BOOK REVIEW

The Geostrategic Triad
by
Zbigniew Brzezinski

FUTURECASTS online magazine
www.futurecasts.com
Vol. 4, No. 6, 6/1/02.

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Post Cold War great power strategy:

 

 

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  With "The Geostrategic Triad: Living with China, Europe, and Russia," Brzezinski - in just about 80 pages - briefly outlines a broad strategic framework for systematically evaluating U.S. post Cold War interests and objectives and establishing suitable priorities with respect to the other major world powers.

  "American leaders must weigh all dimensions of complex relationships, assign priorities to highly complex and sometimes competing objectives, and fashion a strategy through which those priorities can be achieved."

  However, without a cogent strategic vision, all foreign policy decisions become ad hoc.

  It is not surprising that Brzezinski - like everyone else - overlooked the possibility that U.S. foreign policy would become dominated by relations with the weak - sometimes tumultuous - states of the Muslim and Hindu world. Nevertheless, for the long run, it is still relations between the great powers that will determine the course of  world history.
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  In this brief book, Brzezinski demonstrates a keen understanding of the major forces at work in our post Cold War world, and the possibilities for shaping them to achieve positive outcomes.

China:

  The growing importance of China is stressed by the author just as it is by almost all foreign policy analysts.

  "Peace in Northeast and Southeast Asia remains dependent to a significant degree on the state of the U.S.-China relationship."

"Mechanical projections of economic growth rates" similarly fail to take into account "other complex considerations or unexpected contingencies." China has many internal problems with which it must grapple.

  However, intellectual hysteria over China's "inevitable" rise to superpower status is similar to that regarding Japan little more than a dozen years ago. "Mechanical projections of economic growth rates" similarly fail to take into account "other complex considerations or unexpected contingencies." China has many internal problems with which it must grapple.
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  Even if China maintains substantial rates of economic growth, it will not become a global power in the foreseeable future. Widespread poverty will remain a problem. Its "backward and debilitated social infrastructure, combined with the per capita poverty of its enormous population, represents a staggering liability."
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   Brzezinski believes that, sometime - perhaps in the near future - China will experience a political crisis because of the discordant trajectories of its continuing communist party autocracy and its increasing economic liberalization.

  "The constraints on personal political liberty, the denial of religious freedom, and the suppression of minorities -- most notably in Tibet -- cannot be sustained in a setting of growing social and economic pluralism."

  Nevertheless, China is already a major influence in both Southeastern and Northeastern Asia. "Today, with the Soviet Union gone, China is neither America's adversary nor its strategic partner." However, it can become an adversary if its leaders so choose or if U.S. policies prompt it into an adversarial posture.
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With successful political and social liberalization in China, various creative arrangements for resolving the Taiwan issue become possible.

 

Internal socioeconomic pressures inevitably unleashed by economic liberalization can be modestly supported and encouraged by continued outside concern for human rights.

  The Taiwan issue and China's political liberalization are intimately related.

  "A China that fails to evolve politically, or that flounders socially -- not to speak of a China that regresses ideologically -- will not attract Taiwan. Nor will it intimidate Taiwan, for the United States will continue to have a tangible national interest in the prevention of warfare in the Taiwan Strait. It follows that Taiwan will, and should, continue to have prudently measured access to the necessary U.S. military wherewithal for self-defense."

  On the other hand, with successful political and social liberalization in China, various creative arrangements for resolving the Taiwan issue become possible. While democracy cannot be imposed on China, evolution in that direction can be "subtly influenced from the outside." Internal socioeconomic pressures inevitably unleashed by economic liberalization can be modestly supported and encouraged by continued outside concern for human rights.
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  This encouragement should be "indirect." Persistent ideological confrontation might prove counterproductive. However, assisting in the establishment of rule of law in China - something that is essential for economic growth - can be effective in encouraging political democratization. Encouraging the trend towards more openness to the world may similarly have a politically liberalizing impact. Assistance for various Chinese NGOs engaged in development of Chinese civil society, and assistance for local democratically elected officials, may also prove useful.
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  The problem of Tibet is even more intractable than that over Taiwan - but less divisive. Here, too, some type of "one country, several systems" arrangement with some degree of local autonomy might prove acceptable.
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Japan:

 

 

 

An anti-Chinese alliance with a rearmed Japan should be America's last, and not first, strategic option.

  Close relations between the U.S. and Japan are essential for many reasons, but particularly because the possibility that China will become a threat cannot be excluded. However, "it is neither in America's nor in Japan's interest to precipitate that threat. Hence an anti-Chinese alliance with a rearmed Japan should be America's last, and not first, strategic option."
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  Since China at present does not have the capacity for serious regional aggression, ongoing U.S.-Japan-South Korea defense planning and military exercises "should avoid an overtly anti-Chinese cast," and China should be invited to join in regional security dialogue.

