A small addendum on Henry Kissinger

Something I read has mad me think a little more about Henry Kissinger, beyond what I wrote before.

First, a side-story (I don't think it quite classes as an anecdote). Back at uni, I was searching for the university Go society (which I eventually did find, becoming a bit of an avid player for a few years), but instead found the DipSoc: the Diplomacy Society. I'd assumed from the name it was like a Model United Nations, or something, but Diplomacy is like a dice-free version of Risk. Totally deterministic, the way the game plays out comes from sneaking off and chatting with the other players, forming alliances, betraying, etc.

I only played one game, on that evening, before finding Go soc instead, but I did find it fascinating - very practical experience in game theory and negotiations! Anyway, in one round I had a spare army, and thought "might as well use it", and just chucked it in a random direction against a not-particularly-hostile neighbour, expecting them to be defending. They were defending, but after that, they did not trust me and my game suffered. In retrospect, it was an obvious dumb move, burning trust for no good reason.

Anyway, back to the present. I'm a fan of Sam Freedman, and a subscriber to his Substack. A nice bonus is it includes interesting articles by his father, Lawrence Freedman ("Emeritus Professor of War Studies at King's College London"), and recently he'd interviewed Joseph Nye Jr. who, among many other things in his career, coined the term "Soft Power".

Nye defines soft power as having other countries work in your favour because of attraction, as opposed to military or economic force. He's obviously not so naive as to believe that this alone is sufficient - he calls effective use of soft and hard power combined as "Smart Power", which is what he advocates.

I highly recommend the article if you don't know much in the area, but I also think it's a nice piece of vocabulary to put around Kissinger's approach. He was so focused on the use of hard power that he actively destroyed the US's soft power. Nye invented the term "soft power" to describe the US's advantage - that while the USSR held countries behind the Iron Curtain by force, Western European countries were attracted to the US. To burn such a distinctive advantage seems most unwise.

In some ways, it feels like Kissinger's career is my one move in Diplomacy, writ large: I guess I'll take this hard power move here, with no thought of how it affects trust.

Posted 2024-01-19.