Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Author: Zbigniew Brzezinski

Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Basic Books (January 24, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 046502954X
ISBN-13: 978-0465029549

Book Description

By 1991, following the disintegration first of the Soviet bloc and then of the Soviet Union itself, the United States was left standing tall as the only global super-power. Not only the 20th but even the 21st century seemed destined to be the American centuries. But that super-optimism did not last long. During the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, the stock market bubble and the costly foreign unilateralism of the younger Bush presidency, as well as the financial catastrophe of 2008 jolted America – and much of the West – into a sudden recognition of its systemic vulnerability to unregulated greed. Moreover, the East was demonstrating a surprising capacity for economic growth and technological innovation. That prompted new anxiety about the future, including even about America’s status as the leading world power. This book is a response to a challenge. It argues that without an America that is economically vital, socially appealing, responsibly powerful, and capable of sustaining an intelligent foreign engagement, the geopolitical prospects for the West could become increasingly grave. The ongoing changes in the distribution of global power and mounting global strife make it all the more essential that America does not retreat into an ignorant garrison-state mentality or wallow in cultural hedonism but rather becomes more strategically deliberate and historically enlightened in its global engagement with the new East. This book seeks to answer four major questions:

1. What are the implications of the changing distribution of global power from West to East, and how is it being affected by the new reality of a politically awakened humanity?

2. Why is America’s global appeal waning, how ominous are the symptoms of America’s domestic and international decline, and how did America waste the unique global opportunity offered by the peaceful end of the Cold War?

3. What would be the likely geopolitical consequences if America did decline by 2025, and could China then assume America’s central role in world affairs?

4. What ought to be a resurgent America’s major long-term geopolitical goals in order to shape a more vital and larger West and to engage cooperatively the emerging and dynamic new East?

America, Brzezinski argues, must define and pursue a comprehensive and long-term a geopolitical vision, a vision that is responsive to the challenges of the changing historical context. This book seeks to provide the strategic blueprint for that vision.

Editorial Reviews

Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States of America
“Brzezinski’s latest book reflects his talent for unraveling complex historical issues and his strength in advocating long-term solutions for them.”

Senator John Kerry
“Strategic Vision is a clear, vivid look at America’s place in the world today. Rather than surrender to defeatist speculation about the perceived end to the American Century, Zbigniew Brzezinski’s reality-based insights explore how the United States can move forward over the next two decades. This is a must-read for a straightforward assessment of the challenges of today and tomorrow and the unique strengths America brings to the global stage.”

Senator Richard G. Lugar, State of Indiana; Ranking Member of and Former Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
“Informed by a lifetime of comprehensive scholarship and many years of responsibility on the front lines of our diplomacy and national security, Zbigniew Brzezinski provides in Strategic Vision a comprehensive blueprint for successful planning and action. His challenge to the U.S. to be a sophisticated leader of a vital democratic-enlarged zone in the West and a promoter of stability in the East is timely and persuasive.”

Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and former New York Times columnist
“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.”

Robert M. Gates, U.S. Secretary of Defense, 2006-2011
“Strategic Vision is a much-needed wake-up call regarding the international repercussions if America fails to address its multiple domestic crises successfully. A realist but not a pessimist, Brzezinski offers a thoughtful—and, as usual, provocative and timely—must-read for all who are concerned about the future of our country at home and abroad.”

Jim Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank, 1995-2005
“The author has given us a powerful and dynamic examination of our history, the current challenges and the probable changes in the economic, political and environmental balance on our plant. He analyzes the current situation in key countries and thereafter presents the issues we are likely to face in 2050 in a world divided between a dominant East and a challenged West. This is an insightful, provocative and stimulating analysis that should be read by all concerned with global stability and growth.”

Joseph S. Nye, Jr. Professor at Harvard and author of The Future of Power
“Zbigniew Brzezinski combines theoretical acuity with unmatched practical experience to provide a provocative and compelling portrait of the future along with a convincing map to navigate it.”

Kirkus Reviews
“[Brzezinski] offers an astute, elegant appraisal of the waning of America’s ‘global appeal’ and the severe consequences of the shifting of power from West to East….Brzezinski provides a powerful cautionary tale….An urgent call for ‘historic renewal’ by one of America’s sharpest minds.”

Surveying a Global Power Shift


In the early 1990s, when some scholars were arguing that the end of the cold war and the implosion of the Soviet Union signified the advent of a new era in which liberal democracy would triumph around the planet, Mr. Brzezinski was warning about the forces of upheaval rumbling through the developing world and the weaknesses of the West that could undermine its global clout.

In his 1993 book “Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the 21st Century” Mr. Brzezinski argued that the acceleration of communication made possible by technology set contemporary history apart from the past, that China was more likely than Russia to assume a leadership role on the world stage, and that America’s emphasis on “material wealth, on consumption and on the propagation of self-indulgence as the definition of the good life” could endanger its pre-eminence as a global power.

Now, in his provocative new book, “Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power,” Mr. Brzezinski — the national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter — surveys the current state of world affairs. He provides a clear-eyed, sharp-tongued assessment of this hinge moment in time, when the world’s center of gravity is shifting “from the West to the East.”