  "The key point to bear in mind here is that regional security in Northeast Asia is not a zero-sum game; how China is treated might well become a self-fulfilling prophesy."

A policy of inclusion:

 

Membership in international organizations might encourage China to "gradually become an increasingly cooperative player in the international game, in which the major participants play according to shared rules even while each keeps his own score."

 Indeed, China should be included in the dialogue over security situations all around its vast borders - regarding the Central Asian states, the conflict between India and Pakistan, the Southeast Asian region, and the relationship with Russia and the sparsely populated Russian Far East. It is vital, that the U.S.-Japan-South Korea Theater Missile Defense program be handled delicately, and that Taiwan not be directly included in its coverage.

  "The future orientation of China, and not the future of Taiwan, should be America's central strategic concern."

  Ultimately, China should be encouraged to evolve "into a genuinely vested partner in an increasingly cooperative Eurasian system." Membership in such international organizations as the WTO and the G-8 - thus becoming the G-9 - might encourage China to "gradually become an increasingly cooperative player in the international game, in which the major participants play according to shared rules even while each keeps his own score."
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  That Chinese-American interests will occasionally collide is inevitable -- but mutual interests must be such as to clearly predominate.
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Europe:

 

Successful management of the U.S.-European relationship must be Washington's highest priority.

 Europe remains the key to the future for American foreign interests and diplomacy.

  "America and Europe together serve as the axis of global stability, the locomotive of the world's economy, and the nexus of global intellectual capital as well as technological innovation. Just as important, they are both home to the world's most successful democracies. How the U.S.-European relationship is managed, therefore, must be Washington's highest priority."

European "integration" is largely a bureaucratic process of regulatory standardization - governed by an 80,000 page acquis communautaire - organized in 31 policy sectors - that new members must ratify. It has little popular participation.

 

 

 

 

  The European Union is not as yet heading in the direction of a "United States of Europe." The EU does not command the patriotic aspirations of Europeans. Rather, it is a novel confederation of sovereign states that have joined together for particular practical purposes. New entrants from Central Europe seek not only pragmatic benefits, but also the security, prosperity and freedom that EU members enjoy.
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  Brzezinski here offers the historic analogy of the EU as "Switzerland writ large." It is a collection of separate states joined together to end strife and achieve practical benefits, confining its international engagements predominantly to matters of finance and trade.
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  Currently, European "integration" is largely a bureaucratic process of regulatory standardization - governed by an 80,000 page acquis communautaire - organized in 31 policy sectors - that new members must ratify. It has little popular participation.
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  Integration is a necessarily slow process because of the widely divergent interests of the member states.

  "Integration inherently means an incremental and highly balanced progression toward deepening interdependence among constituent units, but their growing interdependence is not infused with the unifying political passion required for the assertion of genuine global independence. That may happen eventually, when Europeans come to view themselves politically as Europeans while remaining, for example, German or French as a matter of linguistic and cultural peculiarity."

The EU is uniting economically but only confederating politically.

 

The larger the membership becomes, the less likely that the EU will be able to act like a political union making political and diplomatic policy for all its diverse members.

 

Most Europeans still remain unwilling not only to die but even to pay for Europe's security."

  The success of the Euro - despite widespread misgivings - constitutes a high point in the integration process. The EU is uniting economically but only confederating politically. Current efforts to absorb new European members will necessarily slow further integration, and the process of expanding membership will itself increase in complexity as increasing numbers join the Union. Furthermore, the larger the membership becomes, the less likely that the EU will be able to act like a political union making political and diplomatic policy for all its diverse members.
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  An EU that largely unifies all Europe must thus almost certainly be "politically diluted." However, expansion remains essential for practical economic and demographic reasons.
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  Brzezinski believes that efforts to create a truly politically unified Europe will not succeed. The proposed joint European rapid reaction force is likely to be incapable of much more than peacekeeping chores.

 "Europe will fall short of becoming a comprehensive global power. - - - [M]ost Europeans still remain unwilling not only to die but even to pay for Europe's security."
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  Inevitably, one of the EU members will be physically attacked in a manner calling for a military response. It will be interesting to see how such an event is viewed by the peoples of the other EU nations - and what their response will be.

  The author advises  that the U.S. should continue to encourage the enlargement of Europe. However, the best that the U.S. can expect from this process is:

  "a Europe that is more of a rival economically, that steadily enlarges the scope of European interdependence while lagging in real political-military independence, that recognizes its self-interest in keeping America deployed on the European periphery of Eurasia, even while it chafes at its relative dependence and half-heartedly seeks gradual emancipation."

