In his latest book, Henry Kissinger describes the attributes of great leadership. (Image grab of the book cover page taken from

Kissinger hits six at 99: Discusses strategies of prominent world leaders in his new book

Tasbeel Umar Haydri
Kissinger, Henry, Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy, Allen Lane, New Delhi, 2022, ISBN 978-0-241-54200-2, Price: Rs 1299/-, pp 499.

It is very uncommon for an old man of 99 years to even recall his own memories, but Henry Kissinger is no common old man. Though Kissinger will turn 100 in 6 months, yet he is not only able to recall the events of his life but has published a book that discusses the quality a world leader should

His latest book, “Leadership: Six studies of World Strategy”, is a case study of six leaders (as is evident from the title) after the Second World War. He terms the period between 1914 and 1945 as the second Thirty Years War (1618-48) and how the notion of Sovereignty and national interests dominated the politics of states after the Treaty of Westphalia (1648).

Similarly the concept of national interest and power relations dominated in the 20th century. The Book revolves around the statecraft of these six leaders attributing certain characteristics to each of them. Kissinger writes in his book that leaders work at the intersection of the past (tracing the history) and future (devising policies) and between their values and expectations.

Konrad Adenauer (1949-63), the German chancellor after the Hitler regime came to the end, restored a sense of security in Europe following the remilitarization of Germany in 1930s. He worked through a Strategy of Humility for a morally bankrupt country and also framed the policies for more inclusive European integration.

Charles De Gaulle (1959-69), the French hero of World War-II, who took over as the President of France in 1958after 13 years of political uncertainty, worked for one full decade before his ouster, to restore the faith in the people of his country. His Strategy of Will also brought France on par with Britain, and it was once again recognized as a key global player by the world actors.

Richard Nixon (1969-74), under whom Kissinger served as the National Security Advisor and Secretary of State is seen through the lens of sympathy. Nixon is admired throughout the text for the US retreat from the Vietnam War without disrupting American Honour. He was a believer in the Balance of Power theory (Kenneth Waltz) and thus embraced the Strategy of Equilibrium.

Anwar Sadat (1970-81), who succeeded Gamal Abdel Nasser as the President of Egypt, focused more on national sovereignty. Unlike Nasser who wanted Egypt to lead the Middle East region, he adopted the Strategy of Transcendence focused on national integrity, especially after the defeat in Six Day War of1967 at the hands of Israel.

Lee Kuan Yew (1959-90), was labeled as a prophet for Singapore, a country that lacked any history and basic natural resources. Lee was of the opinion that his country wouldn’t sustain, but he through the Strategy of Excellence brought security, and progress and made Singapore the commercial capital of the South Asian region.

Margaret Thatcher (1979-90)
, through a Strategy of Conviction was able to win the trust of her conservative party and opposition too. She was able to cruise the country from a series of challenges (Moribund Economy, the status of the Falkland Islands and Hong Kong, Miners’ crisis of 1984) and protect Britain when its global reach was falling by working with the US.

Kissinger introduced every leader with a similar structure, with a short introduction going through their biography and then their rise to power and discussing majorly the events that shaped their statesman qualities. It is apparent from his choice of the six leaders that this book is about
American Friends, allies, and admirers in the 20th century. All these leaders followed a similar alignment of the world and recognized only the US at the apex of power politics.

Leaders like Mao Zedong, Indira Gandhi, Joseph Stalin, and Gamal Abdel Nasser though addressed in the text remained side characters. Kissinger does attribute certain qualities to these leaders in his book- Nasser has been termed as charismatic and Indira Gandhi as a vocalist. These leaders also showed statecraft qualities which enabled them to progress their country and its interest in the world order. Stalin has been credited with introducing industrialization in the Soviet Union; Indira Gandhi was able to withstand her critics and came back to power after political unrest prevailed in the aftermath of the Emergency.

Nixon has been admired for his policies and the arms control that he was able to sign with his soviet counterpart. The decade 1970s came to be known as the Decade of Detente. Nixon also initiated a series of talks with China through Pakistan in 1971, and Kissinger was assigned the responsibility of these meetings.

The author remains vague over the criticism that the Nixon regime received, especially when secret bombings were carried out in Cambodia in order to facilitate US to retreat from Vietnam. Also, Kissinger tries to evade the criticism of the Bangladesh Liberation crisis when America choose to
remain silent as it didn’t want to disrupt its relationship with Pakistan, the author went on to explain to the readers that America provided humanitarian assistance to Bangladesh.

Today’s one of the most dominant US philosophers John Mearsheimer would have been critical of the strategy that was adopted by the Nixon regime with respect to China. Nixon admired the Balance of Power theory and believed in a multi-polar world, thus promoting China to be recognized in the international system. It was in 1971 that the PRC (People’s Republic of China) was recognized as the legal representative of China. Mearsheimer believes that the US in the 1970s provided the space for China to grow who is now challenging the status of the US in the world order. That was simply because Washington wanted to exploit the rift which emerged in late 1960s between China and Soviet Union, which was another Super Power at that time.

The managerial skills of leaders when dealing with crises distinguish them into two categories; statesmen and Prophets. According to the author, statesmen produce strategies by studying similar instances in history meanwhile a Prophet has visionary skills to conceive a solution from an imperative perspective. Out of the six two were considered as prophetic leaders; De Gaulle of France and Lee of Singapore. In the end, the author generalizes certain characteristics of these six leaders, all of them were supporters of hard truth and were bold in their decisions not worrying about the various focus group in their country and criticism from outside.

The second half of the 20th century saw a change from aristocratic rulers to meritocratic leaders who not only faced the Cold War but also developed their country. Even though one might disagree with the author at times but Kissinger does provide certain personal insights into history, as he had been in contact with all these leaders.

Kissinger also advises future leaders “Great leadership results from the collision of the intangible and the malleable, from that which is given and that which is exerted. Scope remains for individual effort – to deepen historical understanding, hone strategy, and improve character.

(Tasbeel Umar Haydri is pursuing MA in international Relations from Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi).

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