Sonntag, 29. Januar 2012

Zbigniew Brzezinski's Failure in Strategic Thinking

Every society praises its own elder statesmen, even if they have become mere shadows of their former selves. Helmut Schmidt, former German chancellor, is often being touted as a strong Atlanticist and strategic thinker, for saying things along the line of China is growing in international stature and the U.S. will have problems to stand its ground. Put differently, an elder statesman is more likely than not to waste one's precious time.

And now Zbigniew Brzezinski insists on adding to that experience. In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, he calls for a new U.S. Grand Strategy. In itself that's a useful idea in that such a grand strategy is indeed lacking. So one is fully prepared for Brzezinski to weigh in. What he argues is basically this: The U.S. needs to shift to Asia, keep its commitment to NATO and help the EU to bring Turkey in and integrate a truly democratising Russia. To which one is tempted to reply: really, I haven't thought of that!

What Brzezinski is doing is in fact a pretty good example of what strategic thinking is not. Strategic thinking is not to formulate the most grandiose foreign policy goal one could possibly think of and than state it as if it were already a strategy in itself, without as much as a word on the possible obstacles.

But as if that weren't enough, Brzezinski took the time to formulate his strategy in all proper context, calling for nothing less than a “U.S. Grand Strategy in an Age of Upheaval.” That's certainly a true context, since more and more of the traditionally held assumptions about foreign policy are unravelling. But to then proceed without ever loosing a single word on what exactly he means by upheaval is really beyond me, because positions on that really could not differ more dramatically in the circles of international politics and academia.

But Brzezinski is not concerned with such small detail. He then proceeds to explain that in balancing the East and upgrading the West, the U.S. should use the German–Polish–French triangle (on this side of the pond, we call it the Weimar triangle) to foster reconciliation between Russia and Poland. Which is fine, would the Weimar triangle actually work (which it kind of does not). And whenever one reads sentences like “As the United States and Europe seek to enlarge the West, Russia itself will have to evolve in order to become more closely linked with the EU”, one should smack oneself on the forehead for not having written such nonsense oneself. Let me give it a try: In order to feed its population, North Korea will have to reform itself. See, I've done it. Problem with that sort of thinking is that it is true but does by no means ensures that it will or is in any way likely to happen. Strategy, let alone grand strategy, is about formulating a policy of getting there, which rather tellingly, Brzezinski does not even try.

Even Brzezinski seems to realise that there is a problem with this argument, and circumvents it by acknowledging that perhaps the process might stall sometimes, before lurching forward again. No kidding. Argues Brzezinski at length in his manner of wishful thinking: “It is not unrealistic to imagine a larger configuration of the West emerging after 2025. In the course of the next several decades, Russia could embark on a comprehensive law-based democratic transformation compatible with both EU and NATO standards, and Turkey could become a full member of the EU, putting both countries on their way to integration with the transatlantic community. But even before that occurs, a deepening geopolitical community of interest could arise among the United States, Europe (including Turkey), and Russia. Since any westward gravitation by Russia would likely be preceded and encourages by closer ties between Ukraine and the EU, the institutional seat for a collective consultative organ (or perhaps initially for an expanded Council of Europe) could be located in Kiev, the ancient capital of Kievan Rus, whose location would be symbolic of the West's renewed vitality and enlarging scope.”

Any resemblance this statement has to foreign policy is merely coincidental. I'd also like to see Turkey joining the EU, but I also know that its not going to happen any time soon, or perhaps ever. And that Ukraine is pulling Russia into the Western camp is really a statement of Kafkaesque proportions. I spare you the part, where Brzezinski argues that we should simply ditch Taiwan, because China is more important. This really is the worst piece Foreign Affairs carried since Jeffrey L. Cimbalo's “Saving NATO from Europe”.

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