American Institute in Ukraine
Experts Roundup: Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski on NATO and a “Global Security Web”

September 3, 2009

A publication of the elite Council on Foreign Relations, the bimonthly journal Foreign Affairs is universally regarded as the most influential American publication on topics relating to international relations and U.S. foreign policy. Though it has no official government standing, articles by authoritative authors appearing in its pages often are regarded as reflecting the views of the bipartisan Washington establishment. Indeed, as epitomized by the famous “X article” in 1947, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” which defined the Cold War policy known as “containment,” what appears in Foreign Affairs today may become official U.S. policy tomorrow.

An article that may be seen as staking a claim for such influence is
An Agenda for NATO: Toward a Global Security Web
(September/October 2009), by Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, U.S. National Security Adviser under President Jimmy Carter. Dr. Brzezinski advances a vision of NATO’s future well beyond European security, into a truly global force in which the United States would play the leading, one might say dominant, role. By forging arrangements with Russia and China in particular, NATO would become the linchpin of a worldwide security structure with no clear limits to it field of engagement.

Dr. Brzezinski is well known as an energetic advocate of NATO expansion, including Ukraine’s entry into the alliance. In fact, the influence of Dr. Brzezinski’s thoughts as expressed in Foreign Affairs is perhaps best exemplified by his article “A Plan for Europe: How to Expand NATO” (January/February 1995), in which he laid out what in reality became U.S. policy a short time later:

The Clinton administration needs to lead Europe and expand NATO, but without harming ties with Russia. Washington should dispel the ambiguity created by its current waffling. The president must take a two-track approach: start the process of accepting Central European states into NATO by spelling out criteria for membership and sign a global security treaty with Russia. To make it work, Germany and Poland will have to reconcile, the West and Russia will have to soothe Ukraine, and the problem of the Baltics will have to be finessed. Only American leadership can help create a wider, safer Europe for the next century.

Now, a decade and a half later, we can see where the “Brzezinski Doctrine” of “dispelling ambiguity” has gotten us: U.S. ties with Russia indeed have been harmed, the “problem with the Baltics” was not so much “finessed” as rammed through, and Ukraine has yet to be “soothed.” The American Institute in Ukraine asked several foreign policy experts, including participants in AIU past programs, to comment on Dr. Brzezinski’s very significant current article. AIU’s Expert Roundups are part of AIU’s informational and educational program to bring to the people of Ukraine a sense of the diversity of opinion that exists regarding NATO and other relevant issues. AIU believes such diversity allows for a better informed debate among Ukraine’s people about the future of their country.


Yossef Bodansky, Director of Research of the International Strategic Studies Association

Discussing NATO's 60th anniversary, Zbigniew Brzezinski is correct in raising the question of “What next?” During the Cold War — NATO’s first 40 years of existence — NATO was the most successful alliance in human history. NATO achieved its stated goal — shielding the recovery and growth of a free Western Europe — without firing a single shot in anger. But the Cold War is over for 20 years now, and NATO is still seeking a reason for existing in a profoundly and rapidly changing world. Simply put, for one third of its existence NATO has been an alliance looking for a mission and purpose.

Dr. Brzezinski seeks to revive NATO's original purpose of containing Russia. He writes that “two strategic objectives should define NATO's [future] goal: to consolidate security in Europe by drawing Russia into a closer association with the Euro-Atlantic community, and to engage Russia in a wider web of global security that indirectly facilitates the fading of Russia's lingering imperial ambitions.” A major component of this rejuvenation of NATO is the expansion of the alliance to include former Soviet states standing up to Russia, even when several NATO members object.

The U.S. is no longer the singular hyper-power it used to be and therefore can no longer dictate — if it ever really could — to a multi-polar world comprised of numerous big powers. NATO is now engaged in the faltering war in Afghanistan, an out-of-area and out-of-Charter endeavor. NATO is right to be in Afghanistan for the destruction of the jihadist hub there is a vital interest of the West. However, Afghanistan is a humbling experience, demonstrating the limits of the U.S. and NATO military power and prowess.

Hence, this profound change in the strategic environment wrought by the war in Afghanistan should encourage NATO to reinvent itself. NATO should seek new modalities of cooperation with other big powers with corresponding regional interests who can contribute militarily and in intelligence matter — most notably Russia. If NATO is to learn anything from Afghanistan it is the urgent imperative to redefine close cooperation and genuine alliance with Russia in order to jointly contain the jihadist upsurge at the Heart of Asia.

