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Henry Alfred Kissinger
1923 -

Henry Alfred Kissinger was secretary of state during the second Nixon administration and the Ford administration, chief of the National Security Council (1969-1973), professor at Harvard University (1952-1969), and co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (with Le Duc Tho) in 1973.


Henry Kissinger was the chief foreign policy adviser to Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford between 1969 and 1974, a tumultuous period for the United States in its dealings in Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. The use of secret negotiations (based in large part on a fundamental distrust of bureaucracies - most notably that of the State Department) led to agreements on arms limitations (SALT I), the reopening of relations with the People's Republic of China after more than 20 years of non-recognition following the assumption of power by the Communists in 1949, and "shuttle diplomacy" involving attempts to secure peace among Middle-Eastern nations. Other work involved the secret bombing of Cambodia, a secret war with Cambodia that was ultimately halted by actions of Congress, cessation of hostilities between South and North Vietnam (and ultimately the collapse of the U.S.-supported South Vietnamese government), and the sharing of the Nobel Peace Prize with Le Duc Tho, the North Vietnamese negotiator at the Paris Peace Talks. While Kissinger's memoirs contained his interpretation of the aforementioned events, his critics did not soften their conclusion that Kissinger often made critical mistakes in developing U.S. foreign policy.

Despite his detractors, Kissinger enjoyed a reputation of being an intellectual in the Nixon administration. While often criticized for some of his personal characteristics, he was also praised for his wit and charm. In addition to his distrust of bureaucracies, Kissinger distrusted the media - particularly the press - and was reputed to berate subordinates who leaked information. In his own interactions with the media he worked closely (and off the record) with foreign affairs correspondents so his viewpoint would be presented favourably.

Kissinger's view of the world - dominated by a setting of bi-polarization - both coincided with that of President Nixon's and colored his interactions with others in the conduct of foreign affairs. His view was deemed "European" because he was born and spent his formative years in Germany and because of his attention to important European actors in history (in his senior thesis and doctoral dissertation - both completed at Harvard). It was a worldview that perceived the necessity for maintaining an equilibrium between the two world powers - the United States and the Soviet Union - and of arguing and negotiating from a position of strength. Thus it is possible to see the opening of relations with China for the first time after World War II as related to containment of the Soviet Union - particularly as this transpired when open hostilities between the U.S.S.R. and China were taking place. This was also evident when Kissinger justified secret bombings in Cambodia (on the grounds that there were sanctuaries and transportation routes being used by the North Vietnamese) in an attempt to get the North Vietnamese to negotiate a settlement.

An Expert on International Affairs

Kissinger was born May 27, 1923, in Furth, Germany, with the name Heinz Alfred. His mother, Paula Stern Kissinger, was from Fanconia in southern Germany. His father, Louis, was a teacher who lost his job and career during the Nazi reign and persecution of the Jews in Germany. The family (a younger brother, Walter Bernhard, was born a year after Henry Kissinger) left Nazi Germany in 1938, moving first to England and then several months later to the United States. The family settled in New York City where Kissinger began high school and after a year switched to night school, working days in a factory. During World War II Kissinger joined the military and served in Germany, working ultimately in Army Intelligence. Following the war Kissinger remained in Europe as a civilian instructor at the European Command Intelligence School at Oberammergau, Germany. In 1947 he returned to the United States and enrolled as an undergraduate at Harvard University. He graduated in the class of 1950 (in three years because he entered as a sophomore) summa cum laude and as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He continued his studies as a graduate student at Harvard, earning his masters degree in 1952 and his Ph.D. in 1954.

