolation” by joining Triple Entente with France and Russia, the system completely lost its flexibility and became a major reason behind the moonwalking into World War I of Europe.

2. World War I and The Treaty of Versailles (1919)

“World War I was welcomed by enthusiastic publics and euphoric leaders who envisioned a short, glorious war for limited aims.”

In reality, it killed 17 million people, traumatised a generation, overturned old empires and shipwrecked the prevailing international order. The enormous losses on all sides of the conflict resulted in part from the introduction of new weapons as well as the failure of military leaders to adjust their tactics to the increasingly mechanised nature of warfare.

World War I officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 1919. The Treaty of Versailles, negotiated and written by the Allies with almost no participation by the Germans. The negotiations revealed a split between the French, who wanted to dismember Germany to make it impossible for it to renew war with France, and the British and Americans, who did not want to create pretexts for a new war.

In the end, the Treaty refused to accept the defeated Germany into the League of Nations (but Congress of Vienna had included acceptance of a defeated France) and requested the country to accept all the responsibilities for major war damages. However, France was too drained by the war to play the role of Europe’s policeman and Europe’s historical nightmare reappeared with the advent of Hitler.

“With Germany neither morally invested in the Versailles settlement nor confronted with a clear balance of forces preventing its challenges, the Versailles order all but dared German revisionism.”

3. World War II and Division of Germany

One can never know whether either rigorous Franco-British enforcement of the original treaty or a more generous treaty would have avoided a new war. But World War II was the most widespread war in history, and directly involved more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. In a state of total war, the major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, erasing the distinction between civilian and military resources.

World War II ended with the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers. On 8 May 1945, the Allies accepted Germany’s surrender, about a week after Adolf Hitler had committed suicide.

“Germany was back to its position three hundred years earlier after the Peace of Westphalia: its division had become the key element of the emerging international structure.”

The country got divided into four temporary occupation zones, roughly based on the locations of the Allied armies. The German capital, Berlin, was also divided into four sectors: the French sector, British sector, American sector and the Soviet sector.

4. The Cold War

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 by the United States, Canada, and several Western European nations to provide collective security against the Soviet Union. NATO was the first peacetime military alliance the United States entered into outside of the Western Hemisphere.

So the Cold War was the new equilibrium of power between the Eastern Bloc (the Soviet Union and its satellite states) and the Western Bloc (the United States and its NATO allies).

In 1990, the reunification of Germany marked the end of the more than forty-year division of the continent into two rival ideological blocs and expectedly, upset the political equilibrium of Europe.

“German unification altered the equilibrium of Europe because no constitutional arrangement could change the reality that Germany alone was again the strongest European state.”

However, in the end it did not produce the hegemonic tendencies that many had feared and while there were several reasons for this, the most important thing was that the Germans themselves showed no signs of wanting to lead Europe and they genuinely believed in a commitment to work together with their European partners.

5. The European Union

In the 1950s, France and Germany whose rivalry had been at the heart of every European war for three centuries, began the process of reconciliation which would ultimately lay the foundations for the European Union four decades later.

The European Union was established under its current name in 1993 following the Maastricht Treaty. Since then the community has grown in size because of the accession of new member states.

With Brexit happened in 2016, EU lost the world’s fifth-largest economy, a nuclear power and a member of the UN Security Council. The consequences of for both sides are yet to be defined.

Part III – Middle East

1. A World in Disorder

Geographically, Middle East is a transcontinental region centred on Western Asia and Egypt. Explaining its current state of disorder, Henry Kissinger wrote: “A profusion of prophetic absolutisms has been the hallmark of a region suspended between a dream of its former glory and its contemporary inability to unify around common principles of domestic or international legitimacy.”

2. The Rise and Fall of Islam’s Golden Age

According to historians (non-Muslim), the origin of Islam can be traced back to 7th century Saudi Arabia. Islam is thus the youngest of the great world religions.

The prophet Muhammad, believed by Muslims to be the last in a long line of prophets that includes Moses and Jesus, was born in Mecca in the year 570. He received at the age of forty a revelation that continued for approximately twenty-three years and, when written down, became known as the Quran. After the holy Quran, the sayings of the Prophet (hadith) and descriptions of his way of life (sunna) are the most important Muslim texts.

