Zbigniew Brzezinski


Zbigniew Brzezinski in the news.

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Zbigniew Brzezinski
Zbigniew Brzezinski

In office
1977 – 1981
President Jimmy Carter
Preceded by Brent Scowcroft
Succeeded by Richard V. Allen

Born March 28, 1928 (1928-03-28) (age 80)
Warsaw, Poland
Political party Democratic
Alma mater McGill University
Harvard University

Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski (Polish: Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzeziński, pronounced [-zbig-ev b-i-ski]) : (born March 28, 1928, Warsaw, Poland) is a Polish-American political scientist, geostrategist, and statesman who served as United States National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981. Known for his hawkish foreign policy at a time when the Democratic Party was increasingly dovish, he is a foreign policy realist and considered by some to be the Democrats' response to Republican realist Henry Kissinger.[1]

Major foreign policy events during his term of office included the normalization of relations with the People's Republic of China (and the severing of ties with the Republic of China), the signing of the second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II), the brokering of the Camp David Accords, the transition of Iran to an anti-Western Islamic state, encouraging reform in Eastern Europe, emphasizing human rights in U.S. foreign policy, the arming of the mujaheddin in Afghanistan[2] to fight against the Soviet-friendly Afghan government and later to counter the Soviet invasion, and the signing of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties relinquishing U.S. control of the Panama Canal after 1999.

He is currently the national security advisor for Barack Obama's presidential campaign, professor of American foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a member of various boards and councils. He appears frequently as an expert on the PBS program The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.


Early years

Zbigniew Brzezinski was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1928. His family had moved from Brzeżany in Galicia. This town is given as the source of his surname. His father was Tadeusz Brzeziński, a Polish diplomat who was posted to Germany from 1931 to 1935; Zbigniew Brzezinski thus spent some of his earliest years witnessing the rise of the Nazis. From 1936 to 1938, Tadeusz Brzeziński was posted to the Soviet Union during Stalin's Great Purge.

In 1938, Tadeusz Brzeziński was posted to Canada. In 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was agreed to by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union; subsequently the two powers invaded Poland. The 1945 Yalta Conference between the Allies allotted Poland to the Soviet sphere of influence, meaning Brzezinski's family could not safely return to their country.

Rising influence

After attending prep school in Montreal, [3] Brzezinski entered McGill University in 1945 to obtain both his BA and MA degrees (received in 1949 and 1950 respectively). His Master's thesis focused on the various nationalities within the Soviet Union.[4] Brzezinski's plan for doing further studies in Great Britain in preparation for a diplomatic career in Canada fell through, principally because he was ruled ineligible for a scholarship he had won that was only open to persons with British subject status. Brzezinski then went on to attend Harvard University in the United States to work on a PhD, focusing on the Soviet Union and the relationship between the October Revolution, Lenin's state, and the actions of Stalin. He received his doctorate in 1953; the same year, he traveled to Munich and met Jan Nowak-Jezioranski, head of the Polish desk of Radio Free Europe. He later collaborated with Carl J. Friedrich to develop the concept of "totalitarianism" and apply it to the Soviets in 1956.

For historical background on major events during this period, see:

As a Harvard professor he argued against Dwight Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles's policy of rollback, saying that antagonism would push Eastern Europe further toward the Soviets. The Polish strike and Hungarian Revolution in 1956 lent some support to Brzezinski's idea that the fundamentally non-communist Eastern Europeans could gradually counter Soviet domination. In 1957, he visited Poland for the first time since he left as a child, and it reaffirmed his judgment that splits within the Eastern bloc were profound.

In 1958 he became a United States citizen, although he probably also continues to be considered a Polish citizen under Polish law. Despite his years of residence in Canada and the presence of family members there, he never became a Canadian citizen.

In 1959 Brzezinski was not granted tenure at Harvard, and he moved to New York City to teach at Columbia University. Here he wrote Soviet Bloc: Unity and Conflict, which focused on Eastern Europe since the beginning of the Cold War. He also became a member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and attended meetings of the Bilderberg Group.

During the 1960 presidential elections, Brzezinski was an advisor to the John F. Kennedy campaign, urging a non-antagonistic policy toward Eastern Europe. Seeing the Soviet Union as having entered a period of stagnation, both economic and political, Brzezinski predicted the breakup of the Soviet Union along lines of nationality (expanding on his master's thesis).[4]

Brzezinski continued to argue for and support detente for the next few years, publishing "Peaceful Engagement in Eastern Europe" in Foreign Affairs,[5] and supporting non-antagonistic policies after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Such policies might disabuse Eastern European nations of their fear of an aggressive Germany and pacify Western Europeans fearful of a superpower condominium along the lines of Yalta.

In 1964, Brzezinski supported Lyndon Johnson's presidential campaign and the Great Society and civil rights policies, while on the other hand he saw Soviet leadership as having been purged of any creativity following the ousting of Khrushchev. Through Jan Nowak-Jezioranski, Brzezinski met with Adam Michnik, the future Polish Solidarity activist.