This situation has come about, he says, because of America’s economic and political problems at home (including a growing and “eventually unsustainable national debt,” faltering public education and an increasingly gridlocked and highly partisan political process), misguided foreign policy decisions (most notably George W. Bush’s determination to wage an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq) and the growing mastery, by potential rivals, of “21st-century modernity.”

Certainly some of these observations will be familiar to readers of recent books by Bill Clinton (“Back to Work”) and Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum (“That Used to Be Us”), but Mr. Brzezinski does a cogent job here of situating America’s relationships with other countries in a geopolitical and historical context. And he uses his expertise in these areas to draw a harrowing portrait of what the world might look like without a re-energized and strategic-minded United States on the global stage.

In the 1990s the United States had become the “first truly global superpower”; since then, he says, there has been a global dispersal of power, with a weakened European Union, along with Russia, China, India and Japan all maneuvering for position. This dispersal of power, he goes on, is magnified by “the emergence of a volatile phenomenon: the worldwide political awakening of populations until recently politically passive or repressed.” He adds: “Occurring recently in Central and Eastern Europe and lately in the Arab world, this awakening is the cumulative product of an interactive and interdependent world connected by instant visual communications and of the demographic youth bulge in the less advanced societies composed of the easy-to-mobilize and politically restless university students and the socially deprived unemployed.”

In such an increasingly unstable world, Mr. Brzezinski suggests, the United States remains, in the words of the former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, the “indispensable nation.” Though no longer a hegemonic colossus, America remains essential, in his view, to promoting “a larger and more vital West” (embracing “perhaps in varying ways, both Turkey and a truly democratizing Russia”) while at the same time playing the “role of balancer and conciliator” in Asia. There it ought to engage China “in a serious dialogue regarding regional stability” to reduce the possibility not only of American-Chinese conflicts but also of miscalculations between China and Japan, or China and India, or China and Russia.

Mr. Brzezinski notes that President Obama has “failed to speak directly to the American people about America’s changing role in the world, its implications, and its demands,” but this book curiously lacks any detailed analysis of Mr. Obama’s policies so far — nothing remotely approaching the acute assessments of Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush contained in this author’s 2007 book, “Second Chance,” which charted the opportunities he considers missed at the end of the cold war (like using the victory in the first Gulf war strategically to press for an Israeli-Palestinian accord).

Also missing from this book are any substantive discussions of how the United States might overcome “its staggering domestic challenges and reorient its drifting foreign policy” and how the current European debt crisis might affect the United States and the future fortunes of the West.

What Mr. Brzezinski does do here — lucidly, and for the most part with great persuasiveness — is explore the consequences that a steady slide by America into impotence and irrelevance might have on the rest of the world. Such a development, he argues, would probably not result in the “ ‘coronation’ of an effective global successor” like China, but would likely lead to a “protracted phase of rather inconclusive and somewhat chaotic realignments of both global and regional power, with no grand winners and many more losers.”

An America “in serious decline for domestic and/or external reasons,” he says, would lead to a breakdown in the ability of the international system to prevent conflict once it became evident that “America is unwilling or unable to protect states it once considered, for national interest and/ or doctrinal reasons, worthy of its engagement.” As he sees it, a more Darwinian world of tumbling dominoes would most likely result: there would be little to prohibit regional powers (like Russia) from exerting claims on neighbors falling within traditional or claimed spheres of influence (like Georgia, Belarus and Ukraine). Taiwan would become increasingly vulnerable, and so too would Israel.

In the case of Afghanistan, Mr. Brzezinski says, a failure to sustain United States-sponsored international involvement in the region could turn that country into a haven again for international terrorism, while a decline in American power and aid could lead to a worst-case outcome in which Pakistan devolved into “some variation of nuclear warlordism” or became “a militant-Islamic and anti-Western government similar to Iran.”

For that matter, Mr. Brzezinski suggests, a weakened America would increase the dangers of nuclear proliferation around the world. Were doubts to be raised about the United States’ nuclear umbrella, he says, countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and Israel would have to seek security elsewhere — that elsewhere meaning “nuclear weapons of one’s own or from the extended deterrence of another power — most likely Russia, China or India.”

Global environmental issues — including climate change and growing water shortages — would be similarly affected. In a gloomy conclusion to this insightful book Mr. Brzezinski writes that without a revitalized America helping to manage the international commons, “progress on the issues of central importance to social well-being and ultimately to human survival would stall.”

About the Author

Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski (Polish: Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzeziński, pronounced [ˈzbʲiɡɲiɛf kaˈʑimʲiɛʐ bʐɛˈʑiɲski]; born March 28, 1928) is a Polish American political scientist, geostrategist, and statesman who served as United States National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981. Brzezinski is currently Robert E. Osgood Professor of American Foreign Policy at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a member of various boards and councils. He appears frequently as an expert on the PBS program The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, ABC News' This Week with Christiane Amanpour, and on MSNBC's Morning Joe, where his daughter, Mika Brzezinski, is co-anchor. In recent years, he has been a supporter of the Prague Process.

Links for Further Reading: