Zbigniew Brzezinski as a mirror of American devolution (I) By Dimitri Minin

29 December 2012 — Strategic Culture Foundation

A Thirty year plan accomplished in fifteen years

The passing of 2012, among other things, was marked by a publication of fundamental importance, in terms of understanding the processes occurring in the world and the U.S., the book by Zbigniew Brzezinski «Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power» (1). The author is known to be, to put it mildly, very indifferently disposed to Russia. Many argue about the extent of his influence on U.S. policy. However, there are also criteria that are unmistakable. Just look at his regularly published arguments, and then compare them with some actions of the U.S. administration, especially with the recently emerging doctrines of the «National Security Strategy of the United States», and numerous direct influences can easily be seen. Sometimes there is only a difference in style and the fact that in his non-official post the many ideas Brzezinski has formulated are much more direct and even cynical.

Brzezinski’s book can be considered a prelude, as it echoes the ideas of a just-released predictive report from the U.S. National Intelligence Council, «Global Trends 2030» (which we will discuss in a separate conversation). Some even liken this book to Churchill’s famous Fulton speech. I must say that regarding Brzezinski’s «strategic vision», the newly appointed U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, wrote in his review of this work, that «it is a must read for anyone who is interested in foreign policy».

The book «Strategic Vision» appeared exactly 15 years after another landmark book by Brzezinski «The Grand Chessboard “(The Grand Chessboard. American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives). Between these two dates is the period in U.S. history, which can be considered as its devolution from global omnipotence to its rapid loss in many areas, as the reigning super power. Recall that devolution (convolution, regression), is a trend opposite to evolution (development, progress) – in English it also means the transfer of power or authority. In this sense, the term could not be better suited to that which Brzezinski describes. The important thing about his new book is that it is not a statement of the systematic errors that have led to the increasing weakening of the American position in the world, which is quite obvious to many, but that it is a recipe for the transfer of power to someone or something that takes the place of U.S. leadership. Paraphrasing Vladimir Lenin, who famously described, as we know, Leo Tolstoy as a «mirror of the Russian revolution», Zbigniew Brzezinski should be called the «mirror of American devolution». So, if we look at Brzezinski’s arguments from this angle, then you should find a fundamental gap between present day Brzezinski, and the Brzezinski of 15 years ago, but there isn’t one. 

His ideas on the delegation of leadership to someone often turn on the rationale for the conservation of these powers for America, only without loud epithets and with a different sauce.

When the book «strategic vision» was born, many, including in Russia, were quick to declare the work to be a complete break from Brzezinski’s previous views as expressed in the «Grand Chessboard», and his own conversion, perhaps, from a «Saul» to a “Paul». Brzezinski is ostensibly in favor of multilateralism and for the United States in refusing the role of «God’s chosen hegemony in world politics» so that America does not repeat the fate of the Soviet Union. Brzezinski, they say, no longer considers Russia a «black hole», and advocates for its inclusion in the West. However, a careful analysis of the two books shows their organic relationship and continuity with all the terminology of mimicry. Both then and now America for Brzezinski is a «Colossus of the world», and upcoming multipolarity is an objective reality, which he as a thoughtful analyst cannot ignore, and which he calls to adapt. Thus it is evident that the causes of «American devolution», according to Brzezinski, are mostly subjective – the bad decisions of U.S. administrations. And after September 11, which was followed by the ill-conceived and costly use of U.S. forces, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, stand perhaps as the main cause of the weakening of U.S. hegemony. It turns out that the terrorist attack on the twin towers was the most effective military operation in world history. Believing in the exclusive destiny of America, Brzezinski still cannot really take on board the visionary statement of another famous scholar, Paul Kennedy, which he made in 1987 in a detailed study, «The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers». (2) P. Kennedy convincingly stated then, that by virtue of what he described as «imperial overheating» no state would ever be able to stay for long in hegemony in the world. Even back then, according to his calculations, the United States, along with the Soviet Union, entered a phase of «imperial overheating», and their decline is inevitable, regardless of the will of certain politicians.

