The Grand Chessboard was written by Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter, and was published in 1997. It is a progressive book on American foreign policy of the 1990s and after. It looks candidly at reasons for America’s policy of aggression towards Afghanistan and conciliation towards Pakistan. It also spells out the need for America’s policy of toleration towards Saudi Arabia and its ‘carrot and stick’ attitude towards China. It throws light on the growing problem of religious fundamentalism and the need for America to stay ahead as the only superpower in order to control Eurasian politics. The book is divided into seven chapters and runs into 220 pages.
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Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski was born March on 28, 1928 in Warsaw, Poland. He is an eminent American political scientist, foreign policy advisor and statesman who was National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981 and continues to be President Barrack Obama’s mentor and foreign policy advisor. He is Professor of American foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. He is also a scholar of great repute at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a valuable member of various governmental and non-governmental boards and councils.
Brzezinski belonged to the Polish nobility and his family bore the Traby Coat of Arms insignia. They originally came from the town of Brzezany in Galicia which is said to be the source of his family name. Brzezinski’s father was a Polish diplomat who was posted in Germany prior to World War II. Brzezinski spent some of his earliest years witnessing the rise of the Nazis and this may have some bearing on his anti-Semitic and anti-Israel leanings. He went to Harvard University to work on a PhD that focused on the Soviet Union. His research led him to trace the connections between the Russian Revolution, Lenin’s position in Russian politics and the proceedings during Stalin’s reign. He received his doctorate degree in 1953 and later collaborated with German-American Professor and political scientist, Carl J. Friedrich to develop the concept of totalitarianism and apply its principles to the Soviet Union of 1956.
Brzezinski dedicated the book to his students and in Brzezinski’s words it is “For my students- to help them shape tomorrow’s world”. Hence all students of politics and international relations will benefit from reading this book. It is also a worthy guideline for political scientists and diplomats who would want to get an in-depth knowledge of American foreign policy and rationale behind the changing strategies to stay ahead and on top of global geo-politics. Brzezinski writes in the introduction to this book, “The formulation of a comprehensive and integrated Eurasian geo-strategy is therefore the purpose of this book” (Brzezinski 1997).
In his book The Grand Chessboard, Brzezinski has discussed his most significant contribution to post-Cold War geo-strategy. He emphasizes the need for America to be the global leader and continue to be the arbiter of Eurasian geopolitics. His theory simply put is for American hegemony to continue and for America to dominate the economic and political arenas by minimizing the risk of other potential super powers from Eurasia to gain ascendency in world politics. He has divided Eurasia into four distinct regions and has discussed ways in which the US should charter its foreign policy towards these regions in order to maintain its global dominance. Brzezinski lays claims to the United States being the only comprehensive “superpower” after the fall of the Soviet Union: “America is now Eurasia’s arbiter, with no major Eurasian issue soluble without America’s participation or contrary to America’s interests” (Brzezinski 194).
In The Grand Chessboard Brzezinski gives the audience a complete and candid elucidation of American international strategy since 1992. He explains that what this strategy aims at is absolute global dominance by America. “Appreciating Brzezinski’s argument requires looking at America’s Cold-War strategy through a new lens.” (By Zbigniew K. Brzezinski Basic Books)
The geo-strategy takes a close look at world affairs during the last decade of the twentieth century. It attempts to decipher the “tectonic shift in world affairs” and scrutinizes the role America needs to play as the emergent superpower in a uni-polar world. Brzezinski points out that for the first time in history a non- Eurasian power has surfaced as a major negotiator of Eurasian power dealings and also as “the world’s paramount power”(Brzezinski xiii). The disintegration and collapse of the Soviet Union gave the United States a key foothold in its rapid ascendance as the actual and exclusive global superpower.
The source of America’s growing geopolitical ambitions was provided by the rapid growth of the country’s economy through industrialization. The significant economic development was promoted by a culture and environment that encouraged experimentation and modernization. America’s open and democratic political institutions and free market financial system created unique opportunities for wealthy investors to expand the country’s economy and boost its international reputation. The American way of life was congenial to economic growth and the development of national power.
The book deals with some major issues of world politics and spells out Brzezinski’s take on the design of US foreign policies in dealing with these issues. The rising threat from Islamic fundamentalism to American primacy is described as a possible issue that might prove challenging. Maintaining control over the unstable west Asian region in the absence of a stable and dominant Islamic state could be part of the Middle Eastern problem.
Brzezinski argues that even though the Cold War is over and America has emerged as the single most dominant superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is still necessary to maintain American hegemony to prevent the emergence of a dangerous multi-polar world of independent great powers scrambling for predominance and political advantage. He describes the “three grand imperatives,” of America’s strategy, its mechanisms and purposes are to help prevent conspiracy against American interests; to ensure the dependence of the less secure nations and pledge their loyalty by providing them security against fundamentalist forces and to keep the underlings pliant and protected in order to prevent other potential powers from taking over these regions.
The manuscript provides insights into the thinking behind the 1992 planning document issued by the Pentagon, which maintained that the United States must continue to control the international system by not allowing other advanced and industrialized nations to challenge American leadership or try to assume a larger regional or global role. America’s “leadership” role, as Brzezinski advocates, meant that not only should the United States dominate its allies, the wealthy and technologically developed states in Europe and East Asia, but also that it must lead the way in fostering peace and stability by dealing with such irritants as Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, and Kim Jong II of North Korea so that there is no scope for potential super powers like Germany or Japan to acquire the means to resolve regional problems by themselves and gain supremacy in the region.
