By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

A very interesting book Leadership. Six Studies in World Strategy* has been published recently by the doyen of foreign policy, 99-year-old Henry Kissinger. What is striking about his study is that in a period, where the decision making and shaping of policy and strategy is more and more in the hands of opportunist, often intellectually small minded or corrupt politicians, it calls for a strategy of excellence and statecraft.  The small mindedness tragically is demonstrated in respect to the Russia- Ukraine conflict, as result of which the entire post war security archicture is in shambles. Henry Kissinger, whose decisions in his long career were often not undisputed or even strongly attacked, makes a strong plea for putting “statecraft” at the center of future politics. Kissinger’s doctoral thesis was dedicated to the famous Austrian statesman Fürst Metternich and to the study of the system of the Post Vienna Congress order, which was based on a classical “balance of power” concept.

On this background Kissinger delivers a portrait of six statesmen: former German Chancellor Dr. Konrad Adenauer (The Strategy of Humility), French President General Charles de Gaulle (The Strategy of Will), US President Richard Nixon (The Strategy of Equilibrium), Egyptian President Anwar el Sadat (The Strategy of Transcendence), Singapur Prime Minister Dr. Lee Kuan Yew (The Strategy of Excellence), British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (The Strategy of Conviction). He particularly devotes attention to the cultural environment and family background, as well as to the historical circumstances in which these statesmen were raised: moments, in which they had to make bold decisions that were “unusual” and “risky”, but based on “courage” and the “intuition” for chosing the “right moment” of action.

In his concluding remarks Kissinger emphasizes the nature of statecraft. It does not derive from any “aristocratic birth right” or privilege, but is based on specific merits and cultural understanding: “deep literacy”, training in “humanities”, a broad knowledge of “philosophy”, and “history”, as well as familiarity with physics and natural sciences. His study confronts those who believe in the almightiness of “Internet and social media”, as well as those who only can think in terms of “main stream.” Kissingers defense of “statecraft” should be seen on the background of what he considers essential in the history of “European Statecraft:” The 1648 Westphalian Peace Order that marked the end of the bloody thirty years religious war and enshrined the principle of sovereinity of the nation state.

The six statesmen that Kissinger portrays in his book were shaped by the specific historical circumstances of their historical epoch. They all became architects of the economic and technological development of their societies and of the international order after the Second World War.  Each one of them in one way or the other survived the “second 30 years’ war”, as Kissinger put it. “A series of destructive conflicts from the beginning of the First World War August 1914 till the end of the Second World War, September 1945. The First World War changed the entire European order, looting its state finances and bringing down dynasties. When the ceasefire was signed on 11th November 1918, almost ten million soldiers and seven million civilians had died. Two generations of European youth were decimated – young men killed, young women, widows were left with many orphans. France and England came out of the war victorious, but very exhausted and a politically weak. Germany oscillated between hostility toward the victors and internal conflicts among rivalizing parties.” While the Austro -Hungarian Empire and Osman Empire had collapsed, Russia lived through the most radical revolutions of its history. During the time between the two wars democracy tumbled and totalitarianism marched ahead. The blood toll of the Second World War was 60 million lives especially in the Soviet Union, in China, Germany and Poland.

Leaders – shaped by catastrophies

The state leaders that are portrayed in the book were shaped by these catastrophies. The political career of Konrad Adenauer, born in 1876, who was from 1917 till 1933 chief mayor of Cologne, was shaped by the conflict with France and the rise of Hitler. He was thrown in prison by the Nazis when he opposed to hiss the Nazi Flag in 1933. He looked for refuge in a Benedictine Monastery “Maria Laach” (80km away from Cologne), where he studied the encyclicals of Pope Leo XIII and Pius XI. In 1944 he was thrown in prison for another time. From 1949 he guided Germany through the lowest point of its history, by giving up the decade’s long drive of Germany for hegemony in Europe, according to Kissinger. He “anchored” Germany wthin the Atlantic Alliance and rebuilt the country on a moral fundament, which mirrored Adenauer’s own Christian (catholic) values and democratic convictions.