Muhammad and his believers unified the Arabian Peninsula, and set out to replace the prevailing faiths of the region with the religion of his received vision. An unprecedented wave of expansion turned the rise of Islam into one of the most consequential events in history.

Islam’s rapid advance across three continents provided proof to the faithful of its divine mission. For Muslims, Islam is the new world order. This momentum only faltered when the first wave of Muslim expansion was reversed in Europe.

“If you embrace Islam, we will leave you alone, if you agree to pay the poll tax, we will protect you if you need our protection. Otherwise it is war.”

From 8th to 13th centuries, while Europe was going through the Dark Ages, the Islamic world underwent it’s own cultural renaissance. This period is traditionally said to have ended with the collapse of the Abbasid caliphate due to Mongol invasions and the Sack of Baghdad.

3. The Split of Islam

When Muhammad died in 632 he had not named a successor, therefore a dispute over succession to Muhammad as a caliph of the Islamic community spread across various parts of the world and splited Islam into Sunni and Shia branches.

While Sunnies believed that the Prophet’s successor should be determined by consensus and successively elected three of his most trusted companions, Shia believed that only individuals with direct lineage to the Prophet could guide the Muslim community righteously.

The rift between these two factions has resulted in differences in worship as well as political and religious views. Sunnis are in the majority and occupy most of the Muslim world, while Shia populations are concentrated in Iran and Iraq, with sizeable numbers in Bahrain, Lebanon, Kuwait, Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

4. The Ottoman Empire

In the thirteenth century, the dream of universal order reappeared. Ottoman Empire, empire created by Turkish tribes in Anatolia (Asia Minor) that grew to be one of the most powerful states in the world during the 15th and 16th centuries.

“The Ottomans refused to accept the European states as either legitimate or equal. This was not simply a matter of Islamic doctrine; it reflected as well a judgment about the reality of power relations, for the Ottoman Empire was territorially larger than all of the Western European states combined and for many decades militarily stronger than any conceivable coalition of them.”

In the late 16th century, signs of weakness signaled the beginning of a slow but steady decline. Some important factors in the decline were (i) the increasing lack of ability and willingness to reform of ruling class (ii) economic difficulties arising when the Dutch and British completely closed the old international trade routes through the Middle East (iii) intermittent wars with its European enemies.

During World War I, a secret treaty was concluded between the Ottoman Empire and the German Empire in 1914. The Ottoman Empire was to enter the war on the side of the Central Powers one day after the German Empire declared war on Russia.

The Treaty of Sèvres was signed with the Ottoman Empire after the end of World War I (1920). The terms of the Treaty were far more severe than those imposed on the German Empire by the Treaty of Versailles and Ottoman Empire were left angered and embittered by their treatment.

In fact, France, Italy, and Great Britain had secretly begun territorially carved up the ‘Sick Man of Europe’ as early as 1915.

“Each of these entities contained multiple sectarian and ethnic groups, some of which had a history of conflict with each other. This allowed the mandating power to rule in part by manipulating tensions, in the process laying the foundation for later wars and civil wars.”

Spanning more than 600 years, the empire came to an end only in 1922, when it was replaced by the Turkish Republic and various successor states in southeastern Europe and the Middle East.

5. The Westphalian System and the Islamic World

In the 1920s, the Middle East was divided under French and British’s influence. Each division or entity contained multiple sectarian and ethnic groups, some of which had history of conflict with each other. This allowed the mandating power to rule in part by manipulating tensions, in the process laying out foundation for later wars and civil wars.

Since then, the Muslim world was stranded between the victorious Westphalian international order and unrealisable concept of Islam and the emergence of Europe-style secular states propelled vast social and political upheavals.

A secular state is an idea pertaining to secularism, whereby a state is officially neutral in matters of religion. Western nations had lived through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Reform periods, and had thus learned that they needed to implement secularism to stop the Church from getting too powerful and provoking the illiterate population to object to progressive movements.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the more or less feudal and monarchical governments in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya were overthrown by their military leaders, who proceeded to establish secular governance. However, trying to secularise a state whose citizens observe religion as a critical part of their life might have been too soon.

