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The Art of Henry Kissinger’s Diplomacy

By Srimal Fernando - Global Editor, Diplomatic Society and Punsara Amarasinghe

In the Westphalian nation’s state system bureaucrats have to play a crucial role, rather than the politicians. Sometimes they may be venerated for their deeds from one part of the world and at the same time they get imprecated from the other half. The decorative role played by Dr. Henry Kissinger in molding U.S foreign policy has received different reactions. Former Secretary of State Kissinger played a dominant role in United States foreign policy between 1969 and 1977. 

Photo: Former U.S Secretary of State Henry Kissinger gives first Prime Minister of Singapore, and then Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew (left) a hug just before Mr Lee was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the US-Asean Business Council for fostering US-Asean ties at a gala dinner on Oct 29, 2009. File Photo 

He had to work in one of the  most difficult periods of U.S.A and 20th century Cold War circumstances has warmed up his path. However rather than pondering over his charismatic personality, it is absolutely useful for modern day policy makers to trace his “sui generis” career in diplomacy, which happened to be his favorite game.

After spending few years at Harvard as an academic young Kissinger was exposed to U.S policy making think thank under Kennedy and Lindon B. Johnson’s administrations as a security adviser. After serving Nelson Rockefeller for a certain period, Kissinger started to work under President Nixon his role in world diplomacy began after Nixon made Dr. Henry Kissinger the National Security Advisor in 1969. Afterwards his rise was fervent and steady in U.S administration. His contribution to international affairs can be measured in few elements.

Ending the Vietnam War
Kissinger as national security adviser used his astute mind and shuttle diplomacy to put an end to the ten year long Vietnam war. Seeking to achieve “Peace with Honor”, Kissinger combined diplomatic initiatives and troop withdrawals to improve the American bargaining position with North Vietnamese and to maintain U.S credibility with its international allies. On 27th January 1973 Kissinger and North Vietnamese negotiating partner Le Duc Tho eventually signed a ceasefire agreement. Kissinger was jointly awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize with Le Duc Tho for helping to establish a ceasefire and U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. The ceasefire, however, was not durable, and Tho declined to accept the award.

Opening to China: Sino-American relationship  
Former Secretary of State Kissinger’s next achievement was his witty involvement in Chinese affairs. In 1971, Kissinger made two secret trips to the People’s Republic of China, paving the way to President Nixon’s historic visit in 1972. The formalization of relations between the two countries brought an end to 28years of diplomatic isolation and mutual hostility.

Arab-Israeli War
Especially when Israel was fighting with the Soviet backed Egyptian forces, Kissinger proved crucial in leading diplomatic efforts to prevent the war from escalating into a global confrontation. At the time of his departure diplomatic and administrative ring during Ford’s administration he had proved himself to be the most prudent bureaucrat in the U.S.A. Once, the famous Time magazine named him as an iconic figure like Cardinal Richelieu, who created and strengthened modern France.
Diplomatic Options:  During the Cold War
He was also instrumental in bringing about the early 1970’s “détente” between the U.S.A and Soviet Union. In 1972, he negotiated the strategic arms limitation treaty and anti-ballistic missile treaty, helping to ease tensions between the two cold war super powers.
It has been nearly 40 years since he left U.S state department but still the effective diplomacy he utilized could be taken as a guideline for modern day diplomats. However, today’s world is not the world that Kissinger lived. After passing post-cold war context and 9/11 incident present world has to cope with many complicated issues and U.S foreign policy too has been drastically changed.

Security, Peace, and Stability in South Asia
In 2015 U.S President Obama visited India and U.S foreign policy towards South Asia has undergone significant positive changes. U.S Secretary of State John Kerry visited Sri Lanka to renew ties with the new government formed after the surprising presidential election results. John Kerry was the first sitting Secretary of State to visit Sri Lanka in 40 years.  The visits by U.S President Obama and Secretary Kerry are signs of changing U.S diplomatic winds towards South Asia. In fact these decisive changes in U.S foreign policy towards Asia are a reflection of what Kissinger committed as a bureaucrat 40 years ago. In a practical way modern U.S diplomats repeat the “Kissingerian” tactics in South Asian context. Political events in the past can serve as a good example.  In this new era, a country’s foreign policy should reflect securing greater national interest through the prospect of Peace to bring stability to a country. Considering Kissinger’s influence in crafting U.S. foreign policy in the 21st Century is an excellent example for analysis and applicable to different international systems.

Mr. Punsara Amarasinghe is a LL.M. (Master of Laws) student at the South Asian University in New Delhi

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