In 1716, when the French ambassador François de Callières’s treatise On Negotiating with Sovereign Princes was published in English translation, an English reader wrote ruefully that the diplomatic corps of continental states seemed to be filled with persons well trained in civil law and the law of nations, deeply read in history, and acquainted with the interests of the respective princes of Europe. This made a better basis for the conduct of foreign policy than the English style, whose initiatives and démarches he described as being supported by no other authority or argument than Juvenal’s Hoc volo, sic iubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas (Because I want it is reason enough).1

During the wars of the eighteenth century, the English learned that they could not prosper by exclusive cultivation of their own desires without making concessions to the interests of others. Their colonists in America, on the other hand, once they had gained their independence, were much slower to learn that lesson. From the very beginning Americans preferred—in the words of Henry Clay—“to pursue a policy exclusively American, uninfluenced by the policy of My Lord Castlereagh, Count Nesselrode, or any other of the great men of Europe.”2 They either abstained from any involvement in the quarrels and problems of other nations or, when they felt compelled to intervene, did so on their own terms and sometimes for objectives imperfectly understood or agreed to by their allies. Americans were deeply ambivalent about history, choosing instead to follow the imperative of moral absolutes; they were uncomfortable with the idea of national interest as a guiding principle of policy, preferring motivations that were nobler, even if harder to define; and they were indifferent to the modalities that other Great Powers had devised over time to help protect themselves from aggression—particularly what John Adams had called “their real and imaginary balances of power.” 3

It cannot, however, be said that these attitudes had fortunate results over the long haul. Once the revolution in communications and military science had contracted the territory of international violence, America could not remain immune to the quarrels of the old world. Nor did it, and its armies played a crucial role in the two world wars of this century. But its military triumphs were not matched by diplomatic ones. Its attempts to revolutionize the rules of international discourse at Paris in 1919 failed lamentably, and its failure during the war against Hitler to coordinate its political with its military strategy was one of the main causes of the subsequent cold war, which it also conducted, in large part, with little regard for diplomacy and which ended with something less than a triumph.4

The time has come, Henry Kissinger says at the beginning of his new book, to put aside old prejudices and correct old mistakes. The challenge facing the great powers in the post–cold war period is to bring order to the multi-state system that is emerging. None of them has had any experience with this, and

never before has a new world order had to be assembled from so many different perceptions, or on so global a scale. Nor has any previous order had to combine the attributes of the historic balance-of-power systems with global democratic opinion and the exploding technology of the contemporary period.

Where are we to turn for guidance as we approach this task? Mr. Kissinger suggests that the only resource we have is the history of the ways in which states have regulated their relations with each other in the past.


Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy is highly selective in what it includes. Despite its title and the fact that it is dedicated to “the men and women of the Foreign Service of the United States of America,” it says almost nothing about them or about diplomacy proper, its origins and the development of its procedures, or the great ambassadors of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and their accomplishments. This is perhaps understandable. Ever since the interwar period, and particularly since the Second World War and the cold war years, diplomacy in the historical sense has been in deep decline, and the roles of the ambassador and the foreign office professionals have been increasingly subverted by foreign ministers and heads of state and by that worst of all diplomatic inventions, the summit conference. John Foster Dulles is reported to have said during his tenure as secretary of state,

Nowadays, when you can by overnight flight talk face to face with the foreign ministers of other countries, it’s silly to go at it the old fashioned way of exchanging notes, which take a month perhaps before you get as good an understanding, and then not as good as you can get talking a few minutes face to face.5

During his own secretaryship, Henry Kissinger insisted on making all major decisions himself and hence carried the State Department along with him during his shuttle diplomacy in 1973 in what one newspaperman called “the biggest permanent floating foreign policy establishment in history.”6


This process has probably gone too far to be reversed, but, even so, something might have been said here about the diplomacy that is now all but gone. It is worth remembering that the Italian city states had a functioning system of permanent embassies before there were any Great Powers, and that it was the fidelity of those early diplomats in protecting the interests of their masters and the standards they developed for accurate reporting, realistic appraisal of risks, and effective negotiation that were in time transmitted to the greater states of the West and became the basis of the raison d’état, or science of government, that guided their foreign policy and the procedures of their own diplomatic establishments. Kissinger’s heroes Metternich and Bismarck were, it should be noted, themselves products of this system, and both had been distinguished ambassadors before they rose to ministerial rank, the first at the court of Napoleon, the second in the Prussian embassies in Frankfurt, St. Petersburg, and Paris.