Brzezinski continued to support engagement with Eastern Europe, while warning against De Gaulle's vision of a "Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals." He also supported intervention in Vietnam to counter Chinese leader Mao Zedong's claim that the United States was a paper tiger. From 1966 to 1968, Brzezinski served as a member of the Policy Planning Council of the U.S. Department of State (President Johnson's 7 October 1966 "Bridge Building" speech was a product of Brzezinski's influence).

For historical background on events during this period, see:

Events in Czechoslovakia further reinforced Brzezinski's criticisms of the right's aggressive stance toward Eastern Europe. His service to the Johnson administration, and his fact-finding trip to Vietnam made him an enemy of the New Left, despite his advocacy of de-escalation.

For the 1968 presidential campaign, Brzezinski was chairman of the Hubert Humphrey Foreign Policy Task Force. He advised Humphrey to break with several of President Johnson's policies, especially concerning Vietnam, the Middle East, and condominium with the USSR.

Brzezinski called for a pan-European conference, an idea that would eventually find fruition in 1973 as the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe.[6] Meanwhile he became a leading critic of both the Nixon-Kissinger detente condominium, as well as McGovern's pacifism.[7]

In his 1970 piece Between Two Ages: America's Role in the Technetronic Era, Brzezinski argued that a coordinated policy among developed nations was necessary in order to counter global instability erupting from increasing economic inequality. Out of this thesis, Brzezinski co-founded the Trilateral Commission with David Rockefeller, serving as director from 1973 to 1976. The Trilateral Commission is a group of prominent political and business leaders and academics primarily from the United States, Western Europe and Japan. Its purpose is to strengthen relations among the three most industrially advanced regions of the free world. Brzezinski selected Georgia governor Jimmy Carter as a member.


Jimmy Carter standing with Zbigniew Brzezinski
Jimmy Carter standing with Zbigniew Brzezinski

Jimmy Carter announced his candidacy for the 1976 presidential campaign to a skeptical media and proclaimed himself an "eager student" of Brzezinski. Brzezinski became Carter's principal foreign policy advisor by late 1975. He became an outspoken critic of the Nixon-Kissinger over-reliance on detente, a situation preferred by the USSR, favoring the Helsinki process instead, which focused on human rights and peaceful engagement in Eastern Europe. Carter beat Ford in foreign policy debates by contrasting the Trilateral vision with Ford's detente.

After his victory in 1976, Carter made Brzezinski National Security Advisor. Earlier that year, major labor riots broke out in Poland, laying the foundations for Solidarity. Brzezinski began by emphasizing the "Basket III" human rights in the Helsinki Final Act, which inspired Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia shortly thereafter.[8]

Brzezinski had a hand in writing parts of Carter's inaugural address, and this served his purpose of sending a positive message to Soviet dissidents.[9] The Soviet Union and Western European leaders both complained that this kind of rhetoric ran against the "code of detente" that Nixon and Kissinger had established.[10][11] Brzezinski ran up against members of his own Democratic Party who disagreed with this interpretation of detente, including Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. Vance argued for less emphasis on human rights in order to gain Soviet agreement to Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), whereas Brzezinski favored doing both at the same time. Brzezinski then ordered Radio Free Europe transmitters to increase the power and area of their broadcasts, a provocative reversal of Nixon-Kissinger policies.[12] West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt bitterly objected to Brzezinski's agenda, even calling for the removal of Radio Free Europe from German soil.[13]

The State Department was alarmed by Brzezinski's support for East German dissidents and strongly objected to his suggestion that Carter's first overseas visit be to Poland. He visited Warsaw, met with Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski (against the strong objection of the U.S. Ambassador to Poland), recognizing the Roman Catholic Church as the legitimate opposition to Communist rule in Poland.[14]

By 1978, Brzezinski and Vance were more and more at odds over the direction of Carter's foreign policy. Vance sought to continue the style of detente engineered by Nixon-Kissinger, with a focus on arms control. Brzezinski believed that detente emboldened the Soviets in Angola and the Middle East, and so he argued for increased military strength and an emphasis on human rights. Vance, the State Department, and the media criticized Brzezinski publicly as seeking to revive the Cold War.

Brzezinski advised Carter in 1978 to engage the People's Republic of China and traveled to Beijing to lay the groundwork for the normalization of relations between the two countries. This also resulted in the severing of ties with the United States' longtime anti-Communist ally the Republic of China. Also in 1978, Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyła was elected Pope John Paul II—an event which the Soviets believed Brzezinski orchestrated.

For historical background on this period of history, see:

1979 saw two major strategically important events: the overthrow of U.S. ally the Shah of Iran, and the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR. The Iranian Revolution precipitated the Iran hostage crisis, which would last for the rest of Carter's presidency. Brzezinski anticipated (some have claimed [15] he even engineered) the Soviet invasion, and, with the support of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the PRC, he created a strategy to counter the Soviet advance. See below under "Major Policies - Afghanistan."

