(Subtitle: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives)
This is a breathtaking book by former National Security Adviser Zbigniew
Brzezinski. Published in 1997, it is one of the few forward-looking foreign
policy books of the 90s that, after September 11, 2001 still resonates from
almost every page. Want to know why the United States is at war in
Afghanistan and not Pakistan? Why Saudi Arabia's many deficiencies are
tolerated? Why US foreign policy towards China seems to swing from appease
to annoy and back again? Grand Chessboard tilts convincingly at these
questions and many more.
Brzezinski organises his 220 page manuscript into seven chapters, and this
review will follow that format with a summary of each.
- Hegemony of a New Type
Brzezinski shows here how America1 is truly the world's first
global power. Outlining clearly and succinctly how this is not an
accident, the book briefly outlines other empires throughout history
(Persian, Mongol, Roman,
Spanish, British, etc.) in a "compare and
contrast" that draws some surprising lines through what you thought you knew
about these regions and powers.
- The Eurasian Chessboard
From these provocative questions the topics of
the next 5 chapters are drawn.
When Chapter 2 begins "For America, the chief geopolitical prize is
Eurasia." you know the author is about to take you to unexpected places,
and Brzezinski doesn't disappoint. Inverting the world map (Ever tried
that? It's worth seeing.) immediately isolates the "control zones" for the
Eurasian megacontinent. This is the "chessboard" of the title. After the
players are identified, five questions are asked:
- What kind of Europe should America prefer and hence promote?
- What kind of Russia is in America's interest, and what and how much
can America do about it?
- What are the prospects for the emergence in Central Eurasia of a new
"Balkans," and what should America do to minimize the resulting risks?
- What role should China be encouraged to assume in the Far East, and
what are the implications of the foregoing not only for the United States
but also for Japan?
- What new Eurasian coalitions are possible, which might be most
dangerous to the U.S. interests, and what needs to be done to preclude
- The Democratic Bridgehead
A critical and perceptive review of NATO and an equally interesting
overview of the European Union from an American perspective are the central
features of this chapter. Also here is an assessment of the various European
countries' motives for "bucking the system", or thwarting American actions
at various times in recent history.
- The Black Hole
This is where the book, from a very recent history perspective, really
starts to warm up. Describing the disintegration of Russia as a primary
cause of the current instability at the old and new "edges" of the world's
territorially largest state is not a new idea. But detailing the resources
that these areas control, who wants them, and what the US is likely to do
about it, is fresh. Remarkably so considering the book was written in 1997. Also in this chapter is Brzezinski's view that to maintain hegemony in
this region, the US must push as hard as possible for Russia to throw in its
lot with Europe, and stay out of its recently lost areas, no matter how
predominant it might still be thereabouts.
- The Eurasian Balkans
Oil. Afghanistan. Iraq. And it's nowhere near over in this region.
Here's where the books predictive powers are most strained, and yet this is
the chapter that evoked my "breathtaking" review. At the end of this chapter,
you may well emerge convinced that Black Sea Oil is essentially going to
control foreign policy, and probably mean a lot more troops overseas
before too long. The extremely recent (as of this writing) election in
Turkey is cast in a very different light by Turkey's identification with
Russia and Iran as the "local big boys" through which and with which the
US must deal here.
- The Far Eastern Anchor
Wondered why, with what seems like all the will in the world, the two
Koreas are not yet united? Part of the answer, if you follow the arguments in
this chapter, has to be because 30,000 US troops on the Korean peninsula
serves as yet another thread in the "Gulliver-style" containing of China.
But, refreshingly, Brzezinski argues for an end to the current "do one thing,
say another" China-bottling policy currently in place. Arguing instead that
the best policy is "balancing" Asia in the way that Britain used to do on
the continent, in this case using Japan as the counterweight.
The final chapter is, unapologetically, a call to arms:
"In brief, America as the world's premier power does face a
narrow window of historic opportunity. The present moment of relative
global peace may be short lived. (!) This prospect underlines the
urgent need for an American engagement in the world that is deliberately
focused ... to perpetuate America's own dominant position for at least a
generation and preferably longer still; and to create a geopolitical core
of shared responsibility for peaceful global management."
Heady stuff! And highly recommended, no matter what your politics.
NOTE: I do not share all of the author's views, or even most of them. The
book, however, is most successful where it prompts you to go, do some research
on one or another of its claims, and find out for yourself.
Published by Basic Books, part of the Perseus Books Group. ISBN 0-465-02726-1