After World War II, when Europe could no longer maintain the regional order that they designed for the Middle East, the United States and Soviet Union emerged as the key influencers. However: “Association with the Soviet Union had not advanced political goals; association with the United States had not defused social challenges.”

When secularism and progressive politics failed, Middle East witnessed the birth of radical groups those promised to replace the existing system with a literal, eventually global implementation of the Quran.

“In the purist version of Islamism, the state cannot be the point of departure for an international system because states are secular, hence illegitimate.”

“Purity, not stability, is the guiding principle of this conception of world order.”

6. The Israeli-Palestinian Issue

The one ideological issue uniting Arab views was the emergence of Israel as a sovereign state and internationally recognised homeland for the Jewish people in 1948.

In 1979, Egypt entered a peace agreement with Israel and was expelled from the Arab League. President Anwar al-Sadat was vilified and ultimately assassinated. Yet his courageous actions found imitators willing to reach comparable accommodations with the Jewish state (Syria and Jordan).

While the the Israeli-Palestinian issue is yet to be addressed because most Arab states are either torn by civil war or preoccupied with the Sunni-Shia conflict and an increasingly powerful Iran, it’s important to keep in mind that it is a conflict of two world orders (with Israel by definition a Westphalian state and America as principal ally) and therefore will have to be faced sooner or later.

7. The Arab Spring

“For a fleeting moment, the Arab Spring that began in late 2010 raised hopes that the region’s contending forces of autocracy and jihad had been turned irrelevant by a new wave of reform.”

The wave of initial revolutions and protests gradually faded as demonstrations were met with violent responses from authorities and pro-government militias.

“The Arab Spring has exhibited rather than overcome the internal contradictions of the Arab-Islamic world and of the policies designed to resolve them.”

According to the author, one of the challenges of Arab Spring was the clash between security necessities and of democracy promotion: “Those committed to democratisation have found it difficult to discover leaders who recognise the importance of democracy other than as a means to achieve their own dominance. At the same time, the advocates of strategic necessity have not been able to show how the established regimes will ever evolve in a democratic or even reformist manner.”

Besides, the Arab Spring left open the question what will take the place of the supplanted authorities and therefore created dangerous power vacuums and led to contentious battles.

As of July 2016, only the uprising in Tunisia has resulted in a transition to constitutional democratic governance. The demonstrations in other states either died down or become an ongoing multi-sided armed conflict like Syria Civil War.

“The Syrian revolution at its beginning appeared like a replay of the Egyptian one at Tahrir Square. But while the Egyptian upheaval unified the underlying forces, in Syria age-old tensions broke out to reawaken the millennial conflict between Shia and Sunni.”

“Regional powers poured arms, money, and logistical support into Syria on behalf of their preferred sectarian candidates: Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states for the Sunni groups; Iran supporting Assad via Hezbollah.”

When it comes to the role of United States, while Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow in the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World argued that President Obama unwittingly removed the United States from its central place in the ongoing Arab conversation over democracy, Henry Kissinger in this book still stressed on the significance of American involvement and its dilemma:

“Does America consider itself obliged to support every popular uprising against any nondemocratic government, including those heretofore considered important in sustaining the international system? Is every demonstration democratic by definition?”

He also shortly mentioned the attitude of Russia and China towards the democracy in Middle East.

“Other great powers such as Russia and China resisted by invoking the Westphalian principle of noninterference. They had viewed the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Bahrain, and Syria principally through the lens of their own regional stability.”

8. Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom ofSaudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and home to Islam’s two holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina.

The modern Saudi state was founded in 1932 and the country political system operates as an absolute monarch headed by AI Saud family. Still, according to the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia adopted by royal decree in 1992, the king must comply with Sharia (Islamic law) and the Quran.

One of the key challenges of Saudi rulers is to strike a right balance between religious absolutism and modern statesmanship. Just like how the authorities has been doing just enough change to avoid alienating their youthful population while being able to keep reform momentum in check.

When it comes to foreign policy, the country’s goals is to maintain its security and its paramount position on the Arabian Peninsula.

“The discovery of vast oil reserves has made Saudi Arabia wealthy almost without parallel in the region, generating an implicit challenge to the security of a country with a sparse population, no natural land borders, and a politically detached Shia minority living in one of its key oil-producing regions.”