Kissinger served in a variety of roles prior to his entrance into the Nixon administration as chief of the National Security Council. Between 1952 and 1969 he directed the Harvard International Seminar, which was held during the summer months. In this capacity, he was visited by many international figures with whom he would later deal as a foreign affairs official. As part of the Council on Foreign Relations he published Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy, a book that was widely read and well accepted. For 18 months beginning in 1956 he was director of a Rockefeller Brothers Fund special studies project - a program developed to investigate potential domestic and international problems. In 1957 he became a lecturer at Harvard, ultimately being promoted to full professor in 1962. Kissinger served as a consultant to the National Security Council (until February of 1962, when he left because of policy differences), to the Arms Control Disarmament Agency (until 1967), and to the Rand Corporation (until 1968). From 1962 to 1965 he worked full time at Harvard. In 1965 he became a consultant to the State Department on Vietnam. He visited Vietnam several times between 1965 and 1967. Most of 1968 was spent working on New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller's unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for the presidency. In spite of Rockefeller's defeat by Richard Nixon, it was at Rockefeller's urging that Nixon considered and appointed Kissinger to head the National Security Council.

Kissinger was critical of U.S. foreign policy toward the Soviet Union developed under the preceding Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He considered their stances inconsistent and too conciliatory; it was these criticisms that had led to Kissinger's departure from McGeorge Bundy's National Security Council in the Kennedy administration. Kissinger viewed the Soviet Union as the principal opponent of the United States in international affairs. Nonetheless, Kissinger accepted as legitimate the role of the Soviet Union as one of the super powers. This approach, known as "détente," facilitated the easing of relations between the Soviet Union and the United States.

As a consequence, one of Kissinger's early successes during this period of détente was the completion of negotiations on the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty (SALT) with the Soviet Union. The negotiations, highly technical and conducted in part by sophisticated negotiating teams and in part by Kissinger himself, lasted for nearly three years. They culminated in the signing of an agreement in Moscow by President Nixon and Soviet Communist Party Chief Brezhnev.

Kissinger also was influential in the settlement of the Quadripartite Agreement on Berlin (September 3, 1971). A thorn in relations between the East and West for many years, particularly after the Berlin Wall, an agreement was sought to facilitate travel between East and West Berlin. Through regular (official) negotiations, handled by Ambassador Kenneth Rush, and secret negotiations directly involving Kissinger, an easing of relations between the United States and the former Soviet Union was facilitated by the normalization of relations between the four nations that had controlled Berlin since World War II.

China, Vietnam, Middle East

Another of Kissinger's successes (and one that caught the media by surprise) was the organization of Richard Nixon's approach to China. The United States had refused to recognize the Peoples Republic of China following the civil war that left Communists under Mao Tse-Tung in control after World War II. Early in Nixon's first term efforts were made to allow interaction between the Chinese and the United States. Capitalizing on international conditions and secretly moving through the good auspices of Pakistani President Yahya Khan, Kissinger flew to China and met with Chou En-lai, arranging for an invitation for Nixon to make an official state visit. The resultant Shanghai Communique of 1972 provided guidelines for the establishment of U.S.-China relations. During his eight years in the National Security Council and State Department, Kissinger flew to China a total of nine times.

Kissinger perhaps was criticized most and forgiven least for his conduct of the wars in southeast Asia. The U.S. involvement in Vietnam had driven Lyndon Johnson from office, and it had been the intention of the Nixon administration to seek "peace with honour." The Kissinger approach was characteristic: negotiate from a position of strength. Thus not only was U.S. direct involvement in Vietnam reflective of this position, but the bombing of Cambodia - the "secret war" - was an attempt to use military strength to force the hands of U.S. opponents to agree to terminate the war. All efforts, of course, were an attempt to keep Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos from becoming controlled by Communist factions. Kissinger successfully negotiated a truce with Le Duc Tho (over the strong protests of the South Vietnam government) in Paris and shared the Nobel Prize in 1973 with him. However, many considered Kissinger's policies excessive attempts to make right with might.

Following his assumption of power as secretary of state in 1973 - which he held through the completion of Gerald Ford's administration - Kissinger abandoned his policy of hands-off the Middle East (it was the one area where he had deferred to Secretary of State William Rogers while Kissinger was with the National Security Council). During the three years he was secretary of state, Kissinger conducted what became known as "shuttle diplomacy," where he served as the facilitator of negotiations to restore peace among Middle-Eastern nations. Kissinger would often fly from Egypt to Israel to Syria or elsewhere and back again as he played the middleman role in developing agreements to secure peace. In all, Kissinger made 11 "shuttle" missions, the longest lasting nearly a month.

