America in the World Today*

Zbigniew Brzezinski

In my invitation to appear here this evening, it clearly states that, "You are not expected to deliver a lecture on Complexity theory. We merely ask you to present your views." I take it then, that this was an injunction to be simple—to provide some relief from the Complexity theory. It is in that spirit that I will share my thoughts with you regarding America’s involvement in the world today. As I said, it will be simple. I will start with a simple invocation, using the basic metaphor that was the theme of the elections four years ago, "It’s the economy, stupid." My invocation is, "It’s leadership, stupid." That is to say that the United States has no choice—literally has no choice—but to exercise leadership in world affairs. It is not a question of whether we want to or not, it is a question that we must—literally, must. I want to stress that point because in recent times there has been a significant change in our psychological posture, as a nation.

We have been sometimes accused, and we have indicted ourselves, for having blindly followed the precept that, "Just don’t stand there, do something." We have replaced that with a doctrine of "Don’t do anything. Just stand there and deliberate about the exit." That is our doctrine, and I submit to you that the concept of the "exit strategy" epitomizes a posture which is incompatible with the dilemmas that we confront on the world scene, and the kind of leadership that we have to find.

Let me suggest that the leadership is particularly needed regarding six large issues, none of which can be approached with an exit strategy. In fact, the very concept of an exit strategy is irrelevant to the effective addressing of these issues. The first is will a larger and a more secure Europe emerge? The second is will Russia become a status quo power? The third is will the Persian Gulf and the Middle Eastern region become more stable? The fourth is will the Far East adjust to the very nature of the power shift that is now under way? The fifth is will we manage effectively nuclear proliferation? The sixth is will large-scale social collapse be avoided in some critical parts of the world?

These are, broadly speaking, the six major issues that we confront on the world scene. Each of these six issues requires American engagement, and in every one of them American leadership is necessary. Regarding none of them can we begin with, "What is the exit strategy?"

Let us start with the first issue, "Will a larger and more secure Europe emerge?" That is clearly one of the central issues that confront us now, in the wake of the end of the Cold War. That has two basic dimensions to it. One pertains to the extension of Europe, and the other to the implications of the unification of Europe. On the extension of Europe, I believe we have made a more or less basic commitment. The President, in the course of his election campaign, made a statement which was widely publicized by the White House. It was quite explicit that it is the policy of the United States to seek the extension of the trans-Atlantic alliance by embracing several new members from Central Europe, with their membership to be attained, as an American objective, by April 1999.

I believe this to be a legitimate commitment. I do not accept the idea that this was merely an election ploy. To suggest that would be demeaning, and inaccurate. It reflects a decision reached after much deliberation, and from my point of view, too much hesitation over too long a time. But, a conscious choice nevertheless. It is my sense that the President is genuinely committed to this objective. This is the inference I gather from the very explicit character of the statement, but also in conversations with him. It is my view that his immediate advisors partake of the same commitment, some even earlier than he. I have the feeling that the Secretary of Defense is committed to that objective, and, in fact, the machinery of the Defense Department is in full gear working towards that end. I have the strong impression that the National Security Advisor is very much committed to that idea, and has been for some time. I know that the Secretary of State, and his deputy, are in favor of the idea, about which the deputy has lately given some very significant and strong speeches. So my view is this is now our national objective.

However, it will only be attained if the United States exercises leadership. Without American leadership, we will not get there by April 1999. We will not get there by any date, at all.

Only if American leadership is firm, creative, persistent, and decisive will we make progress, not only in obtaining an alliance commitment to the objective, but in pushing forward the negotiations, in obtaining the ratification of an agreement by our own Congress, but also by the parliaments of the fifteen other members, and consummate the process by the date’s end. Without strong American leadership, and also German, we will not get there. German support is very important, but German support is basically there. In fact, if American leadership is not exercised, it will be a major defeat, and will be perceived as such abroad. The German Minister of Defense told me that if we fail in pushing this purpose forward, it would have a very negative impact on our credibility.

