Zbigniew Brzezinski

Zbigniew Brzezinski

Former National Security Adviser

Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser to President Carter, was born in Poland and spent part of his youth in France and Germany before moving to Canada. His father, a man of aristocratic descent, served as the Polish consul-general in Montreal during the Second World War and helped Jewish refugees flee Nazi and Soviet persecution. When the communists seized control of the Polish government in 1945, his father retired and remained with his family in Canada. During the 1960s Brzezinski acted as an adviser to Kennedy and Johnson administration officials. Generally taking a hard line on policy toward the Soviet Union, he was also an influential force behind the Johnson administration’s “bridge-building” ideas regarding Eastern Europe. During the final years of the Johnson administration, he was a foreign policy adviser to Vice President Hubert Humphrey and his presidential campaign.

In 1973, Brzezinski became the first director of the Trilateral Commission, a group of prominent political and business leaders and academics from the United States, Western Europe and Japan. Its purpose was to strengthen relations among the three regions. Future President Carter was a member, and when he declared his candidacy for the White House in 1974, Brzezinski, a critic of the Nixon-Kissinger foreign policy style, became his adviser on foreign affairs. After his victory in 1976, Carter made Brzezinski national security adviser.

Aiming to replace Kissinger’s “acrobatics” in foreign policy-making with a foreign policy “architecture,” Brzezinski was as eager for power as his rival. However, his task was complicated by his focus on East-West relations, and in a hawkish way — in an administration where many cared a great deal about North-South relations and human rights. On the whole, Brzezinski was a team player. He emphasized the further development of the U.S.-China relationship, favored a new arms control agreement with Moscow and shared the president and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance’s view that the United States should seek international cooperation in its diplomacy instead of going it alone. 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. Since his time in government, Brzezinski has been active as a writer, teacher and consultant.

Brzezinski’s first bestseller, The Grand Failure, is based on his many years of experience in observing Soviet politics and society. Written just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the book expressed his optimism that the totalitarianism and repression of Soviet-style communism had failed at last. In Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the Twenty-First Century, Brzezinski turns his attention to post-Cold War international politics. The political future, he feels, will be dominated by global “power clusters” rather than superpowered individual nation-states. Brzezinski suggests that the United Nations must play a greater role in politics worldwide, and that the United States be prepared to share responsibilities with its neighbors in Europe, the Americas, and East Asia. Brzezinski focuses more closely on the role of the United States in world politics in his 1997 publication, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives. The United States, he believes, is the first political entity to achieve world domination. He then states that Eurasia is the game board on which world power struggles are played and and sets forth his reasons for believing that the United States must do its best to balance power in Eurasia, and his prescriptions for how to do so.

Brzezinski received B.A. and M.A. degrees in political science from McGill University. In 1953 he earned his doctorate in political science from Harvard. He taught at Harvard before moving to Columbia University in 1961 to head the new Institute on Communist Affairs.

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