In his book, Kissinger has preferred, however, to concentrate on the search for international order and upon the statesmen who, like himself, sought to establish systems that would preserve it, and he has accomplished this with great skill and shrewdness. He begins with the period between the Thirty Years’ War of the seventeenth century and the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, in the course of which a Europe that was dominated by the Habsburg family connection and a militant Counter Reformation was transformed into a continent of individual powers competing on equal terms. There were perhaps more reasons for this change than Kissinger discusses, having to do with demographic and economic developments and the Turkish threat to Habsburg possessions at the end of the seventeenth century; but he is certainly right in emphasizing as one of the most important a new kind of statecraft exemplified by Cardinal Richelieu of France, whose diplomacy during the Thirty Years’ War defeated Habsburg pretensions and left the German states atomized and powerless to threaten France for the next two hundred years, and by William III, Stadtholder of the United Netherlands and after 1689 King of England, who was the spiritus rector of the alliance that finally defeated Louis XIV’s attempt at continental hegemony.

The weapons they both used were a relentless realism, an indifference to ideological and religious affinity, and an imaginative use of the new technique of balance of power, which Ranke once said was invented so that the union of many other states might combat the ambitions of the “exorbitant” ones. Of Richelieu, whom he obviously finds a congenial figure, Kissinger writes, “few statesmen can claim a greater impact on history,” since he was the father of the modern state system and the man under whose auspices “raison d’état replaced the medieval concept of universal moral values as the operating principle” not only of France’s policy but of that of its neighbors. Of William III, he says in one of the perceptive asides that are sprinkled throughout his book, that he

played the equivalent of Theodore Roosevelt’s later role in America, warning his essentially isolationist people that their safety depended on a participation in a balance of power overseas,

and unlike Roosevelt doing so with such success that within twenty years of his death an opposition paper was stating that the balance of power was one of the “original, everlasting principles of British politics” and that peace on the continent was essential to the prosperity of a trading nation and hence an objective to be sought by the government.

The eighteenth century, although often called the age of reason, was dominated by the passions of princes and the violence of intermittent warfare. Yet there were signs of a desire for a more ordered international community: a general agreement that five principal powers—Great Britain, France, Austria, Prussia, and Russia—were normal and legitimate and should not be diminished in number; a significant degree of restraint on the part of all powers in territorial matters and a feeling that, when gains were made by one, other powers deserved compensation; and a good deal of talk about European federation. But nothing had come of this before the divisions and greed of the powers had lamed their response to the French Revolution; and before long Napoleon’s military-political strategy had divided and isolated them and confronted them with a threat of domination greater than that posed by Louis XIV.

It was only after twenty-five years of war that Europe was able to sit down and negotiate what Kissinger regards as the most successful modern system of international order. The Congress of Vienna in 1815 realized the dreams of statesmen like William Pitt the Younger and gave Europe, in Kissinger’s words, “the longest period of peace it had ever known.” He ascribes this to the skill of Prince Metternich of Austria, Viscount Castlereagh of Great Britain, and their colleagues in devising a system that was based upon a territorial equilibrium that was so stable as to discourage attempts to overthrow it and upon “a sense of shared values…. There was not only a physical equilibrium, but a moral one. Power and justice were in substantial harmony.”


