The Diplomat’s Assistant Editor Zachary Keck sat down with former U.S. National Security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski to discuss America’s role in world affairs, the shifting geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific, the feasibility of eliminating nuclear weapons, and rising powers growing involvement in America’s backdoor.
In Strategic Vision you argue that in today’s world no one power will ever be capable of dominating Eurasia in the way Harold Mackinder famously envisioned. Taking that argument at its face, this represents a tectonic shift for U.S. foreign policy given that, long before Washington was able to meaningfully affect the balance of power in Eurasia, its leaders saw preventing a hegemon from dominating it as a key strategic necessity. If the U.S. no longer has to concern itself with safeguarding Mackinder’s “world-island” from a potential hegemon(s), what should be the main objective of U.S. engagement in Europe and Asia going forward?
The main objective of U.S. engagement in Europe and in Asia should be to support an equilibrium that discourages any one power from acting in an excessively assertive fashion towards its neighbors. In the foreseeable future, it is, in any case, unlikely that any single power will have the military superiority that would enable it to assert itself in a hegemonic fashion on as a diverse, complex, and complicated mega-continent such as Eurasia. Having a close relationship with Europe, though maintaining a complex partnership with China and an alliance with Japan, will provide the United States with sufficient foci for a strategic engagement designed to maintain a relatively stable even if delicate equilibrium on the so-called “world island.”
In the book you state that the U.S. should act as a neutral arbitrator between Asia’s major powers, with the possible exception of Japan. The Obama administration has usually heeded this advice but recently diverged from it by issuing a harsh statement about the South China Sea that singled out China. What do you see as the reasoning behind doing this and do you think it was a mistake?
I think the United States’ position on freedom of navigation is generally correct, but it has been pursued lately in a clumsy fashion. It is to be regretted that it was announced in the context of a so-called “strategic pivot,” implying in the process that it involves an augmentation of American military power in Asia as a necessary response to the newly emerging geopolitical realities in the Far East. In brief, it is not surprising that the Chinese understood it to mean that the United States is beginning to fashion a coalition against China, something which at this stage at least is premature and runs the risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.