Charles de Gaulle- born in 1890, spent the first years of the First World War as prisoner of war in Germany: In the Second World War he commanded a tank regiment. Then after the collapse of France, he built twice the political structure of France. Having proclaimed from his exile in London 1940 the “France libre” movement on BBC with the aim to get France free of the Nazi occupation, he in 1944 began to restore France in its core after the collapse of the Vichy (Nazi) Government, and then again in 1958, he came back from his refuge in the Champagne, in order to rebuild the country and prevent a civil war. De Gaulle paved the way of France’s historical transition from a divided empire to a stabile and prospeorus nation state with a solid constitution.

Richard Nixon’s lessons (born in 1913) from the Second World War, were that his country had to play a leading role in the new world order, coming into being in the 60ies and seventies. He was the only American president that had to resign, but between 1969 abd 1974 – at the peak of the Cold War- he paved the way for a “détente” between the super powers USA/ SU on the basis of several disarmament agreements (Salt I) with the SU and led the USA out of the devastating Vietnam war. He put the American foreign policy on a constructive global basis, according to Kissinger, building relations with China in the beginning seventies (with Kissinger playing a major role as Nixon’s NSC advisor), which included the agreement on the “one China policy principle” in repect to Taiwan; and he initiated a major peace process in the Mideast and defended the concept of a world order based on equilibrium.

Two state leaders lived through the Second World War as underlings of the British colonial power. The Egyptian President Anwar el Sadat born in 1918- (at that time Eygpt was a British Colony), – sat in prison for two yeards for having tried to expel the British. After the death of President Abdel Nasser, he became President of an Egypt that was shocked by the failure in the six day war 1967 against Israel. With the help of a clever military strategy and diplomacy, Sadat was able to win back lost territory and secure peace with Israel.

Lee Kuan Yew (born in 1923) shaped the development of a poor, multiethnic state which at the beginning was a British Colony at the site of the Pacific, being surrounded by hostile neighbours. Under his leadership Singapur became a secure, well managed and wealthy city state with a common national identity in the midst of cultural diversity. He managed to develop Singapur into the most prosperous city states.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher born 1925, renewed -according to Kissinger- the country by economic reforms and a foreign policy that combined courage and cleverness. She was fervently pushing for a “special relation” with the US during the Cold War. This became evident during the “Falkland Island” war (1982- which began, when Argentina invaded the Island.) The war was very much rejected in Latin America as well as by leading strategists in Europe.Thatcher, by mobilizing military and intelligence support from the US (under Reagan) insisted on conducting a totally anachronistic war in order to keep the former British Colony.Kissinger’s analysis strikes as being prejudiced in this respect. Thatcher also rigidly and stubbornly opposed Germany’s “Reunification” after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, which was proof of her narrow-minded strategic thinking.

Konrad Adenauer, General Charles de Gaulle and Lee Kuan Yew

Being part of the US Army, 84rth infantry division in Germany, Kissinger remembered vividly the end of the Second World War in Germany: White sheets were hanging out of the windows signaling readiness for capitulation. Millions of people were homeless, deported, and hungry. “It was a desperate situation in German History.” Food was very scarce. Many suffered from famine; infant mortality was very high. The normal exchange of goods and services broke down. Black markets were the order of the day. No postal traffic; and transport was difficult.

At the Potsdam Conference July and August 1945, the allies Churchill, Truman and Stalin divided Germany into four occupation zones. The US was to administer Bavaria; GB got the industrial northern Rhineland and Ruhr area; France the southern Rhineland and the area along Alsace; the Soviets got the zone from the Elbe to the Oder -Neiße line, that formed the new polish border and reduced German territory from its pre- war size by one quarter.

The three occupation zones stood under the command of “High commissioners.” “Konrad Ademauer,” as Kissinger put it, “had the task to give back to society dignity and legitimacy.” What he needed was “humility” and the necessary “strength of character” to win back international respect for his country in the circle of democracies.

