“By the beginning of the last decade of the 20th century. Wilsonianism seemed triumphant . The communist ideological and Soviet geopolitical challenges had been overcome simultaneously. The objective of moral opposition to communism had merged with the geopolitical task of resisting Soviet expansionism.”(Kissinger 1994)
“”The absence of both an overriding ideological or strategic threat frees nations to pursue policies based increasingly on their national interest. In an international system characterized by perhaps 5 or 6 major powers and a multiplicity of smaller states order will have to emerge much as it did in past centuries from a reconciliation and balancing of competing national interests.” (Kissinger 1994)
“Both Bush and Clinton spoke of the new world order as if it were just around the corner. In fact it is still in a period of gestation and its final form will not be visible until well into the next century- Part extension of the past, part unprecedented, the new world order like those which it succeeds will emerge as an answer to three questions: “What are the basic units of the international order. What are their means of interacting? What are the goals on behalf of which they interact?”(Kissinger 1994)
I believe Kissinger’s book on Diplomacy to be one of the best works written on the subject because it implicitly acknowledges a political and ethical philosophy which is conspicuous by its absence in many other similar works. Kissinger is correct in his formulation of his three questions but he pays scant attention to perhaps “the two political events of the twentieth century” which may answer his question concerning the basic unit of international order, namely the formation of the United Nations and the European Peace Project. He points out how the US was a polyglot formation of many different European nationalities and that the Soviet Union was an empire containing many Eastern nationalities. He does not emphasize this point but these seem to the Kantian political philosopher to be precursors to both the United Nations and the European project in the sense of their manifesting a disbelief in the unit of the nation state(See my earlier post on the Pathological nation state)
Kissinger goes on to point out that:
” No previous international order has contained major centres of power distributed around the entire globe. Nor had statesmen ever been obliged to conduct diplomacy in an environment where events can be experienced instantaneously and simultaneously by leaders and their publics-“(Kissinger 1994)
Kissinger then asks the Aristotelian and Kantian question: “on what principle shall the new world order be organised. His answer is unfortunately narrow and suburban::
“..can Wilsonian concepts like “enlarging democracy” serve as the principle guides to American foreign policy and as replacement for the cold war strategy of containment? Clearly these concepts have been neither an unqualified success nor an unqualified failure. Some of the finest acts of 20th century diplomacy had their roots in the idealism of Woodrow Wilson: the Marshall plan, the brave commitment to containing communism, defense of the freedom of Western Europe and even the ill fated League of Nations and its latest incarnation, the United Nations”(Kissinger 1994)
It is clear from these quotes that Kissinger does not place any faith in any unit of international order which does not naturally grow out of the historical units of the nation state. He points to Americas victory in the cold war but simultaneously reflects on the fact that their power to influence has decreased and regretfully and nostalgically reminisces on Wilson’s desire for universal collective security. Kant had pointed out at the end of the 18th century that this would not be possible without an organisation like the UN.
“In the absence of a potentially dominating power, the principal nations do not view threats to the peace in the same way: nor are they willing to run the same risks in overcoming those threats they do not recognize”(Kissinger 1994)
Clearly Kissinger sees the UN project to be flawed, partly perhaps because of its reluctance to fight globally for its values in the way in which the US has. America will, Kissinger predicts be the greatest and most powerful nation well into the 21st century but it will be a nation with peers and become a nation like others but it is moving into uncharted waters and History cannot be its guidebook. Wilsonianism he is convinced is no longer relevant.
“Curbing the power of the central government has been the central concern of Western political theorists, whereas in most other societies, political theory has sought to buttress the authority of the state. Nowhere else has there been an insistence on expanding personal freedom…The society, and in a sense, the nation, preceded the state without having to be created by it. In such a setting political parties represents variants of an underlying consensus, today’-s minority is potentially tomorrows majority. In most other parts of the world the state has preceded the nation. It was and often remains the principal element in forming it. Political parties, where they exist, reflect fixed, usually communal identities: minorities and majorities tend to be permanent. In such societies the political process is about domination, not alternation in office, which takes place, if at all by coups rather than constitutional procedures.”(Kissinger 1994)
Kissinger goes on to say that our Western democracies presuppose a consensus on values. In America the single most important value is freedom to live as one wishes. This is not the European Kantian idea of freedom which recognizes necessary limitations imposed by the pluralistic life styles of modern communities and pursuing happiness collectively and ethically rather than as a collection of psychologically motivated individuals. Kantian reflection on the universal values required for our collective projects arrived at a universal ethical theory which then gave rise to the conviction that human rights were universal. This way of thinking has always been ambiguously regarded in the US especially in those historical instances where it is clear that leaders have very often put American interests first and human rights second. It remains to be seen what will happen if Kissinger’s prediction actualizes itself : if, that is America finds itself in a world of equally powerful peers.
Russia’s domination has been limited by two factors: the anticommunism which is prevalent throughout Russia but also anti-imperialism which is present especially in the new non Soviet republics. What is going on in this region of this world is very different to what is going on in the West. Russia never had an autonomous church, it missed the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Age of Discovery, and modern market economics. Experiments in the introduction of market economics has usually resulted in failure and a wish for the good old days of communism, allowing the communist party on occasion to achieve 90 % of the vote(1995). The major problem for the new world post Wilsonian order, according to Kissinger, is the integration of Russia into the international community.. But he does not mention the difficulties that putting America first has caused in the world. He does not mention how this is related to the individual putting themselves first. Or how this compromises the universal and collective project of ethical values which involves so much more than the often materialistic concerns of the individual. Previously Wilsonianism, the bearer of the Kantian humanistic world view that the ethics of the individual and the politics of the state were isomorphic, had sustained the hope of cosmopolitanism but subsequent isolationism brought with it a disbelief in universal ethical aims
Kissinger notes the tendency for leaders of the US to come from the South and the West,regions of America with the least emotional and personal contact with Europe. President Trump is of course from New York but he carries on the post modern attitude of political detachment from the concern of Europe for its security and development. He carries on along the path of individualism and the individuals uncertain psychological relation to his community.
Peruse these words written in 1994:
“In the years ahead all the traditional Atlantic relationships will change. Europe will not feel the previous need for American protection and will pursue its economic self interest much more aggressively: America will not be willing to sacrifice as much for European security and will be tempted by isolationism in various guises. In due course Germany will insist on the political influence to which its military and economic power entitle it and will not be so emotionally dependent on American military and French political support.”(Kissinger 1994)
The future of the European Project, which incidentally Kissinger does not believe in, the United Nations, which he also believes to be flawed, and the deeper processes of Globalization in accordance with Ethical universal values which lay masked behind Woodrow Wilson’s largely academic view of politics, is uncertain in the wake of the rising tide of isolationism and populism which appears to have the power once again to submerge the accomplishments of the Enlightenment and Greek Political Philosophers.
But Kissinger believes that the 21st century will be marked by a seeming contradiction between fragmentation and Globalization:
“On the level of the relations among states the new order will be more like the European system of the 18th and 19th centuries than the rigid patterns of the cold war. It will contain at least 6 major powers–the US, Europe, China, Japan, Russia and possibly India–as well as a multiplicity of medium sized and smaller countries. At the same time international relations have become truly global for the first time. Communications are instantaneous, the world economy operates on all continents simultaneously. A whole set of issues has surfaced that can only be dealt with on a worldwide basis…”(Kissinger 1994)
Yet nowhere can we read in his work about the possibility that the academic political vision of Wilson, imitating poorly the Enlightenment ethical and political messages of Kant, might contain the recipe for the success of either the UN or European peace projects.