The process of moving forward on the enlargement of Europe will engage us automatically in the equally difficult and challenging process pertaining to the unification of Europe, and that objective is just as important. On that issue, we may encounter growing difficulties in two different ways. First of all, certain European states, particularly France, will insist that any extension of NATO be accompanied simultaneously by the reform of NATO, and some readjustment in the distribution of responsibilities within NATO. As you know, the issue has already surfaced.

Secondly, a unified Europe, which is one of our proclaimed objectives, will insist on a larger voice in keeping with the concept of partnership. Having committed ourselves rhetorically to the idea of a partnership spanning the Atlantic Ocean, are we prepared to give Europe such a larger voice? It is easy to say yes, but that answer has far-reaching implications. Let me name one among many. To give the Europeans an equal voice, as a partner, we would certainly have to give them an equal voice in an area of critical importance to Europe—namely, the Middle East. Are we prepared to share our leadership in the Middle East, and specifically on the Arab-Israeli peace process with the Europeans? The answer in practice is no. In fact, are we prepared to share leadership with Europe more generally? The answer, at best, is ambiguous if one goes beyond the rhetoric. And yet, those are the issues on which we will have to bite the bullet, if we are serious about the fundamental strategic proposition that the larger Europe, but also more unified Europe, is in our national interest. I happen to believe that it is, in the long historical sweep of things, because we cannot indefinitely be simultaneously the leader, and the only truly responsible power in the world. But, if we want others to assume responsibility, we have to share with them some of the decision making. It is a difficult choice.

Making Russia a status quo state is an equally challenging undertaking. It requires the avoidance of antagonism, the restraint on hostility, the furtherance of democracy, and assistance to a country which is economically in a state of disrepute, and dominated by criminalities. It will require a great deal of forbearance, and a broad historical perspective which will enable us to transcend the frustrations and irritations of the moment. We will have to be committed for a long time to come, in helping a Russia which will often appear undeserving of our care, and ungrateful for it. And yet we will have to persist. That persistence will only come with steady, assertive, historically focused leadership. But that is not enough, because you don’t obtain someone’s collaboration simply by helping him. You also have to create a context in which that collaboration increasingly becomes the only choice that the parties concerned can make.

So, in addition to helping Russia on a long-term basis, and in spite of immediate frustrations, we will very deliberately have to seek a context in which Russia’s accommodation with us increasingly becomes their choice. That means creating circumstances in which Russia has no choice but to become a status quo power. That in turn means on the one hand, the expansion of NATO because it does reduce any geopolitical temptations to which Russia at some point may aspire and might be able to exercise even from a position of weakness. On the other hand, it also means creating conditions in the space of the former Soviet Union in which the status quo becomes permanent. That means a deliberate policy of matching aid to Russia with simultaneous aid to the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. For only if they remain sovereign and independent, will Russia be more inclined to accommodate the status quo society.

Strategically, this means particularly, in my view, focusing on Ukraine. As many of you know that has been my viewpoint for a number of years. I have been propagating this within the Administration, and in this particular instance I think the Administration has adopted the right course of action. It means also choosing several other countries as the foci for our particular attention, irrespective of the degradation of their domestic democratization. It would be nice, of course, if the countries we aid were all brimming with respect for human rights. I would generally prefer that. There may be circumstances, however, in which helping a nondemocratic but newly independent state within the space of the former Soviet Union may, in fact, encourage democracy in Russia.

My choice, in addition to Ukraine, would be Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, for reasons that are probably familiar to many of you. Uzbekistan because it is the hard core of an independent Central Asia. It is in our interest to preserve an independent Central Asia, because it helps to make Russia a status quo society. Azerbaijan because it is the cork in the bottle. If Azerbaijan is sealed because of Russian, or Russian and Iranian collusion, there is no access for us to Central Asia. Central Asia would become strategically vulnerable. It won’t be easy to accomplish this, but I cannot imagine a Western policy which addresses the issue effectively without American leadership.