This is, of course, true but seems overemphasized in Kissinger’s account. There were precious few shared values between Metternich on the one hand, and Canning and Palmerston on the other, and postwar fatigue and the low prevailing levels of armament were probably stronger deterrents to violence than moral considerations. After 1830, there was a growing division between the liberal powers, Britain and France, and the three conservative ones of the east, although dangerous crises were avoided by adventitious deals between ideological opposites. Thus, when the revolutions of 1848 shook the whole Vienna system, long-distance cooperation between Britain and Russia, in Germany and Hungary, for example, prevented it from total collapse. When those two powers stumbled into war against each other in the Crimea in 1854 that dissolution could no longer be delayed.

In the war’s aftermath, a new breed of statesman took over the foreign offices of Europe, self-styled realists who exploited the postwar lack of equilibrium to seek advantages for their own countries. In a fascinating chapter, Kissinger describes how the most successful of these, Otto von Bismarck of Prussia, broke with the philosophy of his conservative patrons and the substance of the Vienna settlement and, by a combination of brilliantly ruthless diplomacy and willingness to back it with force, united Germany under the leadership of Prussia after forcing war upon Austria in 1866 and upon France four years later, and defeating both of them.

Kissinger underlines both the permanence of this accomplishment—a Germany so strong that all subsequent attempts to weaken it, from Clemenceau and Poincaré to De Gaulle and Mitterrand, would be fruitless—and its effects upon French amour propre.

Since the end of Napoleon III’s reign, France has lacked the power to impose the univeralist aspirations it inherited from the French Revolution, or the arena to find an adequate outlet for its missionary zeal. For over a century France has been finding it difficult to accept the fact that the objective conditions for the preeminence Richelieu had brought it disappeared once national consolidation had been achieved in Europe…. It is ironic that the country that invented raison d’état should have had to occupy itself, for the better part of the century, with trying to bring its aspirations in line with its capabilities.

Meanwhile, in a post-1870 world poisoned by the resentment of the defeated powers, by irridentism, hypernationalism, and mounting armaments, and by an imperialism that pandered to the newly mobilized masses, the question of creating international order was raised once more. It was taken in hand this time, for quite selfish reasons, by the man who had earlier been its greatest subverter. Bismarck’s famous system of secret alliances, which began to take shape at the end of the 1870s, was an attempt to create a European balance of power by isolating France and binding all other powers, one way or another, to Berlin. It was a system “deftly engineered on the one hand to keep Germany’s potential adversaries from coalescing and, on the other, to restrain the actions of Germany’s partners,” and, for a time, it worked. But it did so only at the cost of increasingly convoluted maneuvering and manipulation and to the accompaniment of charges of bad faith by Germany’s restive allies, particularly the Russians. In the end, Bismarck’s masters, charging that his diplomacy had become too complicated to be understood by anyone but the Chancellor himself (a complaint that Kissinger in his time was also to hear) dismissed him and abandoned his system.

This “dropping of the pilot” brought in its train a radical transformation of the European balance into two hostile and highly armed coalitions, a situation that resembled that of the later cold war, with the significant difference, as Kissinger points out in two chapters on the political and military “doomsday machines,” that the political leadership had no comprehension of the destructive potential of the weapons at their disposal and hence lacked the will to forbid their use in the crisis of August 1914.

It was the fatefully unstable bipolarity of the years between 1907 and 1914 that fastened itself upon the imagination of later generations and, because of its catastrophic end, made balance of power an opprobrious term in the postwar period, particularly in the United States. The most eloquent expression of this feeling came in the great speeches of Woodrow Wilson in 1917 and 1918, with their call for a world that would be free of entangling alliances and armaments and of an equilibrium based on “jealous watchfulness and antagonism of interests,” and in which there would be not a balance of power but a community of power.

Kissinger’s admiration of Wilson is undisguised. If, in his view, Theodore Roosevelt’s insight into the workings of international systems was more acute than that of any other American president, it was Wilson who “grasped the mainsprings of American motivation, perhaps the principal one being that America simply did not see itself as a nation like any other.” Wilson was at one with most of his countrymen in believing that American policy must express this exceptionalism and give moral leadership to the world. Yet in his faith that self-determination and collective security were the keys to the new international order, he made assumptions that Theodore Roosevelt would never have permitted himself:

that the nations of the world would unite against aggression, injustice, and, presumably, excessive selfishness,

and that a world order based upon moral guarantees would be more effective than one based on geopolitical ones.

