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American power and a pervasive globalization are the central realities of today's world, and the source of its thorniest dilemmas. Yet while America's unprecedented might should be the source of global security, Americans today feel less secure than ever. Globalization promotes American dominance even as it breeds anti-American resentment. In The Choice, former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski addresses the historic choice facing America at this very moment: Will it strive to dominate the world, or ...
American power and a pervasive globalization are the central realities of today's world, and the source of its thorniest dilemmas. Yet while America's unprecedented might should be the source of global security, Americans today feel less secure than ever. Globalization promotes American dominance even as it breeds anti-American resentment. In The Choice, former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski addresses the historic choice facing America at this very moment: Will it strive to dominate the world, or lead it? Reminding us that American dominance should not be confused with omnipotence, Brzezinski shows how America's well-being and the world's are entwined, and that America must find a way to be both guarantor of global security and promoter of the global common good."When it comes to what might be called the 'philosophy' of foreign policy-the relationship of U.S. power and policy to broader historical and cultural trends-no statesman of Brzezinski's generation is in his league.... A tour d'horizon of U.S. foreign policy [that] discusses the inevitable contradictions and tensions that enmesh a democratic society that is also a global hegemon, criticizes the Bush administration, and articulates his own vision of the way forward-all in a little over 200 pages. Even those who do not accept Brzezinski's critique of the Bush administration will admire the sagacity of his views; for Democrats attempting to assemble a serious and thoughtful alternative to Bush's foreign policy, The Choice is indispensable."-Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs
For most of America's history as a sovereign nation, its citizens have considered security the norm and occasional insecurity an aberration. From now on, it will be the reverse. In the era of globalization, insecurity will be the enduring reality and the quest for national security a continuing preoccupation. Consequently, deciding how much vulnerability is tolerable will be a perplexing policy issue for the United States as the world's current hegemon, as well as a cultural dilemma for American society.
The End of Sovereign Security
America came into its own during an era in which national sovereignty and national security were nearly synonymous. They defined international affairs. The international order of the last several centuries has been based on the premise of nation-state sovereignty, with each state the ultimate and absolute arbiter within its territory of its own requirements for national security. Though that sovereignty was legally defined as absolute, obvious asymmetries in national power not only necessitated major compromises, especially on the part of the weaker states, but also involved significant violations of some states' sovereignty by stronger ones. Nonetheless, when the first global organization of cooperative states was established in reaction to World War I-the League of Nations-the abstract notion of absolute sovereignty resulted in the endowment of equal voting rights to all member states. Symptomatically, the United States, acutely sensitive about its sovereign status and aware of its geographically advantageous security situation, chose not to be part of that body.
By the time the United Nations was set up in 1945, it was clear to the major states that the realities of global power had to be accommodated if the organization was to play any meaningful security role. Still, the principle of equality of sovereign states could not be discarded altogether. The resulting compromise provided for voting equality in the UN General Assembly for all member states, and for a veto right in the UN Security Council for the five leading powers that emerged as victors from World War II. This formula was a tacit recognition that national sovereignty was increasingly an illusion for all but a few very powerful states.
For America, the linkage between state sovereignty and national security was traditionally even more symbiotic than for most other states. It was reflected in the sense of manifest destiny preached by the country's revolutionary elite, which sought to insulate America from Europe's remote interstate conflicts while representing America as the standard bearer of an altogether novel, universally valid conception of how a state should be organized. The linkage was reinforced by the awareness that geography made America a sanctuary. With two huge oceans providing extraordinary security buffers and with much weaker neighbors to the north and south, Americans considered their nation's sovereignty to be both a natural right as well as a natural consequence of peerless national security. Even when America was drawn into two world wars, it was the Americans who crossed the oceans to combat others in distant lands. Americans went to war, but war did not come to America.
After the end of World War II, with the onset of the largely unexpected Cold War with a hostile ideological and strategic foe, most Americans initially felt protected by the U.S. monopoly of the atomic bomb. The Strategic Air Command (SAC), with its unilateral capability (at least into the mid-1950s) to devastate the Soviet Union, became the nation's security blanket, much as the two-ocean Navy had been earlier. SAC both symbolized and perpetuated the notion that security is inherent in America's special position, even though insecurity had become the norm in the twentieth century for almost all other nation-states. To be sure, American troops in Germany and Japan were protecting others while also protecting America-but they were also keeping danger geographically distant from America.
