World Order

World Order by Henry Kissinger Read Free Book Online

Book: World Order by Henry Kissinger Read Free Book Online
Authors: Henry Kissinger
jutted precariously into the Austrian, Swedish, Russian, and Polish spheres of influence. It was relatively sparsely populated; its strength was the discipline with which it marshaled its limited resources. Its greatest assets were civic-mindedness, an efficient bureaucracy, and a well-trained army.
    When Frederick II ascended the throne in 1740 , he seemed an unlikely contender for the greatness history has vouchsafed him. Finding the dour discipline of the position of Crown Prince oppressive, he had attempted to flee to England accompanied by a friend, Hans Hermann von Katte. They were apprehended. The King ordered von Katte decapitated in front of Frederick, whom he submitted to a court-martial headed by himself. He cross-examined his son with 178 questions, which Frederick answered so deftly that he was reinstated.
    Surviving this searing experience was possible only by adopting his father’s austere sense of duty and developing a general misanthropic attitude toward his fellow man. Frederick saw his personal authority as absolute but his policies as limited rigidly by the principles of
raison d’état
Richelieu had put forward a century earlier. “ Rulers are the slaves of their resources,” his credo held, “the interest of the State is their law, and this law may not be infringed.” Courageous and cosmopolitan (Frederick spoke and wrote French and composed sentimental French poetry even on military campaigns, subtitling one of his literary efforts “ Pas trop mal pour la veille d’une grande bataille ”), he embodied the new era of Enlightenment governance by benevolent despotism, which was legitimized by its effectiveness, not ideology.
    Frederick concluded that great-power status required territorial contiguity for Prussia, hence expansion. There was no need for any other political or moral justification. “ The superiority of our troops , the promptitude with which we can set them in motion, in a word the clear advantage we have over our neighbors” was all the justification Frederick required to seize the wealthy and traditionally Austrian province of Silesia in 1740. Treating the issue as a geopolitical, not a legal or moral, one, Frederick aligned himself with France (which saw in Prussia a counter to Austria) and retained Silesia in the peace settlement of 1742, nearly doubling Prussia’s territory and population.
    In the process, Frederick brought war back to the European system, which had been at peace since 1713 when the Treaty of Utrecht had put an end to the ambitions of Louis XIV. The challenge to the established balance of power caused the Westphalian system to begin to function. The price for being admitted as a new member to the European order turned out to be seven years of near-disastrous battle. Now the alliances were reversed, as Frederick’s previous allies sought to quash his operations and their rivals tried to harness Prussia’s disciplined fighting force for their own aims. Russia, remote and mysterious, for the first time entered a contest over the European balance ofpower. At the edge of defeat, with Russian armies at the gates of Berlin, Frederick was saved by the sudden death of Catherine the Great. The new Czar, a longtime admirer of Frederick, withdrew from the war. (Hitler, besieged in encircled Berlin in April 1945, waited for an event comparable to the so-called Miracle of the House of Brandenburg and was told by Joseph Goebbels that it had happened when President Franklin D. Roosevelt died.)
    The Holy Roman Empire had become a facade; no rival European claimant to universal authority had arisen. Almost all rulers asserted that they ruled by divine right—a claim not challenged by any major power—but they accepted that God had similarly endowed many other monarchs. Wars were therefore fought for limited territorial objectives, not to overthrow existing governments and institutions, nor to impose a new system of relations between states. Tradition prevented rulers from

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