Sample Reflection Paper on Diplomacy by Henry Kissinger

In chapter 6 of Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger analyzes the diplomatic concept of realpolitik and how it shaped international relations in 19th century Europe. The volatility of international relations in 19th century Europe, acerbated by the rise of nationalism and imperialism, resulted in developing the diplomatic concept of realpolitik.  The diplomatic concept of realpolitik was prominently manifested by Germany’s chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, who achieved Germany’s national interests without upsetting the balance of power in contemporary Europe. Realpolitik, as a mainstream notion of international diplomacy, is inherently unstable and, therefore, cannot be used to institute long-lasting reforms in the dynamic field of international relations.

Realpolitik enabled Otto von Bismarck to peacefully isolate Germany’s archrivals France by allying itself with all the major European powers of the 19th century. With the rise of nationalism in 19th century Europe, the German Confederation unified into the German Empire in January 1871, under the guidance of Otto von Bismarck (Kissinger 139). According to Henry Kissinger, unified Germany posed a significant threat to the balance of power in Europe, which caused much uncertainty among contemporary European powers. Of all the 19th century European powers, France was the most concerned with Germany’s unification as the two nations had a history of violence over territorial disputes, particularly concerning the mineral-rich Alsace-Lorraine region. According to Henry Kissinger, Otto von Bismarck, keen to protect his young nation from France’s military influence, sought alliances with other regional superpowers, such as Russia, Britain, and Austria (Kissinger 140). While the dispute between Russia and Austria over the annexation of the Balkans threatened Otto von Bismarck’s plans, relying on the pragmatic diplomatic concept of realpolitik enabled him to convince Austria and Russia that it had no interest whatsoever in the Balkans.  Otto von Bismarck’s realpolitik’s pragmatism enabled Germany to ally with Britain, Austria, and Russia, thus guaranteeing its protection from isolated France.

Realpolitik is inherently unstable and, thus, cannot be used to successfully establish long-lasting reforms or initiatives in the domain of international relations. Kissinger holds that the collapse of the first League of Three Emperors between Germany, Russia, and Austria in 1873 and the ultimate withdrawal of Russia from the alliance in 1887 revealed the inherent weaknesses of realpolitik. For example, it is unstable as it is based on pragmatic ideals that focus on achieving immediate national interests (Starr 129). Therefore, nations relying on realpolitik diplomacy are fixated on achieving their national goals and are not bound by any moral or ethical standards. The lack of compromise between Russia and Austria concerning their dispute over the annexation of the Balkans resulted in the collapse of the alliance between them and Germany. According to Henry Kissinger, realpolitik is also unstable as it requires a shrewd statesman, such as Otto von Bismarck, for its successful implementation. Germany’s realpolitik system of diplomacy failed when Otto von Bismarck was forced out of office by Wilhelm II in 1890 (Kissinger 154). The forced resignation of Otto von Bismarck, the mastermind of realpolitik in 19th century Europe, was followed by the First World War, where Germany was promptly defeated.

I agree with Henry Kissinger’s position that realpolitik turns on itself. The diplomatic concept of realpolitik is inherently too unstable to be successfully relied on by major power in their international relations. Moreover, realpolitik requires shrewd statesmen, such as Otto von Bismarck, who is rare in the contemporary domain of international politics.

Chapter 10: The Dilemmas of The Victors

In chapter 10 of Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger examines the diplomatic dilemmas that plagued the major European superpowers after the First World War. This war resulted in Germany’s defeat and the emergence of communist Russia headed by Prime Minister Vladimir Lenin. France and Germany, charged with maintaining world order after the First World War, held contrary diplomatic opinions on dealing with Germany. France proposed the imposition of punitive terms against Germany while the British called for more relaxed regulations. The diplomatic differences between France and Britain in the aftermath of the First World War benefited Russia and Germany and exposed the weakness of the concept of collective security.

The withdrawal of America from mainstream international politics after the First World War resulted prompted diplomatic differences between Britain and France, particularly on the German question. According to Henry Kissinger, after the end of the First World War, the U.S. returned to its previous policy of non-interference, thus, leaving the task of maintaining global peace and punishing Germany to France and Britain (Kissinger 253). Britain and France, however, held different diplomatic views regarding the continent’s postwar order. Unlike Britain that proposed disarmament, France favored maintaining a large standing army aimed at defending itself against future German attacks. Britain prioritized Germany’s economic recovery to guarantee that it paid its First World War reparations. However, France was keen on undermining Germany’s economic recovery to stall its military development and organization.