After his departure from office following the 1976 electoral defeat of Gerald Ford at the hands of Jimmy Carter, Kissinger was self-employed as the director of a consulting firm dealing with international political assessments. In addition to advising a variety of clients on the political climate at any given moment, he produced two books of memoirs to explain the evolution of history while he was in office.

In 1997 former Secretaries of State Kissinger and Alexander Haig caused controversy through their role in facilitating U.S.-China trade. Some say the two stood to profit from contracts with the Chinese and that some of their dealings put the United States in a "vulnerable position."


Kissinger's family emigrated from Fuerth, Germany, to escape Nazi persecution in 1938. After U.S. Army service during World War II and with the occupation forces in Germany, Kissinger compiled a superlative record as an undergraduate and graduate student at Harvard University. He then became a prominent academic specialist in international relations and nuclear strategy. While a professor of government at Harvard (1955–68), he wrote widely on international relations and nuclear weapons, arguing that the possession of nuclear weapons by the United States and the Soviet Union had not fundamentally altered the balance of power. States still pursued basic interests, nuclear weapons were a tool of influence, and the nuclear powers could manage to contain a destructive arms race.

Kissinger advised New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, Republican presidents, and their senior foreign policy subordinates. During the 1960s, he tried to fashion NATO's nuclear strategy in light of France's withdrawal, urging understanding of French and German pride. As the Vietnam War intensified after 1965, Kissinger was drawn deeply into efforts to end it. He undertook an important diplomatic mission for President Lyndon B. Johnson (1967), but his attempt to arrange a cease‐fire faltered when the U.S. government refused to promise an unconditional halt to bombing of all North Vietnam.

President Richard M. Nixon named him national security adviser in 1969; in September 1973, Kissinger was also confirmed as secretary of state, a position he held concurrently until November 1975, when President Gerald R. Ford appointed Brent Scowcroft national security adviser; Kissinger remained secretary of state until the end of Ford's administration.

During these eight years, Kissinger helped craft the policy of detente with the Soviet Union and to end U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Under his direction, the United States and the Soviet Union made significant progress toward arms control, with the Interim Agreement of Limitations of Strategic Armaments (SALT I, 1972), the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (1972), and the Vladivostok Agreement (1974). These efforts provoked opposition from conservatives both Democratic and Republican who incorrectly accused Kissinger of drafting agreements that gave the Soviet Union a military advantage over the United States.

Kissinger worked with Nixon to reduce U.S. involvement in Vietnam, concluding the Paris Peace Agreements establishing a cease‐fire in January 1973. The peace proved remarkably short-lived: both North and South Vietnam repeatedly violated the cease‐fire. Kissinger argued strenuously for additional aid to South Vietnam, but by 1975 U.S. public opinion had turned sharply against any additional involvement.

Kissinger's accomplishments before 1974 won him wide public praise; he earned the Nobel Peace Prize for arranging the cease‐fire in Vietnam. After 1975, however, his reputation diminished. His diplomatic triumphs often were based on illusion and manipulation. Believing that only power mattered in international affairs, both Kissinger and Nixon often expressed contempt for the democratic processes of foreign policy. Further, Kissinger appeared arrogant and showed little desire to promote traditional U.S. standards of human rights in other countries.


(1923- ), foreign policy specialist, national security adviser, and secretary of state. A GermanJewish refugee from Nazi Germany, Kissinger rose to prominence as a Harvard University professor of government in the 1950s and 1960s. He then became the most celebrated and controversial U.S. diplomat since the Second World War in the administrations of Richard M. Nixon and Gerald Ford. As Nixon's national security adviser he concentrated power in the White House and rendered Secretary of State William Rogers and the professional foreign service almost irrelevant by conducting personal, secret negotiations with North Vietnam, the Soviet Union, and China. He negotiated the Paris agreements of 1973 ending direct U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, engineered a short-lived era of détente with the Soviet Union, and opened frozen relations with the People's Republic of China. As secretary of state he shuttled among the capitals of Israel, Egypt, and Syria after the 1973 Middle East war.

