on January 25, 2012
In "Strategic Vision," Zbigniew Brzezinski, a foreign policy expert and former National Security Adviser, offers a concise and cogent analysis of the reasons behind the decline in America's global standing, and the dangers that are sure to follow if we let that decline continue. The book is well-written, readable and at 225 pages fairly short for a a book written by someone of Brzezinski's stature on such a broad subject.
Brzezinski provides the expected analysis of America's rise as a global power and a brief comparison to other empires throughout history, as well as the most important reasons behind the recent decline in U.S. influence. He argues strongly that a strong United States is vital to global stability for the foreseeable future. He does not think that China, for example, will be in a position to assume the current U.S. role even by 2025 and beyond.
If the U.S. fails to maintain its stabilizing influence, Brzezinski foresees global chaos, uncertainty and increased tensions between nations. Countries will be less apt to cooperate and more inclined to pursue pure self-interest, and this will happen during a time when collaboration on issues like climate change and terrorism will be more and more crucial. Brzezinski calls for the U.S. to fulfill a "dual role" going forward: First it must secure and strengthen the countries that make up the West. Second it needs balance and mediate between the rising powers in the East, especially China, India and Japan. In order to do this, of course, the U.S. needs to fix its domestic problems and regain credibility.
Once thing I really liked is that fact that, even in a fairly short book on global issues, the author gave an entire chapter to the issue of the U.S. domestic and economic problems. It is clear that America's ability to fulfill its global role rests entirely on the strength of its economy. And issues like unemployment, declining wages for most people, soaring inequality, and political gridlock are likely to undermine restoration of domestic strength.
One place the book falls short is in its failure to consider the issue of advancing technology and what it will mean for both domestic and foreign policy. It is pretty clear that employers in the U.S. no longer need to hire as many people as they used to. Half of college graduates are not finding jobs that require college degrees. This is not just because of the recession; structural changes are taking place.
Information technology is advancing faster and faster. We celebrate new companies like Google and Facebook, but they only create a tiny number of jobs. This is going to be a vital issue for nearly every advanced country over the next 10 to 20 years and will have a huge impact on geopolitics and on how countries compete economically. "Strategic Vision" is highly recommend, but it is also important to start thinking about how technology is changing things, and the policies that will be required to adapt to those changes.
on January 31, 2012
I'm a Morning Joe regular, and I've long admired Dr. Brzezinski. However, this prolonged memo (it's really too short to be called a "book".) makes a case for considering multiple points of view. The other reviews (when I bought the book there were none, now there are five) struck me as articulate, but leaning towards sycophancy. There's a lot to like, but it's not beyond criticism.
For example,he explains the present belief of America's decline by saying: "Six critical dimensions stand out as America's major, and increasingly threatening, liabilities:". Thefirst is an unsustainable national debt, the second our "flawed financial system", third, "widening income inequality coupled with stagnating social mobility", fourth is decaying national infrastructure, fifth is "a public that is highly ignorant about the world", while sixth is "America's increasingly gridlocked and highly partisan political system."
You've got to agree with this analysis (even though I think the analysis in WINNER TAKE ALL POLITICS by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson presents the same problems with root causes much more effectively). Brzezinski makes all these points quite cogently without belaboring the analysis. The dialogue is fast, crisp and, best of all, decidedly un-wonkish. Anyone can understand the difficult concepts.
Unfortunately, instead of providing solutions to what many economists, political scientists and social comentators have labelled "insoluble", he says that "the foreseeable future is still largely America's to shape. the United States has the capacity to correct its evident shortcomings--if it takes full advantage of its considerable strengths in the following six key areas: overall economic strength, innovative potential, demographic dynamics, reactive mobilization, geographic base, and democratic appeal."
He goes on to expand upon these six strengths, apparently unaware that he has anthropomorphized the country itself (see statement above--"if IT takes full advantage of ITS considerable strengths," etc. This is not a solution, it's a wish list. He is correct in everything he says, but it becomes perfectly clear that he is better spoken yet only linguistically superior to the politicians he advises. HE HAS NO REAL ANSWERS. HE IS SHORT ON SOLUTIONS.
This IS slightly unfair. To any specific global problem, it becomes clear he has a specific, defensible recommendation. As you read through that section of the book concerning the problem areas of the globe, you begin to wish he had been a Republican at the side of George W. Bush, whose foreign policy must have originated in some video game designer's studio. Still, he describes virtually every situation calling for sensitive limited engagement. He is without meaningful threat; his style seems to abandon confrontation. It's like he's looking for the KUMBAYAH MOMENT internationally.
