This summer, I read Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy. I recently finished his new book, World Order. Both are excellent. Since Kissinger’s project has remained the same for decades, the two books share some content. Between the two, I enjoyed a T-shaped view of Kissinger’s worldview: deeply into Westphalian Europe [Diplomacy] and broadly across the Asian and Middle Eastern systems [World Order].


Notes on “World Order”

World Order: “The concept held by a region or civilization about the nature of just arrangements and the distribution of power thought to be applicable to the entire world.”

International Order: “The practical application of the concepts [of World Order] to a substantial part of the globe- large enough to affect the global balance of power.”

Regional Order: “The same principles [of International Order] applied to a defined geographic area.”

All of these systems depend upon the interactions of two components: an internal order that constrains possible action by agreement about rules [i.e. “legitimacy”] and an external order of balancing forces that limit the scope and frequency of fundamental challenges to the clashing orders [i.e. a “balance of power”].

Legitimacy is established via cultural apologetic. Even dictators aren’t totally free of constraint. A strong concept of legitimacy does not guarantee a lack of opposition within the borders of a political entity.

Balance of power is established the old fashioned way. States strive to address their respective national interests, grouping together to check more powerful aggressors, for example. It is not a guarantee of peace between political entities but is a sort of anti-fragile strategy for avoiding total destruction (by engaging in limited clashes and tests on narrow issues or interests).

In World Order, Kissinger summarizes the developmental histories of a few other civs and how he imagines that their preferred understandings of legitimacy influence their past and present decision-making tics. He spends about a quarter of the book respectively on the classic European order, various players in the Middle East, the United States, and various players in Asia.

Historically, China often did not recognize itself as in the same category as other nation-states. The Islamic World was organized between themselves and the not-yet-Islamic world. The Persians, somewhat like the Chinese, saw themselves as the pinnacle of civilization on Earth- and the further you get from Persia, the less civilized the people living there. Cosmology and culture inform patterns of behavior that guide nations. In both books, Kissinger also addresses the peculiarities of European and American perspectives on foreign policy.

The current recognizable international order based on the nation-state is a particular artifact from particular places and times. The nation-state was not inevitable or final or universal. Not only are there new contenders for hegemony, but there are wholly alternative World Orders fighting to undermine the current system.