Chapter 6: Realpolitik Turns on Itself

A long time ago, Metternich pointed me to Henry Kissinger's Diplomacy.

I read the following passage today, the conclusion of chapter six, and was inspired to write. About what? I'm not sure yet. But in the meantime, I include it in full for your consumption. Any thoughts on the subject are, as always, appreciated.

If a Metternich-type system based on legitimacy is not possible, America will have to learn to operate in a balance-of-power system, however uncongenial it may find such a course. In the nineteenth century, there were two models for balance-of-power systems: the British model exemplified by the Palmerston/Disraeli approach; and Bismarck’s model. The British approach was to wait for the balance of power to be threatened directly before engaging itself, and then almost always on the weaker side; Bismarck’s approach sought to prevent challenges from arising by establishing close relations with as many parties as possible, by building overlapping alliance systems, and by using the resulting influence to moderate the claims of the contenders.

Strange as it may seem in light of America’s experiences with Germany in the course of two world wars, the Bismarck style of operating a balance of power is probably more attuned to the traditional American approach to international relations. The Palmerston/Disraeli method would require a disciplined aloofness from disputes and a ruthless commitment to the equilibrium in the face of threats. Both the disputes and the threats would have to be assessed almost entirely in terms of balance of power. America would find it quite difficult to marshal either the aloofness or the ruthlessness, not to mention the willingness to interpret international affairs strictly in terms of power.

Bismarck’s later policy sought to restrain power in advance by some consensus on shared objectives with various groups of countries. In an interdependent world, America will find it difficult to practice Great Britain’s splendid isolation. But it is also unlikely that it will be able to establish a comprehensive system of security equally applicable to all parts of the world. The most likely – and constructive – solution would be partially overlapping alliance systems, some focusing on security, others on economic relations. The challenge for America will be to generate objectives growing out of American values that can hold together these various groupings.

1 comment:

David said...

I thought I was the only one who ever read Voinovich. I took an afternoon recently to read it again. Nice blog.