Similarly disappointing, is the lack of allowance for major incidence. It's long forgotten that a great deal of the groundwork for the present relationship between the US, (then) Nationalist China, and (then DBA)"Mainland China", was the shelling of the islands of Quemoy and Matsu by the communists. This CHANGED the whole equation, underscoring the value the (then)communists placed upon eventual unification. That provocation went a long way towards establishing the US "one China" policy that Dr. Brzezinski describes eloquently in what comes off as almost a tribute to Deng Xiou Peng. What happens to this carefully crafted strategy towards rolling accomodation if there is a major war between India and Pakistan?
Weaknesses and all, though,you can stack this against any number of similar books and you still come up with a "BUY" recommendation. His analysis is brilliant. His research is spot on. His editing reeks of a fine, well-used blue pencil, and his understanding of differing global values is encyclopedic. In the final analysis, you have to appreciate this book for what it includes in a small, pithy volume, not for what he was sagacious enough to leave out.
"One of America's precious few master strategists paints a convincing picture of an increasingly messy world ahead and presents a U.S. policy to manage it -- going to strength by building an expanded Europe and keeping a burgeoning Asia stable. Succinct, sharp, and sensible."--Leslie Gelb, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations
Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor, a key architect of America's cold war strategy, calls for an urgent need of a historic review of US Strategic Vision (an enduring theme at the U.S. Army War College). He looks back to the optimism following the fall of the USSR Communist Empire and regrets America's missed opportunity. Assessing a detailed analysis, he outlines a new strategy, by which the United States can reassert its position of strength. Monitoring the tottering of the West as the lone superpower, Dr. Brzezinski has warned in his book, "Second Chance, 2007," about the 'Crisis of the American Superpower'. Now, he looks carefully at the expected shift in global power as Europe declines, and draws a bold strategy making way for an accommodating global picture.
The visionary thinker focuses on the change of global power distribution, to counteract the West powers receding due to Europe economics, and the waning of U.S. influence, making way for new entrants from China, India, and Brazil, motivated by their awakened perception of an active global political participation. His analysis prescribes remedies to assert America's place in that new scheme, balancing the shift in global power, especially in relation to China. Brzezinski, exposes bold views, on the future of America and the Crisis of Global Power conveying his hawkish approach. The book contains strong recommendations, to incite Europe to bring both Russia and Turkey into an expanded west, the US should install a hedge around China's expansion, without explicitly attempting to contain it.
In his systematic analysis, the trustee of the Center for Strategic International Studies, examines the reasons for the possible decline of U.S. influence, that the enduring US leadership is widely questioned worldwide with sharp criticism, "because of the complexity of its internal and external challenges." He thinks that what he describes as its, "magical twin motivations of idealism and materialism are no longer viable," since America's court is in a chaotic disarray; its economy is suffering, and an increasing popular feeling of social injustice. With little hope for a better foreseeable future, the majority is isolated in frustrating delusion, and what the author describes as 'ignorance about the rest of the world'. Exhausted by a decade of fighting of two remote wars, an unjustified one in Iraq and another unending war in Afghanistan, arousing a worldwide feeling of animosity towards the US.
Meanwhile, Dr. Brzezinski looks at the rising sun of the Orient, in China, India, Japan, Russia, and Turkey, even when his own expectations indicate that due to their growing pains, no new world leader can be ready by 2025. On the other hand, many global hotspots anticipate a negative geopolitical future for Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, as the most endangered states. Other nations such as Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Taiwan, South Korea, and Israel are confronted with many uncertainties possibly contributed by regional instability. "By harnessing its overall strengths in terms of economic, social and political ranking, superiority of higher education, rich natural resources and population resiliency, America can indeed "rise to the occasion," is Brzezinski final cautionary warning
"Academics, pundits, and advisors have often been mistaken about America's position in the world....two decades ago, the conventional wisdom was that the US was in decline, suffering from 'imperial overstretch'. A decade later...the new conventional wisdom was that the world was a unipolar American hegemony."--Joseph Nye, Jr, Harvard service professor
America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy
on March 4, 2013
Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power by Zbigniew Brzezinski
If not for the author's name, this book is quite unremarkable. The basic theme of the book is as follows. The general trend of the world is the declination of Western power, and especially American power. There are emerging national powers coming in play and there are popular movements in many countries that call for nationalistic passions. However, America is still playing critical roles in maintaining peace and stability of the world. If American power declines too fast, there will be a number of crises happening in the world, leading to global chaos and disasters. So the U.S. strategy is two-fold. First, the U.S. should accept the reality that world power is to be shared with multiple nations. It should not try to suppress the emergence of other nations (such as China) with confrontation. (He was very critical about the Iraq war and was against using military power against Iran.) Second, the U.S. should solidify its powerbase in Europe and expand Europe influence by attracting Russia and Turkey into the alliance. At the same time, it should strengthen its relationship with its Eastern allies such as Japan and South Korea, to force a relationship with China based on cooperation and mutual respect.
