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Zbigniew Brzezinski: The role of the West

This article has +5 years. Its content is probably outdated.

You undoubtedly heard about Zbigniew Brzezinski  (1928-2017). In short, it would be difficult to think of him as a man of the left. It is none the less that his analysis "The Role of the West in the Complex Post-Hegemonic World", at EFNI 2012 , impressed me by lucidity and foresight. Five years later - given what is actually happening in Europe - it seems useful to recall it.



"The point of departure of my speech today is recognition of the new basic global reality, that global dominion by any single power is no longer a realistic international prospect. However, at the same time, we have to face the fact that the world is more vulnerable to growing global chaos. Hence responsible nation states have no choice but to promote wider geopolitical cooperation, and Europe particularly has the opportunity, as well as the historical obligation, to shape and to participate directly with America in the quest for such brother cooperation.

Even as recently as during the previous century which ended just a little more than a decade ago, the grandiose goal of global domination was still the quiding motivation of two ideologically ambitious totalitarian States. Global hegemony by either one of them could have emerged as a consequence of the destructive wars but largely on European soil. Hegemony might have also been the result of the prolonged worldwide Cold War rivalry between the North American and the Eurasian continental super states.

Not surprisingly, the one-side but peaceful victory of America over Soviet Russia gave birth to the brief but widely shared illusion that the 21st century will hence be the American Century, with the United States acting as the world's benevolent hegemon. Twenty years later... twenty years later! a truly comprehensive American global domination is no longer possible.

That is so for several reasons.

In recent decades, worldwide social change has experienced unprecedented historical acceleration, particularly because the instant mass communication, such as radio, television and the Internet, cumulatively have been stimulating an universal awakening of mass political consciousness. The resulting widespread rise in worldwide populist activism is proving inimical to external domination of the kind that prevailed in the age of colonialism and imperialism.

Persistent and highly motivated populist resistance of politically awakened and historically resentful peoples, the external control has proven to be increasingly difficult to suppress as protracted guerrilla warfare in Vietnam, Algeria or Afganistan have amply demonstrated, and as the rising turmoil in both the Middle East and Southwest Asia are foreshadowing. At the same time, the acquisition by the major powers of weaponry of increasingly destructive capabilities has made the notion of victory in the nuclear war among them prohibitively costly. That is prompted a degree of self-restrained that was absent in the brief pre-Atomic Age, age in relations among major powers.

Last but not least, the ongoing shape in the center of gravity of global political power from the West to the East, dramatized by rise of China (and Asia more generally) signals conclusively the onset of the historically new and more complex distribution of global power. In that much more complex historical and geopolitical setting, democratic America admittedly is still the world's most powerful, the richest, and the most influential state. Therefore much so depends on how America conducts itself in world affairs. But to a much greater degree then in the recent past, a great deal now depends also on the conduct of other major powers. We would all probably agree that any list of the contemporary world's geopolitically most important states would include America, China, Russia, - not the European Union as such because of its lack of political cohesion - but more specifically Germany, France, Great Britain, and, in the East, Japan as well as India. and of course China which I've already mentioned.

Unfortunately, each of these currently most significant states is, in one fashion or another, experiencing serious systemic handicaps that reduce and constrict the respective capacity for shaping world affairs.

To be more specific: today's American political system is increasingly gridlocked and unable to address effectively the country's serious, domestic, economic, financial problems, especially those that are generating growing social inequality. At the same time, America's global legitimacy has been damaged in recent years by its unilateral reliance on military power, especially in the Middle-East, while it's/its infrastructural renewal has been burdened by the hight financial cost of prolonged local wars. In the near future, America's global influence could be further jeopardized by the likely consequences of any war with Iran.

China despite his historically unprecedented and truly remarquable modernisation is showing signs of internal political stress between its ruling bureaucracy and the increasingly nationalistic armed forces, and that the growing restlessness among the younger portions of China's newly prosperous middle class regarding the political systems controls over about theirs mounting aspirations.

Concurrently, geopolitical tensions between China and some of its several key Asian neighbors, notably Japan and India, are beginning to be ominously reminiscent of similar animosities, a century ago, in Europe.

