Former Secretary of State Kissinger (On China, 2011, etc.) considers the prospect for order in a world without agreed-upon rules.
At a time when many nations differ on the meanings of democracy, human rights and international law, the 21st-century world is in a state of flux regarding the concepts of power and legitimacy—the foundation of world order. In fact, the world has never achieved world order, writes Kissinger. It came closest four centuries ago when warring European states, under the Peace of Westphalia, recognized state sovereignty and principles of international relations. Those rules and limits diminished greatly after World War II, when the United States dominated the Atlantic Alliance. They never reigned globally in a world of divergent cultures, histories and theories of order. In this erudite view of our disordered world, Kissinger views each region from a historical perspective to reveal the forces behind differing views of world order. In the Arab world, he finds that Islam is “a religion, a multicultural superstate, and a new world order,” where, in the case of Iran, for example, negotiation is seen as part of “an eternal religious struggle.” The “ominous” disintegration of Arab nations into tribal and sectarian units, writes the author, recalls the religious wars in pre-Westphalia Europe. Kissinger traces the rise of America’s idealistic vision of world order—one based on the universality of American principles—and credits the U.S. with many contributions to global order while noting that America “has risked extremes of overextension and disillusioned withdrawal.” The author also discusses the role of science and technology in shaping world affairs, urging that the instant information afforded by the Internet be viewed within the broader context of history. Regions must agree on their own concepts of order before they can relate to one another.
An astute analysis that illuminates many of today’s critical international issues.