A gregarious but manipulative man, Kissinger, seeking power and favourable publicity, cultivated prominent officials and influential reporters. For a while he achieved more popularity than any modern American diplomat. The Gallup poll listed him as the most admired man in America in 1972 and 1973. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his negotiations leading to the Paris peace accords that ended U.S. military action in Vietnam. Journalists lauded him as a "genius" and the "smartest guy around" after his secret trip to Beijing in July 1971 prepared the way for Nixon's visit to China in February 1972. Egyptian politicians called him "the magician" for his disengagement agreements separating Israeli and Arab armies.

Kissinger's reputation faded after 1973. During the Watergate scandal, congressional investigators discovered that he had ordered the fbi to tap the telephones of subordinates on the staff of the National Security Council, a charge he had denied earlier. Congress also learned that he had tried to block the accession to power of Chile's President Salvador Allende Gossens in 1970 and had helped destabilize Allende's Socialist party government thereafter.

Some of Kissinger's foreign policy achievements crumbled in 1975 and 1976. The Communists' victory in Vietnam and Cambodia destroyed the Paris peace accords, and détente with the Soviet Union never fulfilled the hopes Kissinger had aroused. By 1976 the United States and the Soviet Union had not moved beyond the 1972 Interim Agreement limiting strategic arms to conclude a full-fledged Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.

Kissinger became a liability for President Ford during the 1976 presidential election. Ronald Reagan, challenging Ford for the Republican nomination, and Democrat Jimmy Carter both assailed Kissinger's policy of détente with the Soviet Union for ignoring Soviet abuses of human rights and Moscow's greater assertiveness in international relations. Reagan complained that Kissinger's program offered "the peace of the grave." Carter accused him of conducting "lone ranger diplomacy" by excluding Congress and foreign affairs professionals from foreign policy matters.

Kissinger's flair for dramatic diplomatic gestures brought him fame, and it encouraged diplomats in the Carter, Reagan, and George Bush administrations to try to emulate his accomplishments. He failed, however, to create the "structure of peace" he had promised. By 1977 he had lost control over American foreign policy, and no one after him ever dominated the process as he had from 1969 to 1974.


Born in Fürth, Germany, Henry Alfred Kissinger moved with his Jewish middle-class family to the United States in 1938 trying to escape from Hitler's antisemitic regime. They settled in New York and were naturalized U.S. citizens in June 1943. Kissinger studied at City College, joining the U.S. Army in 1943, serving as an interpreter and intelligence officer in Europe. Once back in the United States in 1947, he received a bachelor of arts degree, summa cum laude, at Harvard in 1950, a master of arts degree in 1952, and a doctorate in 1954, both at Harvard, where in 1957 he became a professor of government and international affairs. As a scholar, Kissinger contributed to the realist school of international relations, which argued that foreign policy should be based on rational calculations of state interests, not on ideals of freedom and democracy.

During the administrations of presidents John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson, Kissinger played the role of part-time consultant, and he was the main intellectual force in engineering Kennedy's "flexible response" strategy, which aimed at maintaining both conventional and nuclear forces to react against Communist aggression, instead of using massive nuclear retaliation. As his biographer Robert Schulzinger has pointed out, Kissinger "engineered the most significant turning point in United States foreign policy since the beginning of the cold war." Kissinger founded his foreign policy on two ideas: the raison d'état, in which the national interest justified any means to pursue a country's aim; and the balance of power, in which no country is dominant, and in its independence can choose to align or oppose other nations, always according to its national interest. During the Cold War, Kissinger criticized the U.S. view that "the Soviet
Union was an ideological rather than a geopolitical threat." Considering that the world's trend was competition instead of cooperation, it was necessary for the United States to continue to be present in two critical theatres, Europe and Asia, but in a moderate role.

