Conflicts in the world of international diplomacy are a common phenomenon. Conflict is this context can be defined as the presence of competing interests between parties where the countries have no common interests. Negotiation may be defined as a process that involves the combination of divergent positions into one common position under an agreement that is unanimous (Lishingman, 2000). The success of a negotiation can thus be a measure of the ability of a negotiator to come up with unanimous common positions in the face of conflicting and divergent positions. Therefore, finding out the factors or circumstances that made Kissinger succeed in most of his negotiation is critical.
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Henry Kissinger was born in 1923 to a family of German Jews. Kissinger entered the US army and served in Germany in 1943. He later attained an A.B degree in political science. This was later followed by an M.A and PhD at Harvard University where he also taught political science. At Harvard, Kissinger mainly taught diplomacy, and after the Cold War he taught in the seminar on the Cold War. It is also here that he published many academic articles and several books critiquing the US foreign policy. These experiences can clearly be seen as the earliest that would shape his role later as a negotiator (Kochavi, 2005).
He later served as a National Security Advisor. Although he had been in academia as a foreign policy analyst, his career in real foreign policy within the US began during this time. This was when, as a national security advisor to president Nixon, he initiated a policy of détente that saw him being elevated from a mere a national security advisor to be regarded as the most shrewd negotiator in the US diplomacy. The major negotiations that Kissinger can be associated with include his efforts in the Soviet Union, Vietnam, China, and in the Middle East (Warner, 2007).
As a national security advisor under President Nixon, he introduced the policy of détente, which in many ways contributed to the end of the Cold War. The policy of détente is also the one that made it possible for the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (1969) to occur. These talks were initiated by Kissinger himself through the Soviet ambassador to the US. It can be noted that, at this time, Kissinger was not an official in the state department. However, he was able to creatively conduct foreign policy from the white house. This shows the side of a negotiator who is not deterred by the bureaucracies of the state but creative enough to use what he has to get what he wants. Although the talks were started in 1969, the signing did not happen until in 1972 (Hardt, 2003).
After the fail of the talks in 1969, Kissinger went back to strategize on all the positions that the United States would take, as well as the consequences that each one of them had. Perhaps from his life in the academia, Kissinger believed in developing a theoretical or a hypothetical model to a negotiation before it took place. As such, he was able to predict the consequences of each of the positions that the opponent would take without necessarily taking a break. After much strategy, Kissinger concluded that the amount of arms, which both countries had at the time was already more than enough to destroy each other. He did not see the possibility of either the US Agreeing to any meaningful arms reduction efforts (A SALT II Primer: An Interview with Henry Kissinger, 1979). However, the talks were an important step, albeit symbolically, in the easing of tensions. This introduced Kissinger as a man who took the initiative and one who made negotiations and decisions by considering the greater or lesser evil. This has been criticized as a negative aspect of the man, but it made him succeeded in his negotiations. The final signing did not make the world safe since both powers had enough power to destroy each other. Nevertheless, Kissinger had intended the deal to put an end to the issue of weapon superiority and introduce the aspect of equal powers.
Scholars agree that the first strength that Kissinger had attained was political power. The fact that he had the president’s year was a big part of his success as a negotiator. However, in some of the negotiations, the positions that he advocated often requiring a shift of policy of the Nixon administration. To ensure that his positions were acceptable to the president, Kissinger was always concerned with the form of the negotiation, and not the symbolism. He was also a genius at strategy, which enabled him to adopt positions that vindicated him in the future. Perhaps the best example of Kissinger’s use of content over the symbolism is the Chinese talks. It can be noted that Kissinger was the first US official to have contact with the Chinese since the end of the Second World War. This visit was made in secret. While most players in diplomacy have tended to focus on the form and the publicity that such a visit would have attracted, Kissinger concentrated on the content of the negotiations (Connolly, 2010).
Kissinger has also been to have understood the art of persuasion. He was intelligent, and understood the strengths and weaknesses of his opponent. He was also able to flatter his opponents. Kissinger said that he understood the balance of concessions, as well as how to get them. In essence, these were the essentials of a successful negotiation. Kissinger valued secrecy at the start of his negotiations. During the arms talks, Kissinger and Nixon bypassed the bureaucracies so as to avoid the dangers of leaks. The same style was used when he opened talks with China. Another aspect of the Kissinger style of negotiation is that he conducted his negotiations fast especially at their critical points (Mitter, 2011).
Despite his dislike for symbolism negotiations, Kissinger understood the importance of these negotiations especially for his opponents. This aspect can be seen in Kissinger’s style of operation during the Salt talks. Suri (2008) noted that the negotiating teams kept pushing each other unaware that Kissinger was already conducting back-room negotiations. In one instance, Kissinger made a deal with Ambassador Dobryin, but the US team continued with their hard stance without having knowledge of this. This surprised and embarrassed the Soviet team. Hardt (2003) also reported that Kissinger had written to President Nixon. He informed the president that the SALT talks were of historical significance and that they should be left to go on further.
From the discussion, it is clear that a good negotiator is one who is successful. To succeed in a negotiation, the negotiator must uphold certain values and characteristics. One such negotiator in the history of the US is Henry Kissinger. We can see the factors that enabled Kissinger to succeed. With the mix of charm, intelligence, and skill in avoiding bureaucracies, Kissinger was able to negotiate for the US in a way that few diplomats have been able to do.
A SALT II Primer: An Interview with Henry Kissinger. (1979). National Review, 31(9), 290-317. Web.
Connolly, C. A. (2010). Kissinger, China, Congress, and the Lost Chance for Cambodia. Journal Of American-East Asian Relations, 17(3), 205-229. Web.
Hardt, B. (2003). The Prophet As Statesman: Henry Kissinger, Salt And The Soviet Union. Web.
Kochavi, N. (2005). Insights Abandoned, Flexibility Lost: Kissinger, Soviet Jewish Emigration, and the Demise of Détente. Diplomatic History, 29(3), 503-530. Web.
Lishingman, V. (2000). Henry Kissinger’s Contribution to the Conception of International Relations Legitimacy, Consensus and Order: the Foreign Policy of Moderation. Web.
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Mitter, R. (2011). Book review: On China, by Henry Kissinger. Web.
Suri, J. (2008). Henry Kissinger, the American Dream, and the Jewish Immigrant Experience in the Cold War. Diplomatic History, 32(5), 719-747. Web.
Warner, G. (2007). Nixon, Kissinger and the rapprochement with China. Web.