Most of part of the book is devoted to stating and analyzing the situation. I found nothing particularly informative and insightful in this part. What he said agrees with my general impression from news reports and other books. The last part of the book discusses the author's vision for the U.S. policies and strategies. The author definitely has his own views expressed in this part. However, he did not contrast his view with any others. Therefore, it is not clear to me why his ideas are better than any other alternatives. Of course, if you just want to know what the great Brzezinski thinks, the lack of alternative views won't bother you.
There are, in my opinion, several important factors missing in the author's calculus. And the author did not provide any justification for such omissions. For example, he didn't discuss the impact of cyber warfare, even when he listed "strategic space" such as ocean, arctic areas and space. Nor did he consider the impact of growing domestic energy production. He did mention the increasing economic and trade connections among the potentially rivalry powers, but did not pay much attention to it.
Most curiously, he didn't mention Africa at all. Although a powerful nation is unlikely to emerge in Africa in the time frame of his discussions (the next two decades), there is already intense completion of influence going on in Africa among the major world powers. Writing Africa off the world map requires some strong arguments, which were not put forward.
on September 26, 2014
This book provides new insights into world politics, power struggles and what it means to be a world leader. It is full of interesting facts and insightful diagrams. The table of relative size of empires helped expand my eurocentric history enlightening me that the Roman empire barely qualified as a world class empire and paled compared to the size of Chinese or even Persian empires. The maps of threats to China (3.1 & 4.2) helped change my perspective on China and their need for a strong military. They are clearly more threatened by real threats than the US which continues to be protected by oceans and friendly borders. Chinese rise to power could be viewed as not a revolution, more of a return to the historical balance.
What was missing was a stronger discussion of why US or any country wants to dominate world power. What do they gain except for ego gratification? The author also had a tendency to use excessively big words perhaps to demonstrate how erudite he is, when simpler words would have been clearer. Or perhaps he just spent to much time with academics. I would have liked to see more discussion of how nuclear weapons have negated classical warfare between powers as even a victory would likely be pyrrhic at best. How has this led to change in competition, violence, cyber attacks, terrorists...? If israel indicated the first Arab country that attacked to drive Israel into the sea would be turned into a radioactive desert would this change anything? Has nuclear weapons eliminated US or China's ability to invade North Korea? The discussion of a nuclear armed Iran was simplistic. Would they pose significantly more of a threat than nuclear armed Pakistan?
His discussion of what the US has to do to protect its future place in power compared to the rest of the book appeared slightly more political opinion and less fact driven conclusions. His opinions may be right but they are also not so well documented as to preclude other successful paths forwards. He does make a strong case we often seem to stick our noises into complicated situations with a simplistic cowboy approach that does more harm than good. Often the local powers are smarter at avoiding these conflicts. No useful insights were given on how to turn around Africa, South America, the middle east... into productive countries that rivaled the West. Are they doomed to remain sources of raw material?
In summary a book filled with useful facts, some new insights but not all the answers. A short update touching on Ukraine,Gaza... would have been interesting; but five minutes after publishing this book will be out of date with current affairs as the world moves so fast.
on January 12, 2015
WOW. If you want to 'get a glimpse behind the curtain' this is a great book.
Zbigniew Brzezinski is an American patriot through-and-through; his love for this country is manifest in almost every sentence. He spares no criticism however. He does an excellent job 'placing' the USA in this moment in history: giving the reader a good 'sense' of where we've come from, where we are; where the world is going from a global/political standpoint. He laments lost opportunities and squandering of goodwill over the last 20yrs or so; but offers a road map and hope for the future as well.
