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A Conversation With Zbigniew Brzezinski

Speaker: Zbigniew Brzezinski, Counselor and Trustee, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Former White House National Security Adviser
Presider: Sam Feist, Washington Bureau Chief and Senior Vice President, CNN
March 29, 2012
Council on Foreign Relations

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SAM FEIST: Good evening. Hello. Thank you for joining us.

Welcome to the Council. My name is Sam Feist. I'm the Washington bureau chief at CNN. Before I introduce our special guest, I'll remind you this is an on-the-record evening, so -- many Council events are off-the-record, but this one is an on-the-record evening. Please do us a favor and turn off your Blackberrys or cell phones before we forget.

And I've been asked to offer this reminder about an event here tomorrow. The Council is pleased to announce a meeting tomorrow entitled "Aging Americans: Challenges and Innovations for Foreign Policy and the Private Sector." So please join if you can. So -- (Scattered laughter.)

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: (Laughs.) You're still alive?

FEIST: On that note -- on that note, I'd like to introduce a person who really needs little introduction here at the Council on Foreign Relations. Dr. Brzezinski is a -- of course, a counselor and trustee at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. You all know that he was the national security adviser to President Carter and author of a new book "Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power." And you'll have an opportunity to purchase his book after the event tonight.

Perhaps most importantly, to me, he's the father of a friend of mine, a person that I started my term membership at the Council on Foreign Relations with, who is now, of course, was just installed as the United States ambassador to Sweden, Mark Brzezinski. So that might be the most important piece of your biography. So congratulations on Mark's success as well, Dr. Brzezinski.

BRZEZINSKI: And it ages me. (Chuckles.)

FEIST: Yes. So the way tonight will work is Dr. Brzezinski and I will spend a little bit of time, maybe a half an hour, talking about some issues in the news, issues of interest to me and to Dr. Brzezinski. And then you'll have an opportunity to ask questions yourself, and so there'll be a microphone, and you can find the microphone. So keep those questions -- think about those questions as we chat.

I want to talk about a few subjects in the news, and you could -- it could almost be question roulette, but I want to talk about Iran first and then -- and then we'll get to Russia.

Do you think -- what's your gut instinct -- if the United States does nothing, do you think Israel will do something? Do you think Israel will take action?

BRZEZINSKI: If the United States does nothing, Israel might take action. If the United States does something, Israel might decide not to do something. In other words, we're not just spectators and we're not indifferent. We're also not likely to be unaffected if something does happen. So first of all, I would say the United States, in my view, should make it clear that it would not be compatible with our good relationship if something was started that ends up being very difficult for us.

But let's face the realities of that conflict, if it develops. Iran's capacity to retaliate against Israel is relatively limited by geography and by the nature of the arms available currently to the Iranians. But if the Israelis do something, and we apparently did nothing or were just -- you know, nodding bravely or even shaking our head but doing nothing -- then the Iranians will certainly conclude that we connived in it, and especially if it's done through Iraq. So they will retaliate against us.

And just think of the options they have, and the chances are that none of them are so decisive that they would just pursue a single one. They're more likely to pursue several at the same time. One, make life miserable for us in Western Afghanistan, which is relatively peaceful. They have means, they have access, they're right there, and the Hazaras would be where the Iranians would make life miserable for us, therefore, making a withdrawal -- a steady, reliable type of a withdrawal that we are planning -- very difficult.

They can certainly de-stabilize Iraq, and particularly mobilize the Shi'ite elements in Iraq, thereby create a connection with Syria. I mean, we could have a much larger conflict on that axis. They could certainly do something in the Strait of Hormuz, which at the very minimum would significantly increase the price of oil, with economic consequences for us that are very damaging.

They could do some things also in Northeast Saudi Arabia to the oil fields where the population tends to be Shi'ite. In brief, the consequences for us could be quite serious. I think that means, to me at least, that we have a real national interest in giving the peace process a real chance -- a real chance, and not something that operates under deadlines set by somebody else.

And let's see if we can make an agreement, and if we can't, we can do at least two things. One, give a clear-cut guarantee to all the countries in the Middle East, including Israel very much, that any threat from Iran, not to mention even an act of war, would be viewed as directed against the United States.