Although a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, Saudi Arabia has been leading the Pro-Western Camp of Arab countries and aligning itself with the US. It also important to notice that, the authorities achieved security by staying aloof and steering away from most of regional issues.

“As a matter of regional leadership, balance of power, and doctrinal contention, Saudi Arabia considers itself threatened by Shia Iran, as both a religious and an imperial phenomenon.”

Considering the conflict with Iran existential, Saudi Arabian at a minimum will seek to enhance its own power position to maintain the balance. It is very likely that it will develop nuclear capability or seek for a new outside ally in case the US withdraw from the region.

9. Iran and the United States

In 1953, the American CIA helped to overthrow a democratically elected prime minister in Iran, and restore the Shah to his throne. The Shah was a modernizer in many ways, promoting the growth of a modern economy and a middle class, and championing women’s rights. However, the Shah’s own increasingly authoritarian measures and his eventual dismissal of multi-party rule set the stage for the infamous revolution in 1979.

“Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile in Paris and Iraq to claim the role of the revolution’s Supreme Leader, he did so not on behalf of social programs or of democratic governance but in the name of an assault against the entire regional order and indeed the institutional arrangements of modernity.”

Since then, Iran, an accepted state in the Westphalian system turned itself into an advocate for radical Islam. Khomeni declared that universal religious principles, not national interests or liberal internationalism would dominate the new world. He also conceived of the state not as a legitimate entity in its own right but as a weapon of convenience in a broader religious struggle.

Placing itself at the intersection of two world orders, on the one hand Iran is dedicated to overthrow the Westphalian system, on the other hand it still asserted its “Westphalian” rights and privileges—taking up its seat at the United Nations, conducting its trade, and operating its diplomatic apparatus.

Regarding Iranian-American relations, despite an era of very close alliance and friendship between Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s regime and the U.S. government, Iran’s adoption of jihadist principles and its direct assault on America has created tensions between the countries.

“By dressing up America’s face, some individuals are trying to remove the ugliness, the violence and terror from this face and introduce America’s government to the Iranian people as being affectionate and humanitarian… How can you change such an ugly and criminal face in front of the Iranian people with makeup?”

Besides, with Ayatollah Khomeini secretly implements nuclear-related commitments that far exceeds what is considered “civilian”, the United States and UN Security Council imposed economic sanctions against Iran which have taken a serious toll on the country’s economy and people.

On July 14 2015, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1, was created to loosen the economic sanctions in exchange for Iran’s restriction in producing enriched uranium. However, it’s important to notice Henry Kissinger’s view on how the negotiation was conducted.

“The record shows steadily advancing Iranian nuclear capabilities taking place while the Western position has been progressively softened.”

Part IV – Asia

1. European Colonialism

In Asia, there has been no common religion, there is no memory of a common empire comparable to that of Rome. The political and economic map of Asia illustrates the region’s complex tapestry.

When it comes to regional order, “hierarchy, not sovereign equality, was the organising principle of Asia’s historical international systems”. Then from the 19th century until the first half of 20th century, Asia countries were forced to participating in an international order imposed by European colonialism. Justified their actions under various versions of their so-called civilising mission, the industrialised economies were in a colonial race for raw materials and captive markets.

“Until the end of World War II, most of Asia conducted its policies as an adjunct of European powers or, in the case of the Philippines, of the United States. The conditions for Westphalian-style diplomacy only began to emerge with the decolonisation that followed the devastation of the European order by two world wars.”

After decades of war and revolutionary turmoil, Asia has quickly transformed itself dramatically into a rising economic bloc despite its long being “an ideological battleground between capitalism and communism, between nationalism and Westernisation and between the nation-state and globalisation.”

2. Japan

Japan’s insular position gave it a choice of whether or not to participate in Asian affairs. For many centuries, the country chose to “cultivate its military traditions through internal contests and admit foreign trade and culture at its discretion”.

Japan’s distinctive culture and its near-religious commitment on the country’s divine ancestry also made it impossible to acknowledge Sino-centric world order and just maintained a close enough practice under Chinese Tributary System. “It hovered at the edge of a hierarchical Chinese world order, periodically insisting on its equality and, at some points, its own superiority.”