The growth of Islamic fundamentalism could exploit the religious sentiments against the Americans and take advantage of the Arab-Israel conflict to undermine and destabilize the authority of several pro-American Middle Eastern states and jeopardize the regional interests of America in the Persian Gulf region. Brzezinski, however, points out that without political unity and in the absence of a single indisputable influential Islamic state, a challenge from Islamic fundamentalism would “lack a geopolitical core and would thus be more likely to express itself through diffuse violence” (Brzezinski 53). The book also contains other references to the steadily growing problem of Muslim fundamentalism and its impact on global security.
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The real thrust of America’s foreign policy since the start of the Cold War, according to Brzezinski, was not to thwart or overcome the Soviet menace, but the successful effort to impose an ambitious vision on a confused and disorganized global scenario. The basic idea was to provide for the security of the Eurasian potential super powers and by engage them in such a manner that their military and foreign policies would encourage them to form alliances that America dominated and keep its erstwhile enemies contained. It also sought to prevent its “partners” from embarking upon independent foreign and military policies that might jeopardize American interests and supremacy at the global level. This policy would help to stabilized relationships among the states of Western Europe and East Asia, and reassure their neighboring states that these powerful partners would remain appeased and loyal. With America leading from the front the West European and East Asian nations would be free from fears and mutual competitions and would be able to cooperate politically and economically. This in turn would create stability and harmony in the world and would enhance prosperity and international order that would aid the advanced industrialized countries to forge ahead and maintain economic growth and development.
Brzezinski elucidates his point by citing the example of how encouraging Korea to become a unified democratic entity would not be in America’s interests as this development would endanger America’s global control strategy. A rejuvenated and unified Korea would minimize the apparent need for U.S. troops on the peninsula; and would lead to a U.S. “pullback” from East Asia. This, in turn, would lead to Japan becoming more self-sufficient and secure militarily; that would show the way for military, political and economic rivalry and bickering amongst the nations in the Far East. Japan would gain dominance and could become a potential threat to American supremacy in that region. Hence, the best solution was to maintain the status quo in Korea, which allowed U.S. forces to be stationed there indefinitely and keep vigilance in the area.
The ultimate objective of American foreign policy should be benevolent and farsighted in keeping with American ideals and the fundamental interests of human kind. But in so doing the policy must ensure that no Eurasian power be allowed to emerge as a potential challenger to America’s position as the world leader. It must stay ahead in the race and neutralize through effective alliances and policies any scope for a unified Europe or an individual developed nation capable of dominating Eurasian economy and politics and eliminate potential challenge for America.
The book gives us an in-depth insight into policies and policy making but it leave some questions unanswered. It discloses the logic that has motivated the American national security strategy ever since the Cold War but it also highlights the fact that this logic predictably involves a massive project that is necessarily open-ended and long lasting. To maintain status quo in an effort to preserve political, economic and strategic dominance America must continue the policy of maintaining troops in the unstable regions of Islamic fundamentalism. The price of such aggressive posturing can be high in the changing climate of world politics and the new vision of a harmonious and peaceful world. So the question remains, according to Brzezinski’s logic, how do you pull out troops from the different regions and encourage self governance and at the same time follow the policy of global leadership where the troops must always remain?
Brzezinski’s theory of “global adult-super vision strategy” means that American expenditure on its military and security is nearly as much as, perhaps, the rest of the world combined. However, he argues that in order to maintain its control over the Black Sea oil it must deal with Turkey and Iran carefully. To maintain its hegemony over this region might mean sending more troops to stabilize the region. That American interests were firmly planted in the region is apparent: “The momentum of Asia’s economic development is already generating massive pressures for the exploration and exploitation of new sources of energy and the Central Asian region and the Caspian Sea basin are known to contain reserves of natural gas and oil that dwarf those of Kuwait, the Gulf of Mexico, or the North Sea.” (Brzezinski 125).
Brzezinski freely admits that executing a policy of global dominance is “difficult, absorbing, and costly,” and offers a solution which is a bit contradictory. Although in keeping with the short and midterm interests continued U.S. preponderance is an absolute necessity, Brzezinski argues that in the long-term the United States can “share leadership” with regional powers. Multilateral projects, beginning from international adjudicators to U.N. police procedures, all of these require a strong leader. Brzezinski’s main argument relies on the claim that American hegemony remains the indispensable foundation for world cooperation and the integration of advanced countries towards world peace and balance of power.
To support his argument Brzezinski outlines the possibility of an eventual trilateral division of “leadership” among the United States, Europe, and Japan. Even then he makes it quite apparent that Europe and Japan would remain junior partners to a predominant America with a larger share of the expenses with no greater authority and independence. The partner nations have never agreed to this formula and have consistently said that if the United States wanted to lead, it would have to pay the expenses and incur the hazards that accompanied leadership.
Thus, to say that America can never let go of its supremacy because of the political, economic, and military ramifications is stretching the point a bit far. Cooperation among the great powers ensures stability and peace and that it can only be garnered under American supervision is somewhat self-defeating. According to Brzezinski, stability in Western Europe and East Asia could be guaranteed by American predominance alone, was the prerequisite for cooperation and stability. There is no reason to believe that, without this guarantor, stability will not be achieved. America’s dominant position should foster stability and create a geopolitical core of peaceful global management and shared responsibility.
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