From 1969 to 1975, Kissinger served as national security adviser. He completely changed the role of the secretary of state and the professional foreign service, transferring their power to the White House. This decentralization led him to personally conduct secret negotiations with North Vietnam, negotiating the Paris agreements of 1973 that ended the U.S. involvement in Vietnam; with the Soviet Union, designing the first détente; and with China, reviving their relations, first with his secret trip to Beijing in July 1971, followed by President Richard Nixon's visit in February 1972. Unfortunately, in the short run Kissinger's diplomacy, based on force and realism, did not see the results of its efforts. The Communist victory in Vietnam in 1975 and the end of détente with the Soviet Union diminished Kissinger's previous foreign policy achievements. Moreover, the role that he played in the bombing of Cambodia in 1969 and in Chile's coup d'état backed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which led to the death of President Salvador Allende in 1973, still overshadow his reputation as a statesman.

As secretary of state from 1973 to 1977, he was the chief architect of the so-called "shuttle diplomacy" to the Middle East. For much of Nixon's first term, the Middle East was a marginal area; in fact Kissinger, as national security adviser, did not support Secretary of State William P. Rogers's 1969 Middle East peace plan, even after Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser accepted it as a framework for negotiations. Kissinger suggested that a prolonged stalemate "would move the Arabs toward moderation and the Soviets to the fringes of Middle East diplomacy." But in 1973 the Arab - Israeli conflict moved from the periphery to center stage of American strategic interests. Kissinger, appointed secretary of state that September, was determined to use the war to start a peace process. He immediately realized that if either Israel or the Arabs achieved a decisive victory, it would be difficult to reach a compromise solution during peace negotiations. His strategy was therefore to seek a return to the prewar situation, thereby preventing either side from winning the war while creating momentum for a peace process. His gradualist approach lasted a good twenty-three months, in the course of which five agreements were concluded. Negotiations commenced immediately following the cease-fire of 22 October 1973, on 23 October at Kilometer 101 on the Cairo-Suez road. Kissinger believed it would be a mistake to seek a comprehensive settlement that could not be attained and that, by leading to frustrated expectations, would result in an enhanced role for the Soviet Union in the Middle East. Instead, he elected to pursue a step-by-step approach: achieving more modest goals that, by producing results, would create the momentum needed to tackle the bigger issues. This strategy led to the formal signing of the so-called Six-Point Agreement, signed by Egyptian and Israeli military representatives at Kilometer 101 on 11 November 1973, when the two countries exchanged prisoners of war. The second agreement was to convene a conference in Geneva under joint American-Soviet auspices with the participation of Israel and the Arab States. The conference lasted two days (21 - 22 December 1973) and was attended by the United States, the Soviet Union, Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, and the secretary-general of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim; it turned out to be nothing more than a symbolic event. In January 1974 Kissinger began the third episode of his shuttle diplomacy: a series of flights between Aswan, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem, during which he hammered out the terms of Sinai I, a disengagement agreement separating the armies of Israel and Egypt, signed on 18 January at Kilometer 101. In May 1974 Kissinger undertook a fourth round of shuttle diplomacy, this time between Damascus and Tel Aviv, to reach a disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel. The armistice was signed on 31 May. After negotiations between Jordan and Israel, and between Israel and Egypt, failed in March 1975, Kissinger, as President Gerald Ford's secretary of state, embarked on the fifth and last round of shuttle diplomacy; he negotiated Sinai II, signed on 1 September, which called for further withdrawal of Israel's troops into the Sinai desert.


As a scholar, adviser, and U.S. secretary of state, Henry Alfred Kissinger was an important figure in international affairs in the late twentieth century. The German-born Kissinger became a U.S. citizen in the 1930s, emerged as a leading theorist at Harvard in the 1950s, advised presidents in the 1960s, and defined the course of U.S. foreign policy for much of the 1970s. He won great acclaim for his pragmatic vision of foreign policy as well as his skills as a peace negotiator. In 1973 he shared the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in securing a cease-fire in the Vietnam War. However, criticism followed public revelations about his involvement in secret U.S. military and espionage operations, and he left public office in 1976 with a controversial record.