Using this atmosphere of insecurity, Brzezinski led the U.S. toward a new arms buildup and the development of the Rapid Deployment Forces—policies that are both more generally associated with Ronald Reagan now. In 1980, Brzezinski planned Operation Eagle Claw, which was meant to free the hostages in Iran using the newly created Delta Force and other Special Forces units. The mission was a failure and led to Secretary Vance's resignation.

Brzezinski was criticized widely in the press and became the least popular member of Carter's administration. Edward Kennedy challenged President Carter for the 1980 Democratic nomination, and at the convention Kennedy's delegates loudly booed Brzezinski. Hurt by internal divisions within his party and a stagnant domestic economy, Carter lost the 1980 presidential election in a landslide.

Brzezinski, acting under a lame duck Carter presidency, but encouraged that Solidarity in Poland had vindicated his preference for engagement and evolution in Eastern Europe, took a hard-line stance against what seemed like an imminent Soviet invasion of Poland. He even made a midnight phone call to Pope John Paul II—whose visit to Poland in 1979 had foreshadowed the emergence of Solidarity—warning him in advance. The U.S. stance was a significant change from previous reactions to Soviet repression in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.

After power

Brzezinski left office concerned about the internal division within the Democratic party, arguing that the dovish McGovernite wing would send the Democrats into permanent minority.

He had mixed relations with the Reagan administration. On the one hand, he supported it as seemingly the only alternative to the Democrats' pacifism, but he also strongly criticized it as seeing foreign policy in overly black-and-white terms.

He remained involved in Polish affairs, critical of the imposition of Martial Law in Poland in 1981, and more so of Western European acquiescence to the imposition in the name of stability. Brzezinski briefed Vice President George Bush before his 1987 trip to Poland that aided in the revival of the Solidarity movement.

In 1985, under the Reagan administration, Brzezinski served as a member of the President’s Chemical Warfare Commission. From 1987 to 1988, he worked on the NSC-Defense Department Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy. From 1987 to 1989 he also served on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

In 1988, Brzezinski was co-chairman of the Bush National Security Advisory Task Force and endorsed Bush for president, breaking with the Democratic party (coincidentally hurting the career of his former student Madeleine Albright, who was Dukakis's foreign policy advisor). Brzezinski published The Grand Failure the same year, predicting the failure of Gorbachev's reforms and the collapse of the Soviet Union in a few more decades. He said there were five possibilities for the Soviet Union: successful pluralization, protracted crisis, renewed stagnation, coup (KGB, Military), or the explicit collapse of the Communist regime. He called collapse "at this stage a much more remote possibility" than protracted crisis. He also predicted that the chance of some form of communism existing in the Soviet Union in 2017 was a little more than 50% and that when the end did come it would be "most likely turbulent". In the event, the Soviet system collapsed totally in 1991 following Moscow's crackdown on Lithuania's attempt to declare independence, the Nagorno-Karabakh War of the late 1980s, and scattered bloodshed in other republics. This was a less violent outcome than Brzezinski and other observers anticipated.

In 1989 the Communists failed to mobilize support in Poland, and Solidarity swept the general elections. Later the same year, Brzezinski toured Russia and visited a memorial to the Katyn Massacre. This served as an opportunity for him to ask the Soviet government to acknowledge the truth about the event, for which he received a standing ovation in the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Ten days later, the Berlin Wall fell, and Soviet-supported governments in Eastern Europe began to totter.

Strobe Talbott, one of Brzezinski's long-time critics, conducted an interview with him for TIME magazine entitled "Vindication of a Hardliner."

In 1990 Brzezinski warned against post–Cold War euphoria. He publicly opposed the Gulf War, arguing that the U.S. would squander the international goodwill it had accumulated by defeating the Soviet Union and that it could trigger wide resentment throughout the Arab world. He expanded upon these views in his 1992 work Out of Control.

However, in 1993 Brzezinski was prominently critical of the Clinton administration's hesitation to intervene against Serbia in the Yugoslavian civil war. Wary of a move toward the reinvigoration of Russian power, Brzezinski negatively viewed the succession of former KGB agent Vladimir Putin to Boris Yeltsin. In this vein, he became one of the foremost advocates of NATO expansion.

Post 9/11

After 9/11 Brzezinski was criticized for his role in the formation of the Afghan mujaheddin network, some of which would later form the Taliban and would shelter Al Qaeda camps. He asserted that blame rightfully ought to be laid at the feet of the Soviet Union, whose invasion he claimed radicalized the relatively stable Muslim society.

Brzezinski also became a leading critic of the Bush administration's "war on terror." Some painted him as a neoconservative because of his links to Paul Wolfowitz and his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard. Brzezinski wrote The Choice in 2004 which expanded upon The Grand Chessboard but sharply criticized the Bush administration's foreign policy. He has defended the paper The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. He has been outspoken in his criticism of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the subsequent conduct of the war.