Look, that kind of a guarantee by the United States has a solid, 100 percent record of reliability. We have protected Japan and South Korea from North Korea on that basis, and neither one of them is pleading for a war against North Korea. We defended our allies in Europe for 40 years during the worst days of the Cold War -- very threatening days of the Cold War -- and nothing happened. So deterrence does work. So first of all that's one option.

Secondly, if for some reason there was evidence that the Iranians seeking a large-scale nuclear program with weaponry, we could go to the Security Council and ask for approval for action against Iran from China and from Russia --

FEIST: Do you think we would get it?

BRZEZINSKI: Probably not. But if we don't get it, isn't that a significant message to us, that we are no longer the unilateral policemen of the world? I think these are the kinds of things we have to think about and talk about seriously and calmly and without hype and without too much emotion, but with a sense of responsibility.

FEIST: What if they were to get a nuclear weapon before the U.S. or Israel took action? So imagine for a moment that we are in a world where Iran has now tested a nuclear weapon. How de-stabilizing is that?

Fareed Zakaria last week said, you know, it might not be so bad, it might not be de-stabilizing at all. It might actually be stabilizing.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, first of all, I don't understand, frankly, what you're talking about, because how can you have a nuclear weapon without having nuclear explosions or test it?

FEIST: I'm just saying, if you have a -- if you test -- if Iran becomes a nuclear capable power --

BRZEZINSKI: It -- I don't know what nuclear capable is. It either has them or doesn't have them.

FEIST: They have them.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, that means they have had to test it.

FEIST: OK.

BRZEZINSKI: After testing it, they have to weaponize it and they have to have a delivery system. In other words, there are time sequences here. So it doesn't become weapons capable all at once.

FEIST: No.

BRZEZINSKI: There are stages and stages. We have plenty of time.

FEIST: So --

BRZEZINSKI: And during that time, we can make it very clear that if they use that weapon to threaten anyone, it is as if they were threatening us. And that is a system of deterrence that has worked reliably for decades. There's no argument to the contrary because it has, except one extremely silly argument that, somehow or other, the Iranians are messianic; they want desperately to commit suicide, a course of action which apparently hasn't occurred to them in the course of 3,000 years of their history. But all of a sudden, now they want to be messianic.

You know who's messianic? Netanyahu, because he talks that way. And that's a very risky position. This is why I favor the position that most Israelis have, which is this should not be done. Public opinion polls in Israel are very clear: that the majority of the Israelis don't want that to happen.

FEIST: A strike.

BRZEZINSKI: Yeah.

FEIST: Sounds like you're less concerned if Iran were to gain that power.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, why should I be so concerned if I dealt with the Soviet Union, which had 4,000 weapons, and I remember being woken up one night at 3:00 a.m. to be told by my military assistant that we are under nuclear attack. It obviously didn't happen, since we're all here. (Laughter.) There would have been 85,000 -- 85 million Americans and Soviets dead six hours later.

FEIST: All right, I want to talk about --

BRZEZINSKI: We deterred them. If we can deter the Soviet Union, if we can deter North Korea, why on earth can't we deter Iran?

FEIST: You just gave me an opening to talk about Russia. But before we talk about the Russia issues of the day, if you wouldn't mind -- because I think there are people here who might be interested in it -- talk about that phone call. I've heard that there was a phone call, but I don't know anything else other than the fact that you got the -- what's it like to get the call --

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I didn't --

FEIST: -- at 3 o'clock. And what happened and what went through your mind.

BRZEZINSKI: I don't want to hype it, so I'm not going to go into all the details. But let me just go --

FEIST: Oh, go into a little detail. (Scattered laughter.)

BRZEZINSKI: -- a little bit of an answer.

Part of my job was to coordinate the response if something like that happened, to notify the president. I had three minutes in which to notify him. During those three minutes, I had to confirm it in a variety of ways. And then he would have four minutes to decide how to respond. And then 28 minutes later, some of us would be dead and we'd be living in a different age.

