Kissinger Explains Everything
the problem of mixing foreign policy and morality
If you want to understand the Israel Hamas war, or you want to understand our rulers’ acceptance of unlimited immigration there is no better place to turn than Henry Kissinger’s book Diplomacy.
On page 221 Kissinger discusses the end of World War I. It began, he says, as a normal balance-of-power conflict between the newly powerful Germany and the three powers surrounding it: France, Russia, and Great Britain. The Triple Entente powers felt threatened by the newly united Germany, clearly the most powerful nation in Europe. But, of course, Germany felt threatened by the other powers ganging up on it.
The proper thing to have happened would have been for the combatants to realize in 1915 that nobody was going to win:
Had European leaders continued the practices of the prewar international order, a compromise peace would have been made in the Spring of 1915…
By the winter of 1914-15… None of the belligerents dared to explore a compromise peace.
Reacting to the horrendous slaughter the allies cranked up “moral slogans such as ‘the war to end all wars’ and ‘making the world safe for Democracy.’” They didn’t have the guts to admit it had all been a terrible mistake.
And then in came America.
America disdained the concept of the balance of power and considered the practice of Realpolitik immoral. America’s criteria for international order were democracy, collective security, and self determination — none of which had undergirded any previous European settlement.
Then came the Treaty of Versailles. Prewar eastern Europe had been divided between Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. Post-treaty, eastern Europe was divided into a bunch of little states — many of them with significant German minorities — which could be easily conquered by Germany and Russia. Germany was still the most powerful state and France was physically and morally devastated.
By the way, if you want to see a mess, look at La Wik’s page on “Territorial evolution of Poland.”
I read Kissinger as saying that before World War I the leaders of nations reckoned that their job was to protect their nation from the other nations. Period.
But after World War I moral issues entered the mix: alliance became “collective security;” nations were ranked by their democratic rating; and every people had the right to govern themselves.
In the Treaty of Versailles a “people” was what the treaty negotiators determined. Thus they decided to create a new Poland, a Czechoslovakia and a whole mix of nations in southeast Europe. In the Middle East they couldn’t find nations so they created “mandates” — like Palestine — for the colonial powers to manage for the time being.
But do you see what is happening here? The concept of “self-determination” turns out to be the educated foreign policy experts deciding who gets to be a nation and who doesn’t.
My definition of a nation is the brotherhood of the men who fought the enemy to defend or to create the nation. Their victory unites the people for a few years, as World War II united the US until the Sixties when peaceful protesters started to divide us.
So I would say that the whole purpose of domestic politics is for the leaders of one group to pick a fight with another group. And the whole point of foreign policy is for one nation to pick a fight with another nation, or ally with one nation to defend against a second nation.
All the moral posturing we see in politics is beside the point. It’s all about defending against the enemy. In domestic politics the enemy could be another ethnic group, or it could be another class. Or, in the case of transgenders, it could be transphobes or TERFs. And of course the leaders invoke moral issues to demonize the opposition. But it is still all about defending against the enemy, however defined.
In international affairs the enemy could be the German threat on the eastern border of France. Or it could be the insult of Jews taking over the sacred homeland of Moslem Palestinians. Everybody invokes moral issues and accuses the other side of massacring innocents. But it all comes down to power.
I suspect that foreign relations were better when it was all about Realpolitik and balance of power. Because once you inject moral issues, then you have a religious war, and that ain’t good.