Russia, especially under Putin, is currently dominated by nostalgia for imperial status and hopes of seducing and absorbing Ukraine in this regard for its own social, economic retardation its demographic crises, the brain-drain of its best talents, and is facing a potential threat inherent in the growing gap between China's modernization and the de-munition of the Russian population in Russia'a Far East. At the same time, growing violence in the Caucasus is placing in jeopardy the prospects for a peaceful Winter Olympics in Sotchi, while islamic fundamentalism is beginning to seep from Central Asia into Russia's southern regions, including Tatarstan.
The fact is that Russia is yet to make a realistic appraisal of what its future global role actually can be.

At present, a political European Union is obviously still a distant reality. With the existing European Union sadly proving that it is in fact less a union then its recent ans smaller predecessor - the European Community.
The unfortunate result is that today's Europe as such counts for little in the world's political affairs, unless several individually more powerful European states with two of them enjoying their privileged post-war War II status as veto-wielders in the UN, occasionally act on an ad-hoc basis as serious, international players. But one of the two, Great Britain, is also reluctant to fully identify itself as European.

Japan, traumatized by strategy fate in 1945, is a good citizen of the world, but a passive global power, and still hesitant about his proper role. The victim of territorial unilateralism on the part of Russia, and the target of bitter war memories on the part of China, Japan's regional isolation is further intensified by the continued mutual animus with its immediate neighbor, South Korea.
in the face of intensifying tensions with China, for Japan that bilateral link to America is currently its only security blanket.

Last but not least, India, the most populated country in the world, entertains large global aspirations, has high self esteem and significant military forces but lags behind China in its economic, dynamic modernization, and power.

Moreover is conflict with Pakistan - the latter is de facto ally of China - places it in potential danger, while the unresolved territorial disputes and conflicting international ambitions, especially with China, represent an even-present challenge to peaceful stability between the world's two most populous states.

Last but not least, the ethnic, linguistic and religious mosaic of India has some ominous similarities to the former Soviet Union. In today's world, Eurasia writ large (= obvious) is the central arena for potentially disruptive international conflicts arising out of the foregoing condition. It is the setting for latent as well as for our already surfacing territorial disputes, conflicts over mineral or water rights, collisions over maritime demarcations, not to mention religious, linguistic, and ethnic animosities.

The existing conflicts in the Middle East and the surfacing nationalistic tensions in Asia thus posed the risk of a further spread of regional violence with potentially serious international consequences. A larger war over fragmenting Syria or an American conflict with Iran, precipitated by Israel could in turn have seriously debilitating for the currently already vulnerable world economy.

To make matters even worse, in the longer run, the currently still facing Pacific rivalry between America and China, could in some circumstances become increasingly antagonistic. Highly visibles pressures in the direction of mutual hostility have lately been rising in both countries. I view as particularly ominous in that regard the fact that some recent American and Chinese publications have been previewing openly the possibility, indeed in striking military detail, of an eventual armed collision between these two leading states. That makes it all the more important that America as well as China both take steps to reassure each other that their current global preeminence is not fated to degenerate into a dangerously destructive global conflict. In any case, none of the world's leading powers is currently capable on its own the needed framework for enduring continental, geopolitical stability in Eurasia. That heightens the special importance of more assertive engagement on the part of states with it till now underutilized constructive potential for playing significant regional roles.

In Europe, I've particularly in mind the economically powerful Germany, and is strategically increasingly important Turkey. On the global scene, Japan, the world's number three economy, could and should likewise increase its international profile. But today, here, in Sopot, near the spot where the war that nearly destroyed all of Europe, started some 65 years ago, I focus particularly on Europe and its future vocation.

Europe, with America's encouragement and continued commitment to Europe security, needs its bold vision of an eventually wider European political community beyond the current limits of the existing European Union.
In the course of the next several decades that could involve intermediate confederal arrangements embracing specifically : first of all - Turkey, and eventually Ukraine as well as also Russia.

Germany, as europe's leading and most successful power, could and should be playing the central role in such an endeavor, particularly in the wake of its successful reconciliation, first with France, and subsequently with Poland.

France, thanks to its historical self-confidence, opened the way to Germany's post-world War II acceptance as a leading European state. And that is France's enduring accomplishment.

More recently, Poland, to its credit, show the geopolitical wisdom in stating openly and in spite of painful historical memories that a more decisively leading European foreign policy role by the economically successful and democratically solid Germany is in Europe's interest... if Europe is to become truly Europe.

It is also pertinent to note that Turkey's own modernization, launched almost a century ago, was very much driven by Ataturk's admiration for German society, despite occasional setbacks. Since then, Turkey's resulting and still ongoing modernization and secularization have proven to be a remarquable success.