I got a message from my military assistant, a general, who simply woke me up at 3:00 a.m. at night on the red phone and said, "Sorry to wake you up. We're under nuclear attack." (Scattered laughter.) That kind of wakes you up.

FEIST: Yeah.

BRZEZINSKI: And he adds 30 seconds ago, 200 Soviet missiles have been fired at the United States. Two hundred. Well, that's an interesting number because that means it's a selective counterforce strike, which means that the presidential decision would be a little more difficult. You have to decide do we want to respond in a reciprocal fashion -- in other words, absorb 200 strikes, presumably directed more against our Naval bases, airports, air fields, et cetera; do we want to absorb it and respond in kind, conceivably -- although I would not have recommended that -- do we want to absorb it and then negotiate, which would be, I think, a rather big mistake; or do we want to respond accordingly but plus a little more to convince them that this is not going to lead to anything good, although 200 strike is a lot; or do we want to respond with everything -- just let it roll. And then 85 million dead.

Well, anyway, we never got very far because the subsequent confirmations did not confirm it. So --

FEIST: Well, you had three minutes to figure this out.

BRZEZINSKI: Yeah. Well there -- but there were subsequent confirmations and clearly within -- well, within actually almost two minutes prior to me calling him on the third minute, it was clear that this was a false alarm. So I did nothing. I went back to sleep. (Laughter.)

And the next morning, I went and I told the president what happened during the night, and he got mad at me. And he says you should have phoned me and, you know, what the hell and blah, blah, blah, you know. He was in the Navy -- (laughter) -- and he was in a -- in an SLBM submarine in, you know, that can fire rockets with nuclear weapons.

So I told him, no Mr. President, the procedure was I have three minutes to verify. I got the report and there was the process of verification. Before the third minute struck, it was clear to me this was a false alarm, so I'm informing you now, which is the procedure I was supposed to follow and I did follow. So he kind of grimaced and then phoned up the secretary of Defense and asked what the hell was going on here and so forth.

FEIST: Well, what happened? I mean, how does -- how does the national security adviser of the United States get a call, say, Dr. Brzezinski, we're under attack; 200 ICBM missiles -- 200 warheads or whatever, are heading towards the United States. What are you going to do? I mean, how -- it's just --

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I mean, we did do those -- some things, but I'm not going to go into that. I mean, we were --

FEIST: Just a little, just a --

(Cross talk.)

BRZEZINSKI: -- we weren't going to be lying down on the ground and waiting --

FEIST: Right.

BRZEZINSKI: -- to be hit on the head. But -- well, you had something to do with an exercise, and there was some sort of glitch --

FEIST: I'll say.

BRZEZINSKI: -- and he got alerted -- he got alerted. And then the confirmations did not come in, and it was very clear very quickly that this was just a glitch.

FEIST: All right. My last question on the subject, then I'll talk about Russia today. What was your recommendation going to be? You had used up two-thirds of your time.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, first of all, I may not be asked for a recommendation, but I certainly would have favored commensurate response with maybe a bit of an add-on as an inducement for restraint.

FEIST: And if the confirmation had been a little late, could we have had a problem?

BRZEZINSKI: We might have had.

FEIST: OK. Good.

Let's talk a little bit about Russia today. That was in the 1970s.

BRZEZINSKI: Yeah. Late 1970s.

FEIST: And we learned this week from President Medvedev that this is longer the 1970s, as he admonished Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney because of what Mitt Romney said earlier in the week. He said that Russia is America's number one geopolitical foe. Do you believe that Russia is America's number one geopolitical foe?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, first of all, I'm impressed that Governor Romney, particularly given his other foreign policy statements, actually is familiar with the word geopolitical. (Laughter.) You know --

FEIST: How do you really feel?

BRZEZINSKI: But -- no, of course it isn't. Today, our relationship with Russia is mixed. There are some elements of residual antagonism clearly. There are some conflicting geopolitical interests. There are some overriding shared interests. And there is also some degree of indifference in the sense that we certainly are thinking much more about other parts of the world -- either those in which we are still militarily engaged and we would like to dis-engage or those which we realize might become more of a competitor to us in the future and with whom we have the task of structuring an intelligent mutually responsible long-term relationship.

