World Order (by Henry Kissinger) – Key Takeaways from Book

World Order (2014) book by Henry Kissinger (Former US Secretary of State, Noble Peace Prize winner 1973) explains the concept of World Order and how every community has its own version of World Order.

Key Takeaways:

  • He explains that every community/nation has its own concept of how an ideal world should be. This concept of ideal world is called “WWORLD ORDER Bookorld order” of that country. Every country/nation/community likes/hates others based on their World Order.
  • World Order of a community is not only about ideas and beliefs of how world should operate. Communities also identify who should be in power in the world as per their World order. Therefore, the World Oder of a country has a huge impact on a country’s foreign policy.
  • Lot of conspiracy theories are based on American agenda of “New World Order”, based on speeches made by past US presidents. The book explains that the term World Order only refers to direction of future American foreign policy.
  • Kissinger argues that though there are many reasons cited for wars in the world, origin of all such disputes is the difference in every country’s concept of World Order.
  • He explains that foreign policy of every government is based on collective idea of ideal World Order according to the population of that country.
  • He goes on explaining that almost all of the World Orders are incompatible with others because they assume themselves to be the best solution to running the world. He gives example of proxy wars during the Cold war, where both USA and USSR used proxies to advance their government/economic model in other countries.
  • In his opinion the following factors impact the effect of World Order of a country on other countries: a) Balance of Power, b) Flexibility in alliances, c) Origin of Leaders, and d) History.
  •  Any country which is stronger than all others, will try to push its World Order on other countries, which can lead to wars. However, wars can be avoided if there is balance of power in the world. Cold war between United States and Soviet Union is one example. Though both countries had opposite ideologies (US’s ideology of free market capitalism based World order vs USSR’s ideology of communism based World Order), a balance of power between both the countries kept war at bay.
  • Kissinger thinks that the only reason why the Cold War did not turn into a nuclear war is because of balance of power.
  • Then Kissinger goes on giving examples of how World Orders in different parts of the world have impacted that nation and those around it.

World order – Western ideology

  • The Peace Treaty of Westphalia was the foundation of Europe’s World Order. Europe found the solution to 30 years long religious wars between different European countries by deciding that all religions are equal. Every nation, regardless of its size, holds equal respect. Though the treaty had many shortcomings, its concept of equality of religions and sovereign states finally bought stability in Europe.
  • Kissinger argues that non-alignment policy adopted by the European states was another important reason for stability in the region. All the countries in Europe had the choice to ally with any other, in order to defend against a more powerful state. Therefore, no country could try to invade any other country in the region.
  • Kissinger gives the example of fall of Napoleon Bonaparte (France). Though he rose to power and was able to conquer many countries, he fell as all other countries joined hands in the end to defend each other.
  • Germany was one of the important countries which brought stability to the region until 1871. Germany was divided into small states till 1871 and the only thing they considered common among themselves was the language. Other than that, Germany’s location in the heart of Europe, each state having border with different country also helped with stability in the region. No country dared to attack on Germany and all states of Germany had different interests. Both of these factors were instrumental in maintaining the delicate balance of power in Europe.
  • As all the German states united in 1871, the balance of power got disturbed and this lead to chain of wars in the region including the World War 1.
  • In Kissinger’s opinion, upbringing of leaders has a very strong impact on the World Order advocated by that country. He gives example of different foreign diplomats and how their background impacted their foreign policy. In summary, leaders coming from well-to-do backgrounds advance liberal World Orders and only care about interests of their country. While leaders coming from middle class are mostly in favor of conservative policies and prefer peace over their own nation’s interests.
  • Next factor that impacts the foreign policy of a country is the history. He gives example of Russia and argues that a long history of invasions is the reason Russian governments focus on military power and do not trust countries who promote lower weapon piles (Guess who? ;D)
  • He also gives example of Europe. He states that Europe has learnt to resolve all conflicts through diplomacy after a long history of wars.

World Order – Islamic point of view

  • Towards the end of the book, Kissinger says that in his opinion the World order promoted by orthodox interpretation of the Quran is extremely incompatible with any other Word Order. He says that orthodox interpretation of Islam divides the whole world into two groups namely Dar-al-Islam (countries with Muslim leadership and Islamic law) and Dar-al-harb (all countries not being ruled by Muslims and Islamic laws). In Kissinger’s opinion, this is why Islamic extremists are difficult to contain: Their World Order promotes a continuous struggle towards an Islamic-ruled world. As per him, in orthodox interpretation of Islam, there is no place in the world for any other religion.
  • He also contrasts the orthodox Islamic World order with the Treaty of Westphalian (Europe). He says that in contrast with Islam, the treaty of Westphalian promotes respect of every sovereign irrespective of their religion. In the end he explains that the World Order promoted by United States is based on the Westphalian treaty. One side-effect of this ideology is USA’s attempt to balance out the power of its rival countries (China, Japan, and Russia) by keeping them engaged in power struggle among each other. He also acknowledges that US has used the Westphalian ideology to justify many wars in the past too.

Question: Do you think Kissinger’s understanding of Islamic World Order is correct?

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