With the Germany in the lead, and with Germany taking advantage also of Poland's historical ties with both Turkey and Ukraine, a constructive German led European outreach to the southeast, namely to Turkey, and to the East ; namely to Ukraine, and eventually Russia, could revitalize Europe's historical self-confidence and promote a more ambitious vision of Europe's future.

In that context, it needs also to be stated bluntly that the persistent de facto exclusion of Turkey from the European Union reflects not only a lack of European strategic ambition but actually the lack of strategic common sense.

The Turkey even more closely linked to Europe would enhance European security. It would promote the prospects for stability in the important oil producing in the important oil producing Caspian region, increases the security of Georgian Azerbaijan and by closer cooperation across the Black Sea, fortify Ukraine's independence. In contrast, if frustrated and isolated Turkey, permanently excluded from Europe, could eventually become a transmission belt for the spread of the Middle East's political, ethnic and religious disorders into the Balkan regions of Europe itself.

Russia too deserves to have a better future option than the feckless imperial course on which Putin seeks to embark it. The fact is that none of the newly independant post-soviet states wish to be subject again to the Kremlin. They will do what they can do to avoid a binding subordination to Moscow under the guise of the currently Kremlin promoted Eurasian Union, while the resentment of it could even infect their new national pride with religious extremism. Paradoxically, to the new post-soviet states a Russia that is engaged in forging closer links with a larger Europe, could be a more acceptable sponsor of greater economic integration throughout the space of the former Sovet Union.

The new states would then fear less the potential restriction of their sovereignty, and Russia itself connected more closely to Europe would be then more likely to have a greater global influence.

Fortunately, there is growing evidence that Russia itself is changing in ways that before long will make its present regime obsolete. A new, younger and more Western minded middle class is emerging. It knows the world. It is increasingly European in outlook and identity. And for the first time in Russian history fear no longer pervades Russia's political life. That is a new reality with far-reaching consequences. It is already signifies the onset of a new era in Russia's political culture. In a decade or two that middle class will be shaping Russia's future, and in doing so it will not be driven by Imperial nostalgia.

Ukraine could be a critical political accelerator in that process of change. Currently governed by a pro Moscow regime that is fearful of the approaching Ukrainian parliamentary elections, the country is politically regressing. But 20 years of independence have instilled in the younger generation of Ukrainians a new identity and new pride in their independant statehood. The Ukrainians feel that their country's historically dating back to the Kievan rus', and culturally more European than Russia. Increasingly they see their future as, in some fashion, a part of Europe but not against Russia but in Europe together with the democratic Russia.

Admittedly, in larger truly cooperative and democratic Europe is a long-term prospect, I have no illusions in that regard. And we all know that the currently existing Europe is confronting an existential crisis. If not overcome, that crisis could undermine and even destroy much of what has been accomplished in Europe since World War II. Today's Europe of hope could then even give way to a reappearance of yesterday's Europe of hate.
That is why today's Europe needs so urgently leaders guided by historical confidence and driven by truly continental ambitions.

Let us recall that in the truly worst days of World War II, Churchill and Roosevelt met and proclaimed the Atlantic Charter  as their vision of what perseverance and confidence in eventual victory will entail for America and for Europe.
It was a vision of more than hope. It was an affirmation of historical responsibility for the future. Alas !... it took longer then a military victory in World War II for the Atlantic Charter's vision to become reality but 50 years after its proclamation, in large measure thanks to events that started here, in Gdansk, that vision became a reality not only for Western but also for Central Europe.
Today, the world in general and Eurasia in particular, need a larger and longer range vision of the globally influential Europe. Otherwise our still young 21st century threatens to become a century not dominated by hegemonic aspirations but by intensifying global turmoil. It is therefore not too early for the leaders of Europe to emulate the example set by Roosevelt and Churchill, and dedicate themselves to the goal of the wider Europe that will be truly Europe.

Thank you."


Unlike Brzezinski, I do not regret that following the expansion of the mass media the awakening of consciences makes difficult the manipulation of nations, and that it is no longer possible to repress the revolts against the hegemonism of the United States. However, Brzezinski's vision of Europe is interesting. If only Europe were meant for people and not for markets, I would also be for a broader and deeper federation within it right today. That's not the case so I've been among those who voted "no" in the French referendum on the Constitutional Treaty in 2005, and I'm still convinced that the Union need to be redrawn first.