An Assessment of the Ongoing Validity of Kissinger’s and Monnet’s Schools of Thought

Ludovica Vecchio
Doctor in Law. LLM Graduate. Alumna of ISPI

Cesare Merlini
Geopolitica e interdipendenza. Le scuole di Henry Kissinger e Jean Monnet [in Italian]
Luca Sossella Editore, Roma, 2023

At a time when the world order as much as the world system are being questioned by the war in Ukraine, an analysis of the ongoing validity of realpolitik and of multilateralism is extremely pertinent. These two schools of thought are impersonated by Henry Kissinger and Jean Monnet respectively. In this book, the author explores them, after tracing a distinction between the words “order” and “system”: the former entailing a sort of hierarchy, the latter a “set of things connected”. The choice of the book cover further underlines this difference: on the front it is possible to see the painting of “The swearing of the oath of ratification of the Treaty of Münster 1648”, commonly known as the Westphalian Conference, by Gerard ter Borch; on the back, a picture of the European Parliament, taken in 2023. These two images aim to represent Kissinger, a neo-Westphalian nostalgic, and Monnet, one of the founding fathers of the European Union (EU).

The book originates from the expansion of the article “Kissinger and Monnet: Realpolitik and Interdependence in World Affairs” published by the author on the 65th volume of the journal Survival in February 2023. The book is divided into three parts. The first one is focused on reporting the biographical and ideological characteristics of Jean Monnet and Henry Kissinger. The author then proceeds onto evaluating the influences that have derived from their approaches, referring to international relations in general and subsequently to the war in Europe specifically. In the last two chapters, the author reflects on the crises and the metamorphoses undergone by the global society and on the future of international relations.

The attribution of the concept of order to Kissinger and of that of system to Monnet can be explained as follows: the former is one of the main supporters of the realpolitik approach; the latter played a crucial role in the creation of what became the EU. Within this framework, the author applies the approaches of Henry Kissinger and Jean Monnet to the recent and forthcoming developments of international relations. The main subject of this comparison is that of sovereignty, and more precisely of its divisibility and the subsequent possibility of its devolution to some supranational body. This perspective tends to be rejected by Kissinger, who asserts the integrity of State sovereignty in the name of realpolitik. Jean Monnet, on the other hand, is a strong supporter of a “functional” devolution that is limited to certain aspects of national sovereignty, be it strategic materials or economic policy.

At a time when global crises underline the progress the world has made in terms of States’ interdependence and the resulting weaknesses and when one of the ongoing tendencies is “the return of States”, the analysis carried out by the author in this book is compelling.

The analysis on the war in Europe is just as opportune. It is interesting to note that the views of Kissinger as reported in this chapter have been later confirmed in his interview published by the Economist on the occasion of his 100th birthday (27 May 2023). On the other hand, when reporting the Monnetian view, the author resorts to the smart strategy of considering Monnet as present “in spirit”.

The author argues that the war in Ukraine has had the effect of confirming the ongoing relevance of realpolitik, embodied by Kissinger, but also its frailty as it promotes a world order that often degenerates into conflict. With regards to the “system” approach, the author reckons that, while it may have failed at the international level, it has not done so within the European Union. In particular, the author recalls one of Monnet’s most notorious quotes: “Europe will be forged in crises”. The war in Ukraine has indeed brought stronger unity among the Member States and has also rendered the EU more appealing to non-Member States, confirming the ongoing relevance of the quote and how Monnet can indeed be considered as present at least “in spirit”.

In his analysis, the author dedicates the second to last chapter to a reflection on the recent events that have shaped the world order as well as the world system. The crises recalled in the book include the 9/11 attack, Putin’s imperialism (which began in Crimea in 2014 to then reach the whole of Ukraine in 2022), Brexit, Trump’s election and COVID-19. The author also identifies three metamorphoses that the global society has undergone: climate change, women’s progressive emancipation and digitalisation. In this multi-centric and somehow chaotic world, which some compare to a “jungle”, one wonders “Where to from here?”. The author, without claiming to provide an exhaustive answer to this question, suggests some options in the last chapter. As it is often the case, the solution lies in the middle, in what I call a systemic order. The author outlines a proposal comprising a combination of realpolitik and multilateralism, to be applied at least in the short term. While in the long term he reckons that the objective should be the progressive affirmation of the multilateral system over the “world order”, as the only means to face the ever-more-global challenges that humanity endures.

In conclusion, the federalist approach shall prevail in order to overcome and govern these difficulties through international cooperation and eventually through international democracy, applying the Monnetian ways to Kissingerian geopolitics.

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