It was not until the late 1950s, and perhaps not even until the Cuban Missile Crisis, that America was jarred into recognition that modern technology had made invulnerability a thing of the past. The 1960s saw a surge in national anxiety over the "missile gap" (with Soviet leaders deliberately claiming a greater capability for, and greater numbers of, their missiles than they actually had), demonstrated by growing fears that nuclear deterrence was inherently unstable, by a preoccupation among strategists over the possibility of a disarming Soviet nuclear strike as well as over the growing risks of an accidental nuclear discharge, and eventually even by an effort to develop new forms of technologically advanced space-based defensive systems such as antiballistic missiles. The intense national debate on these issues eventually led to a consensus that a relationship of stable deterrence with the Soviet Union was attainable only through mutual restraint. That paved the way in the 1970s for the ABM Treaty and then the SALT treaties, and in the 1980s for the START treaties.
These treaties were, in effect, a recognition that America's security was no longer entirely in American hands but depended in part on accommodation with a potentially lethal antagonist. That the antagonist was similarly vulnerable and that its conduct seemed to be guided by a similar recognition of its own vulnerability provided a degree of reassurance, making the acceptance of shared vulnerability psychologically easier for the American public. To be sure, the arrangement did not eliminate the risk of mutual destruction, but its apparent rationality and predictability tended to soothe national anxieties. As a result, the Reagan administration's attempt, in the early 1980s, to regain America's invulnerability through the proposed Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI)-space-based defenses against a Soviet ballistic missile attack on the United States-failed to mobilize overwhelming public support.
This unexpected public moderation was doubtless partly due to the expanding American-Soviet détente, which further reduced fears of a nuclear collision, but it was also prompted by the public's sense that the Soviet bloc and even the Soviet Union itself were facing a massive internal crisis. The threat was perceived as fading. Indeed, following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Soviet missiles ceased to be the subject of arms reduction agreements but instead became the object of American dismantling teams, with U.S. funds and techniques enhancing the security of the storage depots for the formerly awe-inspiring Soviet nuclear warheads. The Soviet nuclear arsenal's transformation into a beneficiary of U.S. protection testified to the degree to which the Soviet threat had waned.
The disappearance of the Soviet challenge, coinciding as it did with the overwhelming display of technologically novel U.S. military capabilities in the Gulf War, quite naturally led to renewed public confidence in America's unique power. The U.S.-led and technology-driven revolution in military affairs (RMA) spawned not only new weapons and tactics, which dictated one-sided outcomes of the two short wars in 1991 and 2003 against the Soviet-armed Iraq, but also a new sense of American global military superiority. For a brief while, America again felt almost invulnerable.
That new mood coincided with widespread recognition that the fall of the Soviet Union signaled a more drastic shift in the global distribution of political power. While the wars against Iraq in 1991 and in Kosovo in 1999 dramatized America's widening lead in the application of technology to military purposes and its ability to strike at other nations with relative impunity, American preponderance increasingly was perceived abroad as not only military. It was at least as evident in the "soft" dimensions of power, in scientific innovation, technological adaptation, economic dynamism, and more intangibly in sociocultural experimentation. By the 1990s, many foreign commentators recognized America-sometimes with intense resentment-not only as the global hegemon but also as humanity's unique (and often disturbing) social laboratory. The rapid dissemination of the new Internet connectivity was but one manifestation of the massive global impact of America as the world's social pioneer.
In the process, America's role on the world scene has become more "dialectical" than ever: the American state, relying on its dominant power, acts as the bastion of traditional international stability, while American society, through a massive and varied worldwide impact facilitated by globalization, transcends national territorial control and disrupts the traditional social order.
On the one hand, the combination of the two reinforces America's established inclination to see itself as the model for everyone else, with American preponderance even increasing the country's sense of its moral vocation. The U.S. Congress's tendency to mandate the certification of other states' behavior by the U.S. State Department is symptomatic of the current American attitude, which is increasingly cavalier toward others' sovereignty while remaining protectively sensitive about America's.
On the other hand, the combination of American power and globalization is changing the nature of U.S. national security. Modern technology is eliminating the effect of geographic distance, while multiplying the variety of means, the destructive radius, and the number of actors capable of projecting violence. At the same time, the reaction against globalization focuses resentment on the United States as the most obvious target. Thus globalization universalizes vulnerability even as it concentrates hostility on America.