Ivan Eland, Senior Fellow and Director, Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute

Zbigniew Brzezinski's piece on NATO might strike the casual observer as yet another attempt to justify the continuation of a Cold War alliance, which is past its heyday. Dr. Brzezinski even admits that the center of the world's economic and political power is shifting from Europe to Asia and the Pacific. He asserts vaguely that there are now "unprecedented risks to global security," "intensifying popular unrest," and the "threat of chaos." Yet Dr. Brzezinski doesn't tell us how a North Atlantic-based military alliance will deal with all this alleged global mayhem. And in fact, he exaggerates the threat that such instability poses to the United States, because cross border aggression--the main threat, if any, to U.S. security--has been declining for decades.

Dr. Brzezinski proposes offering Russia, China, India, and Japan some form of formal links to NATO without offering these nations membership. This scheme is a transparent attempt to coopt all future potential U.S. adversaries into being under the influence of U.S.-dominated alliance, without giving them an Article V security guarantee.

The real question is whether NATO has any relevance at all in the post-Cold War world, especially when the centers of global power are shifting east to Asia and the Pacific. The anachronistic alliance merely undermines U.S. flexibility in foreign policy and could drag the U.S. into unnecessary wars. Besides, NATO is in deep trouble in Afghanistan. The alliance could be severely damaged if it fails in its first Aricle V defensive mission. It's like the crew of the Titanic mulling over alternative routes for scenic cruising, even after an iceberg has ripped a hole in the hull.

James George Jatras, Deputy Director, American Institute in Ukraine

In his 1995 Foreign Affairs article that became the blueprint for NATO expansion, Zbigniew Brzezinski noted: “Fundamentally, the political struggle within Russia is over whether Russia will be a national and increasingly European state or a distinctly Eurasian and once again imperial state.” It seems now that for the author the verdict is in. In his current effort in the same publication, Dr. Brzezinski credits NATO, together with the EU, with producing a Europe that is “finally both secure and united.” Since Russia is neither in the EU nor NATO, one must conclude that Russia is not really part of Europe.

Of course, the same could be said of Ukraine. But here Dr. Brzezinski becomes more nuanced: “Given the close social links between Russia and Ukraine, the more Ukrainian society gravitates toward the West, the more likely it is that Russia will have no choice but to eventually follow suit.” But the links between Ukraine and Russia and to which Dr. Brzezinski refers precisely include a commonality of distrust about NATO’s intentions and values. Thus is created a paradox in which Ukraine and Russia can become part of “Europe” – as if they were geographically or culturally part of any other continent! – only by first drawing Ukraine into a security structure that shatters those very links against the wishes of the majority of Ukraine’s people. Only then (maybe) would Russia be invited to submit to the same yoke.

Clearly, there is a need for a new security structure in Europe, as AIU has proposed. (“Ukraine Outside of NATO: Is There a Better Alternative?” April 15, 2009). Such a structure must balance the needs of the NATO countries; of non-NATO western countries such as Finland, Ireland, Sweden, Austria, and others; of former communist countries that, like Ukraine, have little prospect or desire to joint NATO, such as Serbia, Belarus, and the former Soviet Central Asian Republics; and of Russia, which occupies a category of its own. Read superficially, Dr. Brzezinski’s article could be read as a step in that direction, if one overlooks certain details (on which he is unmistakably precise), such as the suggestion that Moscow approve Ukraine’s NATO membership in exchange for meaningless reciprocity toward the Collective Security Treaty Organization. In a sense, though, the fact that a foremost proponent of U.S. hegemony felt it necessary to package the old nostrum in a new bottle is itself a welcome development.

Edward Lozansky, President, American University in Moscow, and President, World Russian Forum, Washington, DC

Taking into account the character and scope of the world’s major threats, today’s security agenda should be on a global scale and bring together the United States, Europe, Russia as well as former Soviet republics, China, India, and other willing countries. In this context, there must be closer cooperation between NATO, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

Since NATO has the most experience, it ought to take the lead in this initiative. Another reason NATO needs to be more active centers on the issue of self-preservation. Having achieved undeniable success in ending military confrontation between Western countries and saving Europe from the threat of communism, NATO has lost its central raison d'être. NATO’s obsessive enlargement without a new, clearly defined mission is like a real estate bubble but this bubble must not be allowed to burst. Instead, NATO could become a key element of the new international security structure, provided it plays its foreign policy cards right.

Unfortunately, despite U.S. President Barack Obama’s more cooperative approach to U.S.-Russian relations, there are some policymakers and advisers in Washington who still adhere to the strategic goal of further expanding NATO and weakening Russia’s position in its traditional spheres of influence. If they prevail there will be no winners.