When the country was confronted with Western challenge, Japan set out to adjust its national policies by entering Westphalian order while striving for a successful adaption.

It was the nation’s great flexility that explained why it could move from “total isolation to extensive borrowing from the apparently most modern states in the West” and from “audacious attempts at empire building to pacifism and thence to a reemergence of a new kind of major-power stance.”

For the new role of Japan in our modern world, as Henry Kissinger put it, the rise of China, the development of North and South Korean, the strategic alliance with America all need to be taken into consideration.

3. India

Definitely not my favourite country until the moment I read about the concept of world order in Hindu cosmology, how it was “governed by immutable cycles of an almost inconceivably vast scale—millions of years long”. And that any upheaval measured against the perspective of the infinite would simply become irrelevant, and power was just the dominant reality.

(i) From The Mughal Empire to Britain’s Indian realm

For nearly a millennium, India’s wealth and technological achievements had became a target for conquest and conversion from the Turks, Afghans, Parthians to Mongols. Therefore one of notable characteristics of this subcontinent is “its ties of religion and ethnicity and strategic sensitivities.”

In the 16th century, the Mughals succeeded in uniting most of the subcontinent under a single rule. “The Mughal Empire embodied India’s diverse influences: Muslim in faith, Turkic and Mongol in ethnicity, Persian in elite culture and ruled over a Hindu majority fragmented by regional identities.”

Setting out to profit from an expanding trade with the wealthy Mughal Empire, private British, French, Dutch, and Portuguese companies vied with one another to establish footholds in India.

Britain’s Indian realm grew the most and did much to administer India as a single imperial unit with rail lines connected different regions and a common language, English.

(ii) Modern India after Independence

As Prime Minister of a newly independent state, Jawaharlal Nehru argued that the basis of India’s foreign policy would be India’s national interests. “Whatever policy you may lay down, the art of conducting the foreign affairs of a country lies in finding out what is most advantageous to the country.”

This explained why India sided with the non-aligned during the entire Cold War period as the country saw no national interest in the disputes, and taking stance would only “deprive it of its freedom of action and therefore of its bargaining position”.

After the end of the Cold War, India engaged in economic reform, triggered by a balance-of-payments crisis in 1991 and assisted by an IMF program. At this moment, the country’s growing economic and diplomatic influence as well as military power has earned India the rising power status.

Together with China, India has come to occupy the top slots in the emerging order and hold the power to alter the world economic scenario.

(iii) Existing Challenges

India’s structural factors related to its founding lead to the complexity in the relations with the closest neighbours particularly Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and China, especially when it comes to disputed borders.

Another complicating factor will be India’s relations with the larger Muslim world. It is estimated that the number of Indian Muslims is projected to rise to more than 300 million by 2050, making India the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. Therefore, “any further radicalisation of the Arab world or heightened civil conflict in Pakistan could expose India to significant internal pressures.”

4. China

Since 1949 until now China has been governed by 5 generation of leaders, each has a particular vision that suits different needs of the country.

  • Mao Zedong was determined to uproot established institutions
  • Deng Xiaoping understood that China could not maintain its historic role unless it became internationally engaged.
  • Jiang Zemin overcame Tiananmen Square crisis’s aftermath and led China into the international state and trading system as a full member.
  • Hu Jintao, skilfully addressed concerns about China’s growing power and laid the basis for the concept of the new type of major-power relationship.
  • Xi Jinping undertook a massive reform program of the Deng scale with more transparency and yet avoiding democracy.

As a rising power, potential tensions between China and an established power like the United States are inevitable.

“On the Chinese side, many American actions are interpreted as a design to thwart China’s rise, and the American promotion of human rights is seen as a project to undermine China’s domestic political structure.”

“On the American side, the fear is that a growing China will systematically undermine American preeminence and thus American security.”

A more immediate issue concerns North Korea, a country is ruled under no accepted principle of legitimacy, not even its claimed Communist one.

With China and the United States at odds over the nature of the threat posed by Pyongyang, the crisis of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs will remain unresolved for some time to come.

Part V – “Acting for All Mankind”

Writing this summary of “World Order” (2014) at the same time with reading “Diplomacy” (1994), more or less I understand better the difference of the United States’s foreign policies compared to all other countries.

