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  • Jonathan E. Pearl

Great Mediators in History #5. Henry Kissinger.

Updated: Jul 8, 2019

· Born Heinz Alfred Kissinger; 1923

· American lawyer, diplomat and political scientist.

· 1973 - U.S. Secretary of State to Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

· Nobel Peace Prize 1973 for Vietnam ceasefire.


Now seen as a controversial character, Henry Kissinger fled Germany as a child and arrived in the U.S. with his parents in 1938.


A practitioner of Realpoliitik - Kissinger played a prominent role in U.S. foreign between 1969 and 1977. During this period, he pioneered the policy of détente with the then-Soviet Union, orchestrated the opening of relation with Communist China, engaged in what became known as “shuttle diplomacy” in the Middle East to end the Yom Kippur War, and negotiated the Paris Peace Accords, ending American involvement in the Vietnam.


Kissinger has also been associated with such controversial policies as the U.S. involvement in the 1973 Chilean Military Coup, and giving a “green light” to Argentina's military junta for their Dirty War, and U.S. support for Pakistan during the Bangladesh War despite a genocide being perpetrated by U.S. allies.


Even his Nobel Peace Prize was controversial – causing two of the judging panel to resign in disgust, and especially since the Vietnam ‘ceasefire’ for which it was awarded was short-lived.

Kissinger remains widely regarded as a controversial figure, and has been condemned as a war criminal by many journalists, political activists, and human rights lawyers.



As a negotiator Kissinger would both "zoom out" to his broader strategy and "zoom in" to his individual counterpart, seeking to bring the strategic and interpersonal together to advance his core interests. Kissinger was adept at working across cultures, effectively working with Russia, and China diplomats. He famously said: "Only amateurs believe in one-sided deals." Kissinger is said to have been the first person to use the phrase “constructive ambiguity” - the deliberate use of ambiguous language on a sensitive issue in order to advance some political purpose. Constructive ambiguity is often called “fudging”. It might be employed in a negotiation, both to disguise an inability to resolve a contentious issue on which the parties remain far apart and to do so in a manner that enables each to claim obtaining some concession on it.

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