So Russia, in fact, doesn't loom that high anymore, and I think that is one of the things that some Russians, particularly Putin, I think, resent because Putin is still, in my view, motivated by nostalgia for the past. I mean, it's not an accident that he said that the greatest calamity of the 20th century -- a century of World War I, World War II, of the entire Cold War, and in -- earlier, of the Holocaust -- that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest calamity. And he wants to create -- he said so -- a new Eurasian Union in which the newly independent post-Soviet Republics would be part of that union. So he does have a nostalgia for the past, and I think that probably will make for a more difficult relationship, at least initially.

But underneath the surface, it is also a fact that Russia is changing significantly, and particularly, the large city middle class, large city-based middle class, younger, much more cosmopolitan, is really becoming something similar to the civic society that mushroomed in Central Europe 30 years ago and led to the collapse of Communism in Central Europe and eventually the collapse of the Soviet Union itself. That is to say, a middle class that really wants to be part of the world, that travels abroad, studies abroad and is beginning to understand what civic rights really mean. And most -- and that in itself is unprecedented in Russian history, not just Soviet, but Russian.

And one more thing which is really unprecedented. You sense on that level the absence of political fear. They're not afraid. They're not afraid. I mean, they are willing to stand up in a little red square with a big placard showing Putin behind bar and saying that's where he ought to be. I mean, to me, who grew up with Hitlerism and Stalinism as the main pre-occupation, the notion that you can do this to the leader in the Kremlin is almost hard to imagine. That shows that fear is absent, and that's a decisive change.

So I think Putin will either be an epi-phenomenon briefly for a few years and then things will begin to move more rapidly, or he may even have to change course at some point.

FEIST: If there's a thesis that I found in this book, it was that you argued that the most effective way to promote security and stability in the world -- I think you used the year 2025, beyond 2025, is to effectively enlarge the West to include Russia and Turkey.

BRZEZINSKI: Mm-hmm. (Acknowledgment.)

FEIST: How does the United States or does an American president do that, particularly with Russia?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, that's one half of the sort of main strategic vision. The other half pertains to the Far East, and we can talk about that if you wish later.

And then we also said that when I used the term strategic vision as it applies, for example in this case, to one that you raised, Russia and Turkey, or the other one that we might talk about, China, when I say vision, I don't mean a blueprint. And therefore, in the book, there is no blueprint. But it is my conviction in any case that large, historical changes are shaped by people that have a strategic vision which they develop to a sufficiently compelling degree that it begins to be important to develop a blueprint for its attainment and you then move events in that direction.

I think Russia can change. As I've already indicated why, there's already some change taking place. And Russia ultimately is culturally a part of the West. If you look at the music, the poetry, the literature, the art and so forth, it is the West. The only dimension in which it has not been part of the West, and is not part of the West yet, is in the political field -- political and value, political values field. It has been kind of quasi-Oriental.

But I think the pull, the magnetic pull is there. Well, if it were to be part of the West increasingly, the West would certainly be revitalized to a great extent. There would be a larger sense of dimensions, there would be a sense of new adventure and so forth. And much the same applies, in different ways, to Turkey. Turkey has been pursuing a remarkably ambitious and by and large, though not entirely, successful program of Europeanization and modernization for almost 100 years, 90 years, ever since the days of Ataturk.

Modeled on Germany specifically as a modern society in terms of its social, political, educational arrangements, it's getting there. I think each one of them would contribute to a West, West defined in terms of shared political values -- constitutionalism, democracy, the rule of law and so forth -- would contribute new vitality and eliminate serious potential threats. Russia, Eurasian Union, against ambitious, trying to undo us because of the resentment that they lost an empire. Or Turkey repelled by the West, alienated, resentful, Islamists becoming part of that part of the world, which is very, very volatile.

So we have a really strategic interest in division becoming the beacon, then implemented with a blueprint and with popular understanding of the historical mission.

You know, Europe wouldn't have come into being if people hadn't talked about the need of a united Europe 60, 80 years ago already. They had the vision. So this is one half, so to speak, of the main message of this book.

