The United States and its Concern about World Leadership

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour
University Faculty Member & International Issues Analyst

What Do Brzezinski’s Ideas and Recommendations Stand for?

Certain issues inside the United States have profound effects on all aspects of the country’s s political and international behavior. As the next presidential polls draw near, the United States’ foreign policy approaches have turned into a hot subject for election debates. Foreign policy has been regularly a major topic even in domestic political contentions, but it gains more prominence in the year of elections. Apart from elections, foreign policy is regularly the origin of major theoretical and executive currents in the state and academic circles of the United States. Both in election years and in normal times of the year, a main issue, which is common denominator of all American political currents, is the question about what policy the United States should follow in its quest for the world leadership?

A major concern for all political elites in the United States is how to enforce the American leadership in the world and make the rest of the world accept the presumed global leadership of Washington. At present, the United States’ global leadership is a major topic of discussion and various answers have been given to the above question from various angles and based on different ideas. One of the most prominent of those views was that of Zbignew Brzezinski, who served as the United States National Security Advisor under the former President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981. How can we assess discussions about the United States’ global leadership? Here, we first focus on the global leadership of the United States from a large-scale standpoint. Then, Brzezinski’s views will be discussed followed by assessment and criticism of his views.

A Large-Scale Approach to US Global Leadership

Since the World War II when the United States achieved its current position as a superpower in international system, the quality of the leadership over the world and the West and ways of maintaining and deepening that leadership have been major issues for the United States’ foreign policy. There are various views as to how this leadership should be enforced, but all political elites have common views on definition, formulation and acceptance of the United States’ global leadership. At present, all presidential candidates in the Republican camp believe in the global leadership of the United States. Despite some differences with his predecessor, George Bush, who stood for extreme rightist tendencies and neo-conservatism in the United States, President Barack Obama has common views with him about leadership of the world. However, they differ as to how to realize that leadership. All theories offered in the area of political science and international relations in the United States consider the issue of leadership as their main concern one way or another.

The realists use military institutions in order to enforce that leadership while neoconservatives believe in unbending military realism as the sole way of enforcing that leadership. Institutionalists and liberals not only emphasize on the military aspects, but also focus on the necessity of the US cooperating with international institutions and using various international regimes. The Republican and Democrat politicians have various views on the best way to achieve global leadership, but all of them agree that the United States should achieve that leadership status. Meanwhile, the majority of the American political elites agree that the country is facing major challenges and problems for becoming the world leader. Some of them even talk about global decline of the United States while others maintain that the US decline has just started and is gradually progressing. They, however, emphasize on the fact that there is still enough capacity left to reconstruct the United States’ leadership position and Brzezinski’s ideas in this regard are noteworthy.

Brzezinski and Revival of US Leadership

In his latest articles, Brzezinski has focused on challenges facing the United States in its effort to revive its global leadership through a series of ideas and measures. Brzezinski puts emphasis on internal reconstruction of the US power through innovation, bolstering educational institutions, rebuilding the country’s bureaucratic capacities and, making special diplomatic efforts. However, he puts the most emphasis on foreign relations. Brzezinski believes that the United States has both the capacity and means of reviving the American leadership of the world which is already facing challenges. However, he says special attention should be paid to two areas in order to achieve the above goal:

1. Expanding geographic and strategic reach of the West; and

2. Creating a new balance of power in Asia.

He also elaborates the details in both areas. Expansion of geographic and strategic reach of the West, from Brzezinski’s viewpoint, is tantamount to expansion of such trans-Atlantic institutions as NATO as well as development of US relations with the European Union, and more importantly, gradual and strategic integration of Russia into the Western camp. Brzezinski maintains that the United States cannot rely on presumed historical hostility when dealing with Russia and should note that Russia has undergone changes. As a result, he says, due attention should be paid to those changes to allow the United States to pave the way for the integration of Russia into the Western camp. In addition, he talks about full integration of Turkey into the West and believes that this will increase geographical depth of the Western camp, which in addition to his presumed superiority of Western and American values will help the United States to achieve the position of a world leader.

