Adapted from his soon-to-be published book, “Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power”, Zbigniew Brzezinski’s article “Balancing the East, Upgrading the West - U.S. Grand Strategy in an Age of Upheaval” in Foreign Affairs (January/February 2012) is extremely instructive, coming as it is from a leading doyen in American foreign policy on some of the most crucial geopolitical challenges of the 21st century. Click here
There are two main strands in his Grand Strategy.
The first is that he sees Europe as an inseparable apart of a Western whole which underpins US leadership. He postulates that the US should act as “promoter and guarantor” of a renewed “Larger West” by drawing Russia and Turkey into the EU through gradual democratization and eventual conformity with Western norms. (My own thought: Perhaps paving the way for Russia to join the WTO would be part of this trajectory?). At the same time, rather than downplaying Europe, he emphasizes the importance of deepening the unification of the European Union through fostering close cooperation among the key players of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
The second, and inter-related, strand is the “Complex East”, where the U.S. best interest would be served by acting as “regional balancer”, “replicating the role played by the United Kingdom in intra European politics during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”
Seemingly echoing America’s recent declaration of a “pivot to Asia”, he suggests that the United States “should help Asian states avoid a struggle for regional domination by mediating conflicts and offsetting power imbalances among potential rivals”.
However, contrary to the popular rhetoric of American military power projection in the Asia-Pacific, he points out that “the United States must recognize that stability in Asia can no longer be imposed by a non-Asian power, least of all by the direct application of U.S. military power. Indeed, U.S. efforts to buttress Asian stability could prove self-defeating, propelling Washington into a costly repeat of its recent wars, potentially even resulting in a replay of the tragic events of Europe in the twentieth century. If the United States fashioned an anti-Chinese alliance with India (or, less likely, with Vietnam) or promoted an anti-Chinese militarization in Japan, it could generate dangerous mutual resentment”. He recognizes that “in the twenty-first century, geopolitical equilibrium on the Asian mainland cannot depend on external military alliances with non-Asian powers”.
Instead, Brzezinski advocates that America “should respect China's special historic and geopolitical role in maintaining stability on the Far Eastern mainland. Engaging with China in a dialogue regarding regional stability would not only help reduce the possibility of U.S.-Chinese conflicts but also diminish the probability of miscalculation between China and Japan, or China and India, and even at some point between China and Russia over the resources and independent status of the Central Asian states. Thus, the United States' balancing engagement in Asia is ultimately in China's interest, as well.”
It is clear that Brzezinski’s Asia is a much wider region which includes Central Asia connecting all the way to the “Larger West”
The lynchpin of this realism is a “U.S.-Japanese-Chinese cooperative triangle” to be nurtured through progressive, but lasting reconciliation between China and Japan, similar to that between France and German and between Germany and Poland after World War II. In this context, “the guiding principle of the United States should be to uphold U.S. obligations to Japan and South Korea while not allowing itself to be drawn into a war between Asian powers.”
“In that context, China should not view U.S. support for Japan's security as a threat, nor should Japan view the pursuit of a closer and more extensive U.S.-Chinese partnership as a danger to its own interests. A deepening triangular relationship could also diminish Japanese concerns over the yuan's eventually becoming the world's third reserve currency, thereby further consolidating China's stake in the existing international system and mitigating U.S. anxieties over China's future role”.
What is perhaps the most striking in Brzezinski’s China engagement strategy is his recognition of and suggestions for resolving three sticking points in US-China relations:
(a) “First, the United States should reassess its reconnaissance operations on the edges of Chinese territorial waters, as well as the periodic U.S. naval patrols within international waters that are also part of the Chinese economic zone. They are as provocative to Beijing as the reverse situation would be to Washington”.
(b) “Second, given that the continuing modernization of China's military capabilities could eventually give rise to legitimate U.S. security concerns, including over U.S. commitments to Japan and South Korea, the United States and China should engage in regular consultations regarding their long-term military planning and seek to craft measures of reciprocal reassurance”.
(c) “Third, the future status of Taiwan could become the most contentious issue between the two countries. Washington no longer recognizes Taiwan as a sovereign state and acknowledges Beijing's view that China and Taiwan are part of a single nation. But at the same time, the United States sells weapons to Taiwan. Thus, any long-term U.S.-Chinese accommodation will have to address the fact that a separate Taiwan, protected indefinitely by U.S. arms sales, will provoke intensifying Chinese hostility. An eventual resolution along the lines of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's well-known formula for Hong Kong of "one country, two systems," but redefined as "one country, several systems," may provide the basis for Taipei's eventual re-association with China, while still allowing Taiwan and China to maintain distinctive political, social, and military arrangements (in particular, excluding the deployment of People's Liberation Army troops on the island). Regardless of the exact formula, given China's growing power and the greatly expanding social links between Taiwan and the mainland, it is doubtful that Taiwan can indefinitely avoid a more formal connection with China”.
It is interesting that Brzezinski suggests that the first of these sticking points be resolved in the near future, the second over the course of the next several years, and the third probably within a decade or so.
His whole rationale is summarized in his opening remarks - “The United States' central challenge over the next several decades is to revitalize itself, while promoting a larger West and buttressing a complex balance in the East that can accommodate China's rising global status. A successful U.S. effort to enlarge the West, making it the world's most stable and democratic zone, would seek to combine power with principle. A cooperative larger West -- extending from North America and Europe through Eurasia (by eventually embracing Russia and Turkey), all the way to Japan and South Korea -- would enhance the appeal of the West's core principles for other cultures, thus encouraging the gradual emergence of a universal democratic political culture.”
Drawing distinction from the historical geopolitics governing the separate fates of the Eastern and Western Roman Empires, Brzezinski opines that in a globalized and inter-connected world, “the West and the East cannot keep aloof from each other: their relationship can only be either reciprocally cooperative or mutually damaging”.
Perhaps his vision is best seen not as a Grand Strategy for America, but as one for the benefit of the entire world, including, not least, China.