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Book Review, Brunei Darussalam

Discourse on Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy



I’ve just completed Dr. Henry Kissinger’s “Diplomacy.” If you ever wish to understand foreign policy, I find the 800-paged book a good place to start. Not that I have any formal education on that particular subject, but the book is just that good.

In the book, he discussed the various “critical junctures” of post-18th century history, i.e the Thirty Years’ War, unification of Germany, World War 1 and 2 and their aftermath. Punctuated in those periods are conferences organized and attended by influential people of the age. It is in these conferences where history is made.

It is quite interesting to note because the meetings of world leaders is akin to me organizing events of my own. Yeah, everything is normal, just meeting friends and doing activities as laid out in our agenda and such. Simple. But for their case, it takes things to a whole new level. The simple conversations or speeches done by leaders such as Franklin Roosevelt in Versailles is not only recorded for interpretation in academic history or foreign policy analysis, but the words he spoke in that conference have a direct impact on how we live today.

It kind of shows that words have a very powerful effect in shaping the lives of posterity, especially so when there is a concert of key world leaders are involved to pursue their respective agendas.

To solidify what they say or what they have committed to are to be recorded in treaties or agreements. These treatise or agreements are then documented and by principles have to honored by the signers. Unfortunately, it was not exactly that way in the past. Yes, you got the agreement but other parties can simply dismiss it if they know they can get away with it.

Consider the two provisions outlined in the Treaty of Versailles in which Germany should limit its military size and repay reparations to France, etc. Hitler, being the diabolical opportunist as he is, exploited the reparations imposed on Germany as a pretext to gain power and subsequently published false reports of its actual military strength at that time – which was growing and past well beyond the treaty limitation. War broke out soon after. It did not end well for both sides.

Has diplomacy failed? Not at all. Diplomacy has got a lot to do with Hitler’s rise, and so too many other events in history. Diplomacy and its subsequent speeches and treaty making intensifies what Nietzsche would call the “will to power” of the leaders in pursuing their own interests. And when two strong interests clash, they are either dealt by either with diplomacy or the brute call of violence, reflecting Carl Von Clausewitz views in his military treatise, “On War.”

Hitler chose violence and that very decision has led to the outbreak of WW2. After the bloody war, Franklin Roosevelt rethought of his strategy in establishing international organisations bent in upholding “world peace” and the “Four Freedoms,” so as to ultimately ensure no future Hitlers would ever rise up again to reign chaos and terror in the world.

Roosevelt’s policy was encompassing and almost impossible to the people then. But battered or criticized he may be, he set it up anyway. Under his leadership he established what would today be called the preeminent international organisations of the modern world. Among three examples are the United Nations, NATO, and World Bank.

Roosevelt’s decision for the US, to borrow the words of the immortal Virgil in his poem The Aeneid, “to impose the works of peace…and to vanquish the haughty by means of war,” has catapulted the US from being an isolationist nation into a world leader akin to Roman Empire in its heyday.

Sound crazy? Consider at the height of the Roman Empire, they bought order throughout Europe. In today’s age, the US surpassed Roman height by having military bases and diplomatic ties across the world; they are also key players in the UN, NATO, and World Bank – the three organisation’s HQ is in Washington, the political capital of US, after all.

Those wishing to learn more about Diplomacy or are students of foreign affairs are invited to read his book. Consider it as textbook for the future Bruneian diplomats or architects of foreign policy of tomorrow in navigating Brunei safely and securely in the 21st century.

Those wishing to dive into hardcore Kissinger material can his work, World Order. I will not recommend anyone to read it until they finish Diplomacy or those who have no substantive knowledge on foreign policy. Believe me, World Order is a hard book!!

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