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Brzezinski: U.S. Should Work With Russia, Turkey to Solve Global Problems

February 8, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Zbigniew Brzezinski says that as American power declines relative to other countries, and China's influence grows, the United States can no longer dictate to the world, or be "the determining player of everything that is important on the global scene." Jeffrey Brown speaks with the author and former national security adviser.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn to some thoughts about the U.S. role in the world as it shares power with new global players.

That’s the topic of Jeffrey Brown’s conversation with Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser.

JEFFREY BROWN: “America must promote a revitalized West and provide balance to a rising new East.” So writes Zbigniew Brzezinski in his new book, “Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power.”

The former national security adviser casts a harsh eye on what he sees as this country’s stagnation at home and unilateralism abroad and offers a corrective.

At his Northern Virginia home recently, we talked about what he calls a shift in the world’s center of gravity from the West to the East.

How do you define this shift? Is it a slow rebalancing or is it a true tipping to power in Asia, specifically China?

We are a democracy. We can only have as good a foreign policy as the public's understanding of world affairs. And the tragedy is that the public's understanding of world affairs in America today is abysmal.Zbigniew Brzezinski

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, former U.S. National Security adviser: It means the end of global supremacy by the West.

The whole concept of global power, one power dominating the world eventually, is associated with the West. It started with the great explorations, and then the naval competition, Spain, Britain, France, then became a struggle for the control of Europe, or even Eurasia, with imperial Germany, then Nazi Germany, then eventually Stalinism.

That today is no longer attainable, because the West has declined in its influence. Simultaneously, Asia has risen. Asia is now composed of states that are increasing the dynamic, but also competitive, so we could have a period of instability in the Far East.

And all of that, furthermore, is complicated by the new reality of what I call global political awakening. That is to say that, for the first time in all of human history, the publics of the world, the population of the world is politically awakened, restless, stirring, resentful, in many parts, increasingly motivated by an anti-Western narrative.

JEFFREY BROWN: You’re seeing this in the Arab spring, for example.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, that’s one extreme example.


ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: That’s another example. And that’s germinating. Something there is going to happen, I think, before too long.

JEFFREY BROWN: When you’re talking about the shift to the East, specifically on China, so much talk about China, so much written about China. What are we not understanding? I mean, what vision do you have for China vis-a-vis the U.S.?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: The vision that I have is that we can avoid a head-on collision, which was always the case in the past, when one major power was ceasing to rise and another rival arose on the scene and aspired to replace the previous one.

That usually resulted in a major conflict and, in the last century-and-a-half, in world wars. I think we can avoid that with China, in part because of the new reality of interdependence, economically and financially. The fact of the matter is that, for the foreseeable future, we know and the Chinese know that, if one hurts the other, one will suffer oneself.

JEFFREY BROWN: When you’re talking about a declining power in the West and a rising in the East, and you use the word partner, what does partner mean? Is just a partner no longer — no longer a leader?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, it means that, for one thing, we can’t dictate. We can’t really be the determining player of everything that is important on the global scene.

It also means that we have to learn from our own experience that the use of military power, first of all, sets in motion unpredictable consequences, and, secondly, is very, very expensive.

JEFFREY BROWN: We’re not the global policemen.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: We cannot be the global policemen, because we’ll just drive ourselves into bankruptcy, and then social resentments domestically, and loss of legitimacy internationally.

Global power is becoming diffuse and no longer concentrated in the West or in the hands of the United States. America has domestic and international problems. And on top of it, there is no larger organizing vision for a world that for the first time needs to address global problems.

And what I advocate is a strategic vision, not a specific blueprint, but a concept of how America ought to strive to create some sort of balance, global equilibrium, so that we can all collectively address the problems that the world faces.

JEFFREY BROWN: One of those is to, I think in your term, expand the West to include places like Russia and Turkey.


I think that it’s in the vital interest of the West to do so. And I think drawing in Turkey, drawing in Russia would greatly increase the vitality of the West. And after all, the Turks in the course of the last 100 years have demonstrated a determination to be modern, secular and democratic. So they’re really part of our value system.

In Russia today, we see for the first time the emergence of something we can call a civic society, not isolated dissenters who are heroic, whom we honor, but who are isolated, but a community, a society, that is to say, the younger, more cosmopolitan elements of the new middle class. And they feel themselves to be part of the West.

And I am convinced that if we’re intelligent and patient and also persistent, then not long after Putin has gone, Russia will move much more rapidly towards the West. And, therefore, a coalition of America, Europe enlarged is something that will have weight in the world.

JEFFREY BROWN: Do you think the American people, the American political system is prepared to respond to this crisis you’re talking about? You’re talking about when you use words like diminishing power or a partner, rather than leader, balancer, these are sort of new terms that I wonder if people are prepared for or are able to respond to.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I think you’re really raising the fundamental question, because the part that’s dealing with America focuses not only on our economic social problems, but very much on what you have just right now said.

We are a democracy. We can only have as good a foreign policy as the public’s understanding of world affairs. And the tragedy is that the public’s understanding of world affairs in America today is abysmal.


ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: It is ignorant. It is probably the least-informed public about the world among the developed countries in the world.

JEFFREY BROWN: What are the consequences — you spend a fair amount of time in the book on this — the consequences of not adjusting to the global shift, to the global crisis, as you describe it?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I think the consequences are likely to involve more turmoil, in the sense that certain problems which could be avoided might the get out of hand. First on the list, obviously, is Iran, and the likely consequences, destructive consequences of military violence there.

The consequences are likely to be more regional crises. The consequences are likely to be the absence of collective responses to the new global problems that affect all of humanity.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, the new book is “Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power.”

Zbigniew Brzezinski, thanks for talking to us.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, thank you, as always.