Henry Kissinger, towering yet polarising U.S. statesman, dies at 100

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30th November 2023 – (Washington) Henry Kissinger, the German-born American statesman whose outsized influence on geopolitics spanned over half a century, has died at the age of 100. As national security advisor and secretary of state under President Richard Nixon, Kissinger profoundly reshaped U.S. foreign policy through his orchestration of the opening to China and peace negotiations to end the Vietnam War.

Though lauded by some as a brilliant strategist, Kissinger was also widely criticised for his controversial record on human rights and interventions abroad. His legacies of deterrence policies and diplomacy continue to be debated today.

Kissinger’s consulting firm, Kissinger Associates, announced his death on Wednesday evening but did not disclose the cause. He had remained active in policy circles into his 90s, advising presidents and corporate clients while publishing new books articulating his realist worldview.

Kissinger was born in 1923 to a Jewish family in Fürth, Germany. In 1938, fleeing from Nazi persecution, his family immigrated to New York City when Kissinger was 15 years old. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1943 while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. Kissinger later studied at Harvard University, earning a Ph.D. in government in 1954. He joined the Harvard faculty, specializing in foreign policy theory and the politics of Europe. His 1957 book “Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy” generated significant attention in policy circles.

In 1969, newly elected President Nixon appointed Kissinger as his national security advisor. The cerebral, bespectacled professor with a thick German accent became one of Nixon’s most influential advisors. Kissinger consolidated control of foreign policymaking, often circumventing other agencies.

Kissinger’s most renowned achievement remains the secret diplomacy from 1969-1972 that led to Nixon’s historic 1972 visit to China, ending over two decades of no contact between the two countries. Leveraging Pakistan as an intermediary, Kissinger made two clandestine trips to China in 1971 to meet with Premier Zhou Enlai. This paved the way for establishment of diplomatic relations and a presidential visit the next year. The “opening of China” dramatically transformed the Cold War landscape.

Kissinger and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai developed close rapport through dozens of hours of discussions parsing nuances. Yet Kissinger later wrote that Nixon’s TV address announcing his impending China trip was “the most moving presidential speech I ever heard.”

As Nixon’s national security advisor, Kissinger aggressively expanded bombing campaigns against North Vietnam. However, he also spearheaded negotiations with North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho to end the war.

Their tortuous talks starting in 1969 finally resulted in a ceasefire agreement in 1973, for which Kissinger controversially received the Nobel Peace Prize. Critics argued the failed war should have ended years earlier without further bloodshed. Kissinger’s critics also excoriated his secret bombings in Cambodia and Laos.

Kissinger served as both national security advisor and secretary of state under Nixon and Gerald Ford. Supporters praise his promotion of détente with the Soviet Union through arms control treaties. He also backed Israel during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. However, Kissinger’s foreign interventions often engendered condemnation. In South Asia, he and Nixon tolerated Pakistan’s widespread atrocities against Bangladeshis seeking independence. Kissinger’s acquiescence toward oppressive regimes in Latin America and Africa also drew frequent protests.

Christopher Hitchens once accused Kissinger of war crimes and argued he should be tried for offences against humanity. However, Kissinger avoided legal jeopardy and maintained significant influence as an elder statesman until his death.

Kissinger espoused a realist balance-of-power worldview focused on advancing American interests, often cooperating with unsavoury regimes. He disdained liberal idealism or promotion of democracy as naive. Kissinger’s vision held that global stability relies on a multipolar order, not universalist legal principles. He advocated hard-nosed pragmatism over moral absolutes. This led him to support increased engagement with China as a counterweight to the Soviet Union.

After government service, Kissinger founded a lucrative consulting firm in 1982, advised foreign clients and published over a dozen books expounding his realist philosophy. He continued advising policymakers, including advising Jared Kushner in the Trump White House.

Ultimately, Kissinger’s legacy as a strategic mastermind was matched by condemnation for his disregard for human rights. Yet his immense influence on American statecraft and controversial policies will be debated long after his death at age 99.