Though the recent “war on terror” may have seemed like a pivotal ideological struggle, political scientist and statesman Zbigniew Brzezinski argued Thursday that the world will face far more complex challenges to human survival in the future.
In front of an audience of over 200, Brzezinski — a well-known author, professor and former National Security Advisor during the Carter administration — dismissed the claim made by former President George W. Bush ’68 that the war on terror is the defining ideological struggle of the 21st century. Instead, he said, other sweeping forces are shaping the geopolitics of the new century in ways that could threaten global stability.
The world, Brzezinski said, is changing in three fundamental ways.
The first, he said, is a “shift in the global center of political gravity” from the North Atlantic area to the Far East and Pacific. Citing the rise of China, Japan, and India, Brzezinski said the historical domination of nations like Portugal, Spain, France, the Netherlands, England and America is drawing to a close.
The second major shift, he said, is the “global political awakening,” which he described as new in the history of humanity. This awakening, he argued, began with the French Revolution and has only been felt on a global scale in the last 50 years.
“Usually in the first phase of that political awakening, the beliefs held by the masses are passionate, passionate convictions filled with resentment and hatred, black and white,” Brzezinski said, adding that there is a strong tendency toward nationalism at this stage.
The third change, he said, is increasing global interdependence, which puts a premium on global cooperation.
To move from international to global politics without a meltdown, Brzezinski said, we must deal with two major challenges of today’s world: the global financial crisis, and the volatile nature of the Middle East area, which he called the “new Balkans.” Estimating that the former problem is currently taking up 80 percent of President Barack Obama’s time on a daily basis, Brzezinski nonetheless focused more on the latter, offering suggestions for handling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Iranian nuclear enrichment program and “the Afghan-Pakistani issue.”
For example, in Israel and Palestine, Brzezinski said, four conditions must be met in a deal that can only be brokered by the American president: No right of return for Palestinian refugees, a truly shared Jerusalem, adherence to the 1967 national boundaries and an American commitment to station troops on the Jordan River.
Daniel Petkevich ’12 commended Brzezinski for his practicality.
“He’s a very pragmatic guy, very different from the lofty idealists you see at Yale,” Petkevich said.
Some audience members, though, found some of the specifics of Brzezinski’s talk unrealistic.
Lani Rowe GRD ’11, who is earning her doctorate in political science, dismissed as “ridiculously optimistic” Brzezinski’s belief that Arab states would support an accord that did not include a right of return for Palestinians. And Jonathan Bush ’53 — chairman of the campaign for the Smilow Cancer Hospital and brother of former president George H.W. Bush ’48 — said he would have liked to ask Brzezinski, an early and fierce opponent of the war in Iraq, whether he thought the United States would be better off if Saddam Hussein were still the president of Iraq.
Brzezinski came to Yale at the request of current Yale professor and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo GRD ’81, who introduced Brzezinski before the lecture as his favorite author on U.S. foreign policy.