When American tanks proceeded 1945 into the Rhineland, “Adenauer began to think about his role in the militarily defeated, morally devastated, economically shattered and politically crumbled country.” In May 1945 Adenauer was installed by American Armed Forces, yet by giving powe into the hands of British administration, the tensions grew. The Brits kicked him out some months later. In December 1945 Ademanuer participated at a founding event of a new party of Christian character, assembling Catholics and Protestants, that was then called “Christian Democratic Union.”

In 1946 the slow reconstruction of the country began. Structures were built and piece by piece poltical repsonsibilities given back to the Germans.  In January 1947 the USA and GB established a common economic policy for their occupation zones. In May 23 1949, four years after capitulation, the German “Grundgesetz” (constitution) came into being and out of the three zones formally the “Bundesrepublik Deutschland” came into being.  In the Soviet Zone some months later the “Deutsche Demokratische Republik” was proclaimed. Germany’s division mirrored the dividing lines in Europe. In August/ September 1949 the Bundestag voted a Chancellor that needed the absolute majority. Adenauer was elected with one vote majority (probably his own). He stayed in power for 14 years. Germany’s sovereignity was very much limited. The Allies exerted power on the occupied Western Germany by their respective High Commissionaries. The occupation statute was above the German Constitution. Also, the Ruhr statute was the basis of allied control over industrial centers and formulated citeria for the demontage of German industry, in form of reparations.

When Adenauer was introduced as chancellor and the three High Commissioners met in Bonn September 21 1949. Adenauer in his speech developed the vision of a new Europe. He rejected the return to nationalism and spoke about the need “for a true vital European Federation”, emphasizing that “new alliances with former enemies and an alliance with the USA” were needed. “Adenauers “strategy of humility” consisted of four elements: recognize the consequence of defeat; win back confidence of the victors; build a democrartic society and form a European alliance of states that will overcome the historical splits of Europe,” Kissinger wrote. The relation with the US was key to give Germany a place in the World.

There was a unilateral American territorial guarantee, when the Bundesrepublik in 1949 was put under protection of the newly founded NATO. In 1950 Dwight Eisenhower became Supreme Commander of NATO Armed Forces in Europe.

Adenauer was convinced that the Europeans had to strengthen their coopeation. In his several meetings with Kissinger since 1953, he- as Kissinger notes-, he expressed doubt about the American “reliability”. Like General de Gaulle he was amazed about the way in which the US had reacted during the Suez Canal crisis 1956 in respect to France and GB that wanted to militarily invade the canal after Egyptian President Nasser had nationalized the Canal. He also expressed doubts about the US reliability, when the Soviet General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev in November 1958 put the Berlin status into question. And again, when the Wall was built 1961, with no reaction from the side of the then President Kennedy. Similarly, he several times expressed doubts about the so called “American Nuclear Guarantee.”

Adenauer resigned in Autum 1963 at the age of 87, after having been for 14 years in power. Most Chancellors after him, as Kissinger notes, stood in his tradition, such as Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl.

Charles de Gaulle – “France libre”

As Kissinger notes in a brief overview of de Gaulles life, de Gaulle before 1940 had been an excellent soldier and straregic thinker. During the First World War 1914 he became wounded in Dinant, a Belgian city at the Maas. He got imprisoned in 1916 in German prisons till Nov 1918. He read German newspapers, read novels and discussed. He got used to lonliness. He was very self-disciplined and wrote that in his diary. Stoicism became a feature of his character. Marshal Petain (later responsible for the Vichy government) at that time had respect for him and recommended him to the Military Academy St Cyr, to give speeches. One of de Gaulles most influential works was “Vers l’Armée du métier” in which de Gaulle criticized the defense policy of the French Military and recommended an offensive tank strategy. De Gaulle wanted France to be a big independent nation. For de Gaulle “politics was not the art of the possible but the art of what he wanted.” From the beginning he wanted an autonomous strategy, by believing in France’s “Grandeur” and its restoration.

