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From September 22, 1973, until January 20, 1977, he was secretary of state—the first foreign-born citizen to hold that office, the highest-ranking post in the executive branch after the presidency and vice presidency. In 1973 the Norwegian Nobel Committee jointly awarded Kissinger and Le Duc Tho the Nobel Peace Prize, citing their perseverance in the negotiations that produced the Paris Peace Accords.
It is not the equilibrium as an end that concerns them …
but as a means towards realizing their historical aspirations.”A recurrent theme in Kissinger’s early writing is the historical ignorance of the typical American decision-maker.
He is valued even more for his unrivalled capacity to think conceptually and analytically about the international system as it evolves.
As a thinker, Kissinger is conventionally associated with realism, a philosophy characterized by the cool assessment of foreign policy in the stark light of national self-interest.
And yet, as he pointed out in a 1957 interview, the British architects of appeasement, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain, had “thought of themselves as tough realists.”As Kissinger observed in the first volume of his memoirs, “High office teaches decision-making, not substance. On the whole, a period in high office consumes intellectual capital; it does not create it.” Since nearly all scholarly attention has been focused on Kissinger’s time in office, his own intellectual capital—the ideas he developed between the early 1950s and the late 1960s at Harvard, at the Council on Foreign Relations, and for Nelson Rockefeller, whose three unsuccessful bids for the Republican presidential nomination he supported—has been insufficiently studied.
Properly understood as an innovative critique of realpolitik, his ideas offer at least four key insights into foreign policy that any aspiring statesman would be well advised to study: history is the key to understanding rivals and allies; one must confront the problem of conjecture, with its asymmetric payoffs; many foreign policy decisions are choices between evils; and leaders should be wary of the perils of a morally vacuous realism.
Every statesman must choose at some point between whether he wishes certainty or whether he wishes to rely on his assessment of the situation.…
If one wants demonstrable proof one in a sense becomes a prisoner of events.
The more elementary the experience, the more profound its impact on a nation’s interpretation of the present in the light of the past.” After all, Kissinger asked, “Who is to quarrel with a people’s interpretation of its past?
It is its only means of facing the future, and what ‘really’ happened is often less important than what is thought to have happened.” To the political scientist, states might “appear …