Global Security Challenges: Report on a speech by Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, University of North Carolina, March 5, 2008.

Author:Cotter, Michael W.

Editor's Note:

American Diplomacy Associate Publisher Cotter demonstrates to the reader of the following account one of the necessary skills cultivated by diplomats in the U. S. Foreign Service, as well as in the career diplomatic services of other countries: He reports accurately from his memory and from necessarily skimpy personal notes the extended, often complex oral remarks of Dr. Zibigniew Brzezinski. Additionally, he presents an overview of a panel discussion and a Q & A session following the speaker's presentation. The topic? No less than global security trends and terrorism, plus the Iraq war. The reader will, we believe, find the account fascinating, whether or not he or she agrees totally with Professor Brzezinski's findings and opinion. It repays a careful reading.--Contrib. Edit.

Dr. Brzezinski began his remarks by quoting a statement by President Bush who, referring to "the war on terror," stated: "We are in the defining ideological struggle of the twenty-first century." This is 2008. What, Dr. Brzezinski asked, would have been the reaction if someone had made such a statement in 1908 or 1808? Would that person have accurately predicted what turned out to be the defining struggle of those centuries?

Unfortunately, the president's statement may turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It may also lead to limitations on Americans' civil rights and lead to a "gated global community." The United States could be penetrated by a culture of fear.

Indeed, Dr. Brzezinski feared that such a culture already existed. He contrasted the current climate of fear over terrorism to the lack of such a culture during the Cold War, recounting his role as National Security Advisor to President Carter. Had there been a nuclear alarm, he would have been informed within two minutes; our early warning system would have had two more minutes to gauge the size of the launch, and by seven minutes the president would have had to decide on our response. The result could have been 100 million deaths in the United States and the Soviet Union. Yet in this Cold War reality of the possibility of nuclear war no administration propagated a culture of fear. Instead we made our deterrence capability credible and rational.

He expressed concern over the climate of anxiety in the United States nurtured by repeated descriptions of the threats we face. He noted the full page ad in the first section of the March 5 New York Times with scary headlines about cyber attacks, a rogue leader making threats, or the latest terrorist threat and asked whether anyone had noted who placed the ad: It was the Department of the Air Force!

Democracy is as strong as the confidence of its people. He noted that some scholars have compared the United States to other civilizations which fell into decay when the people lost confidence in their ability to defend themselves. The United States is not in decay, he maintained, but added that the current level of fear and anxiety could lead to it.

Three Global Trends

We live in a complex, interactive world that can't be reduced to a simple slogan. Dr. Brzezinski sees the future shaped by the interaction of three trends. How it works out will depend on U.S. reaction to those trends.

The first trend is the global political awakening currently underway. Until recently most of mankind was inarticulate and isolated politically. Increased literacy, radio and television, and the emergence of the internet have created interconnectivity leading to the awakening of humanity. The masses, especially the youth, are activated, and there are more than 150,000 youth in universities now.

This awakening has created a craving for dignity and social justice. People are aware that injustice exists and know who is responsible. This has led to resentment and repression, and it is generally anti-imperialist, anti-Western (associated in many places with imperialism), and emotionally anti-American.


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