FEIST: Put aside the domestic, political consequences of having an open microphone and the president of the United States who seems to say something positive to the president of Russia, but the president had a policy message behind his statement that after the election will have some -- perhaps some flexibility on the issue of missile defense.

From a policy perspective, is that a good idea? Is that the right answer? Should the United States be flexible on that issue?

BRZEZINSKI: OK, it's certainly not the right answer to be discussing it in that fashion --

FEIST: No --

BRZEZINSKI: -- on an open mike. (Chuckles.)

FEIST: Right.

BRZEZINSKI: Look, I think one can make a plausible case that a defense shield directed specifically at Iran to protect Western Europe -- protect all of Europe and ourselves from non-existent Iranian missiles may not be the most urgent thing on our security agenda. I can think of a lot of others that are probably more significant.

But I think one major merit of this initiative is that it creates one more -- and in the longer run, potentially a timely security link between the United States and all of Europe because we're taking our troops out of Europe, we have really now down to such low levels that we have basically, I believe -- we're planning to have two, at most, three brigades and -- or other somewhat constricted brigades in Europe.

The security link between us and Europe is very important for European security but also for our security. So this creates one more sort of joint project, and I think we should be able to convince the Russians this is not directed against them. I think they're really objecting to it not because they seriously think it's directed against them, but from what I know of the systems, they're just not particularly good against ICBMs and particularly the kind of things that the Russians have.

I think what they object to the most is the idea that this -- this deployment will create one more security link between us and Europe, and particularly between us and Central Europe, where we haven't had forces prior to the end of the Cold War. And we still don't have any forces. So I think this is what they most object to, and that's part of this imperial residue, which over time will wane.

Can we find a compromise? That depends on how much a compromise is needed by the Russians also. They ultimately need it more than we do.

FEIST: Well, there's not -- what's the face-saving way that Putin could compromise on this?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, he's talking about some written guarantees and stuff like that, and we might be able to give him that. I think they have enough scientists to know that this would not really interfere with their ability to hit us with missiles. And in a rather interesting military gathering very recently, in which Putin was inspecting the new rockets that the Russians are deploying, the principle designer of these rockets said to him publicly, I want you to know -- and I have been responsible for developing these rockets for most of my life -- 45 years, he says -- I want you to know these are damn good rockets, and that American system that they are talking about has no chance of stopping them. And Putin simply said thank you; didn't want to discuss it.

So there are Russians who also know that this is not something that really is designed against them, except indirectly as a political affirmation of the fact that our relationship with all of Europe is here to stay, including in the security domain.

FEIST: So I want to make sure that we get enough questions from you out there, but don't hesitate to ask about other areas that I'm particularly interested in -- China, the Middle East, Afghanistan or Syria. But I'm not going to tell you what I ask -- (scattered laughter) -- but feel free.

The microphone is over here. Yes sir. Go ahead with -- but grab the microphone first.

QUESTIONER: (Actually ?) indeed, would you please talk about China? It's -- we hear so many contradictory things about we should try to work with them or they're a threat. I'm -- I won't -- you know what those -- each of those kind of stories behind them. But that -- give us your perspective on that.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I'm going to try to be briefer, but I wanted to set the setting, given particularly the sort of searching questions you were asking. I'm going to be a little more concise, and if anyone wants further development, please.

Look, we've been in a situation on this before. Historically, in the struggle for supremacy, when two major powers rose, they always ended up fighting against each other.

I once debated John Mearsheimer, who is a brilliant political scientist, about it. And he said political science theory categorically states if two powers rise, they'll fight against each other. And I said, well, that may be so, but, you know, what is political science theory? If we and the Chinese don't fight, the theory will have to be re-done. (Laughter.) And that's all there is to it. So let's look at the merits of the case.

I think -- we know two things. One, if we fight, we'll destroy each other; two, if we get into a really serious antagonism, we'll damage each other; three, we also know that other problems are now looming on the global scale that will threaten all of us if they're not addressed on a more collective basis. So there are a lot of reasons why we and the Chinese could be and should be intelligent about the relationship.