“That the real challenge of American engagement abroad was not foreign policy in the traditional sense but a project of spreading values that it believed all other peoples aspired to replicate.”

The decision was not made by a President or in just a few years. In this chapter, we have the chance to see how the United States, a country that “viewed its isolation as its defining characteristic and joined alliances simply to serve its national interests”, gradually felt “obliged to translate its long-proclaimed universal moral relevance into a broader geopolitical role.”

1. Theodore Roosevelt – America as a World Power

Theodore Roosevelt believed America as a world power should play a global version of the role Britain had performed in Europe in the nineteenth century: “maintaining peace by guaranteeing equilibrium, hovering offshore of Eurasia, and tilting the balance against any power threatening to dominate a strategic region”.

He therefore steered the United States actively into world politics. He brought about the construction of the Panama Canal which bridged Atlantic and the Pacific and the Monroe Doctrine, which prevented the establishment of foreign bases in the Caribbean and arrogated the sole right of intervention in Latin America to the United States. Nevertheless, Roosevelt adopted a generally skeptical view of international goodwill.

A point worth noting is that “America paradoxically fulfilled the leading role Roosevelt had envisioned for it, and within his lifetime. But it did so on behalf of principles Roosevelt derided and under the guidance of a president whom Roosevelt despised.”

2. Woodrow Wilson: America as the World’s Conscience

Woodrow Wilson was of the firm belief that democracy is the most essential aspect of a stable and prospering nation. He also believed that the United States had to play the pioneering role in promoting democracy and peace throughout the world.

The implementation of Wilson’s vision was to be fostered by the construction of the League of Nations, a forum that would resolve international disputes by implementing “not a balance of power, but a community of power; not organised rivalries, but an organised common peace.”

No alliances or secret agreements would be permitted within the League and it would opposed to any aggressive conduct anywhere within the scope of influence of the participating states.

However, From Wilson to the present, in the League of Nations or its successor, the United Nations, “the definition of aggression was so vague, the reluctance to undertake common action so deep, that it proved inoperative even against flagrant threats to peace.”

3. Harry S. Truman and Post-WWII World Order

The geopolitical challenge in 1945 was how to deal with a Soviet Union of sheer size and an ideology that challenged legitimacy of any Western institutional structure. The death of Franklin Roosevelt, an advocate of personal trust as the basis of international relations, left the design ambiguous, and Harry S. Truman, excluded by Roosevelt from any decision making, suddenly found himself playing an essential role in redefining international order.

His first task was “to make concrete Roosevelt’s vision of a realistically conceived international organisation, named the United Nations.”

The following strategic choice was “to put an end to the historical temptation of going it alone by committing America to the permanent shaping of a new international order”. This grand master plan included the Greek-Turkish aid program of 1947 that sustained these pivotal Mediterranean countries, the Marshall Plan in 1948 that helped rebuild the devastated European economies, and the creation of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) 1949 that countered Soviet geopolitical expansion.

4. The Korean War

Truman administration was certain that the Soviet Union lay behind the invasion and reasoned that failure to act would lead U.S. allies to question America’s commitment to resist Soviet aggression. They therefore ordered the American military, under the direction of General Douglas MacArthur, to intervene.

However, the President stressed on the containment concept and made clear that the major threat was the Soviet Union whose strategic goal was the domination of Europe. Hence fighting the Korean War to a military conclusion would be “the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy.”

This kind of containment war helped to reveal “a potential vulnerability in America’s ability to relate strategy to diplomacy, power to legitimacy, and to define its essential aims.”

I personally like how Henry Kissinger pointed out the differences between US and China when it comes to negotiations.

For the US, “war and peace were distinct phases of policy; when negotiations started, the application of force ceased, and diplomacy took over.”

For China, “war and peace were two sides of the same coin. Negotiations were an extension of the battlefield.”

Therefore during the negotiations, America suffered as many casualties as it had during the offensive phase of the war.