Anthony T. Salvia, Executive Director, American Institute in Ukraine

Dr. Brzezinski’s piece in Foreign Affairs contains a major flaw. He argues for implicating Russia in "a wider web of global security" in such a way as to facilitate "the fading of Russia’s lingering imperial ambitions." The simplest way for that to happen would be to offer Moscow membership in NATO, thus paving the way for Ukraine's entry as well. Instead, he suggests Russia will be mollified by a deal whereby any state along its periphery would be free to do as it wishes – either to join the Moscow-sponsored Collective Security Treaty Organization or the Washington-sponsored North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This is simply not serious. Does Dr. Brzezinski really mean to suggest that Russia will be so pleased to have Abkhazia in the CSTO that it will be quite content to see Ukraine join NATO? Does he think the Russians are naïve?

Whether or not you believe Ukrainian accession to NATO would be a good thing for any of the parties concerned, supercilious proposals of this kind demonstrate a clear unwillingness to accept and to meet the supreme geo-strategic challenge of our time—affecting an entente cordiale between the main parts of pan-Europe (the U.S., Russia and all of Europe) as the basis for dealing with the real problems European civilization faces: out-of-control immigration from the Islamic world, plummeting birth rates, and a host of parlous social manifestations emanating from the dominant secular materialist culture. Such an entente is, of course, incompatible with American global hegemony, benevolent or otherwise. This is just as well as the U.S. is bankrupt and overextended and needs to tend to pressing internal matters.

Vlad Sobell, Daiwa Institute of Research, London

Zbigniew Brzezinski’s article contains a few tiny “green shoots” of realism, clearly the result of the Obama’s administration’s more pragmatic stance. With regard to Russia, this is evident especially in his call for engaging Moscow with the Euro-Atlantic community rather than pushing it into isolation.

Unfortunately, however, this is as much as we have got. To begin with, Dr. Brzezinski, an influential proponent of “old thinking”, is disingenuous about the reasons for the August 2008 Russian-Georgian conflict. He fails to mention not only Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia but also the fact that had it not been for Saakashvili’s NATO membership ambitions, the conflict would not have taken place. Dr. Brzezinski’s “diplomatic reticence” is understandable: while NATO could conceivably be seen as playing the role of a stabilizer in Central Europe (and on this I would agree with his analysis), the alliance has surely degenerated into a dangerous de-stabilizer following its push farther eastwards.

Thus, instead of placing responsibility for the war on NATO’s meddling in Russia’s backyard, Dr. Brzezinski implicitly blames Russia’s supposed “imperial nostalgia” and nationalism. (Would a truly imperial and nationalist Russia have allowed itself to be caught off guard, resulting in the deaths of dozens of Tskhinval inhabitants along with a number of Russian peacekeepers?) It is disturbing that a scholar of Dr. Brzezinski’s stature should stoop to such a blatant manipulation of readily available key facts. If this is his recipe for drawing Moscow closer to the Euro-Atlantic community, then the process is doomed.

Dr. Brzezinski’s call for NATO’s expanded global role to counter the supposedly growing chaos and insecurity (when exactly was the world secure and free from chaos?) is equally disingenuous. The way forward is to strengthen the authority of the United Nations and international law, not to increase NATO (read US) hegemony. It is to be hoped that this, rather than the enlargement of NATO, will be President Obama’s priority.

Srdja Trifkovic, Director, Center for International Affairs, Rockford Institute, and Executive Director of The Lord Byron Foundation for Global Studies

The devil is as always in the details. Zbigniew Brzezinski wants to have a relationship between NATO and Russia that “facilitates the fading of Russia’s lingering imperial ambitions.” On the other hand, he has repeatedly stated that any attempt by Russia to assert any special interest in any neighboring country – however closely linked to Russia historically, culturally, or economically – is “imperial” in nature, aggressive in character, and inimical to Western interests. His real agenda is a U.S.-controlled NATO that will build an ever-expanding cordon sanitaire around Russia, which he wants reduced to Muscovy of Ivan IV – or even his predecessors.

Dr. Brzezinski advocates “an agreement on security cooperation between NATO and the Kremlin-created Collective Security Treaty Organization” but he wants it made conditional “on provisions that confirm the right of current nonmembers to seek membership of their own choice in either NATO or the CSTO” – i.e. conditional on Moscow’s blanket approval for Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO. It is the kind of “cooperation” that would lead us into Round III of Europe’s self-annihilation just in time for the centennial of the first, to the global jihad’s great delight. (Talking of which, Dr. Brzezinski remains unrepentant about helping make jihad a global phenomenon back in 1978-80, the consequences of which are killing NATO soldiers in Afghanistan even today. But that is another story.)