And that means that neither of us push -- ought to push the envelope too far or demonize the other. We have to be very careful about that because that's infectious and that's dynamic. I wish that our so-called pivot to the Far East had not been coupled with hints that it has a military dimension because why start this greater emphasis on Asia by emphasizing military deployments, especially since we have been in Asia and are in Asia for the last, what, 70 years, in Korea and in the Philippines and particularly in Japan.

So I think we and the Chinese have a chance as well as a challenge to work at this relationship and see if we can manage it.

FEIST: Right here.

QUESTIONER: Thank you very much. Dr. Brzezinski, I want to ask you about the other side of the coin. I was just at the World -- the Affordability World Security (sic\Affordable World Security two-day meeting here in town that was put on by the East-West Center and Kerry Foundation (ph), and had an amazing collection of people. But what they said that means is that we have to address climate, water, food, population, jobs -- I mean, it was this long list of things that we have to figure out how to work together on solving them so that we all sort of stay alive. How do we make that happen?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, you make that happen by avoiding the kind of global politics that we have had for the last 200 years. And that is to say we have to have entities that are to some extent balanced in equilibrium and as there a consequence of which they realize they cannot prevail. And I think what gives me some degree of optimism is also the knowledge that we now live in a world in which in fact hegemony by a single power is not attainable because the people the worldwide are politically awakened. I've written a great deal about the notion of the global political awakening, and that's a new phenomenon; we've never had that historically.

It only started with the French Revolution, then it spread to Asia with World War I and its aftermath. It's now global, and that makes it much more difficult for any power to think it can be dominant.

You know, President George Bush II once said that God has chosen America to be the model for the world. Well, you know, I don't know where he got this information -- whether it was from the CIA -- my sources tell me that God is neutral on these subjects. (Laughter.) But in any case, the world is no longer congenial to domination by a single power.

So we and the Chinese are operating in a very different environment from the one in which we and the Soviets competed and threatened each other, or we and the Nazis fought against each other or the British and the French fought against the Germans and then we joined in in World War I and so forth, because these problems are potentially as destructive or even more destructive than the wars that we have fought.

FEIST: Question. Yes sir?

QUESTIONER: Zbig, my question to you is a follow-on for really, I think, what you've just been talking about. And that is, you've laid out a pretty sophisticated kind of road map, as you say -- but maybe a vision for where the United States should go in terms of thinking about its role. But --

BRZEZINSKI: You'd better speak up, because I'm not sure everyone can hear you.

QUESTIONER: I'm sorry. But -- do we have a political culture and a political system that is capable of thinking in these terms? Or do we have to instead talk about exceptionalism and think in terms of bumper sticker terms in terms of foreign policy?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, that's one of my grave concerns in my book. In fact, I talk about some of the basic structural weaknesses of America, which actually threaten our ability to play a preeminent role. And I leave that slightly open in terms of whether we will or will not be able to do it.

And one of the weaknesses is the reality that we as a democracy can only have a foreign policy as sophisticated and as intelligent as the American people. And, unfortunately, the American people are not very sophisticated nor very well informed about the world. In fact, they're abysmally uninformed.

And an uninformed public is very susceptible to demagogy, to anxiety, and to its cynical exploitation in the course of the struggle, the competition for power.

So that worries me a great deal. I mean, there are any number of indices now available that show how little Americans know about the world -- about what's happening in the world, about global history, about global geography. It's really appalling when you look at some of the data.

And we don't have the mass media that really, systematically and on a broad basis, inform the public in any depth about international affairs. A little bit here, a little bit there, in the news programs and so forth, but by and large, most of the public is distant from it. The figures are not very impressive in terms the viewership. Newspapers, similarly.

I also feel that the president, particularly, could be playing a more active role. I was very impressed by the speeches he gave when he was becoming president. Cairo. Istanbul. Prague, Brandenburg Gate and so forth. He has a unique ability to communicate, and he, in my judgement -- I'm critical of him on some issues, very strongly critical. But in my judgement, I think he has a really good understanding of the essence, the new essence of the 20 (sic) century. And he ought to try to communicate that to the American people on a more sustained basis. I think the bully pulpit is his -- only his.