Brzezinski currently lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. He is married to internationally recognized sculptor Emilie Anna Benes (grandniece of Czechoslovakia’s former president Edvard Beneš) and has three children. Ian served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO and is now a Principal at Booz Allen Hamilton. Mark is a partner in McGuire Woods LLP, Washington, D.C., and a foreign policy advisor to Barack Obama. His daughter Mika is a reporter who is currently the co-host and news reader on Morning Joe on MSNBC.

United States presidential election 2008

Brzezinski is one of Senator Barack Obama's foreign policy supporters for the presidential campaign of 2008.[16]

As National Security Advisor

President Carter chose Zbigniew Brzezinski for the position of National Security Adviser (NSA) because he wanted an assertive intellectual at his side to provide him with day-to-day advice and guidance on foreign policy decisions. Brzezinski would preside over a reorganized National Security Council (NSC) structure, fashioned to ensure that the NSA would be only one of many players in the foreign policy process.

Brzezinski's task was complicated by his (hawkish) focus on East-West relations in an administration where many cared a great deal about North-South relations and human rights.

Initially, Carter reduced the NSC staff by one-half and decreased the number of standing NSC committees from eight to two. All issues referred to the NSC were reviewed by one of the two new committees, either the Policy Review Committee (PRC) or the Special Coordinating Committee (SCC). The PRC focused on specific issues, and its chairmanship rotated. The SCC was always chaired by Brzezinski, a circumstance he had to negotiate with Carter to achieve. Carter believed that by making the NSA chairman of only one of the two committees, he would prevent the NSC from being the overwhelming influence on foreign policy decisions it was under Kissinger's chairmanship during the Nixon administration. The SCC was charged with considering issues that cut across several departments, including oversight of intelligence activities, arms control evaluation, and crisis management. Much of the SCC's time during the Carter years was spent on SALT issues.

The Council held few formal meetings, convening only 10 times, compared with 125 meetings during the 8 years of the Nixon and Ford administrations. Instead, Carter used frequent, informal meetings as a decision-making device, typically his Friday breakfasts, usually attended by the Vice President, the secretaries of State and Defense, Brzezinski, and the chief domestic adviser. No agendas were prepared and no formal records were kept of these meetings, sometimes resulting in differing interpretations of the decisions actually agreed upon. Brzezinski was careful, in managing his own weekly luncheons with secretaries Vance and Brown in preparation for NSC discussions, to maintain a complete set of notes. Brzezinski also sent weekly reports to the President on major foreign policy undertakings and problems, with recommendations for courses of action. President Carter enjoyed these reports and frequently annotated them with his own views. Brzezinski and the NSC used these Presidential notes (159 of them) as the basis for NSC actions.

From the beginning, Brzezinski made sure that the new NSC institutional relationships would assure him a major voice in the shaping of foreign policy. While he knew that Carter would not want him to be another Kissinger, Brzezinski also felt confident that the President did not want Secretary of State Vance to become another Dulles and would want his own input on key foreign policy decisions.

Brzezinski's power gradually expanded into the operational area during the Carter Presidency. He increasingly assumed the role of a Presidential emissary. In 1978, for example, Brzezinski traveled to Beijing to lay the groundwork for normalizing U.S.-PRC relations. Like Kissinger before him, Brzezinski maintained his own personal relationship with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin. Brzezinski had NSC staffers monitor State Department cable traffic through the Situation Room and call back to the State Department if the President preferred to revise or take issue with outgoing State Department instructions. He also appointed his own press spokesman, and his frequent press briefings and appearances on television interview shows made him a prominent public figure, although perhaps not nearly as much as Kissinger had been under Nixon.

The Soviet military invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 significantly damaged the already tenuous relationship between Vance and Brzezinski. Vance felt that Brzezinski's linkage of SALT to other Soviet activities and the MX, together with the growing domestic criticisms in the United States of the SALT II Accord, convinced Brezhnev to decide on military intervention in Afghanistan. Brzezinski, however, later recounted that he advanced proposals to maintain Afghanistan's "independence" but was frustrated by the Department of State's opposition. An NSC working group on Afghanistan wrote several reports on the deteriorating situation in 1979, but President Carter ignored them until the Soviet intervention destroyed his illusions. Only then did he decide to abandon SALT II ratification and pursue the anti-Soviet policies that Brzezinski proposed.

The Iranian revolution was the last straw for the disintegrating relationship between Vance and Brzezinski. As the upheaval developed, the two advanced fundamentally different positions. Brzezinski wanted to control the revolution and increasingly suggested military action to prevent Khomeini from coming to power, while Vance wanted to come to terms with the new Khomeini regime. As a consequence, Carter failed to develop a coherent approach to the Iranian situation. In the growing crisis atmosphere of 1979 and 1980 due to the Iranian hostage situation, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and a deepening economic crisis, Brzezinski's anti-Soviet views gained influence but could not end the Carter administration's malaise. Vance's resignation following the unsuccessful mission to rescue the American hostages in March 1980, undertaken over his objections, was the final result of the deep disagreement between Brzezinski and Vance.

