Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski: A long lasting influence in American strategic thought

Posted in Europe , United States | 13-Mar-07 | Author: Ioannis Michaletos

Zbigniew Brzezinski

Zbigniew Brzezinski the ex National Security Advisor of the Carter Administration is one of the few strategic analysts and geopolitics theorists that his influence and work span throughout most of the post WW2 and his writings are still very much appreciated and awarded nowadays. In one of his recent books “The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership”, Brzezinski reflects on the issue of the American geopolitical role in the modern global environment. His views are to be considered as prudent in relation to the USA involvement in the international affairs and he is very much keen in promoting the stance by the USA that of a global leader and not “The global leader”.

Moreover he stresses the need for close cooperation between both sides of the Atlantic, namely NATO and the EU, as factors of stability in Eurasia and beyond. He also mentions the three major points that proved to be focal for the historical continuation of the American policy of defense and security.

Firstly the debate in the early forming years of the American nation where the two opposite centers called for the creation of a regular army or not, respectively. The former believed that due to external threats there is the need for at least a minimum of military security in the state, whereas the latter were suspicious of military presence that might endangered the benefits of the newly founded Democracy. Eventually the USA Armed Forces were created, even though they were considerably weaker than any European possible adversary.

A second national disagreement occurred right after WW1, where again America was split evenly to those that agreed to an entrance in the League of Nations and the opponents of such an idea. At the end the second opinion prevailed and consequently this decision influenced to a great extent the events that shaped the world during the mid- war years that laid the foundation towards a world disorder and war.

The third American security debate was to be found during the 80’s. The then President Reagan wanted to establish the optimum protection shield for the American state that was included in the initiative for strategic defense. The multiple of events that followed, including the disintegration of USSR and the terrorist threat that became a reality in 9/11 hasn’t really allowed for that initiative to be implemented. Note however that the debate is still simmering and will be more or less in the public agenda for the coming years.

The terrorist threat and the ones of asymmetric warfare in general are in most respects the focal points of discussion in the 21st century security environment. Brzezinski recognizes that terrorism isn’t without a political background that has to be addressed, so as to better examine the problem. Furthermore he notes that close to the current USA Administration there is an active group of individuals, characterized with a one-sided view on Middle Eastern affairs that in some instances want to equalize terrorism with the Muslim world.

Brzezinski notes “Some of the proponents reach a point where they demand that the scope of the American policy in the Middle East is to reconstruct the region in the name of Democracy, so as, to subdue the hostile regimes, eradicate extremist Islamism and make the area safe for Israel. The above tendency is supported domestically in the USA by certain neoconservative groups along with religious fundamentalists.”

In his book the “Choice” Brzezinski is critical on the one-sided intervention policy as it was executed in Iraq. He supports the idea that Eurasia is always the most important geopolitical region for American interests and he states “In 2002 in the Global Balkans-i.e. Eurasia- 68% of the total oil reserves could be found as well as 41% natural gas ones. In 2020 this region is estimated to be bale to produce 42 million barrels of oil per day a 39% of world’s production. The combination of oil and instability does not leave much choice to the USA!”

The writer believes that coordination between USA-Europe is an integral strategic vision for the developments in Eurasia. The NATO&EU expansion is considered to be as a vital policy in order to form a common transatlantic policy of both the United States and the member states of the European Union. Of course the strategic interests between USA and EU have quite a few marks of difference that include amongst other, the economic, social and political architectures. The Iraq war in 2003, most surely revealed a wide rift between Continental Europe and the USA-Atlantic fraction, and the consequences of that disagreement have not been mended yet. Europe has been the traditional springboard from where it the American influence finds the route of expanding into North Africa, Middle East and the Caucasus. Any change towards the drift of the interests between America and Europe will disaffect the ability of the States to conduct a viable Eurasian Strategy. As it is well understood Brzezinski is consistent in the importance of Europe for the Eurasian affairs and does not rely on the trend that demands the focus of USA turned into the East Asian geopolitical sphere. Simply Europe is very important for USA to either ignore or confront with and the current American Administration has already implemented a wide and thorough initiative of mending many of the ties broken four years ago.

Brzezinski is also interested in reflecting his views & analysis on Turkey as he has dealt extensively with this particular state. He believes that in a broad sense USA and Turkey have common interests and bonds in relation to Eurasian affairs. He mentions the role of Turkey in establishing a secular Islamic model that could act as a leading example for other Muslim states hindered by political instability and Islamic radicalism. Moreover he notes some factors that have to do with domestic Turkish developments that may alter the positive traits of the state. Firstly he questions the future of Kemal’s secular legacy in the 21st century and takes into consideration the Islamic culture of Turkey that may well prove to be the definite power in Turkish politics in the future. The EU-Turkish accession negotiations according to Brzezinski have a long way ahead and the issue of accepting a predominantly Muslim country in the EU is still a factor that hesitate a lot of Europeans in order to confirm positively for Turkey’s entrance.

A second critical aspect of modern Turkey’s development is the existence of the “Kurdish issue”. He notes that Turks believe that the real number of Kurds is 10 million whereas the latter support a number closer to 20 million, almost a quarter of the population. Regardless of the validity of the above, Brzezinski is anxious in stating the ongoing culminations in the Turkish society between a rising Islamic identity and the Kurdish demands that may seriously damage Turkey’s posture as a peripheral power and draw the country into becoming a part of the problems of the turbulent Middle Eastern arena.

On overall Brzezinski in his book and all of his research and analysis deals extensively with the American policy on a grand scale and clearly states the importance of Eurasia and the Central Asia region, as the most significant part of any attempts to assist the American leadership into retaining its position well into this century. What has to be noted though is that American policy could be much in derail should the rest of the great Eastern Eurasian states-Russia, China, India and Iran- decide to join a common cause of regional supremacy and take practical actions against the American and European aims. Already all the aforementioned states cooperate in one form or another and no one could exclude the case of a regional Eurasian entente in the short term. Therefore American policy is not only in the need to seek coordination with the European states, but possibly needs to decide if it capable of establishing a regional role with one or more of the above entities. The American diplomacy during the early 70’s under the Nixon Administration proved to be intelligent and competent enough to intervene ingeniously between the Moscow-Beijing relations and overturn any meaningful Soviet advancement in the Cold War. The new century might prove to be an era where former enemies join up in order to protect their interests against the all-rising expansion of former developing countries. Time will tell how “The grand game” will be formed, nevertheless it is absolutely certain it will resemble a geopolitical chessboard, a term borrowed by the preceding book of Brzezinski, published in 1997 and still a must read one a decade later.

The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership, Basic Books (March 2004), ISBN 0-465-00800-3