Henry Alfred Kissinger (born 1923) was secretary of state during the second Nixon administration and the Ford administration, chief of the National Security Council (1969-1973), professor at Harvard University (1952-1969), and co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (with Le Duc Tho) in 1973.
Henry Kissinger was the chief foreign policy adviser to Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford between 1969 and 1974, a tumultuous period for the United States in its dealings in Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. The use of secret negotiations (based in large part on a fundamental distrust of bureaucracies—most notably that of the State Department) led to agreements on arms limitations (SALT I), the reopening of relations with the People's Republic of China after more than 20 years of non-recognition following the assumption of power by the Communists in 1949, and "shuttle diplomacy" involving attempts to secure peace among Middle-Eastern nations. Other work involved the secret bombing of Cambodia, a secret war with Cambodia that was ultimately halted by actions of Congress, cessation of hostilities between South and North Vietnam (and ultimately the collapse of the U.S.-supported South Vietnamese government), and the sharing of the Nobel Peace Prize with Le Duc Tho, the North Vietnamese negotiator at the Paris Peace Talks. While Kissinger's memoirs contained his interpretation of the aforementioned events, his critics did not soften their conclusion that Kissinger often made critical mistakes in developing U.S. foreign policy.
Despite his detractors, Kissinger enjoyed a reputation of being an intellectual in the Nixon administration. While often criticized for some of his personal characteristics, he was also praised for his wit and charm. In addition to his distrust of bureaucracies, Kissinger distrusted the media— particularly the press—and was reputed to berate subordinates who leaked information. In his own interactions with the media he worked closely (and off the record) with foreign affairs correspondents so his viewpoint would be presented favorably.
Kissinger's view of the world—dominated by a setting of bi-polarization—both coincided with that of President Nixon's and colored his interactions with others in the conduct of foreign affairs. His view was deemd "European" because he was born and spent his formative years in Germany and because of his attention to important European actors in history (in his senior thesis and doctoral dissertation—both completed at Harvard). It was a worldview that perceived the necessity for maintaining an equilibrium between the two world powers—the United States and the Soviet Union—and of arguing and negotiating from a position of strength. Thus it is possible to see the opening of relations with China for the first time after World War II as related to containment of the Soviet Union— particularly as this transpired when open hostilities between the U.S.S.R. and China were taking place. This was also evident when Kissinger justified secret bombings in Cambodia (on the grounds that there were sanctuaries and transportation routes being used by the North Vietnamese) in an attempt to get the North Vietnamese to negotiate a settlement.
An Expert on International Affairs
Kissinger was born May 27, 1923, in Furth, Germany, with the name Heinz Alfred. His mother, Paula Stern Kissinger, was from Fanconia in southern Germany. His father, Louis, was a teacher who lost his job and career during the Nazi reign and persecution of the Jews in Germany. The family (a younger brother, Walter Bernhard, was born a year after Henry Kissinger) left Nazi Germany in 1938, moving first to England and then several months later to the United States. The family settled in New York City where Kissinger began high school and after a year switched to night school, working days in a factory. During World War II Kissinger joined the military and served in Germany, working ultimately in Army Intelligence. Following the war Kissinger remained in Europe as a civilian instructor at the European Command Intelligence School at Oberammergau, Germany. In 1947 he returned to the United States and enrolled as an undergraduate at Harvard University. He graduated in the class of 1950 (in three years because he entered as a sophomore) summa cum laude and as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He continued his studies as a graduate student at Harvard, earning his masters degree in 1952 and his Ph.D. in 1954.
Kissinger served in a variety of roles prior to his entrance into the Nixon administration as chief of the National Security Council. Between 1952 and 1969 he directed the Harvard International Seminar, which was held during the summer months. In this capacity, he was visited by many international figures with whom he would later deal as a foreign affairs official. As part of the Council on Foreign Relations he published Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, a book that was widely read and well accepted. For 18 months beginning in 1956 he was director of a Rockefeller Brothers Fund special studies project—a program developed to investigate potential domestic and international problems. In 1957 he became a lecturer at Harvard, ultimately being promoted to full professor in 1962. Kissinger served as a consultant to the National Security Council (until February of 1962, when he left because of policy differences), to the Arms Control Disarmament Agency (until 1967), and to the Rand Corporation (until 1968). From 1962 to 1965 he worked full time at Harvard. In 1965 he became a consultant to the State Department on Vietnam. He visited Vietnam several times between 1965 and 1967. Most of 1968 was spent working on New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller's unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for the presidency. In spite of Rockefeller's defeat by Richard Nixon, it was at Rockefeller's urging that Nixon considered and appointed Kissinger to head the National Security Council.
