Monday, April 4, 2011

Otto von Bismarck, Master Statesman

By Henry A. Kissinger

In the summer of 1862, Otto von Bismarck was appointed minister-president of Prussia. His highest previous rank had been ambassador to Russia. He had never held an administrative position. Yet with a few brusque strokes, the novice minister solved the riddle that had stymied European diplomacy for two generations: how to unify Germany and reorganize Central Europe. He had to overcome the obstacle that Germany comprised 39 sovereign states grouped in the so-called German Confederation. All the while, Central European trends were warily observed by the two “flanking” powers, France and Russia, ever uneasy about — and tempted to prevent — the emergence of a state capable of altering the existing European balance of power.

Within nine years, Bismarck untied this knot in what Jonathan Steinberg, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, describes as “the greatest diplomatic and political achievement by any leader in the last two centuries.” ...

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