Nobel laureate and two-time Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger spoke on Friday to a full Levinson auditorium, calling for a re-examination of the 21st century world order.
Hosted by the Yale Johnson Center for the Study of American Diplomacy, Kissinger was joined by Harvard history professor Niall Ferguson to discuss the building of a shared international order by 2025, using diplomatic history as a tool for predicting the future. Kissinger drew on his extensive diplomatic experience in China and the Middle East, explaining the complexity of establishing order in a world with diverging conceptions of international norms.
After opening remarks from University President Peter Salovey, Ferguson and Kissinger discussed how historical peace treaties, such as the Treaty of Westphalia or the Congress of Vienna, could be used to understand present circumstances more clearly.
“There’s never been a world order before. What used to be considered world order was a regional order,” Kissinger said.
Kissinger went on to say that what Americans call “world order” originated from the Treaty of Westphalia that ended the 30 Years’ War, and was not designed for international adoption. The Western concept of world order — sovereign states interacting peacefully through a balance of power and shared responsibility — is not shared among all countries in the world, he said.
Ideas about world order that conflict with the West’s include those of China, Russia and countries with theocratic regimes. A central challenge is convincing other nations to buy into a certain set of norms, Kissinger said.
China’s unique conception of a hierarchical universe explains some of the problems the U.S. has had in negotiating with China, Kissinger said. In Kissinger’s view, China’s emergence on the world stage threatens the West-centric world order.
“When one speaks of world order, we tend to say that Russia or some other country is violating international order. You have to ask yourself what they think they’re doing,” Kissinger said.
Ferguson, who specializes in British history, suggested the possibility of a new world “disorder,” and said he thinks the world has forgotten the need for order in the time since the Cold War ended over three decades ago.
Although the discussion focused on diplomacy on a large scale, Ferguson said he thinks Ivy League schools like Yale and Harvard have a responsibility to encourage students to study the variety of ways of thinking about the international system, adding that Kissinger’s typology of four world orders — the West, Russia, China and the Islamic world — is only one of them.
“Both Yale and Harvard have a clear responsibility to educate students about the kinds of issues Kissinger raised on Friday, particularly the importance of historical understanding for anyone wishing to participate in or even comment on international relations and foreign policy,” Ferguson said in an email to the News.
During the event, Kissinger criticized American foreign policy for its inability to work toward long-term goals — every new administration tends to start from scratch without taking advantage of past lessons and gains, he claimed.
Kissinger also offered advice for grappling with the definition of “world order,” in both abstract and concrete terms, in international relations.
“I don’t think one should confuse order with harmony. The key to an orderly system is [that] grievances exist but they are attempted to be solved within the framework of order that exists,” he said.
Kissinger, whose recent book “World Order” came to shelves in September 2014, initiated talks between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China in 1972 and helped negotiate the Peace of Paris one year later, ending the Vietnam War. He donated his personal papers to Yale in June 2011.