These articles of faith proved to have no basis. Wilson’s own country repudiated the League of Nations, which he had believed would correct the injustices of the peace treaty, and the other nations returned to their old ways. Once more the German question was crucial. If the British had prolonged their wartime alliance with France, the French might have felt secure enough to show more generosity toward the Germans in the matter of reparations and rearmament, the trauma of the Ruhr invasion and the inflation might have been avoided, and Germany might have been appeased under Stresemann rather than under Hitler, and with happier results. But the British persuaded themselves that France was the real threat to European security (it is instructive in this respect to look at David Low’s Francophobe cartoons during the 1920s) and gave it neither the alliance it so desperately desired nor the kind of assistance that might have prevented the erosion of the Versailles Treaty settlement. These attitudes persisted long after Hitler’s accession to power, which brought with it a speedy dissolution of the system of collective security and a rush of the Danubian and Balkan states into the camp of the dictators. It was not until the very end of the 1930s that the British government sought to return to a balance of power politics that it had abandoned during its spasm of Wilsonian idealism and had been discouraged from resuming for ideological reasons, namely, distrust of the Soviet Union. And that attempt ended with the conclusion of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in August 1939.

On all of this, Kissinger’s account leaves nothing to be desired, and he breathes new life into the often-told story of the failure of an international system that never, because of the divisions and fecklessness of the victors of 1918, assumed coherence or strength. Whether this could be corrected by the generation that fought the war that resulted from their failure depended upon whether they could defeat Hitler and whether they could learn from their past mistakes.

The key figure in answering both questions was, in Kissinger’s view, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, about whom he has decidedly ambivalent feelings. He has no difficulty in recognizing Roosevelt’s historical greatness. He writes that the President’s

role in moving his isolationist people toward participation in the war serves as an object lesson in the scope of leadership in a democracy. Sooner or later, the threat to the European balance of power would have forced the United States to intervene in order to stop Germany’s drive for world domination. The sheer, and growing, strength of America was bound to propel it eventually into the center of the international arena. That this happened with such speed and so decisively was the achievement of Franklin Delano Roosevelt…. And he saw to it that, this time, America’s involvement would mark a first step toward permanent international engagement. During the war his leadership held the alliance together and shaped the multilateral institutions which continue to serve the international community to this day.

Roosevelt’s wartime diplomacy was also marked, however, by a nervous deference to American prejudices, great tactical deviousness and a preference for putting off hard political decisions, excessive belief in the power of his own charm to persuade others to accept his views (what might be called the Uncle Joe Syndrome), and, worst of all, a frivolous refusal to negotiate about the shape of the postwar world until the military victory was won. As examples of the last of these characteristics, we may recall that Anthony Eden’s proposal immediately after Pearl Harbor that Britain and the United States concert their attitude toward political and territorial questions that were bound to arise in the future and then discuss them with the Soviet government was completely ignored in Washington;7 and that the American representative on the European Advisory Committee, established after the Moscow Foreign Ministers’ Conference in 1943 to anticipate postwar problems and make recommendations for their solution, was left in London with virtually nothing to do.8

Given this general aversion to planning ahead, it is little wonder that Winston Churchill’s frequent admonitions about the folly of failing to reach firm boundary agreements with Stalin in Eastern Europe merely irritated the President and that, in March and April 1945, the commander of American troops in Europe, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, was deaf to Churchill’s arguments that it would be politically advantageous to capture Berlin and Prague before the Red Army reached those capitals. Eisenhower’s position was determined by his estimate of the casualties that an advance on Berlin would cause, his concern over the possibility of a clash between American and Soviet troops, and his unwillingness to violate existing Soviet-American agreements. But his obvious disinclination to consider the political aspects of the question—his statement to General Marshall that “Berlin is no longer a particularly important objective”—is strikingly typical of the American leadership’s stubborn denial of any vital connection between politics and war.9

Roosevelt came home from the Yalta Conference in February 1945 proclaiming, much like Wilson before him, that an end had been made of

the system of unilateral action, the exclusive alliances, the spheres of influence, the balances of power, and all the other expedients that have been tried for centuries—and have always failed.

