The Contemporary Way to World Peace without a little Help of Soft Law and Buddhism is questionable
Book Review Essay
Kim Them Do*
We live in a world of disorder. Unfortunately, we don’t have any strategy how to move forward. With his latest book World Order, Henry Kissinger discusses the basic questions we need to address: What do we seek to prevent and to achieve in order to develop a world order for peace and how all countries agree to implement it?
The book presents a summation of Kissinger´s thinking on his rich experiences over six decades in world politics. As a hard-core realist, he discussed all these points in his historical perspective brilliantly in analyzing the contemporary issues in the European, the Islamic, the Chinese and the American system and without highlighting the latest economic and political development of Latin American
He comes to conclude that a new type of great power relationship would be based on the Westphalian system, and that the balance of power on the global basis and the principles of non-interference would be an imperative of world order today. Unfortunately, however, the book could not offer the best of what is possible and would not be a useful first step forward. There are many reasons to object his argument.
First, to answer questions such as these, we need to pose a bigger question: What exactly is wrong with Realism? And is Realism still dominant? Debating it is more important than ever.
The history of diplomacy is largely a struggle between two opposing schools of thought, “Idealism” and “Realism” The former with its emphasis on a sense of moral mission, projected by Woodrow Wilson, is past’s dominant doctrine. But the latter, exemplified by Theodore Roosevelt, has blinded us to the great appeal of practices of national interests and geostrategic concerns.
In fact, today, Realism is typically dismissed as a blatantly erroneous set of ideas about foreign policy. And, in their heyday, Idealism certainly did defend some notions to be guided by the promotion of democracy and human rights. As Kissinger argues, idealist do not have a monopoly on moral values, realists must recognize that ideals are part of reality.
This analysis depends on the belief whether Realism is essential to address the current problems of world politics. To answer that, we must look at the question of the origins of the present crisis.
The world is experiencing numerous global challenges, including climate change, resource depletion, financial crises, insufficient education, widespread poverty, food insecurity; the disastrous state of health care. And most importantly, the global war on terror is evident and a new concept for world peace is required because of the altered natures of modern warfare.
However, peace researchers tell us that most of the wars are intranational rather than international and that 93 percent of the armed conflicts are ethnic, religious and local in nature. Wars between two democratic coun-tries are an exception. In response to this, one should generate a global public understanding of the local methods and domestic duties of managing conflict.
It is quite true that Realism remains alive and well, and its continuing conflict with Institutionalism and Constructivism is likely to be a major force shaping the future of the global diplomacy. It helps state to consoli-date the central authority to deal with the domestic affairs and fails to consider the complex issues of world politics. The past realist rhetoric are not longer effective tools and proved unable to respond effectively to changing demands, it oversimplifies profound ramifications that are resulting from the ethical foundation for prescribing norms. The imposition of regulations and institutions for the structure of balance of power will not by itself erase deep-seated resent-ments, hatreds and power struggles. As a result, the Westphalian principles are not needed for building a world order today.
To find the way out, law and religion are seeking to ground responsibilities of individuals, firms and institutions to improve world order. International law is tracking and adapting to these new conditions through changes in the rules of warfare. If, however, the UN, international and regional institutions, governments, businesses, civil societies, religions and scientific communities work together in building a platform – be perceived as functioning – to promote understanding, preventing and responding to the world order questions, then we have a chance in expecting that the UN pursue shared solution as efficiently as possible. Now that is a goal worth pursuing.
Second, his book is more about the historical and cultural aspect of his concept of diplomacy and the potential tension between the declining US and the rising China. Based on the long history of two different concepts of leadership for world order, he characterizes that the American strives for Pragmatism and the Chinese look for Sinocentric osmosis. In doing so, he invokes patterns of behavior and experience to predict the future conflict between two countries. Unfortunately, however, it is quite wrong.
Today, China approach to global governance is emerging because Chinese are the world´s largest exporter, manufacturer and reserve asset´s holder. With rising economic and political power, Chinese leaders come to reshape global governance in the light of growing Pragmatism. There are a plenty of evidence.
China has five territorial claims with Vietnam, Brunei, the Philippines, Malaysia and Japan over various islands in the South China Sea. It is hard to see that these disputes will be resolved in the light of international rule of law. The prospect for regional peace is, therefore, not promising.