In their desire to dominate post First World War Europe, Britain and France blundered by undermining both Germany and Russia. Britain and France dominated the 1922 Rapallo International Conference held to harmonize the economic and military differences between Europe’s major powers, much to the dislike of Germany and Russia. According to Henry Kissinger, the imperialistic domination of the Rapallo International Conference by Britain and France irked Germany, thus, making it to ally with Russia then headed by Vladimir Lenin (Kissinger 257). Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik revolution, intended to spread his communist ideals in Europe and took advantage of Britain and France’s imperialistic domination of the Rapallo conference to ally with Germany. Russia also opposed the punitive Treaty of Versailles that punished Germany for instigating the First World War, and this made them natural allies (Starr 187).  The alliance between Germany and Russia resulted in the rubbishing of the Treaty of Versailles by Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin and promoted the spread of communism in Europe.

The chapter, “The Dilemmas of the Victors”, exposes the inherent challenges that undermine the diplomatic concept of collective security, which is concerned with the attainment of global order through the punishment of aggressors by the international community. Henry Kissinger espouses that in practice, the concept of collective security cannot be fully implemented since the actions of nations are guided by their interests. Thus, a country will most likely not go to war in defense of others without good reasons that align with its interests. I think that the main weakness of collective security is national interests that guide all nations’ actions. Differences in national interest explain the diplomatic divergence between France and Britain after the First World War. I also think that the diplomatic differences between France and Britain on the punishment of Germany would not have occurred had America not withdrawn itself from mainstream international politics after the First World War.



Chapter 16: Three Approaches to Peace: Roosevelt, Stalin, And Churchill In World War II

Chapter 16 of Henry Kissinger’s book, Diplomacy, examines the diplomatic plans for global peace proposed by American President Franklin Roosevelt, Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Russia’s Premier Joseph Stalin. The three leaders held divergent diplomatic plans for global peace as they had different ideologies and represented nations with heterogeneous national interests. President Roosevelt’s diplomatic plan rejected Europe’s balance of power politics espoused by Churchill while Premier Joseph Stalin sought to expand the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence into Eastern Europe. The three different peace approaches proposed by the three leaders laid the ground for the spread of communism in Eastern Europe and the Cold War.

President Franklin Roosevelt’s approach to global peace contradicted Winston Churchill’s balance of diplomatic power proposal. According to Henry Kissinger, the Americans resented the balance of power politics practiced in 19th century Europe, which informed President Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Policemen diplomatic proposal. The Four Policemen concept espoused that the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, and China should directly take responsibility for maintaining the peace and stability of its region of the world (Kissinger 397). However, President Franklin Roosevelt’s plan had no conflict resolution strategies in case of a dispute between the four superpowers. The Four Policemen concept also aimed to neutralize the balance of diplomatic power proposal proposed by Winston Churchill that was intended to continue Britain’s global dominance.

The diplomatic peace proposal by Russia’s Prime Minister Joseph Stalin focused mainly on the unrestricted spread of capitalism in Eastern Europe. Joseph Stalin’s plan proposed that the Soviet Union be allowed to unilaterally expand its scope of influence to several nations in Eastern Europe. According to Henry Kissinger, Joseph Stalin hoped to protect Russia’s interests by using Eastern Europe as a buffer zone against Western Europe’s aggressive capitalist democracies. Winston Churchill, fearing the spread of communism in Europe, rejected Joseph Stalin’s diplomatic peace proposal and sought to ally with America to balance Russia’s influence. According to Henry Kissinger, during the initial stages of the Second World War and with German forces still on Soviet territorial boundaries, Stalin complied with Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill’s demands (Kissinger 402). However, with the failure of Hitler’s soldiers in the Russian front and the entry of Russia’s forces in Eastern Europe, Joseph Stalin lost his willingness to compromise and pressed for an unobstructed sphere of influence in the region.

The Taiwan and Yalta conferences, during which the American, British, and Russian diplomatic approaches to peace were discussed, greatly benefited Joseph Stalin’s interests. President Franklin Rosevelt, Premiers Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill met in Tehran in 1943 and in Yalta in 1945 to discuss global peace after the Second World War. During the negotiations, America yielded to Stalin’s proposals for Russia to back President Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Policemen diplomatic plan. The conferences allowed Russia to redraw the boundaries of Eastern Europe and impose communism in the region. I think that America’s diplomatic idealism during the 1943 and 1945 meetings helped promote the spread of communism not only in Europe but also globally. In fact, had President Franklin Roosevelt allied with Winston Churchill during the negotiations and limited Joseph Stalin’s proposal, the Cold War could have been avoided. By diplomatically achieving his plans of extending the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence to Eastern Europe, Joseph Stalin showcased the main weakness of diplomatic idealism, which is short-term oriented. Franklin Roosevelt, with his diplomatic idealism only focused on maintaining world peace for the short term, thus, granted Stalin Eastern Europe without thinking of the long-term consequences of the spread of communism in Europe.


Works Cited

Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. Simon and Schuster, 1994.

Starr, Harvey. Henry Kissinger: Perceptions of international politics. University Press of Kentucky, 2014.