5. Vietnam and the Breakdown of the National Consensus

With the conviction that “the North Vietnamese assault into South Vietnam was the spearhead of a Sino-Soviet drive for global domination and that it needed to be resisted by American forces lest all of Southeast Asia fall under Communist control”:

  • Truman had sent civilian advisors to resist a guerrilla war in 1951
  • Eisenhower had added military advisors in 1954
  • Kennedy authorised combat troops as auxiliaries in 1962
  • Johnson deployed an expeditionary force in 1965 that eventually rose to more than half a million

PM Lee Kuan Yiew of Singapore believed that “American intervention was indispensable to preserve the possibility of an independent Southeast Asia. But by the time of America’s full-scale participation in Vietnam, Sino-Soviet unity no longer existed.”

And putting the Vietnam war into the context of Cold War when the strategy of containment already showed “an unbridgeable gap between the destructiveness of the weapons and the purposes for which they might be used”, American public was no longer willing to support the war further.

6. Richard Nixon and International Order

Henry Kissinger always thought very highly of Richard Nixon “No president since Theodore Roosevelt had addressed international order as a global concept in such a systematic and conceptual manner”.

In Richard Nixon’s vision, five major centers of political and economic power (United States, Europe, Soviet Union, China and Japan) would balance rather than play off against each other. At the same time, he was enough of a realist to stress that “The second element of a durable peace must be America’s strength. Peace, we have learned, cannot be gained by goodwill alone.”

What was remarkable in Nixon’s foreign policy was the improvement in relations with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, even though they did not lead to general improvement in the international climate.

“As long as the United States took care to remain closer to each of the Communist superpowers than they were to each other, the spectre of the Sino-Soviet cooperative quest for world hegemony that had haunted American foreign policy for two decades would be stifled.”

At the juncture when tactical achievement might have been translated into a permanent concept of world order, the Watergate scandal 1972 broke out and paralysed executive authority.

7. Ronald Reagan and the End of the Cold War

Sensing potential Soviet weakness and deeply confident in the superiority of the American system ambivalence. Ronald Reagan challenged the Soviet Union to a race in arms and technology that it could not win. Only after Gorbachev became chairman of the Soviet Politburo in 1985, Reagan relaxed his aggressive rhetoric toward the Soviet Union and took on a position of negotiating.

“Unlike Nixon who thought that a calculation of self-interest could bring about accommodation between the United States and the Soviet Union, Reagan believed the conflict was likely to end with the realisation by the adversary of the superiority of American principles.”

8. George H. W. Bush and the Debris of Cold War

Before a new international order could be constructed, it was necessary to deal with the debris of the Cold War. This task fell to George H. W. Bush, who managed America’s predominance with moderation and wisdom.

The collapse of first the Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe and then the Soviet Union itself, the reunification of Germany, the end of apartheid in South Africa, pro-democracy demonstrations in China’s Tiananmen Square, the international coalition formed to combat Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the Middle East stretched the ability the President to stay in front of events and formulate policy.

One example of Bush’s skilful diplomacy was his decision not to exploit Soviet embarrassment at the collapse of its empire: “When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Bush rejected all proposals to fly to Berlin to celebrate this demonstration of the collapse of Soviet policy.”

Bush’s term was cut short by electoral defeat in 1992, in some sense because he ran as a foreign policy president while his opponent, Bill Clinton, appealed to a war-weary public, promising to focus on America’s domestic agenda.

9. The Afghanistan War

A new challenge for establishing international order arises “when the principal adversaries are non-state organisations that defend no specific territory and reject established principles of legitimacy”.

Al-Qaeda, having issued a fatwa in 1998 calling for the indiscriminate killing of Americans and Jews everywhere, enjoyed a sanctuary in Afghanistan, whose governing authorities, the Taliban, refused to expel the group’s leadership and fighters.

Afghanistan War, an American response to the September 11 attack on American territory was inevitable and widely so understood around the world. The war consisted of three phases:

  • The first phase (2011) – toppling the Taliban
  • The second phase (2002 – 2008) – proclaiming an Afghan government with Hamid Karzai as its head and setting up a process to ratify postwar Afghan institutions.
  • The third phase (2008 – 2014) – temporarily increase the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan to protect the population from Taliban attacks and support efforts to reintegrate insurgents into Afghan society.
  • With a striking idealism, the efforts of “rebuilding Afghanistan by means of a democratic, pluralistic, transparent Afghan government” were imagined to be comparable to the construction of democracy in Germany and Japan after World War II. However the new approach largely failed to achieve its aims.