Major policies

During the 1960s Brzezinski articulated the strategy of peaceful engagement for undermining the Soviet bloc and persuaded President Johnson, while serving on the State Department Policy Planning Council, to adopt in October 1966 peaceful engagement as U.S. strategy, placing detente ahead of German reunification and thus reversing prior U.S. priorities.

During the 1970s and 1980s, at the height of his political involvement, Brzezinski participated in the formation of the Trilateral Commission in order to more closely cement U.S.-Japanese-European relations. As the three most economically advanced sectors of the world, the people of the three regions could be brought together in cooperation that would give them a more cohesive stance against the communist threat.

While serving in the White House, Brzezinski emphasized the centrality of human rights as a means of placing the Soviet Union on the ideological defensive. With Jimmy Carter in Camp David I, he assisted in the attainment of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. He actively supported Polish Solidarity and the Afghan resistance to Soviet invasion, and provided covert support for national independence movements in the Soviet Union. He played a leading role in normalizing U.S.-PRC relations and in the development of joint strategic cooperation, cultivating a relationship with Deng Xiaoping, for which he is thought very highly of in mainland China to this day.

In the 1990s he formulated the strategic case for buttressing the independent statehood of Ukraine, partially as a means to ending a resurgence of the Russian Empire, and to drive Russia toward integration with the West, promoting instead "geopolitical pluralism" in the space of the former Soviet Union. He developed "a plan for Europe" urging the expansion of NATO, making the case for the expansion of NATO to the Baltic states. He also served as U.S. Presidential emissary to Azerbaijan in order to promote the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline. Further, he led, together with Lane Kirkland, the effort to increase the endowment for the U.S.–sponsored Polish-American Freedom Foundation (info) from the proposed $112 million to an eventual total of well over $200 million.

He has consistently urged a U.S. leadership role in the world, based on established alliances, and warned against unilateralist policies that could destroy U.S. global credibility and precipitate U.S. global isolation.

On February 2, 1979, Brzezinski wrote a memo to the president claiming that Islamic fundamentalism was not an imminent threat and would not gain prominence in the Middle East.[citation needed]


Main article: Operation Cyclone
Zbigniew Brzezinski speaking with Pakistani officer holding an RPD
Zbigniew Brzezinski speaking with Pakistani officer holding an RPD

Brzezinski, known for his hardline policies on the Soviet Union, initiated in 1979 a campaign supporting mujaheddin in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which were run by Pakistani security services with financial support from the CIA and Britain's MI6. This policy had the explicit aim of promoting radical Islamist and anti-Communist forces to overthrow the secular communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan government in Afghanistan, which had been destabilized by coup attempts against Hafizullah Amin, the power struggle within the Soviet-supported parcham faction of the PDPA and a subsequent Soviet military intervention.

Years later, in a 1997 CNN/National Security Archive interview, Brzezinski detailed the strategy taken by the Carter administration against the Soviets in 1979:

We immediately launched a twofold process when we heard that the Soviets had entered Afghanistan. The first involved direct reactions and sanctions focused on the Soviet Union, and both the State Department and the National Security Council prepared long lists of sanctions to be adopted, of steps to be taken to increase the international costs to the Soviet Union of their actions. And the second course of action led to my going to Pakistan a month or so after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, for the purpose of coordinating with the Pakistanis a joint response, the purpose of which would be to make the Soviets bleed for as much and as long as is possible; and we engaged in that effort in a collaborative sense with the Saudis, the Egyptians, the British, the Chinese, and we started providing weapons to the Mujaheddin, from various sources again—for example, some Soviet arms from the Egyptians and the Chinese. We even got Soviet arms from the Czechoslovak communist government, since it was obviously susceptible to material incentives; and at some point we started buying arms for the Mujaheddin from the Soviet army in Afghanistan, because that army was increasingly corrupt. [17]

Milt Bearden wrote in The Main Enemy that Brzezinski, in 1980, secured an agreement from the Saudi king to match American contributions to the Afghan effort dollar for dollar and that Bill Casey would keep that agreement going through the Reagan administration.[18]

In 1998, Brzezinski was interviewed by the French newspaper Nouvel Observateur on the topic of Afghanistan. He revealed that CIA support for the mujaheddin had started before the 1979 Soviet invasion, knowingly increasing the probability of a Soviet invasion. Brzezinski saw the invasion as an opportunity to embroil the Soviet Union in a bloody conflict comparable to America's experience in Vietnam. He referred to this as the "Afghan Trap" and viewed the end of the Soviet empire as worth the cost of strengthening militant Islamic groups. [19][20]

In his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard, Brzezinski says that assistance to the Afghan resistance was a tactic designed to bog down the Soviet army while the United States built up a deterrent military force in the Persian Gulf to prevent Soviet political or military penetration farther south (see: the Carter Doctrine).

In a footnote in his 2000 book The Geostrategic Triad, Brzezinski notes:

The full story of the productive U.S.-China cooperation directed against the Soviet Union (especially in regard to Afghanistan), initiated by the Carter Administration and continued under Reagan, still remains to be told.