During the Second World War in 1940, when France became occupied, De Gaulle fled to London from where – just having been for five days Under State Secretary in the Defense ministry- he proclaimed the resistance movement “France libre.” It was just an idea. Nothing existed at that moment to restore France’s Grandeur. He did get initial support from Churchill.  All Central Europe had been submitted by Hitler at that time and in July the Vichy Governemnt was installed. Tschad (Africa) then became a starting point for military operations of “France libre.” After the landing of the allied forces in North Africa, the French General Leclerc under order of de Gaulle, led a Troop of “France libre” with 4000 Africans and 600 French soldiers from Tschad to Libia snd Tunesia at the side of the British against the Africa corps of German Feldmarschall Rommel.

What was complicated during this period was the game which US President Roosevelt played – by not fully accepting de Gaulle and his “France libre” as an alternative movement. The US instead used Admiral Francois Darlan, Marine commander of the Vichy regime, to get a ceasefire with Vichy. He became commissaire of the French in Africa. There was also another competitor, General Giraud. Kissinger notes that Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, who had met 1943 in Casblanca, wanted a different solution than the one offered by de Gaulle.They wanted a submission of de Gaulle under General Giraud and Roosevelt wanted a Duumvirat of the two above mentioned French generals. Kissinger notes that it was peculiar, that de Gaulle was never invited by the Allies, neither to the conference in Teheran, nor Casablanca nor Potsdam.  On June 6 1944 the allied troops s landed at the coast of the Normandie. It took six more weeks until the resistance of the Germans was broken. De Gaulle didn’t want the allies to take over.  He in turn tried to strengthen his position among the allies. At that time troops of “France libre” were under the command of the US General Omar Bradely, the spearhead of the liberation of Paris- allied command.

De Gaulle however arrived on August 26 1944 at the Paris Station – Gare Montparnasse-, in order to thank General Leclerc from the France Libre Division. From there he went to the Defense Ministry where he had been for five days Under State Secretary, before he had gone to London. Then he went to the “Hotel de Ville” where the second and third Republic had been proclaimed, where he was greeted with great enthusiasm. He gave a speech in which he didn’t mention the US or GB, but presented the liberation of Paris as a pure French action and accomplishment. He created a political reality by sheer “will power”, as Kissinger comments.  The new resistance quickly got integrateed into a provisionary government. Until September 9 de Gaulle managed to form a new cabinet that included “France libre” politicians from the third Republic, Communists, Christian democrats in the de Gaulle led “government of national unity.” De Gaulles government rejected any say of the allied occupation power in France. He also travelled to Moscow, being the first to talk to Stalin about a post- war order in Europe.

“Une certaine idee de la France” 

What he wanted was the reconstruction of a legitimate and powerful French state.  De Gaulle just had “une certaine idee de la France.”  What was needed was a central authority, not a dictatorship. He changed the economy into a dirigistic one:  Air France, Renault, coal, gas and electricity got nationalized; a High Commission for nuclear energy was founded with ENA in the second half of 1945. However, 18 months later De Gaulle resigned, explaining it by his disgust for the October 1946 referendum that wanted an exclusive regime of the parties.

His gesture -according to Kissinger- showed a “man of destiny”. He settled in La Boisserie in the village Colombey les deux eglises 200 km away from Paris, his family refuge in the Champagne. He only gave one speech June 16 1946 in Bayeux dedicated to the idea of “Une certaine idee de la France”: where he stated that the “legitimacy of parliament was to be derived from a leader being empowered by the entire nation to act and decide.” He stayed in in this exile until 1958, when France was facing in the midst of Algeria fighting for its independence, with OAS terrorism spreading in France as well as a threatening putsch, the danger of a civil war.  One should add that in the fifties also Vietnam, Laos and Kamboda had proclaimed their independence from France’s colonial power. The north-Vietnamese troops supported by China, had within 8 weeks defeated France and forced them into capitulation. The second shock was the Suez Canal crisis and attempts by France and GB to militarily invade in response to President Nasser’s nationalization of the Canal.  President Eisenheowr did not support GB or France for fear that the SU exploit this opportunity.