NATO enlargement:

 

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  Various minor U.S.-European disputes exist, but should be kept in perspective and not allowed to assume more significance than they warrant. Mutual interests far outweigh conflicting interests.  U.S. ties to Europe should be assured by Europe's continued security needs and the importance of Europe to the broadest U.S. foreign policy objectives aimed at expanding global stability, democracy and prosperity.
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NATO serves to create a more secure Europe, with fewer areas of geo-political ambiguity, while increasing the European stake in a vital and credible alliance.

  For genuinely serious diplomatic or military crises, Europe remains heavily reliant on U.S. support and NATO assets primarily provided by the U.S.

  "In brief, if the crisis is serious, the European reaction will not be independent; if the reaction is independent, the crisis will not be serious."

  Thus, it remains NATO that is the key to U.S. strategy in Europe, and NATO enlargement its most basic priority. "NATO, a truly remarkable success, may be far from perfect but it does not require dramatic overhaul."

  "NATO enlargement offers the best possible guarantee of continued transatlantic security ties. It serves to create a more secure Europe, with fewer areas of geo-political ambiguity, while increasing the European stake in a vital and credible alliance."

  Commentaries of several other authorities are included in the book. They emphasize Europe's achievements. The EU has already achieved common legal rules and regulations - established a common Supreme Court and a common currency - has united the western part of the continent and is now extending eastwards - and is now developing some modest common military capability.
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  The EU is the most important - indeed, the only - strategic partner for U.S. efforts to maintain global stability - for international order, prosperity, and the development of democracy. It is a continuing work in progress - stronger today than ever before - and still strengthening further.
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Russia:

 Much clearly depends on developments in Russia.
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"Geostrategic conditions must be created that convince the Russians that it is in Russia's own best interests to become a truly democratic and European post-imperial nation-state -- a state closely engaged in the transatlantic community."

  To encourage favorable developments in Russia, "the doors to an Atlanticist Europe should be kept open." A Europe unified within both the EU and NATO may dampen old imperial temptations. Russia may then recognize that its own interests lie with Europe. Otherwise, "NATO will provide the needed security for a larger Europe."

  "The progressive inclusion of Russia in the expanding transatlantic community is the necessary component of any long-term U.S. strategy to consolidate stability on the Eurasian mega-continent. The pursuit of that goal will require patience and strategic persistence. There are no shortcuts on the way. Geostrategic conditions must be created that convince the Russians that it is in Russia's own best interests to become a truly democratic and European post-imperial nation-state -- a state closely engaged in the transatlantic community."

  Indeed, Brzezinski offers the enticing vision that NATO and a loosely knit EU may some day expand much further - expanding the zone of security and stability as far as Central Asia and even into the Middle East.

  This vision is only plausible as a very distant possibility. There are obvious problems in Central Asia and the Middle East - along Russia's vast Asian borders - that are likely to remain intractable and that may prove dangerously corrosive if NATO or the EU were to get too closely involved with them.

Like Turkey at the beginning of the 20th century, Russia must decide for itself that its economic and diplomatic future lies with Europe.

 

Russia's current political elite contains no dissidents from Soviet rule. Instead, it largely includes former apparatchiki, criminalized oligarchs, and leadership elements from the KGB.

  Russia - like China - is too weighty a vessel to be strongly influenced from the outside. "But both America and Europe can help create not only a congenial but a compelling context for desirable change." Like Turkey at the beginning of the 20th century, Russia must decide for itself that its economic and diplomatic future lies with Europe.
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  Seventy five years of Communism leave Russia economically devastated, demographically threatened, socially chaotic, and environmentally heavily polluted. The Russian people are now aware of their relative economic backwardness, and of the substantial progress of a densely populated China at their back door.
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  Russia is backward, corrupt, uncompetitive, and an uninviting market for direct foreign investment. Domestic capital investment is also pitifully low. Its industrial infrastructure is archaic and in drastic need of maintenance. Russians are moving out of Siberia and back to European Russia - thus reversing decades of effort to populate its Asian territories. To the south are unstable Muslim states with rapidly growing populations.
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  Unlike in Eastern Europe, Russia's current political elite contains no dissidents from Soviet rule. Instead, it largely includes former apparatchiki, criminalized oligarchs, and leadership elements from the KGB. "Indeed, President Vladimir Putin's new team is composed of individuals who, with no exception, could now be serving in the higher echelons of the Soviet government (particularly the KGB) if the Soviet Union still existed." By and large, these men have rejected communist ideology, but still relish Soviet power.
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Economic recovery is a prerequisite for any reestablishment of Russian influence outside its borders.