On the third issue—the Persian Gulf/Middle East—I have already alluded to one prospective issue that we will have to confront: the question of Europe’s role. But beyond that there is the question of how do we ensure the stability of the region unless we are prepared to pursue negotiations. The Arab-Israeli peace process is not going to go forward without American leadership. We should have no illusions about that, whatsoever. Whatever progress has been achieved so far, whether it was in the first Sinai disengagement under Nixon and Kissinger, or at Camp David where after thirteen days of intense negotiations, directly led by the President of the United States, in which I personally participated day and night, or in the latter 1980s under Bush and Baker—in each case American leadership was directly and deeply involved. Had it not been for that, there would have been no progress. There would have been no disengagement. There certainly would not have been a Sadat-Begin agreement, and Shamir certainly would have evaded the pressures for peace, if those pressures were confined to those emanating solely from the Arab-Israeli dialogue. It required the United States’ insistence. The United States still remains necessary, especially now when the policy of Netanyahu is clearly that of "talking peace, but delaying peace." Pressure on both parties is needed.

Pressure will also be needed on a different issue, one which is very complex and very difficult, but leadership on it is absolutely essential. Namely, in the long run, how sustainable is the policy of dual-containment in the Persian Gulf? What does it accomplish? What are its goals? What is the difference between dual-containment and dual "cop-out?" I find it very difficult to define the difference. Why should we be treating two countries so different from each other as Iraq and Iran under the same rubric, and presumably the same policy? Do we conceivably have some longer term interests with Iran, which it is in our interest to resuscitate, to cultivate, and eventually, to make significant politically? It will require a great deal of sophisticated leadership to move in that direction because the issues are pregnant with domestic political concerns. Yet, in the long run, if we want the region to be stable, I do not see how we can avoid a change in position, and a change in position can only come through leadership.

I don’t think I have to belabor the issues pertaining to the Far East. We are all conscious of the fact that really fundamental change is under way. A great new power is in the process of emerging. What it will do, how it will act, and how it will interact with us is clearly going to be a formidable challenge—one which we have not addressed in a consistent fashion. If one compares the course we have pursued over the past three years with respect to Russia with that of our policies toward China, one finds, on a variety of levels, striking contrasts which are difficult to explain. The fact of the matter is that our policy towards China has been contradictory and inadequate. It appears to be devoid of any larger strategic design, and yet such a design is needed. It also is needed because Japan’s relationship with us is bound to change. It is, in fact, changing, and it cannot be addressed almost exclusively from the standpoint of trade relations. Thus, here too, a sense of strategic direction requires a great deal of rethinking, then campaigning, articulating, and implementing.

The fifth issue which I mentioned, I deliberately phrased as involving how we manage nuclear proliferation. I did not say how do we stop nuclear proliferation, but how do we manage it. Because it is underway, it has been underway. We have, in fact, in some cases closed our eyes to it, sometimes we have abetted it, and it cannot be stopped.

So the question is, how are we going to live in a world in which nuclear weapons are probably more dispersed, and more available, and where do we draw the effective lines. Is it between different kinds of states, in which case we must more clearly articulate which states are, in our view, entitled to acquire them directly or surreptitiously, and which not? That has been the case so far. We have, in fact, aided some states in attaining nuclear status, even though our policies were proclaimed to be that of nuclear non-proliferation. Or, may we have to draw a line between nation-states, and non-state groupings, particularly terrorist groupings?

It is a fact, though it is an insufficient fact on which to base a policy, that states which have nuclear capabilities have acted with great restraint. Is it possibly the case that states which have an antagonistic relationship with each other become more prudent when both acquire nuclear weapons? Certainly, so far, the Indian-Pakistani confrontation has not been devoid of tension, even the spilling of blood. But it has involved considerable restraint ever since both of them became nuclear-capable. This is an insufficient basis for a grand strategy, but it does suggest, perhaps, that some of our attitudes are hypocritical, and need some rethinking. And again, on this issue American leadership will be of critical significance.