On 29th of May 1958 de Gaulle was offered by General Coty to become last PM of the 4rth Republic. He gave a press conference – saying that he was ready, if needed, but not as dictator. He got from parliament a decree to work out within six months a new constitution whose results should be brought into a referendum. When de Gaulle returned to power in 1958 to protect the constitution, he wanted to do this in 4 phases: Renewal of the French constitutional order to form a government with a necessary authority; end France’s colonial adventures to eliminate this cancer from the body of the society; develop a military and political strategy for France to demonstrare the irreplacability of France in the defense sector and in diplomacy, finally present this strategic concept vis a vis allies, in particular in respect to the sceptial USA. He finally became president of the Fifth Republic from 1958-1969. In 1962 he ended the Algerian War.

The same de Gaulle on the 14th September 1958 began to push for a reconciliation policy with Germany by inviting Chancellor Konrad Adenauer to La Boisserie into his private house and by pushing for a new French- German partnership. In 1949 NATO had been formed in which the US, representing 6% of the World population, was the leading economic nation, with a monopoly of nuclear weapons.  De Gaulle rejected a NATO conception, which put the French Armed Forces under an international command and he was against the idea that French identity would dissolve in supranational institutions. When he came to power he accelerated the French nuclear program. In March 1959 the French mediterranean fleet was withdrawn from the NATO command.  In June the same year de Gaulle ordered the American nuclear weapons to withdraw from French soil. In February 1960 France did its first nuclear bomb test in the Algerian desert.  In 1966 France completely left the NATO command structure. In a speech 1963, De Gaulle mentioned the necessity for a “quick construction of an independent French nuclear deterrence. In the dangerous world in which we live it is our duty to be strong ourselves.” On August 24 1968 France did its first thermonuclear test with a hydrogen bomb. France had thus become a full autonomous nuclear power.

Lee Kuan Yew, Strategy of Excellence and China

With Lee Kuan Yew as Prime Minister of Singapur we are confronted with “a giant in a liliput country” as Kissinger put it.  When he became head in 1965 of a Singapur that had become independent from its british colonial past, he took responsibility for a country that in Lee’s word “was smaller than Chicago” with a people of 1,9 million:  a former british colony that was shaped by different ethnic groups including Chinese, Malay and Indians.  Under Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership within a few years Singapur became the third most successful country of the world. Within one generation – from a malay island at the southern Cone of the Malaysia- Singapur became the richest country of Asia, on a per capita basis, and de facto the trade center of south East Asia.

Lee constituted an excellent cabinet putting emphasis on social housing and education. He thought that the most important resource was to promote human potential. His Chinese heritage (his grandfather had come from Guandong) and later Cambridge education gave him insight into the dynamic between East and West. In 1978 the Chinese leader Deng Xiao Ping visited the city state, being deeply impressed and taking over many concepts in China. Lee was, according to Kissinger, a socialist thinking man, anti-British and anti- colonial. He was convinced that the welfare state was the highest form of a civilized society and admired the etatist economic policy of J. Nehru from India.  When Lee returned from his studies in Cambridge to Singapur in 1950, there was huge corruption and poverty. British Malaysia produced Caoutchouc at the time and Singapur was a key pillar of the British Military strategy.

In 1954 Lee founded the “People’s Action Party” and became Prime Minister in 1959, staying in power until his resignation in 1990. Singapur had three constitution orders: first as British crown colony from 1950 till 1963, then as part of a confederation with Malaysia from 1963 till 1965 and then as Singapur sovereign Nation. When in 1965 indpendence was proclaimed, Lee stated that Singapur will be one nation among many people, we will set an example. He put attention to building a military force with the help of Israeli advisor a highly professional standing army was built. Lee didn’t play the ethnic card – 75% of the people spoke Chinese dialect, 14 % Malaysian and 8% Tamil. English became the official working language.