  Russia is still a nuclear power and has problems with Muslim extremists - two elements of mutual interest with the U.S. It may try to dilute European integration and limit Europe's expansion towards its borders, but "a detent with the West is the sine qua non of continued Russian access to needed Western financial assistance."

  With respect to both of the old Communist powers - China and Russia - the dollar and other hard currencies remain powerful strategic influences.

  Russian leadership still harbors ambitions to sustain predominant influence in its "near abroad," and to reestablish predominant influence in many of the East European states presently scurrying to join an integrated Europe. Russian leaders jealously watch growing U.S. economic and military influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia.
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  However, economic recovery is a prerequisite for any reestablishment of Russian influence outside its borders (and may ultimately be essential to prevent even further disintegration - especially in Siberia). The author believes Russia's aspirations for renewed military strength are currently unrealistic, and the burden of rearmament dangerous to its fragile economic condition. The military leadership overestimates the political leverage that Russia can exercise with the U.S. "through its essentially one-dimensional strategic capability." Even in 2001, military spending absorbs about 5% of GDP.
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  The alternative of an alliance with China would not solve any of Russia's problems, but would subordinate Russia to an increasingly powerful China. If Russian leadership fails to realize the necessity of moving Russia towards European integration, it could result in "a beleaguered and imploded Russia" that extends no further than the Urals.
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The Russian people themselves will demand increased access to Western Europe and its lifestyle.

  Brzezinski draws an analogy with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the emergence of a Western oriented Turkey. The process will require strong, Western-oriented leadership, renunciation of old imperial claims, adoption of Western legal codes, encouragement by Western nations, and transformation over a period of decades, during which periodic setbacks are to be expected.
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    However - a hopeful sign - "the next generation of Russian leaders is unlikely to be the product either of the KGB or of the apparat." It will include graduates of Western universities and legitimate businessmen with international exposure. Furthermore, the Russian people themselves will demand increased access to Western Europe and its lifestyle. "In short, a critical mass supportive of a genuine break with the past is taking shape."
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"Russia's willingness to acquiesce to the further eastward expansion of NATO, particularly regarding the Baltic states, is a litmus test" of Russia's Westernizing intentions.

  Western assistance should be directed at the growth of Russian civil society, cultural exchanges, and establishment of rule of law -as always an essential ingredient in economic development as well as a force for liberalization. The U.S. and Europe should firmly support the continued independence of the new states spun off from the Soviet Empire. Moreover, they should persistently leave open "the grand option of an ever-widening and deepening association" between the West and a Russia devoid of the baggage of empire.
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  Eventually, Russia must "opt for the West." It must do this "unambiguously and unconditionally as a post-imperial state" or face the possibility of being overshadowed by rising dangers across its southern and eastern borders and further internal collapse.
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  Eventually, "a truly democratic Russia that desires to be a part of the West should have the option of becoming, in some mutually acceptable fashion, associated closely with both the EU and NATO."
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  However, "Russia's willingness to acquiesce to the further eastward expansion of NATO, particularly regarding the Baltic states, is a litmus test" of Russia's Westernizing intentions. NATO serves all interests - stabilizing Europe, anchoring Germany, encouraging beneficial reforms in aspirant nations, and forcing the resolution of old border disputes.
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  The author offers as an ultimate long range goal the possibility that, some day, a NATO security system might span eastwards from "Vancouver to Vladivostok." Eventually, the two security triangles - both Eurasian and Northeast Asian - could become linked in a broad international structure for stability and prosperity.

  "Effective engagement should strive to create a geostrategic setting in which the Russian elite itself comes to realize that Russia's only option is its best option: to become genuinely 'engaged' to the West."
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  "The policy of effective engagement should be deliberately designed to make that choice Russia's only choice."

  Brzezinski is quite right in setting forth this optimum scenario without in any way ignoring the odds against it. Many difficulties lie in its way - some beyond the control of any Russian leadership. Brzezinski correctly emphasizes the threats along Russia's thousands of miles of Asian borders. These are rough neighborhoods, and Russia will perforce have to deal with problems along these borders in the usual ruthless Asiatic style. Inevitably, this will offend the liberal sensibilities of many safely living genteel lives in the heart of Europe.
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  However, time always brings changes, and perhaps a few generations hence, civilized methods of dispute resolution may even become possible in these benighted precincts. The goal is far in the future and difficult to reach, but clearly not impossible - and it may never be reached if it is not kept in mind.

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Copyright 2002 Dan Blatt