As for Asia and in view of the rise of China’s power, Brzezinski recommends serious and coordinated work with China and integration of China in international system along with a new structure for power relations in Asia. He underlines the reality that China, despite its differences with the United States, does not apply a hostile ideology to Washington. An anti-American ideological culture is not prominent in China’s international relations. Therefore, in view of this and other factors, there is more room for cooperation with China. In addition to cooperation, the United States must create a new balance of power in Asia with Washington as its main axis. To do this, Washington should closely follow age-old strategic conflicts such as historical tension and rivalry between China and Japan, historical conflict between China and India, as well as the issue of Taiwan through new arrangements which would allow the US to create a new balance of power with Washington at its center. If done, this will revive the American leadership of the world and Washington can regain its position on the summit of the global leadership without any additional concern about management of international relations. Brzezinski’s views, however, need close scrutiny.

Analysis and Assessment

A critique of Brzezinski’s remarks should being with ideation and importance of ideas in the US foreign policy. Foreign policy and international relations of any country, including the United States reflect that country’s ideas, trends and the way it defines and formulates its national interests as well as the best way to pursue them. Therefore, idea holds a central position in this regard and Brzezinski’s ideations are important because the US foreign policy is finally an idea-based process and such ideas will have their effect on assessment, evaluation, strengthening, and reconstructing the US power. The main stress in the first stages should be, therefore, put on the concept of ideation. But are Brzezinski’s ideas really practical? A discussion of this issue should start with review of ambiguities and uncertainties which are of high significance.

From a domestic standpoint, the United States has never been faced with such extensive challenges as it is today. A review of Obama’s remarks during his swearing-in ceremony in January 2009, when he produced a list of internal challenges facing the United States, will reveal the fact that some of those challenges are becoming chronic. Although there seems to be adequate capacities to manage some of them, any attempt to introduce domestic reforms appears to be a bumpy road and the US government’s inability to find a solution to this problem seems to be the main reason behind the aggressive approach that the Republican candidates have adopted in the ongoing election campaigns.

Another point is international aspect of this issue. There are two main challenges which make following Brzezinski’s views at international level more difficult. The first challenge exists inside the United States and is related to the country’s foreign policy. Some US elites are by no means ready to accept Russia as a new member of the Western camp due to theoretical foundations that Moscow still adheres to. In fact, integration of Russia into the Western camp will be only possible through total cultural and political submission and transformation of Russia and the experience in the past 20 years has proven that this goal cannot be achieved in view of circumstances in Russia. In anyway, serious and structural opposition of some political elites, whose interests are tied to the interests of other parts of the US administrative and military entities, makes integration of Russia to appear very difficult.

The same is also true about China. Some political circles in the United States are currently at odds with the rising power of China. As a result, containment of China is emerging as a dominant current in US strategic and practical policies. Therefore, due attention should be also paid to domestic grounds for interaction with Russia and China which will make realization of Brzezinski’s ideas more difficult.

The second challenge, however, is about behavior of Russia and China and the role that each of those countries aims to play. While mostly in line with the US policies following the implosion of the former Soviet Union, Russia has been struggling with fundamental questions about true intent of the United States and the West, not only with regard to the world leadership, but also with respect to what US intends for Russia. The present Russian rulers have lost their early optimism about the West and while trying to expand bilateral relations, approach this issue with some degree of strategic caution. It seems that this attitude has been institutionalized in Russia. As for China, although they are currently following a more commercialist approach away from their old ideological concerns, at the heart of their analyses, the Chinese still believe that the United States is ultimately trying to restrict, destroy, and diminish China’s capacity to influence international relations. Therefore, not all Chinese elites can be easily convinced to follow the same policy and move along the same line.

On the whole, the US concern about global leadership will remain a pivotal issue in the US strategic discourses. The final discourse which would overcome other discourses at the end will be, to some extent, determined by political ideas, and to some extent, by political realities inside the United States as well as regional and international dynamism, which cannot be entirely controlled by the United States.

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review

More By Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour:

*Iran and US Election Campaigns: Anatomy of the Ongoing Propaganda Hype:

*Military Attack on Iran: Anatomy of Israel’s Intentions:’s_Intentions_2.htm

*Attacking Iran: Intention, Possibility and Limitations:

طراحی و توسعه آگاه‌سیستم