To the Vietnamese, only by stabilizing the Sino-Vietnamese relationship can a regional diplomacy that supports peace and shared prosperity be achieved. But such cooperation will be impossible unless the China recognizes Vietnam as an equal partner – and not just rhetorically. Dramatically, most of Vietnamese should be worried about the trend that Vietnam can fall peacefully as China determines to achieve its economic and political dominance in Vietnam, owing mainly to the self-made trap of voluntary subordination of the Communist Party of Vietnam through the Chengdu Top Secret Agreement in 1990.
Recently, China is creating a new multilateral development bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Importantly, the New Silk Road land belt seeks to China with the neighboring countries; the New Maritime Silk Road helps the economy to facilitate trade in Pacific and Indian Ocean. A roughly 8,100 miles high speed railroad connecting China, Canada, Russia and the US through Bering Strait has been planned. All roads lead to Beijing, politically and economically.
Chinese leaders are struggling to keep the torch of Pragmatism and hope it alive, though they would never admit it. To many observers, one should view China, hence, ultimately, hegemony. Of course, there is no guarantee that all of these hegemony endeavors will proceed smoothly because the domestic crackdown and foreign backlash may be expected.
As a result, China´s new global leadership can be seen as a serious challenge to the existing world order because no Chinese step would be legitimate for peace building. This wrongdoing is a direct challenge to the US interest such as freedom of navigation, peace through free trade and the US naval supremacy in the Pacific.
For Washington, self-restraint and self-constraint could be seen as a best tactic of the flexible response to avoid being provoked, but it cannot convince Beijing of malignant intentions. The Asian countries and the rest of the world expect that as a Pacific power American would be able to show up its rigorous response. The military deployment to counter the Chinese threat in the Pacific region may just be one of the best options, but presently, the US policymakers are reluctant to do so.
Given this, how can Kissinger insist on reshaping on the international rule based on the non-intervention principles? How could his strategy play out in the light of declining American Pragmatism in rebalancing in the Pacific region? And most importantly, how Kissinger explains this considerable stature in the light of American Pragmatism as he assumed?
Third, Kissinger looks at the world order as a concept of global arrangement that is thought to be applicable to the entire world. In his view, the coexistence of the religions and the governments of the past European history is model of a balance of power which could have the desirable effect for an effective international cooperation at the present time. He hopes that the established power and rising power like China, India and Brazil would be able to achieve agreement on a set of rules for the future.
How can this strategy require participants to implement it? Binding or non-binding? Hard law or soft law? It has been a controversial matter on the compliance costs that he fails to discuss further.
The practical difficulties in convergence to support the applicability of hard law are the sovereignty costs. It is hard to see how the states concerned could be compelled to subject their domestic norms to international discipline. As long as policy makers around the world cannot harmonize the common objective, the form and the enforcement process of agreement, there are no grounds for believing that implementation of a mandatory approach would be smooth.
Instead, the soft law approach would be helpful in overcoming the current difficulties in dealing with the question of cooperation in international economic law.
For example, the international banking, financial law and antitrust law institutions are also successfully experimenting with soft law. All of the best practices of the Basel Committee, the International Organization of Securities Commission, the International Association of Insurance Supervisors and the International Competition Networks are the best known standard setting bodies. This is best illustrated to demonstrate that these soft law norms made by global regulatory networks are reasonable options and politi-cally achievable.
Consequently, a mixture of soft law and regional approaches in the global context are seen as the best option for cooperation in international law and policy. His fascination with a system adapted for XIX century in Europe is not timely. It is impossible to develop a vision of world order from his historical perspective.
Fourth, Kissinger highlights the question of the Islamic world order and the Iran approaches. He admits the consequences of the religious and political conflicts present themselves as distinctive issue.
Instead of focusing on how to bolster the peace through interreligion dialogue, he calls for a quest for a new definition of political and international legitimacy. He produces a forwardlooking strategy without considering that peacebuilding in the national context is still fragile and needs more concrete measure. He suggests prohibition of the intervention of other states.
By contrast, the democratic government can be emerged from a war situation. To have this ability requires transplanting the rule of law. These attempts are often unsuccessful because there is no basic structure of governance and leadership doesn’t want to give up its power to gain democracy. Furthermore, the violence or the threat of violence still exists.