15 years ago, Brzezinski stated categorically that in the next few decades a functioning system of global cooperation could be created, built with a geopolitical reality that would gradually take on the role of international» leader», able to bear the burden of responsibility for stability and peace in the world. Geostrategic success in this area properly legitimizes America‘s role as the first, only and last truly global superpower. (3) In this American global primacy is directly dependent on how long and how effectively its supremacy will persist on the Eurasian continent. (4)

At the same time, Brzezinski realized that there was only a narrow historic opportunity open, as the leading power in the world, for the «constructive use» of America of its status as a world power. This period, as he admitted, may be relatively short-lived. No democracy has ever previously achieved world domination. The pursuit of power, and especially the economic costs and loss of life, which often require the implementation of world power, as a rule, are not compatible with these types of societies. The democratic way prevents imperial mobilization. He believed that «a comprehensive and coordinated geostrategy for Eurasia should be based on a recognition of the limits of American power, the efficiency and scope of influence of which will inevitably narrow over time».In the end, world politics is bound to increasingly stand against the concentration of power in the hands of one state. Consequently, «the U.S. is not only the first and the only superpower on a truly global scale, but most likely, the last».

Yet in order not to lose this historic opportunity, Brzezinski called for the active intervention of America in the cause of peace with a focus on strengthening international geo-political stability, which can restore a sense of optimism in the West. So, now in lamenting the «erroneous interventions», he would have to carry a fair share of the responsibility himself with his appeals, because all these actions were carried out under the pretext of maintaining «stability».

The general sense behind his reasoning in that period was limited to the fact that the United States should achieve the status of an «indispensable power» (which, in particular, former President Bill Clinton publicly stated), without the leadership of which the world would be doomed to chaos. At the same time Brzezinski referred to the writings of another dominant influence on the minds of the American elite Samuel Huntington, who wrote:

«A world without U.S. primacy, will be a world with more violence and disorder and less democracy and economic growth than a world where the United States continues to have more influence than any other country in shaping global affairs. The sustained international primacy of the United States is central to the welfare and security of Americans and the future of freedom, democracy, open economies, and international order in the world. «(5)

Regarding Russia, Brzezinski in his «chessboard» found an expression that was not just unflattering but derogatory, calling it a «black hole» in the heart of Eurasia, and suggesting that it would have been better to separate it into at least in three parts. However, the long-term challenge for the U.S., which he formulated, did not rule out Russia completely from the map, but demanded the prevention of the revival again of a Eurasian empire, which could hinder the implementation of the U.S. geo-strategic goal of creating a larger Euro-Atlantic system, which in the future Russia would be firmly and securely connected to. (6) 

In this case, contrary to the expectations of the Russian supporters of Atlanticism, Brzezinski expressed his firm belief that any rapprochement with Russia on the issue of NATO expansion «should not lead to the actual transformation of Russia into a decision-making member of the alliance, thus belittling the distinct Euro-Atlantic nature of NATO, while at the same time relegating to the status of second-class citizens those countries newly admitted to the alliance». This, according to him, would open the way for Russia to renew its efforts to «not only regain lost influence in Central Europe, but also to use its presence in NATO in order to play on the US-European differences and to weaken America‘s role in Europe».

Overall, despite all the obstacles mentioned by him in maintaining the U.S. global hegemony, in «chessboard» Brzezinski assigned to this period more than 30 years ago, when hardly anyone would challenge America‘s status as the first nation in the world, that «no one nation-state may be able to catch up with the United States in the four major aspects of power (military, economic, technical and cultural), which together define decisive political influences on a global scale».

(To be continued)

1. Zbigniew Brzezinski «Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power» published by AST 2012
2. Kennedy Paul, The rise and fall of the great powers, Vintage Books, N.Y., 1987.
3. Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard, M, International relations, p.112.
4. As above, p.18.
5. Samuel P. Huntington. Who International Primacy Matters // International Security. — Spring 1993, P. 83. 
6. Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard, International relations, 1998, P.48

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