Finally, will large-scale social collapse be avoided? This obviously has a special application for meaning today in Africa. But, this concern can be applied elsewhere as well, in Bosnia which is not exactly the only relevant example. There may be new ones arising, and closer to home. I am far from confident that socio-political stability is an enduring reality in Mexico. In any case, large-scale social collapse will pose enormous moral dilemmas for us, and perhaps, in some cases, political challenges.

Zaire is largely a moral dilemma, but should Mexico erupt, or Bosnia again ignite, it would also have a political dimension. Have we provided the leadership that is really in keeping with our posture in the world? On a crisis of as great a magnitude as the one we are facing in Zaire, it is Canada that is taking the lead, while the Pope and the Secretary-General of the United Nations are appealing for a wider global response, including from the world’s only superpower. This will require a degree of commitment and abnegation, and some real sacrifice from us. That is not possible to sustain unless there is a leadership that addresses this issue, speaks to it, and convinces the country that we have a moral, as well as a political interest in addressing this challenge.

In summary, I think the test for us is whether we will prove to be a truly effective, solitary global superpower. Or is there the risk that in shrinking from these challenges, we will be the first impotent global power. And some people are asking the question of whether America is historically fatigued; whether the tricept of power and monopoly and democracy involves an oxymoron. Perhaps a democracy cannot lead on these issues. Particularly a democracy such as ours, which is becoming increasingly culturally diversified. Under such conditions, a national consensus will be ever more difficult to achieve. I think it is a question certainly worth pondering. Is diversity, as practiced and defined in America today, in fact incompatible with developing and sustaining a national will? For action and leadership has to be derived from national will.

There is also a secondary question. Do we have the structure for decision-making in our society that is responsive to the new global realities? Let me draw your attention to a simple fact, which I know many of you are familiar with. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the National Security Act. The National Security Act was a belated bureaucratic, institutional reform in response to the inadequacies of our decision-making process during the World War II. It created a great many new innovative processes and procedures, some of which have stood the test of time. Is that machinery adequate today? Let me cite one specific example which always troubles me. I find it appalling that we don’t have any mechanism for effective global political planning in the U.S. government. We do not. There is something called the Policy Planning Council in the Department of State. It has its ups and downs. It has some excellent people on it. But, more often than not, it is a speech-making mechanism for the Secretary of State. That is not altogether bad, because policy is often made by speeches. But, surely, it is not enough.

There are a number of planning mechanisms in the Department of Defense, both in the Secretary’s office, and in the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But, you cannot plan national strategy on a complex variety of issues such as the ones I have mentioned from the vantage point of the Defense Department, which involves one particular motivation and perspective. This is not to negate the value of the mechanisms that exist, but they are constrained by a very specific institutional and professional perspective. There is nothing like a global political planning capability in the White House, literally nothing. I find it staggering. I think that the 50th anniversary of the National Security Act suggests that the time has come to remedy this inadequacy.

There is a further problem which concerns me in the background of these. That is with respect to national values and our national culture. It is not simply an unfair charge to assert that our society is becoming an increasingly entertainment-oriented society, that more people than ever before spend more time being mindlessly entertained by procedures and techniques with which you are well familiar. Such a society cannot create and spread competitive ideas that are likely to invoke universal support. At the same time, such societies are likely to produce an increasingly alienated elite that is motivated by contempt for the mass culture, but also driven by disparate power structures.

Today, in a world that is politically inarticulate, effective leadership is impossible without driving ideas behind it. This was the only reason that the Soviet Union was such a powerful state for such a long time. The Soviet Union was always a sham and a front. It hid the reality of poverty, backwardness, and criminality, and yet a great deal came from the power of the ideas, though false, that were identified with the Soviet Union. What are the ideas of our society? These are issues not irrelevant to our future. That is my simple message for this evening.

* NOTE: This published version is an edited transcript of remarks delivered without a formal text.

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