Born May 27, 1923, in F;auurth, Germany, and given the first name Heinz, Kissinger was the son of middle-class Jewish parents who fled Nazi persecution while he was a teenager. After the family immigrated to the United States in 1938, he became a U.S. citizen in 1943. Service in the U.S. Army brought Kissinger back to Europe during World War II. Following combat and intelligence duty, he served in the post-war U.S. military government in Germany from 1945 to 1946. Decorated with honors and discharged from the service, he earned a bachelor of arts degree summa cum laude in government studies at Harvard College in 1950, then added a masters and in 1956 a doctorate.

While teaching at Harvard in the 1950s, Kissinger came to national attention with his book Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (1957). The book was a bold argument against narrow cold war views of military strategy. It took aim at the reigning defense doctrine of the day, an all-or-nothing approach holding that the United States should retaliate massively with nuclear weapons against any aggressor. Kissinger proposed a different solution based on the approach of Realpolitik, the German concept of an intensely pragmatic rather than idealistic vision of international relations. The United States should deploy nuclear weapons strategically around the world as a deterrent, he argued, while relying on conventional, nonnuclear forces in the event of aggression against it. The idea took hold gradually over the next decade.

Rising to the top of his field, Kissinger became a driving force behind Harvard's efforts in the area of foreign policy. Taking increasingly higher positions in its Center for International Affairs and directing its Defense Studies Program, he became much sought after by politicians, diplomats, and government defense specialists in the 1960s. He counseled Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson on foreign policy. In 1968 he advised Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, of New York, in Rockefeller's unsuccessful campaign for the Republican party nomination for president. After the election, the new president, Richard M. Nixon, was quick to hire away his opponent's adviser.

The two terms of Nixon's presidency elevated Kissinger's power. Named first to the position of assistant for national security affairs, a high-level post, he soon eclipsed the president's secretary of state, William P. Rogers, in visibility and influence. Indeed, by the end of Nixon's first term, Kissinger was the acknowledged architect of U.S. foreign policy. His rise to preeminence was complete in 1973 when Nixon made him secretary of state.

Under Nixon, Kissinger had a string of historic successes. He arranged Nixon's breakthrough visit to China in 1972, which ended years of hostile relations between the two nations. Also in 1972, at the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT 1), he helped broker the Anti-Ballistic-Missile Treaty, the landmark agreement to limit nuclear proliferation signed by the United States and the Soviet Union. Traveling widely in what came to be known as shuttle diplomacy, he conducted peace negotiations between the United States and Vietnam en route to the signing of a cease-fire in 1973. In recognition of his efforts, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, with the chief North Vietnamese negotiator, Le Duc Tho. Kissinger also engineered cease-fires between Arab states and Israel after their 1973 war, and persuaded Nixon to ready U.S. forces around the world in order to deter Soviet intervention.

But in 1973 Kissinger also came under harsh attack. Throughout the Vietnam War, antiwar critics had targeted him. Now public revelations about the White House's secret conduct of the war in Southeast Asia led to criticism. It was revealed that in 1969 Kissinger had won Nixon's approval to expand the war into Cambodia, a neutral country, with bombings and subsequent ground incursions by U.S. troops. Eventually critics blamed Kissinger and Nixon for the destruction of Cambodia after the country fell to Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, whose forces systematically murdered millions of Cambodians. On the political left, some commentators branded the president and his secretary of state war criminals.

When Nixon's 1974 resignation resulted in the succession of Gerald R. Ford as president, Ford kept Kissinger as both secretary of state and national security adviser. But Kissinger faced mounting criticism in the media and Congress. More revelations came to light: Kissinger had secretly authorized Central Intelligence Agency operations to overthrow the government of Chile and to support rebels in Angola. He was also attacked for having used wiretaps of federal employees in order to stop security leaks. Whereas Congress had listened attentively to Kissinger during the Nixon administration, the allure of his Realpolitik was fading in the more cautious, less interventionist post-Vietnam era. He left office in 1976 with his influence at an all-time low.

In private life Kissinger continued to be active in international affairs. He taught, served as a consultant, and often commented in the media on foreign policy, while also writing two popular memoirs: White House Years (1980) and Years of Upheaval (1982). President Ronald Reagan briefly lured Kissinger back into public life in 1983, appointing him to head a commission to make policy recommendations on Latin America.










This web page was last updated on: 23 December, 2008