Kissinger, Henry Alfred (1923– )
German-born US statesman and academic, who masterminded his country's foreign policy during the Nixon and Ford administrations. He shared the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize with the North Vietnamese negotiator, Le Duc Tho, for their treaty enabling the withdrawal of US troops from South Vietnam. He was appointed an honorary KBE in 1995.
Originally from Fürth, near Nuremberg, Kissinger's family emigrated to the USA in 1938 to escape Nazi antisemitism. Kissinger attended City College, New York, and also worked in a shaving-brush factory. Gaining US citizenship in 1943, he was drafted into the army and served in Europe. After the war he entered Harvard University, received his BA in 1950, and stayed on as a fellow, specializing in international relations. His research programme on US–Soviet relations for the Council on Foreign Relations resulted in Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (1957). This introduced the concept of ‘flexible response’ in a nuclear confrontation and was followed by The Necessity for Choice; Prospects of American Foreign Policy (1961). In 1957 he was appointed lecturer in government at Harvard's Centre for International Affairs, becoming associate professor (1959) and subsequently professor (1962). For ten years (1959–69) he directed the Harvard defence studies programme while serving as defence consultant to the Kennedy administration and to the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (1961–67). When Nixon was elected president in 1968, he appointed Kissinger presidential assistant for national security affairs. Kissinger's pragmatism bore fruit in improved relations with both China and the Soviet Union, culminating in the presidential summits of 1972 and the SALT treaty. But his handling of the Vietnam War was more contentious, especially the covert US bombing of Cambodia in 1969 and 1970. Secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese began in Paris in 1969. Meanwhile, US and South Vietnamese forces entered Cambodia and Laos in 1970. A North Vietnamese offensive in spring 1972 prompted US bombing of the North and an attempt to blockade North Vietnamese ports. Further Kissinger diplomacy in August and September brought a ceasefire closer but, following a further breakdown in negotiations and Nixon's re-election, a massive airstrike against the North was ordered over Christmas. On 23 January 1973, Kissinger and Tho signed the cease-fire agreement and US troops subsequently pulled out. A communist takeover followed in 1975 and Cambodia suffered a catastrophic civil war. US policy had failed utterly.
Appointed secretary of state in September 1973, Kissinger embarked on a frantic round of ‘shuttle diplomacy’ following the Yom Kippur War between Egypt and Israel in October 1973 and achieved disengagement between the warring parties. He remained in office after Nixon's resignation until 1977, when he accepted the chair of diplomacy at Georgetown University. His publications include two volumes of memoirs, The White House Years (1979) and Years of Upheaval (1982).