A memo from Zbigniew Brzezinski to President Carter] on December 26, 1979, discusses the implications of a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on U.S. foreign policy, especially regarding Iran.[21]


The Iranian Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, meeting with Arthur Atherton, William H. Sullivan, Cyrus Vance, President Jimmy Carter, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, in 1977
The Iranian Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, meeting with Arthur Atherton, William H. Sullivan, Cyrus Vance, President Jimmy Carter, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, in 1977

Facing a revolution, the Shah of Iran sought help from the United States. Iran occupied a strategic place in U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East, acting as an island of stability and a buffer against Soviet penetration into the region. The Shah was pro-American, but domestically oppressive. The U.S. ambassador to Iran, William H. Sullivan, recalls that Brzezinski “repeatedly assured Pahlavi that the U.S. backed him fully." These reassurances would not, however, amount to substantive action on the part of the United States. On November 4, 1978, Brzezinski called the Shah to tell him that the United States would "back him to the hilt." At the same time, certain high-level officials in the State Department decided that the Shah had to go, regardless of who replaced him. Brzezinski and Energy Secretary James Schlesinger (former Secretary of Defense under Ford) continued to advocate that the U.S. support the Shah militarily. Even in the final days of the revolution, when the Shah was considered doomed no matter what the outcome of the revolution, Brzezinski still advocated a U.S. invasion to stabilize Iran. President Carter could not decide how to appropriately use force and opposed a U.S. coup. He ordered the aircraft carrier Constellation to the Indian Ocean but ultimately supported a regime change. A deal was worked out with the Iranian generals to shift support to a moderate government, but this plan fell apart when Khomeini and his followers swept the country, taking power on February 12, 1979.


Deng Xiaoping and Zbigniew Brzezinski meeting in 1979
Deng Xiaoping and Zbigniew Brzezinski meeting in 1979

Shortly after taking office in 1977, President Carter again reaffirmed the United States' position of upholding the Shanghai Communique. The United States and People's Republic of China announced on December 15, 1978, that the two governments would establish diplomatic relations on January 1, 1979. This required the severing of relations with the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan. Consolidating U.S. gains in opening China was a major priority stressed by Brzezinski during his time as National Security Advisor.

The most important strategic aspect of the invigorated U.S.-Chinese relationship was in its effect on the Cold War. China was no longer considered part of a larger Sino-Soviet bloc but instead a third pole of power due to the Sino-Soviet Split, helping the United States to balance against Russia. A notable example, discussed above, is Chinese assistance in Brzezinski's efforts to draw Russia into a Vietnam-style conflict in Afghanistan. This strategy, initiated under Nixon and Kissinger, and consolidated under Carter and Brzezinski, is really the first instance of statesmen altering the world's polarity by design.[citation needed]

In the Joint Communique on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations dated January 1, 1979, the United States transferred diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. The U.S. reiterated the Shanghai Communique's acknowledgment of the Chinese position that there is only one China and that Taiwan is a part of China; Beijing acknowledged that the American people would continue to carry on commercial, cultural, and other unofficial contacts with the people of Taiwan. The Taiwan Relations Act made the necessary changes in U.S. domestic law to permit such unofficial relations with Taiwan to flourish.

In addition the severing relations with the ROC, the Carter administration also agreed to unilaterally pull out of the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty (made with the ROC), pull out U.S. military personnel from Taiwan, and gradually reduce arms sales to the ROC. There was widespread opposition in Congress, notably from Republicans, due to the Republic of China's status as an anti-Communist ally in the Cold War. In Goldwater v. Carter, Barry Goldwater made a failed attempt to stop Carter from terminating the mutual defense treaty.

Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping's January 1979 visit to Washington, D.C., initiated a series of high-level exchanges, which continued until the spring of 1989. This resulted in many bilateral agreements, especially in the fields of scientific, technological, and cultural interchange and trade relations. Since early 1979, the United States and China have initiated hundreds of joint research projects and cooperative programs under the Agreement on Cooperation in Science and Technology, the largest bilateral program.

On March 1, 1979, the United States and People's Republic of China formally established embassies in Beijing and Washington. During 1979, outstanding private claims were resolved, and a bilateral trade agreement was concluded. Vice President Walter Mondale reciprocated Vice Premier Deng's visit with an August 1979 trip to China. This visit led to agreements in September 1980 on maritime affairs, civil aviation links, and textile matters, as well as a bilateral consular convention.

As a consequence of high-level and working-level contacts initiated in 1980, U.S. dialogue with the PRC broadened to cover a wide range of issues, including global and regional strategic problems, political-military questions—including arms controlUN and other multilateral organization affairs, and international narcotics matters.

Nuclear weapons

Nuclear strategy

Presidential Directive 59, "Nuclear Employment Policy" (PDF), dramatically changed U.S. targeting of nuclear weapons aimed at the Soviet Union. Implemented with the aid of Defense Secretary Harold Brown, this directive officially set the U.S. on a countervailing strategy.


