He is one of the most respected and influential foreign policy veterans in Washington: Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter.
Brzezinski was one of the earliest establishment supporters of the then-Senator Barack Obama for president.
In an exclusive interview with euronews, Brzezinski praises Obama’s new foreign policy team and urges Europe, America’s number one ally, to provide more evocative forward-looking leadership.
Stefan Grobe, euronews Washington correspondent: Dr. Brzezinski, Barack Obama picked two former Senate colleagues of his to run the State and Defense departments, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel. Both men draw heavily on Vietnam War experience. Is that a mere coincidence or is there a particular Obama message behind these nominations?
Zbigniew Brzezinski: Oh, it’s a little bit of both. I don’t think it’s designed, particularly, to convey in some fashion the importance of the lessons to be drawn from Vietnam, but on the other hand it certainly was a major episode in America’s adventure on the global scale. And in that sense both of them distinguish themselves and both, probably, are wise enough to draw some wider lessons from it.
euronews: Do we have something like an Obama doctrine, yet?
Brzezinski: We have an Obama doctrine, but I have often said – and at some political risk to myself – we have an Obama doctrine, we don’t have an Obama strategy. I think these two guys can provide the strategy for the doctrine.
euronews: And what should that strategy be?
Brzezinski: I think it should, first of all, take as its point of departure the recognition of the fact that the traditional global conflicts that we witnessed over the last 200 years, are no longer going to be waged in the future. That is to say the notion of global hegemony by a single power is no longer feasible, even for the most powerful. But at the same time we are going to be faced with many more simultaneous conflicts with some potentially high risks. And therefore our response has to be far more intelligent, diversified, hopefully collegial with other major states, and avoid a kind of total confrontation that was implicit in our recent historic experience.
euronews: The first year of a US president’s second term is always a promising moment, because the president has a lot of foreign policy capital. He has a full four years to be creative and doesn’t need to care about reelection. How should Obama spend this capital? What should be his priorities?
Brzezinski: I think the priorities are, to some extent, dictated by what we already confront which is increasing conflict and tension in the Middle East; on a variety of fronts in the Middle East, not just the traditional one which is the Israeli-Palestinian one, but the Syrian front and its potential for wider regional tensions. He has to confront the risks posed by Iran. But then beyond that, if you look at the map of the world and if you look at a sort of the southern boundaries of Eurasia, starting with North Korea through the China Sea, India and China, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, then all the way to Suez and Egypt, and then all the way to Niger and Mali – we are confronting a real belt of potentially explosive circumstances.
euronews: Let’s talk about Europe. There are some observers who believe that under Obama America has turned European. Now, I should take this as a compliment, but it is, of course, poignant sarcasm here… We know that Europe has a lot of problems, that there was a lot that went wrong in Europe, but we also know that Europe eventually demonstrated a sense of responsibility and showed political leadership. And I want to ask you this: Is there anything that America can learn from Europe these days?
Brzezinski: Well, in a way, yes. If it looks at Europe and some of its problems it’s almost like a mirror image of some of our problems: serious fiscal problems, socio-economic conflicts, some serious polarisation internally, gridlock politically and the absence of a shared and compelling vision of the future. So we can each learn from the problems of the other. But I am optimistic about both. I think we will get on top of our issues, and I think the Europeans, and particularly in the European Union, will pull through.
euronews: Looking at the competition between the United States and emerging global powers like China, India, Russia – does America still need Europe or does it need Europe even more today?
Brzezinski: You mentioned China, India, Russia as the emerging powers. If you look more closely, one of them is an emerging power. The two others are not. One is struggling with a nostalgia for the past and the other one has a somewhat exaggerated opinion of itself, given its overall socio-economic condition, but a great potential and promise. There is one emerging power and that is China. And of course we have to pay attention to it. But Europe is an enormously important entity already: it’s our principal trading partner, our principal global ally, and has potentially a great vitality with which to contribute meaningfully to the global condition – provided the Europeans address seriously the question of what kind of a future they want. There are some tendencies in Europe toward particularisms, some sort of nostalgic tendencies to turn backwards – that will not solve Europe’s problems. And Europe needs today much more evocative forward-looking leadership of the kind it had some decades ago and which today is lacking.
euronews: Political tensions with Russia have escalated sharply since the passage of the Magnitsky Act, Russian legislation to bar Americans from adopting Russian children and the firing of Radio Liberty’s Moscow staff. Against this backdrop: How do you judge Obama’s ‘reset’ with Russia? Was it, as many observers claim, a total failure? Was Obama too naive? How do you see it?
Brzezinski: Well, I certainly don’t think it was a total failure and I don’t think it was naïve. First, it was very limited, just think of the name, RESET. There is nothing terribly ambitious about it. It comes from the computer age, right? And what is the reset of the computer? It’s not some dramatic act changing what’s in the computer or on the computer. It’s a readjustment. So it’s a modest definition of objectives. And I think that is being pursued, but it is being pursued now in a much more difficult setting because of the reappearance of Putin. And Putin number two is much less effective and much less attractive than Putin number one. He is preoccupied with the past, with the notion of the Great Russian power worldwide, with the creation of something like the Soviet Union with a new name. Those are unrealistic objectives which, in the end, I don’t think even the majority of Russians will support.
euronews: Do you think we are going to see a ‘reset’ of the ‘reset’ in Obama’s second term?
Brzezinski: There will be some agreements and there will be some disagreements.