What counted for Lee, who later became an important advisor for many statesmen around the world, was will power and the concept of cohesion of society, as well as discipline of the people and quality of the leading personnel. He managed to transform the economy by technologal innovation. By 1971 the economy of Singapur had grown by 8%, 70% of workforce weas employed in industry. It was the third largest center of oil refinery and foreign investments increased from 157 million Dollar to 3,7 billion within ten years. He insisted on America’s role for security and progress in the World and in South East Aia.

Yet as Kissinger also notes, Lee Kuan Yew said aleady in 1973, that “China will make it” and he foresaw in 1993 that China would change the balance of the world and become the “biggest actor in the history of mankind”. America didn’t like what Lee said about China in 2011: “The US must live with a stronger China. This would be new for US. China within 20 to 30 years can bring the US position out of balance.” He advised the US not to treat China as an enemy. The US should recognize China’s great power. Lee was also critical about the Western desire of “western exclusiveness”: “The West believes that the world must follow its development. But democracy and individual rights are alien to the rest of the world”.  According to Kissinger, the “universality of liberal thinking” was not conclusive for him. Hence, Lee’s actions are a lesson for how one can promote “understanding and coexistence” even in midst of totally different perspectives.

Humanist education 

In the concluding section of his book Kissinger devotes attention to aristocracy versus meritocracy and combines that with a sharp criticism of today’s elites.

After the second “thirty Years War”, a world of nation states had come into being where the civilian middle class exerted political and cultural power and brought into being leadership personalities. None of the six leaders came from the upper class, according to Kissinger.  All six visited schools, receiving a solid “humanist education.” Six personalities who saw the service for the Common Good as their highest aim and for whom “Character” was important.  Lee often called himself a “junzi” (Confucian noble gentleman), De Gaulle called himself “A man of character.”  When it came to the destiny of the nations, Kissinger notes, they didn’t trust opinion polls and social media. All six had a sense for poltical realities and a strong vision, while mediocre politicians are incapable to differ between what is significant and banal day to day. They all inherited painful wars and tried to initiate “creative diplomacy.”

Kissinger notes that today is seems that state citizen’s patriotism is replaced by an “identity” based party spirit. Education of technicians that are hyper specialized, counts; “today’s elites want less duties, but more self- realization or their onw carreer, shaped by a technological environment that puts into question “Character and Intellect.”

Hence there is Kissinger’s plea to return to a strict humanist education in terms of statecraft and to the principles of “sovereign nation states” of the “Westphalian Peace Treaty” (1648) and its respect for sovreignity.

His major strategic concern today is the incredible destructive potential that is building up in the military field that could annihilate our entire civilization, given that the weapon systems are more and more complex – the nuclear dilemma, cyber weapons and AI weapons. “The actual world may see a return of the big power rivalry of China and the US, enforced by the spread of new technologies. He however asks:  Will both giants learn how their rivalry can be combined with the concept and practice of coexistence?” In respect to Russia, which doesn’t have Chinas market or its demographic power, Kissinger states at the end of his book: since Russia is extended over 11 time zones, “it will further act according to its geographical and historical constraints.” He notes that there is in Russian policy an imperial claim which results from the fact that they feel “strategically vulnerable” and he advises to look at the Ukraine conflict from a historical point of view: A new stable order hangs on the question whether it is able to calm down the fears of Europeans from Russian predominance, but also the concern of Russia in respect to offensive steps from the West. “The Strategic conflict of the Ukraine symbolizes these concerns,” Kissinger comments. The military invasion February 2022 – which was totally against International Law – is in Kissingers view part of this problem. It is an expression of a “failed and only half hearted dialogue” (!) Hence, he suggests that a triangular relation between the US, China and Russia should be tested, based on the core question whether the US and China will coexist peacefully, as well as on the question, whether Russia can bring the self- determination of countries in the region into harmony with what it considers as near abroad (Central Asia and  Eastern Europe) and whether it does this as part of an international order and not by the exertion of power and predominance.

*Henry Kissinger: Leadership. Six Studies in World Strategy. Penguin Press, New York, 2022. The author used the German Book, published by C. Bertelsmann, München, under the titel Staatskunst. Sechs Lektionen für das 21. Jahrhundert, 2022


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