Most interesting to me was his strategic analysis of the 'competitor' countries to the USA for global influence. In a nutshell, there is no 'heir apparent' for the 'next' dominant global superpower. There will be 'powers' but no single player can bring power& influence to the negotiating table the way the USA did for most of the 20th century. This analysis alone (Russia, China, UK, etc) was worth the price & reading of the book.
RECOMMENDED for the concerned citizen. Buy it, read it, talk about it, vote with it.
on January 29, 2012
To mention a few scattered points:
To understand Brzezinski's vision, it would probably help to have read some of Michael Klare's books. Control over energy supply is the key to understanding a number of suggested initiatives. The desire to maintain some presence in Afghanistan, the desire to maintain the independent status of Georgia and Ukraine, and the importance of Turkey, are all designed to secure an alternative source of energy supply for Europe, other than Russia. Brzezinski argues that American disengagement will open space for Russia to increase pressure on these states. However, I would argue that pursuit of this strategy also incurs risk . The Russo-Georgia war of 2008 is an indication that the US could get drawn into conflict in the Caucasus. Would you view Mikheil Saakashvili as a stable partner? How about the modern-day 'Phalaris' Islam Karimov? Key to the success of this Eurasian initiative, Brzezinski states, is Turkey finally entering the EU. This does not appear to be likely in the foreseeable future. Just look at the current state of Franco-Turkish relations.
One area Brzezinski rightly points to as critical in the future is the resolution of the issue of Arctic Energy resource allocation. This is a potential source of future dispute with Russia.
The author indicates support at further centralization of power in the EU. The EU "acts as if its central goal is to become the work's most comfortable retirement home"..Brzezinski makes a number of these kind of statements, which would indicate to me that he is in support of austerity measures and is in favor of greater consolidation of power for the banking houses of Europe, since this is the logical outcome of more centralized control. I would go further and say that Brzezinski hints that such sacrifices are in order for America's "cornucopian culture that worships materialism".
The author supports a "mutually acceptable two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While such a solution would incur undoubted advantage to the US, there is no indication such a solution lies in the future. The longer such a delay exists, it can be argued that the potential viability of any Palestinian 'State' is gradually eroded away. It can be argued that the longer impasse exists, the greater possibility the ideas of Brzezinski's former boss will gain currency (Carter's apartheid thesis).
Brzezinski has little to say about the current Af-Pak War (a term he would shy from using). It would seem 'officialdom' has declared the war on a path to conclusion, but one might be excused for seeing this as wishful thinking. Brzezinski, like most foreign policy officials, cite the fear of "the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in nuclear-armed Pakistan" but he offers little advice other than avoiding an expansion of the war (this would have "no clear end in sight"). In regard to Pakistan he tends to stress the role that nation plays in China's strategic calculus. I would have liked to see the author discuss some possible paths towards ending the Afghan war.
As far as South Asia, he is critical of arms sales to India, and cautions against a US-Indian Alliance as too provocative. He advises the US to avoid taking a position on the Kashmir dispute. Another, perhaps intractable dispute. Yet..reaching a solution here, like the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, would do much for regional stability. Brzezinski, regarding India, is not laudatory. I think a mild disdain for India is a long-standing tradition in US foreign policy circles.
In East Asia, he takes a stand on the Taiwan issue, seeing this as perhaps one of the few issues that, mishandled, could result in Great Power conflict. He thinks arms sales to Taiwan only cloud a long-term US-Chinese accommodation and provoke Chinese enmity. He suggests a future where "it is doubtful that Taiwan can reject..a PLA presence on the island". On Korea, he envisions a possible scenario where China facilitates various stages of reunification with a corresponding reduction in security ties to the US.
In general, the author advises avoidance of conflict. On Iran, he takes the view that the US can respond to Iranian acquisition of Nuclear Weapons by simply extending a US Nuclear Umbrella over the Gulf States. This seems a more reasonable approach than the current one adopted by the Administration. The Administration has taken a risk with a forward Naval Deployment into the Persian Gulf in the current tension-filled moment. One over-aggresive naval officer ('Robo-crusiser' anyone?) could end the Obama Presidency.
With regard to China, the author mentions the usually cited issues of contention, such as the Paracel and Spratly Islands. He suggests mutual cooperation to resolution of these outstanding issues. He suggests negotiation to avoid an arms race in the region. Yet this seems to be the path the US has decided upon. Note the recent announcements by the President and Defense Secretary of a 'pivot towards Asia' (while simultaneously negotiating new troop deployments to Australia). How to maintain closer ties with Far Eastern nations, while avoiding the appearance of Chinese strategic encirclement is not so easy to determine. Basically Brzezinski says the US should avoid additional commitments that might result in the US fighting another Asian land War.