He did not mention all of the questions—most notably that of Poland’s future—that had been left unresolved, presumably because he did not consider them to be important. His hope, just before he died, was that they could be taken care of and the future peace of the world maintained by a system of collective security presided over by the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and China, whom he designated as the Four Policemen. Kissinger, admitting that the comparison will probably annoy American liberals, suggests that this scheme was structurally similar to Metternich’s Holy Alliance, “a coalition of victors upholding shared values.” But any illusions about the unity of the victors were dispelled by the time of the Potsdam Conference when the cost of failing to plan ahead became painfully obvious. Instead of fleshing out a new international order, the Western allies soon found themselves devising a strategy for the cold war.

Kissinger’s principal criticism of what became the containment policy is that, despite its optimism and its confidence that Western steadfastness would force the Soviet Union, in the end, to abandon its aggressive tendencies, it was curiously utopian and, in its prescriptions, highly abstract. It assigned to the United States, at the height of its military superiority, a purely reactive role and seemed to foresee no place for diplomatic initiative. Kissinger is inclined to believe, for example, as Winston Churchill did at the time, that Josef Stalin, when he began to realize the economic potential and staying power of the West, may have been prepared to explore the outlines of a general settlement and that the Soviet Peace Note of March 1952, raising the possibility of uniting Germany on the basis of neutrality, may have been a first step in that direction. But the West, feeling that its progress toward integration would be threatened by the onset of negotiations, rejected the note without thorough investigation, as it did other Soviet feelers after Stalin’s death. In April 1953, John Foster Dulles wrote to a member of the White House staff,

There’s some real danger in our just seeming to fall in with these Soviet overtures. It’s obvious that what they are doing is because of outside pressures, and I don’t know anything better we can do than keep up these pressures right now.

Whether opportunities were lost by this attitude or not is impossible to say, but Kissinger plausibly suggests that it represented a failure to make proper use of the country’s diplomatic resources. Nor was it a consistent attitude. After Suez and Hungary and Sputnik had inflated Soviet confidence, and the military balance had begun to shift, and after Khrushchev had dispatched his menacing Berlin Note in November 1958, the West sometimes seemed needlessly eager to negotiate and incautiously willing to make concessions. In September 1959, at Camp David, Eisenhower rather gratuitously told Khrushchev that America had no intention of staying in Berlin forever, and some days later, virtually conceding the main point of Khrushchev’s note, he admitted that the situation in Berlin was “abnormal.” What might have happened if Khrushchev had acted on these hints, Kissinger writes, is “painful to contemplate.” Again, in the spring of 1962, the Kennedy administration, perhaps in an attempt to dispose of the Berlin issue at a time when it was becoming more involved in Southeast Asia, concocted a plan for regulating access to Berlin which aroused the liveliest apprehensions in Germany, not least of all among American diplomatic representatives there, and forced Chancellor Adenauer to take public issue with his Washington ally in order to defeat it.10

Containment, then, according to Kissinger, suffered both from the remoteness of its objective, which as the nuclear balance shifted imposed increasing psychological strain upon the Western public, and from a fitful and incoherent diplomacy that sometimes came close to making irreversible errors. But it suffered mostly perhaps from its universalism, its assumption that all Communist regimes were identical and linked and under Moscow’s hegemony, and that all must be opposed. This always threatened to overextend America’s resources, and in Vietnam it finally did so. The “nightmare” of the war, Kissinger writes, was that the US entered it “without a more careful assessment of the likely costs and potential outcomes. A nation should not send half a million of its young to a distant continent or stake its international standing and domestic cohesion unless its leaders can describe their political goals and offer a realistic strategy for achieving them.”