10. The Iraq War

Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 ended in Iraq’s defeat by a US-led coalition in the Persian Gulf War (1990–91). Therefore the Iraq War (2003-2011) is also called Second Persian Gulf War.

In 2002 the new U.S. president, George W. Bush argued that Iraq’s continued possession and manufacture of weapons of mass destruction (an accusation that was later proved erroneous) and its support for al-Qaeda made disarming Iraq a renewed priority.

However, “given the ethnic divisions in Iraq and the millennial conflict between Sunni and Shia, the dividing line of which ran through the centre of Baghdad, the attempt to reverse historical legacies under combat conditions, Implementing a pluralist democracy in place of Saddam Hussein’s brutal rule proved infinitely more difficult than the overthrow of the dictator.”

11. The Purposes and The Possibles

In only one of the five wars America fought after World War II (Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan), the first Gulf War under President George H. W. Bush, did America achieve the goals it had put forward for entering it without intense domestic division.

“As America examines the lessons of its twenty-first-century wars, it is important to remember that no other major power has brought to its strategic efforts such deeply felt aspirations for human betterment.”

And the American domestic debate between idealism and realism is expected to continue in the future.

“Americans, being a moral people, want their foreign policy to reflect the values we espouse as a nation. But Americans, being a practical people, also want their foreign policy to be effective.”

Part VI – Technology, Equilibrium, and Human Consciousness

1. World Order in the Nuclear Age

In the nuclear age, “strategic stability was defined as a balance in which neither side would use its weapons of mass destruction because the adversary was always able to inflict an unacceptable level of destruction in retaliation.”

In this manner, nuclear weapons lost their relevance to the actual crises facing leaders and in cases of dealing with guerrilla forces technological supremacy turned into geopolitical impotence.

2. The Challenge of Nuclear Proliferation

The spread of technology has vastly increased the feasibility of acquiring a nuclear-weapons capability.

The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) proposed to prevent any further spread of nuclear weapons (the United States, the U.S.S.R., and the U.K. signed in 1968, and France and China signed in 1992).

However, the treaty has no defined international mechanism for enforcement. Therefore “it could not prevent Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Iran from maintaining covert nuclear programs in violation of NPT safeguards or in the case of North Korea, withdrawing from the NPT in 2003 and testing and proliferating nuclear technology without international control.”

3. Cyber Technology and World Order

The cyber age makes it harder than ever to assess a nation’ s capabilities. No longer limited to factors of manpower, equipment, geography, economics, and morale, technology with its capability of mounting attacks and a plausible deniability would pose a serious challenge to international order.

The absence of international agreements and a system of enforcement would also make it highly possible for a war in cyberspace.

4. The Human Factor

In the contemporary world, human consciousness is shaped through an unprecedented filter. Human interactions in the physical world are now pushed relentlessly into the virtual world of networked devices.

“The Internet focuses on the realm of information, whose spread it facilitates exponentially. Yet a surfeit of information may paradoxically inhibit the acquisition of knowledge and push wisdom even further away than it was before. Information at one’s fingertips encourages the mindset of a researcher but may diminish the mindset of a leader.”

Information, to be truly useful, must be placed within a broader context of history and experience to emerge as actual knowledge. And a society is fortunate if its leaders can occasionally rise to the level of wisdom.

For the statesman, what will never change is his ability to undertake a journey on a road never before travelled. “It requires character and courage: character because the choice is not obvious; courage because the road will be lonely at first. And he must then inspire his people to persist in the endeavour.”

5. Foreign Policy in the Digital Era

“Side by side with the limitless possibilities opened up by the new technologies, reflection about international order must include the internal dangers of societies driven by mass consensus, deprived of the context and foresight needed on terms compatible with their historical character.”


“Every international order must sooner or later face the impact of two tendencies challenging its cohesion: either a redefinition of legitimacy or a significant shift in the balance of power.”

“The essence of such upheavals is that while they are usually underpinned by force, their overriding thrust is psychological.”

“To strike a balance between the two aspects of order—power and legitimacy—is the essence of statesmanship. Calculations of power without a moral dimension will turn every disagreement into a test of strength.”