Henry Kissinger, the enigmatic figure who advised 12 U.S. presidents and engaged with every Chinese leader from Mao to Xi Jinping, has passed away at the age of 100. His legacy is marked by both monumental diplomatic achievements and a ruthless disdain for those who resisted the U.S. led global order he forged.
Former U.S. Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger has died at his home in Connecticut, aged 100. Kissinger, a complex figure who leaves behind a complicated legacy is revered around the world for his contributions to geopolitics.
Born in Germany in 1923, Kissinger fled the Nazi regime in 1938, eventually becoming a U.S. citizen in 1943. After serving in the U.S. Army, he pursued a career in international relations, earning a Ph.D. and later becoming a Harvard professor.
In 1969, President Nixon appointed Kissinger as National Security Advisor, a role he retained while also serving as Secretary of State. His influence extended beyond his government tenure, sparking criticism for seemingly prioritizing business over diplomacy through his lobbying firm, Kissinger Associates.
Kissinger’s impact on geopolitics is unquestionable, but his methods were not. Below, we take a brief look at some of his most notable contributions and controversies.
On China, Kissinger’s secret visit to Beijing marked a turning point in U.S.-China relations
In 1971, Henry Kissinger secretly flew from Pakistan to Beijing to meet with Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai. Together, the trio reached a historic agreement that would see President Nixon become the first U.S. President ever to make a state visit to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The visit ended a period of twenty-five years of diplomatic silence between the two countries.
Kissinger had initially sought the agreement as a means to gain leverage against the Soviet Union by cooperating with its largest neighbour and most fierce enemy.
However, with the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, Kissinger came to believe in a greater purpose for U.S.-China relations, the great power of peace. He viewed the bilateral as the single most important relationship between nations for both peace and prosperity in the world and spent the rest of his life dedicated to preserving it.
This culminated in Kissinger’s final visit to China, which came in July this year, when Chinese President Xi Jinping met with him and expressed, on behalf of China, gratitude for the role Kissinger had played, “we never forget our old friend, nor your historic contributions to promoting the growth of China-US relations and enhancing friendship between the two peoples”.
Kissinger’s Latin American Legacy is one of Societal Division
In 1970, Chile decided to elect a socialist, Salvador Allende, as President. Part-funded by the Soviet Union, this had then National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger worried about the potential spread of communism emanating from what, much like Cuba in the 1960s, was quintessentially viewed in Washington as America’s backyard.
Kissinger’s response was to orchestrate a campaign to undermine Chilean democracy and oust Salvador Allende through numerous CIA directives including economic warfare and media campaigns. The campaigns aimed to reduce public support for Allende and/or boost support for his rivals, eventually culminating in the successful coup attempt by General Augusto Pinochet and the death of sitting President Salvador Allende. Pinochet went on to terrorize the citizenry of Chile with violence and death for 17 years.
The successful overthrow of Chilean democracy was symbolic. It was evidence of what worked to prevent the spread of communism in Latin America and can be seen as the catalyst for a series of further U.S. backed, Kissinger-orchestrated, right-wing military coups on the continent. The coups wiped out democracy in Latin America and led to the persecution of popular leftist leaders across the continent through Operation Condor – an initiative that brought together right-wing intelligence and security services to combat communism veiled as ‘terrorism’.
In what followed, the governments of eight South American countries, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador, co-operated to enable one another to send death squads into foreign territories in order to carry out the kidnap, torture, and murder of any, real or suspected, enemies-of-the-regime. The effects of this Kissinger orchestrated U.S. foreign policy can still be seen today with societal division and shadowy interest groups a constant thorn in the side of the democratic process in Latin America.
So was Henry Kissinger a good guy or a bad guy?
Ask citizens of China and citizens of Latin America their thoughts on Henry Kissinger and you’ll likely receive very different answers. When it comes to diplomacy, dealing in absolutes is of no use.
Supporters would credit him for preventing a U.S.-China war and stabilizing global relations, while critics would point to the human cost of his policies. The complexity of Kissinger’s approach lies in his pursuit of a U.S.-led capitalist world order, using all means at his disposal.
In the end, he is remembered both as an exemplary statesman by some world leaders and as a symbol of U.S. overreach by those who experienced the very human cost of his geopolitical strategies. The debate over Kissinger’s legacy reflects the enduring impact of a man who has no doubt shaped the modern geopolitical landscape.