Technology is the great equalizer of societal vulnerability. The revolutionary compression of distance by modern communications and the quantum leap in the destructive radius of deliberately inflicted lethality have punctured the nation-state's traditional protective umbrella. Moreover, weaponry is now becoming post-national in both possession and reach. Even non-state actors such as underground terrorist organizations are gradually improving their access to more destructive weaponry. It is only a question of time before, somewhere, a truly technologically advanced act of terrorism takes place. In addition, the same "equalizing" process is providing poorer states such as North Korea with the means to inflict damage to a degree once restricted to a few rich and powerful states.
At some point, this trend could have apocalyptic consequences. For the first time in history, it is possible to contemplate a non-biblical "end of the world" scenario-not an act of God but a deliberate unleashing of a manmade, global, cataclysmic chain reaction. The Armageddon described in the last book of the New Testament, Revelation 16, could pass for a nuclear and bacteriological global suicide. While the probability of such an event may remain remote for some decades, the inevitable reality is that science will continue to enhance the human capacity for acts of self-destruction that organized society may not always be able to prevent or contain.
Short of such an apocalyptic outcome, the list of violent scenarios that could ensue as a consequence of international tensions or as byproducts of Manichean passions is bound to expand. Such scenarios, ranging from the more traditional to the more novel, include:
1. a central and massively destructive strategic war, at this stage still feasible though unlikely, between the United States and Russia and perhaps in twenty or so years between the United States and China, as well as between China and Russia;
2. significant regional wars fought with highly lethal weaponry, for example between India and Pakistan or between Israel and Iran;
3. fragmenting ethnic wars, particularly within multiethnic states such as Indonesia or India;
4. various forms of "national liberation" movements of the downtrodden against existing or perceived racial domination, for example by the Indian peasantry in Latin America, the Chechens in Russia, or the Palestinians against Israel;
5. lash-out attacks by otherwise weak countries that have succeeded in building weapons of mass destruction and in finding ways for their delivery either against neighbors or anonymously against the United States;
6. increasingly lethal terrorist attacks by underground groups against particularly hated targets, repeating what occurred in the United States on 9/11, but eventually escalating to the use of weapons of mass destruction;
7. paralyzing cyber-attacks, undertaken anonymously by states, terrorist organizations, or even individual anarchists, against the operational infrastructure of the advanced societies in order to plunge them into chaos.
It is common knowledge that the tools for such violence are becoming more diversified and accessible. They range from highly complex weapons systems-particularly the various types of nuclear weapons designed for specific military missions, available to only a few states-to less efficient but still deadly nuclear explosives designed to kill large numbers of urban dwellers; and from nuclear explosives to chemical weapons (lethally less efficient) and bacteriological agents (less precisely targetable but highly dynamic). The poorer the state or more isolated the group that seeks to use these weapons, the more likely it is to resort to the less controllable and discriminating means of mass destruction.
Global security dilemmas in the early decades of the twenty-first century are thus qualitatively different from those of the twentieth. The traditional link between national sovereignty and national security has been severed. To be sure, traditional strategic concerns remain central to America's security, given that potentially hostile major states-such as Russia and China-could still inflict massive damage on the American homeland if the international structure were to break down. Moreover, the major states will continue to refine and develop new weaponry, and maintaining a technological advantage over them will continue to be a major preoccupation of U.S. national security policy.
Nevertheless, major wars between more developed states have already become a rarity. The two world wars, originating in the most advanced region of the world at the time-Europe-were "total" in the sense that they were fought with the most advanced means available, in order to kill both combatants and non-combatants indiscriminately. But each side still anticipated its own survival while pursuing the destruction of its opponent. Although total in their goal, these wars nonetheless were not suicidal.
Excerpted from The Choice by Zbigniew K. Brzezinski Copyright © 2005 by Zbigniew K. Brzezinski. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted May 21, 2005
The geopolitical landscape evolves so fast that almost any book about global politics ages before the ink can dry. Zbigniew Brzezinski - known as one of the keenest students of American defense and diplomacy since his service in the Carter administration - urges European-American rapprochement over Iraq. He calls for a transition from a war against terrorism to a moral war for global equality and political representation, namely, democracy. No doubt due to unfortunate timing, his book does not account for recent democratic elections in the Middle East or for new transatlantic diplomatic initiatives. Regardless, he uses his laser-beam intellect to show convincingly how globalism, American geopolitical dominance and American cultural imperialism are interacting to create a perfect storm of misunderstanding that leaves Uncle Sam with a tough choice: how to react to terrorism without overreacting and causing U.S. isolation. He concludes that America can choose to lead or to dominate, but not both. We strongly recommend this book to students of globalism and the ongoing experiment of global democracy.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.