According to journalist Elizabeth Becker, Brzezinski said that in 1979, "I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot. Pol Pot was an abomination. We could never support him, but China could."[22] Brzezinski has denied this, writing that the Chinese were aiding Pol Pot "without any help or encouragement from the United States. Moreover, we told the Chinese explicitly that in our view Pol Pot was an abomination and that the United States would have nothing to do with him -- directly or indirectly."[23]

Arms control

See also: Arms Control
President Jimmy Carter and Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev sign the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II) treaty, 16 June 1979, in Washington D.C.  Zbigniew Brzezinski is directly behind President Carter and is the only person smiling in the picture.
President Jimmy Carter and Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev sign the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II) treaty, 16 June 1979, in Washington D.C. Zbigniew Brzezinski is directly behind President Carter and is the only person smiling in the picture.

Arab-Israeli peace

See also: Camp David Accords (1978)
President Jimmy Carter with Zbigniew Brzezinski and Cyrus Vance at Camp David in 1977
President Jimmy Carter with Zbigniew Brzezinski and Cyrus Vance at Camp David in 1977
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin engages Zbigniew Brzezinski in a game of chess at Camp David
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin engages Zbigniew Brzezinski in a game of chess at Camp David

[24] NPR interview with Brzezinski on Camp David

On Oct 10, 2007 Brzezinski along with other influential signatories sent a letter to President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice titled 'Failure Risks Devastating Consequences'. The letter was partly an advice and a warning of the failure of an upcoming [25] US sponsored Middle East conference scheduled for Nov 2007 between Israelis and Palestinians. The letter also suggested to engage in "a genuine dialogue with Hamas" than to isolate it further.[26]

Poland, the Pope, and Solidarity

Ending détente

Presidential Directive 18 on U.S. National Security, signed early in Carter's term, signalled a fundamental reassessment of the value of détente, and set the U.S. on a course to quietly end the stability and accommodation associated with Kissinger's strategy.[27]


Brzezinski was on the faculty of Harvard University from 1953 to 1960, and of Columbia University from 1960 to 1989 where he headed the Institute on Communist Affairs. He is currently a professor of foreign policy at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C.

As a scholar he has developed his thoughts over the years, fashioning fundamental theories on international relations and geostrategy. During the 1950s he worked on the theory of totalitarianism. His thought in the 1960s focused on wider Western understanding of disunity in the Soviet Bloc, as well as developing the thesis of intensified degeneration of the Soviet Union. During the 1970s he propounded the proposition that the Soviet system was incapable of evolving beyond the industrial phase into the “technetronic” age.

By the 1980s, Brzezinski argued that the general crisis of the Soviet Union foreshadowed communism’s end. After the fall of the Soviet Union, he spent the 1990s warning that global discord may get out of control and formulating a geostrategy for U.S. global preponderance.


Brzezinski laid out his most significant contribution to post–Cold War geostrategy in his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard. He defined four regions of Eurasia and in which ways the United States ought to design its policy toward each region in order to maintain its global primacy. The four regions are:

  • Europe, the Democratic Bridgehead
  • Russia, the Black Hole
  • The Caucasuses and Central Asia, the Eurasian Balkans
  • East Asia, the Far Eastern Anchor

In his subsequent book, The Choice, Brzezinski updates his geostrategy in light of globalization, 9/11, and the intervening six years between the two books.

Public life

Brzezinski is a past member of the board of directors of Amnesty International, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Atlantic Council, and the National Endowment for Democracy.

He was formerly a director of the Trilateral Commission (see [28]), now serving only on the executive committee, and was formerly a boardmember of Freedom House.

He is currently a trustee and counselor for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a board member for the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus (see [29]), on the advisory board of America Abroad Media (see [30]), and on the advisory board of Partnership for a Secure America (see [31]).

He is married to Czech-American sculptor Emilie Benes, with whom he has three children. His son, Mark Brzezinski (b.1965), is a lawyer who served on President Clinton's National Security Council as an expert on Russia and Southeastern Europe. His daughter, Mika Brzezinski (b.1967), is a television news journalist and a regular anchor on MSNBC.


Major works by Brzezinski

Other books and monographs

  • Russo-Soviet Nationalism, M.A. Thesis, McGill University (1950)
  • Political Control in the Soviet Army: A Study on Reports by Former Soviet Officers, New York, Research Program on the U.S.S.R (1954)
  • with Carl J. Friedrich, Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy, Cambridge: Harvard University Press (1956)
  • Ideology and Power in Soviet Politics, New York: Praeger (1962)
  • with Samuel Huntington, Political Power: USA/USSR, New York: Viking Press (April 1963), ISBN 0-670-56318-8
  • Alternative to Partition: For a Broader Conception of America's Role in Europe, Atlantic Policy Studies, New York: McGraw-Hill (1965)
  • The Implications of Change for United States Foreign Policy, Department of State (1967)
  • International Politics in the Technetronic Era, Sofia University Press (1971)
  • The Fragile Blossom: Crisis and Change in Japan, New York: Harper and Row (1972), ISBN 0-06-010468-6
  • with P. Edward Haley, American Security in an Interdependent World, Rowman & Littlefield (September 1988), ISBN 0-8191-7084-4
  • with Marin Strmecki, In Quest of National Security, Boulder: Westview Press (September 1988), ISBN 0-8133-0575-6
  • The Soviet Political System: Transformation or Degeneration, Irvington Publishers (August 1993), ISBN 0-8290-3572-9
  • with Paige Sullivan, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States: Documents, Data, and Analysis, Armonk: M. E. Sharpe (1996), ISBN 1-56324-637-6
  • The Geostrategic Triad : Living with China, Europe, and Russia, Center for Strategic & International Studies (December 2000), ISBN 0-89206-384-X