Only he can do it, and he actually can do it. And maybe, maybe that would begin to develop a somewhat broader and more insightful perspective of the people as a whole Because, otherwise, we get what we're getting in the course of these presidential debates. And that is truly embarassing and humiliating, and dangerous Because these candidates are either locking themselves into extremist position because they actually believe them -- which means they are stupid -- (laughter) -- or they do so because they think the people believe that -- in which case then they'd be liars. But in the meantime they're making themselves prisoners of these points of views (sic). And that's very dangerous, if any one of them should win.

FEIST: It sounds like you're dissapointed in this president for missing an opportunity.

BRZEZINSKI: Yeah, well dissapointed is probably too strong a word. I realize what a horrible challenge he has been facing in these three years. I mean, the financial economic crisis is an enduring reality which we have temporarily resolved, but we haven't really collected the fundamental problems. And we do have this public that's malleable, but basically uninformed. And in the course of the elections -- and also the sense of anxiety and unease -- their fears and preoccupations get maximized and dogmatized.

FEIST: The middle of the room -- yes, go ahead. Stand up, and state your -- state your name and affiliation. I forgot to say that earlier. Thank you.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Bart Szewczyk, Wilmer Hale and GW Law School. Dr. Brzezinski, could you sketch out some of the blueprint to implement the strategic vision? What are some of the specific institutional mechanisms that could be designed, given all the political realities, to further integrate U.S.-EU cooperation, and perhaps even Russia and Turkey?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, you know, I already alluded to some of them. I don't think I have time today to go into a blueprint; blueprint(s) usually are thousands of pages.

But first of all, I mean some of the things that we were talking about in the security dimension is very, very important. Then, intermingling of people, you know -- opening special privileges for states that wish to be associated us, particularly Turkey. Russia, when it democratizes, I think, would be open and very much a proper candidate for that kind of relationship.

When it comes to China -- and again, I'm going to be very brief -- my view is that our policy in the Far East ought to be very much like that of Great Britain towards Europe in the 19th century, an outsider that balances and offsets, but doesn't get involved. And particularly does not get involved in mainland wars.

No war between and China, whatever its outcome, is worth our involvement in it. We should do what we can to prevent it, to discourage it, to mediate it, but not to be involved. We have certain residual interests that we need to present, but beyond that, we ought to promote Japanese-Chinese reconciliation just as we did the German-French one, just as we promoted the German-Polish, just as we encouraged the Polish-Russian. And this is another step towards making Russia more involved.

We certainly should be working with Turkey very closely, and we are to some extent, on problems that we both have in common, such as Syria. But I wouldn't go ahead of Turkey; I would follow Turkey there.

And again, in terms of China itself, particularly, we have to strive at the relationship in which the word partnership means shared responsibility but not domination of one by the other. And I think that is the most complicated challenge that we face.

FEIST: Question -- very back of the room. Yes ma'am? Just get the microphone, and state your name and affiliation.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Dr. Brzezinksi, my name is Genie Nguyen; I'm from Voice of Vietnamese Americans. Would you discuss your vision regarding the space, the cyberspace, and the Arctic? In that sense, would you suggest the U.S. to pivot to either of those domains, and would you suggest that the U.S. Congress ratify the end clause? Thank you.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I don't have views on all of these subjects because some of them are highly specific and don't really address the kind of issue that I want to focus on, which is how to create major regional relationship in the most important continent of the world, which is Eurasia, so that there is equilibrium and, therefore, on that basic, a possibility of meaningful international cooperation. So cyberspace and that kind of stuff doesn't really fit there.

The Arctic -- Antarctic does. Arctic -- oh no -- the one in the north -- which one's the one in the north?

MS. : Arctic.

BRZEZINSKI: Arctic, yeah. I always get confused on those.

The Arctic is an interesting problem, and I think is going to be a problem of a traditional, territorial type unless we get going on it. The Scandinavians are already working on it; the agreement between Norway and Russia was a step in the good direction. But the Russians are also taking some initiatives which are ominous. They planted some sort of a flag, they claim, underneath the seas.