It was the long agony in Vietnam that inspired Henry Kissinger’s own attempt to create the basis of a new world order, or, more properly perhaps, the attempt of Nixon and Kissinger to do so, for his own assumptions about foreign policy were matched by those of his president, whose understanding of geopolitical realities was, in Kissinger’s view, “truly remarkable” and who firmly believed the world would be a better place if all of the powers conducted their business on the basis of national interest. It was Richard Nixon who said in 1971 that he believed that the last third of the twentieth century would see the emergence of “a stronger, healthy United States, Europe, Soviet Union, China, Japan, each balancing the other, not playing one against the other, an even balance,” and that such a situation would make possible “a safer world and a better world.”

To be able to play their part in such a balance, Kissinger and Nixon felt that they had to refocus the strategy of containment on its original target and purge it of the ideological distractions that had led to its Vietnam involvement. As John Lewis Gaddis has written, the essence of the problem facing Nixon and Kissinger was

to find a way to withdraw from the Vietnam debacle without appearing to have been forced to do so; to regain the initiative in world affairs without giving evidence of ever having lost it; and to accomplish all of this within the awkward institutional framework that the American constitution demanded. The task would have been worthy of a Metternich or a Bismarck; those statesmen, in turn, would have found much that was familiar in the methods Kissinger used in attempting to accomplish it.11

How Kissinger went about this task he has described before, and his account here differs from the earlier ones in no substantial way, except that the context, a systematic account of the search for world order over the centuries, lends weight to his argument that his task was an essentially political one, while most of his critics insisted upon regarding it as a moral one. He says at one point, “What the Nixon Administration perceived as potential national humiliation [namely, a precipitate withdrawal from Vietnam], the Vietnam protesters treated as a desirable national catharsis.”

Kissinger’s answer to this, then and now, was that the country doubtless wanted an end to the war but it really didn’t want a US surrender, which would irreparably damage America’s reputation in the world, and its ability to do good. This “credibility argument” has not won wide acceptance, and the best of Kissinger’s biographers has written convincingly,

There is no denying that a nation’s credibility in keeping commitments and resisting adversaries has an effect upon the global balance, as Kissinger argued. But many other factors strengthen America’s influence in the world: the perception that it stands for certain moral values; the impressive nature of its economic prosperity; the model of individual freedom that it represents; the respect it shows for the sovereignty and nationalist yearnings of other nations; and the common sense and competence it displays in pursuing its global goals and keeping threats in perspective.12

Kissinger played down these other considerations. He was not, in any case, much interested in economic matters and tended to underrate America’s economic power in his calculations. He put his faith in a policy of seeking to build up the strength of South Vietnam while detaching American troops, and simultaneously, through diplomacy, bombing, and mining harbors, applying pressure to the North Vietnamese to make peace. The settlement attained by these means in January 1973 was inherently flawed. Although Kissinger implies that it could have been enforced had not Watergate eroded the President’s authority to persuade Congress to vote the necessary funds, this view certainly underestimates the pervasive disenchantment with the whole Vietnam adventure.

Long before this tragic dénouement, the hope of receiving help in forcing the North Vietnamese to negotiate seriously had produced the greatest diplomatic coup of the Nixon administration, the breakthrough in China in July 1971. This did not have the results in Vietnam that had been hoped for, but it was a prelude to Kissinger’s grandiose experiment in reforming the containment policy by triangular diplomacy, the elaboration of the policy of linkage, and détente with the Soviet Union. He was now projected into a position somewhat similar to that of Bismarck in the 1880s as crisis manager of the system, and his successes were not inconsiderable. One thinks of his persuading the Soviets that they needed arms control more than we did and of how he maneuvered them out of the Middle East during the crisis of 1973.