Kissinger was critical of U.S. foreign policy toward the Soviet Union developed under the preceding Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He considered their stances inconsistent and too conciliatory; it was these criticisms that had led to Kissinger's departure from McGeorge Bundy's National Security Council in the Kennedy administration. Kissinger viewed the Soviet Union as the principal opponent of the United States in international affairs. Nonetheless, Kissinger accepted as legitimate the role of the Soviet Union as one of the super powers. This approach, known as "détente," facilitated the easing of relations between the Soviet Union and the United States.
As a consequence, one of Kissinger's early successes during this period of détente was the completion of negotiations on the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty (SALT) with the Soviet Union. The negotiations, highly technical and conducted in part by sophisticated negotiating teams and in part by Kissinger himself, lasted for nearly three years. They culminated in the signing of an agreement in Moscow by President Nixon and Soviet Communist Party Chief Brezhnev.
Kissinger also was influential in the settlement of the Quadripartite Agreement on Berlin (September 3, 1971). A thorn in relations between the East and West for many years, particularly after the Berlin Wall, an agreement was sought to facilitate travel between East and West Berlin. Through regular (official) negotiations, handled by Ambassador Kenneth Rush, and secret negotiations directly involving Kissinger, an easing of relations between the United States and the former Soviet Union was facilitated by the normalization of relations between the four nations that had controlled Berlin since World War II.
China, Vietnam, Middle East
Another of Kissinger's successes (and one that caught the media by surprise) was the organization of Richard Nixon's approach to China. The United States had refused to recognize the Peoples Republic of China following the civil war that left Communists under Mao Tse-Tung in control after World War II. Early in Nixon's first term efforts were made to allow interaction between the Chinese and the United States. Capitalizing on international conditions and secretly moving through the good auspices of Pakistani President Yahya Khan, Kissinger flew to China and met with Chou En-lai, arranging for an invitation for Nixon to make an official state visit. The resultant Shanghai Communique of 1972 provided guidelines for the establishment of U.S.-China relations. During his eight years in the National Security Council and State Department, Kissinger flew to China a total of nine times.
Kissinger perhaps was criticized most and forgiven least for his conduct of the war(s) in southeast Asia. The U.S. involvement in Vietnam had driven Lyndon Johnson from office, and it had been the intention of the Nixon administration to seek "peace with honor." The Kissinger approach was characteristic: negotiate from a position of strength. Thus not only was U.S. direct involvement in Vietnam reflective of this position, but the bombing of Cambodia—the "secret war"—was an attempt to use military strength to force the hands of U.S. opponents to agree to terminate the war. All efforts, of course, were an attempt to keep Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos from becoming controlled by Communist factions. Kissinger successfully negotiated a truce with Le Duc Tho (over the strong protests of the South Vietnam government) in Paris and shared the Nobel Prize in 1973 with him. However, many considered Kissinger's policies excessive attempts to make right with might.
Following his assumption of power as secretary of state in 1973—which he held through the completion of Gerald Ford's administration—Kissinger abandoned his policy of hands-off the Middle East (it was the one area where he had deferred to Secretary of State William Rogers while Kissinger was with the National Security Council). During the three years he was secretary of state, Kissinger conducted what became known as "shuttle diplomacy," where he served as the facilitator of negotiations to restore peace among Middle-Eastern nations. Kissinger would often fly from Egypt to Israel to Syria or elsewhere and back again as he played the middleman role in developing agreements to secure peace. In all, Kissinger made 11 "shuttle" missions, the longest lasting nearly a month.
After his departure from office following the 1976 electoral defeat of Gerald Ford at the hands of Jimmy Carter, Kissinger was self-employed as the director of a consulting firm dealing with international political assessments. In addition to advising a variety of clients on the political climate at any given moment, he produced two books of memoirs to explain the evolution of history while he was in office.
In 1997 former Secretaries of State Kissinger and Alexander Haig caused controversy through their role in facilitating U.S.-China trade. Some say the two stood to profit from contracts with the Chinese and that some of their dealings put the United States in a "vulnerable position."
Further Reading on Henry Alfred Kissinger
Henry Kissinger produced two volumes of his memoirs: The White House Years (1979) and Years of Upheaval (1982). One may also read about Kissinger from Marvin and Bernard Kalb in Kissinger (1974). Seymore M. Hersh wrote The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House (1983). There are numerous other books about different aspects of Kissinger's years in office. See also: Timothy W. Maier, "Lion Dancing with Wolves," Insight on the News, vol. 13, no. 14, April 21, 1997.