Selected essays and reports

  • with William E. Griffith, Peaceful Engagement in Eastern Europe, Foreign Affairs, XXXIX, 4 (July 1961)
  • with David Owen, Michael Stewart, Carol Hansen, and Saburo Okita, Democracy Must Work: A Trilateral Agenda for the Decade, Trilateral Commission (June 1984), ISBN 0-8147-6161-5
  • with Brent Scowcroft and Richard W. Murphy, Differentiated Containment: U.S. Policy Toward Iran and Iraq, Council on Foreign Relations Press (July 1997), ISBN 0-87609-202-4
  • U.S. Policy Toward Northeastern Europe: Report of an Independent Task Force, Council on Foreign Relations Press (July 1999), ISBN 0-87609-259-8
  • with Anthony Lake, F. Gregory, and III Gause, The United States and the Persian Gulf, Council on Foreign Relations Press (December 2001), ISBN 0-87609-291-1
  • with Robert M. Gates, Iran: Time for a New Approach, Council on Foreign Relations Press (February 2003), ISBN 0-87609-345-4

See also


  1. ^ John Maclean, "Advisers Key to Foreign Policy Views," The Boston Evening Globe (October 5, 1976)
  2. ^ Eduardo Real: ‘’Zbigniew Brzezinski, Defeated by his Success’’
  3. ^ Gravenor, Kristian. "Zbigniew Brzezinski's Montreal recollections", Coolopolis, 2007-02-13. Retrieved on 2008-03-21. 
  4. ^ a b Zbigniew Brzezinski. "'Agenda for constructive American-Chinese dialogue huge': Brzezinski", People's Daily Online, March 20, 2006
  5. ^ Zbigniew Brzezinski and William Griffith, "Peaceful Engagement in Eastern Europe," Foreign Affairs, vol. 39, no. 4 (Spring, 1961), p. 647.
  6. ^ Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Détente in the ‘70s," The New Republic (January 3, 1970), p. 18.
  7. ^ Zbigniew Brzezinski, "Meeting Moscow’s Limited Coexistence," The New Leader, 51:24 (December 16, 1968), pp. 11-13.
  8. ^ Michael Getler, "Dissidents Challenge Prague—Tension Builds Following Demand for Freedom and Democracy," The Washington Post (January 21, 1977).
  9. ^ Zbigniew Brzezinski, Power and Principle: Memoirs of the National Security Adviser, 1977-1981 (New York, 1983), p. 123.
  10. ^ Seyom Brown, Faces of Power (New York, 1983), p. 539.
  11. ^ "Giscard, Schmidt on Détente," The Washington Post (July 19, 1977).
  12. ^ David Binder, "Carter Requests Funds for Big Increase in Broadcasts to Soviet Bloc," The New York Times (March 23, 1977).
  13. ^ Brzezinski, Power and Principle, p. 293.
  14. ^ David A. Andelman, "Brzezinski and Mrs. Carter Hold Discussion with Polish Cardinal," The New York Times (December 29, 1977).
  15. ^ See Matthew Carr, The Infernal Machine: A History of Terrorism from Alexander II to Al-Qaeda, chapter 10.
  16. ^ Obama Adviser Brzezinski: Power Shouldn't Have Resigned
  17. ^ Full Text of Interview
  18. ^ TPM Cafe Book Club, The CIA on "Did the CIA create Bin Laden?". Retrieved 1/1/2007.
  19. ^ Full Text of Interview
  20. ^ Scherrer, Christian P. (2003). Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Violence: Conflict Management, Human Rights, and Multilateral Regimes. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 66. ISBN 0754609561. 
  21. ^ [1]
  22. ^ Elizabeth Becker, Pol Pot's End Won't Stop U.S. Pursuit of His Circle, New York Times, April 17, 1998.
  23. ^ Zbigniew Brzezinski, China Acted Alone, Letters, New York Times, April 22, 1998.
  24. ^ [2]
  25. ^ [3]
  26. ^ 'Failure Risks Devastating Consequences'"
  27. ^ [4]
  28. ^ [5]
  29. ^ [6]
  30. ^ [7]
  31. ^ [8]

Further reading

External links

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Political offices
Preceded by
Brent Scowcroft
United States National Security Advisor
Succeeded by
Richard V. Allen