The tactics employed, however, were too dazzling to remain impressive for long. After a time, the Soviets began to suspect that they had been bilked, as their forebears had felt after the great Bulgarian crisis of 1887. Kissinger complains that his own countrymen, not content with the improvement in Soviet international behavior that détente had effected, began unreasonably to demand changes in Soviet domestic behavior as well. Hence there arose the demand that the Soviets respect human rights, a demand Kissinger found excessive. But it would be more accurate to say that, used to thinking in terms of ideological opposites, Americans had always been uncomfortable with détente and were in any case inclined to believe that the Soviets were getting the best of all bargains.

Besides, the Kissinger policy in general seemed to them too “busy,” too full of jet planes and secret meetings and surprises to be entirely sound. Their suspicions in this respect were not unfounded. Concerning the Nixon-Kissinger period, former under-secretary of state George Ball has noted:

A policy of maneuver risks subverting our institutions, puts a premium on furtiveness in the highest places, creates an obsession with…”national security,” and provides a factitious justification for such trespasses on individual freedom as wiretapping and even burglary.13

Kissinger’s diplomacy was not exempt from such criticism, which fed into the other causes of détente’s swift decline in popularity during the administration of Gerald Ford and its ultimate jettisoning.

If there was a grain of comfort to be found amid all the troubles that followed, it was that the Soviets did not profit from them. Kissinger notes with some satisfaction that Moscow drew the conclusion that

the historical correlation of forces had shifted in its favor. As a result, it tried to expand into Yemen, Angola, Ethiopia and ultimately Afghanistan. But in the process it found that geopolitical realities applied just as much to communist societies as they did to the capitalist ones. In fact, being less resilient, Soviet overextension produced, not catharsis, as it did in America, but disintegration.

One effective agent of this was the Reagan arms buildup, which was a response to the widespread perception that the Soviets had gained military advantage by cheating during the period of détente.


At the end of this impressive book, Kissinger hazards some thoughts about the future world order. Some of these are tentative—he is concerned about American attempts at social engineering in post-Soviet Russia which are adapted to individual leaders who may well be unstable. He is worried about the inevitable distancing of the united Germany from the United States, and about the dangers inherent in a policy of confrontation with China.

Some of his other comments are general and oracular. He is sure that in the new post–cold war world, American idealism will need the leaven of geopolitical analysis, and thinks that this will be difficult to attain in view of past prejudices. He writes that

America, like other nations, must learn to navigate between necessity and choice, between the immutable constants of international relations and the elements subject to the discretion of statesmen,

and that we will have to recognize that foreign policy must begin with a definition of what constitutes vital interest.

But his thoughts rarely stray away from the idea of the balance of power, which he believes should be our preoccupation whether we like it or not.

Geopolitically, America is an island off the shores of the large landmass of Eurasia, whose resources and population far exceed those of the United States. The domination by a single power of either of Eurasia’s two principal spheres—Europe or Asia—remains a good definition of strategic danger for America, Cold War or no Cold War. For such a grouping would have the capacity to outstrip American economically and, in the end, militarily.

Protection from that danger lies in an active balance-of-power policy.

In an intriguing page early in the book, Kissinger suggests that, in the brave new post-Communist world, the American temperament will probably find the Bismarck approach to balance more congenial than the British. If we were to try to imitate the British “disciplined aloofness from disputes and ruthless commitment to the equilibrium in the face of threats,” we would, he thinks, find it difficult to summon up either the aloofness or the ruthlessness. On the other hand, the Bismarck policy of restraining the exercise of power in advance by some consensus on shared objectives with various groups of countries would be more our style. (He thus would want the Atlantic Alliance and the European Union to extend a “security umbrella” over “the new democracies in Eastern Europe.”) In the new order, the most likely and constructive model, he thinks, would be

partially overlapping alliance systems, some focussing on security, others on economic relations. The challenge for America will be to generate objectives growing out of American values that can hold together these various groupings.

He does not say that a prerequisite of success would be a negotiator as inventive and as tireless as he was himself, but we are perhaps justified in believing that this is assumed.

This Issue

May 12, 1994