Henry Kissinger in his younger years.
DK Official Image, MB
Starting with an easy to predict litany of global crises such as the increasing power of Islamic fundamentalist armies declaring a caliphate in Syria and Iraq, and the increasingly dire failure of the nascent "democracy" in Afghanistan Kissinger adds in our ambivalent relationships with both Russia and China as evidence the long era of post-World War II "utopian" U.S. led New World Order is coming unglued.
Our attempts to spread democracy, free markets, and provide solid U.S. lead international leadership seems to have run off course in Kissinger's view.
The search for world order has long been defined almost exclusively by the concepts of Western societies. In the decades following World War II, the U.S.—strengthened in its economy and national confidence—began to take up the torch of international leadership and added a new dimension. A nation founded explicitly on an idea of free and representative governance, the U.S. identified its own rise with the spread of liberty and democracy and credited these forces with an ability to achieve just and lasting peace. The traditional European approach to order had viewed peoples and states as inherently competitive; to constrain the effects of their clashing ambitions, it relied on a balance of power and a concert of enlightened statesmen. The prevalent American view considered people inherently reasonable and inclined toward peaceful compromise and common sense; the spread of democracy was therefore the overarching goal for international order. Free markets would uplift individuals, enrich societies and substitute economic interdependence for traditional international rivalries.
Kissinger sees European states falling short by trying to transcend the "state and craft a foreign policy based primarily on the principles of soft power. But it is doubtful that claims to legitimacy separated from a concept of strategy can sustain a world order."
While Asia falls short by relying too much on "balance-of-power principles" rather than fundamental principles and and "agreed upon concept of legitimacy."
When Kissinger says an "agreed upon concept of legitimacy," what he really seems to be idealizing is the era of U.S. Dominance built around our spreading democracy and free market capitalism, which is now in peril.
The clash between the international economy and the political institutions that ostensibly govern it also weakens the sense of common purpose necessary for world order. The economic system has become global, while the political structure of the world remains based on the nation-state. Economic globalization, in its essence, ignores national frontiers. Foreign policy affirms them, even as it seeks to reconcile conflicting national aims or ideals of world order.
The international order thus faces a paradox: Its prosperity is dependent on the success of globalization, but the process produces a political reaction that often works counter to its aspirations.
Kissinger suggests one improvement would might be to create a "mechanism for the great powers to consult and possibly cooperate on the most consequential issues," but apparently not the UN Security Council.
Oddly, Kissinger doesn't see the risk of failure of a dominate world order as major wars between the major powers but a world breaking up into "spheres of influence" vying for power and creating frictions at their edges. Perhaps Kissinger is imaging the three major powers of 1984 with slightly different borders with a fourth long snaky region of Muslim states. The "Americas," the European States extending to Siberian and with Africa as its resource supplying hinterland, and South East Asia dominated by China (Oceania)?
Kissinger is vague when it comes to recommendations, but since I find his list of questions a world philosophy and foreign policy must answer to be succuessful, to be the most interesting part of his essay, I'm happy to leave Kissinger behind to see if his apparently wistful lament for the "good old days" of post-WWII U.S. domination when U.S. military, economic, and political power left us greater control over world events can be used as a springboard to stimulate our own discussions of what we as Democrats can do to sharpen our own brand of global foreign policy.
In terms of timing, this ought to be one our electioneering fortes as President Obama has patiently and steadily picked up the broken pieces, and shards of the Bush-Cheney administration.
To play a responsible role in the evolution of a 21st-century world order, the U.S. must be prepared to answer a number of questions for itself: What do we seek to prevent, no matter how it happens, and if necessary alone? What do we seek to achieve, even if not supported by any multilateral effort? What do we seek to achieve, or prevent, only if supported by an alliance? What should we not engage in, even if urged on by a multilateral group or an alliance? What is the nature of the values that we seek to advance? And how much does the application of these values depend on circumstance?
We Democrats need to invest more time in articulating a more compelling vision for promoting world order with a narrative to back it up.
My own feelings is a core organizing foundation should be the international rule of law, such as the Geneva Conventions, support for multilateral solutions worked out in the framework of the U.N., and putting greater backing into strengthening institutions enforcing the international rule of law, such as the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
Also, does it not appear yet to be time for the United States to get over the notion that we must dominate and control all the major aspects of global affairs? After WWII we were the only major super power with viable economy, so the fact that we were only 5% of the world's population, gave us no pause when we decided we should be in control. Our share of global GDP has continuously been falling back towards more proportionate levels as Europe and Asia have rebuilt their economic systems. So is it surprising that they may wish a more equal say in our the world operates?
I invite others to use the comments as a jumping off point for discussions aimed had bolstering our Democratic foreign policy that needs improvements and which, in my opinion, is facing the prospect of being hijacked whole hog by neoconservative philosophies without sufficient discussion and push back.