Henry Kissinger, the former U.S. Secretary of State, who played a pivotal role in Cold War diplomacy, passed away on November 29, 2023, at the grand age of 100. His complex legacy, dating from his involvement in the coup d'états in the Southern Cone and the Condor Plan in the 70s, to his influence in the U.S.'s approach to Beijing in 1973, and the détente with the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War, continues to shape the world.
A Legacy of Realpolitik
In his works, Kissinger emphasized the importance of the balance of power, a fundamental element for global stability, by exploring historical cases like the 19th-century European balance system. He highlighted the necessity for balance in the relationship between the United States and China to avoid conflicts with global implications. His reflections suggest that the U.S. should exercise caution and seek ways of collaboration and coexistence, rather than confrontation, with these two global powers.
Among his many observations, Kissinger repeatedly warned about the danger of isolating Russia or pushing it into an alliance with the People's Republic of China. This perspective is not unique among scholars of realism in International Relations. Intellectuals like John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have long argued that the Russian invasion of Ukraine would happen if diplomacy didn't change its course.
A Life of Influence
Born to Jewish parents in Germany in 1923, Kissinger's family fled Nazism and emigrated to the United States in the late 1930s. Known for his wit and bilingual proficiency, young Kissinger was entrusted with missions in Europe during World War II by the U.S. secret service. Upon returning to the United States, he studied at Harvard, where he became a professor. His experience in international security opened the doors to politics, with Richard Nixon offering Kissinger his first key position: Assistant to the National Security in 1969, and later Secretary of State in 1973. His belief in the peacekeeping power of realpolitik and influential writings have made him one of the most influential foreign policy professionals in the post-Second World War era.
As we remember Kissinger, his recent warnings about U.S. foreign policy need to be heeded. The current geopolitical tensions, like the Russian intervention in Ukraine and China's growing global influence, require strategic and realistic diplomacy, as Kissinger advocated, for long-term peace and global stability.