In summary, his argument is that the continued engagement by the US globally is in the interests of the US, and the World. Peace would be threatened by the failure of the US to maintain this role. However, Brezezinski paints the argument in terms of US will. In other words, 'Can a US "highly ignorant about the world" overcome their limited knowledge in order to fulfill their global destiny' (my paraphrase). While the author acknowledges the global financial crisis (and argues for reforms) he, in my opinion, underestimates the capacity of the global economy to function as it has been functioning. While he mentions climate issues, population issues, societal structural problems (in Pakistan, India, China, Russia, Mexico etc)...his general view is that the global system will continue because it is desired by all parties that it continue. Yet it is possible that this massive global economic system might come apart. There have been numerous subtle (and not so subtle) indications that this is the future that awaits us all. Perhaps his next book will be suggestions on how to pick up the pieces of what remains?
Brzenzinski compares our national situation to that of Rome in the fifth century. Hmm..I wonder how far away our 'Crossing of the Rhine' moment is, when it simply becomes impossible to avoid a Chaotic denouement of the Global Commons?
on January 7, 2013
In a world of the 24 hour news cycle, we tend to get lost in the responses to single issues of the hour (not even the day anymore it seems). It is good to step back and for a few minutes look at how these daily events connect into long term processes that have predictable results. Dr. Brzezinski's ability to tie these together, propose a world view that is one logical possibility, reasonably based upon past experience, provides us with an opportunity to consider the future results of our current actions, or lack of these, that will ultimately define our children's world. Whether his view turns out to be completely right or not, it does provide a framework to promote important discussion of where today's actions could take us. This book is an important opportunity to think beyond the horizon and consider the possibilities, both positive or negative.
on April 4, 2012
Well known realist thinker Zbigniew Brzezinski provides his readers with a thought-provoking assessment of the near future in geopolitics. The book mainly concerns about the U.S. and its global leadership, but it is also about Europe, Russia and the Pacific. It is well short of being a sweet picture, but realists see the things just like they look. At the end of the day Brzezinski stipulates what should be done for the U.S. to prevent its decline and how to shape new global strategy. What may be missing is more detailed analysis of China. However, Strategic Vision is a general book and it can treat in detail about all great powers.
on April 12, 2012
If people become ill, they trustfully go to the doctor who has the resources of medical science at his disposal. If nations become ill, there is no such doctor to go to. Nations treat their ailments themselves as best they can, but beware their political leaders who may be little more than persuasive demagogues. In politics, board-certified specialists are hard to come by, but their equivalents do indeed exist. As has been known for decades, the author of this book is one of them. It is impressive, indeed almost amusing, to witness how easily Zbigniew Brzezinski wanders around the globe and correctly diagnoses the various nations' hang-ups.
The reader learns about the strengths, problems and rankings of America, the EU, Russia, China and India as the author speculates about the possible future directions into which they are likely to float in the rapid stream of history. The book explains how the world has come to view America since the turn of the century; why some are beginning to doubt the value of the American Dream and why the Chinese Dream of Confucian "harmony" might be more appealing. A disturbing picture is painted of the world, should America's preeminence further decline. It says the EU must reach out eastward into Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, where pro-European feelings are gaining strength and do so with continued support by the US. It envisions how western political and social principles may ultimately reach almost around the northern globe from Vancouver eastward all the way to Vladivostok. The author reckons the US should also reach across the Pacific Ocean to the New East as a stabilizer, balancer and conciliator among Japan, China and India. And he strongly recommends America to correct her own liabilities - the political gridlock, the massive debt, the widening wealth gap, the "cornucopian culture" of greed driving the financial system, the public ignorance about the world and its geography and much more - and to get her act together to face the urgent demands of the future.
The logic of this text unmistakably leads to a concept, which quite surprisingly is never mentioned. The much discussed and urgent mandate, which the impatient rush of recent history is placing before us, that of establishing global governance, is either unknown altogether in public or instead is being dismissed as a utopian dream. Yet, if ever proof is sought for the need of a civilized gathering of the family of nations under a common administration, here, in these warnings and predictions you will find it over and over again. Perhaps, we might forgivingly suspect, Prof. Brzezinski is too much of a realist to be a dreamer.