The best argument against his fascination with the past balance of power is that the world will be better off if we prevent violence and realize peace internally. Our efforts to make peace muss be legally and morally justified. He leaves the contributory role of Buddhism and the Kantian philosophy of peace out of his vision.
The age of the global war on terror requires a new route to world peace. In his essay Toward a Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795), Immanuel Kant points out that the gradual evolution of human institutions is the key to world peace and that the principles of laws, morality and politics could be holistically established and systematically promoting the right to self-determination of individuals, peoples and the whole of mankind as a motivating force. An international league for peace, the national republican constitution and the law of world citizenship are the legal tools need to be implemented.
Moreover, Buddhism values peace both intrinsically and instrumentally. It identifies the human nature and the structural cause of violence. It has the cultural power to motivate and to hold people morally responsible for achieving peaceful ideals: common basis of values, virtues, rights and responsibilities, culture of non-violence, solidarity and tolerance. By associating with the Buddhists, people around the world may feel powerful enough to deal with the contemporary world issues.
Therefore, the Buddhist ethics has been called a conceptual skill for a peace education project and the Kantian ethics has been called a technical skill for a rule of law development movement. Both are the ultimate guarantors for peace, thus becoming the new paradigm for peace governance. They are competent in terms of advancing the understanding of means of achieving peace governance. Such local collaboration can contribute to the peace-building and peacekeeping processes worldwide. The time is now ripe for such an integrated approach to be introduced.
Fifth, the book offers also some justifications of his past actions. Still, Kissinger stalls a bit with Vietnam and his chapter on Vietnam read like a repetition with the other books. The story ended in tragedy, but most re-markably, he tells the whole affair not well. In providing a summary of his view on the Vietnam War in dealing with the break-down of the US consensus, he seeks to play down his role.
In fact, he was a key shaper of the Paris Peace Agreement in 1973. This will be hard because there never has been a true story about this Accord. Other memoirs or accounts of that time have measured against what Kissinger has done, have published. The Trial of Henry Kissinger (2001) of Christopher Hitchens and No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger and Betrayal in Vietnam (2001) of Larry Berman are two of handful of the most-cited accounts. The question whether these charges are right or not, it deserves further discussion.
With the passage of time and healing of the American trauma inflicted by the Vietnam War; diplomacy, journalism and publicity around the world know more in detail about what he did. To the most South Vietnamese, Kissinger is the man they love to hate. They call him an opportunist because the Paris Accord is a kowtow to the Chinese leadership. This tribute presented to China on this occasion was abasement; this gift was exceeded in value of the survival of the South Vietnamese. Their message was angry and even very forgetful in recent years. The future generation in Vietnam could not bring new energy and seriousness to reexamine his past manipulations.
Undoubtedly, he cannot win on the table of Paris negotiation because he has been completely snookered by his best enemy from Hanoi, though he would have wanted to deal with them with his deep intellect. Why he fails to justify to have deterred its devastating consequences? These are clear question. Debating it morally is more important than ever.
But that may just be wishful thinking that Kissinger will be able to give history its due and unflinching retrospective, extending beyond the bitter recriminations that till now have blinded so many of Vietnamese to what actually happened to them in the past. The incredible history of the American engagement in Vietnam would be richer with his retrospective and honesty. It would be a great service to everyone´s understanding of what happened in his backstage maneuvering. His further justification makes the book may be more interesting.
By contrast, he continues to avoid addressing them in public discourse and his World Order. His reluctance to engage morally contested questions in world politics has left us to conclude about his manipulations. These actions have been made by a formidable personality. A respectable nonagenarian would unwillingly pay more to justify about his past mistake is an unpardonable and unforgettable mistake. Without his best will in the world, we could describe his book as a Bad World Order.
World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History, 420 pp, Penguin Press.
*Dr. Kim Them Do, L.L M, MA. His latest article “The Way to World Peace via an Integrated Kantian and Buddhist Perspective” is published in: Buddhist Contribution to Global Peace Building, Most Ven. Dr. Thich Nhat Tu and Most Ven. Dr. Thich Duc Thien (Eds.), Vietnam Buddhist University Press Series 24, 2014, 251-294; available also at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2460248