You know, we planted a flag on the moon -- (laughter.) I don't think necessarily establishes ownership. (Laughter.) But they're now talking about forming an Arctic brigade. For what purpose?

So that's going to be a serious issue, and that's one of the questions we have to address with the Russians. Do you want to have another territorial competition? I don't think they would win it, if we get into a hostile competition. So they may perceive the interest in accomodation, and the Norwegian-Russian agreement is a step possibly in that direction.

FEIST: Maybe you could put that on the to-do list of this guy Mark Brzezinski over in --

BRZEZINSKI: Oh yeah, the guy in Sweden. Yeah.

FEIST: Yeah, you're right. Exactly, exactly. (Laughter).

QUESTIONER: (Off mic.)

FEIST: What's that?

QUESTIONER: The question is, would you suggest ratifying the end clause? The real question is, would you suggest Congressto ratify the end clause?

FEIST: The Law of the Sea.

QUESTIONER: The United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea.

BRZEZINSKI: I don't -- I don't have -- I don't have a position on it. I don't have answers for everything. (Laughter.)

FEIST: Rick Smith.

QUESTIONER: (Off mic.)

FEIST: Why don't you just grab the -- grab the microphone first.

QUESTIONER: Sorry. Rick Smith, PBS. Zbig, we have a tendency to think about Europe or think about Asia, but the place we've gotten in trouble is the arc of danger from Afghanistan and Iraq to Vietnam. And here we are again, worry about Iran -- and I know we know we haven't talked about Pakistan, but to me that's the most dangerous country in the world.

How do you frame a policy that deals with that part of the world with Egypt changing, Syria in turmoil, and all the other wars we have going on now?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, to some extent, by doing what I think is desirable and needed -- which is that strategic vision. If we have some of the developments which I think are doable over the next 20 years, we'll be in a better position with that large part of Eurasia, which is exploding and is a source of conflict.

But even in the shorter run the same recipe applies. For example, if we are going to get out intelligently and stably -- not in the midst of some panicky withdrawal -- from Afghanistan, we need not only to have reasonably successful counterintelligence -- counterinsurgency operations for a year or so more, but we need also to have a dialogue with the Taliban, which is not a unified, hierarchical, centralized organization, about the possibilities of local accomodations.

We have to have an overarching, umbrella-type dialogue with all of the neighbors of Afghanistan -- which includes of course, as you said, Pakistan -- but also the new "Stans" and Iran, and behind them -- because they can't abstain themselves if they want not to be touched by negative consequences of our disengagement -- India, Russia and China -- about creating some sort of an international arrangement that -- which contributes to stability and which reduces the probability of some massive upheaval in Afghanistan after we leave -- which then spreads throughout Pakistan and into India and north in the "Stans", and into Russia, and even into Xinjiang, in China. Not to mention Iran on top of it.

So those are the things which are absolutely compatible with what I'm saying -- namely, if we want to be able to deal with these kinds of problems in Eurasia, and particularly the ones which create the greatest tensions in Eurasia, we have to be doing some of the things I'm talking about in the book. And if we want to deal with the global problems that, on top of all of that, are beginning to be so urgent, we have to have, again, some degree of equilibrium on the Eurasian continent so that we don't get back into the conflicts of the 20th and the 19th century (sic). Perhaps in new guises -- with different countries as the key players -- but in any case, destructive and paralyzing.

This is the challenge that we cumulatively face. And we as a country have to understand that. And one of the things which worries me the most, in terms of what I wrote -- and I write about that in the book -- is my feeling that I'm not so sure our country is able to understand these issues without a real change in the way it is informed and educated about them. And that goes back to secondary education and primary education, particularly.

I'll give you just one example about geography, for example. In tests of undergraduate -- people about to become undergraduates in colleges, they were shown maps, and they were asked -- this was after we invaded Iraq in 2003. The were to show on the map where Iraq. Something like 70 percent couldn't find it. The same group -- 50 percent of them couldn't find New York City on the map. (Laughter.)

And when shown a large part of the world simply colored blue, they couldn't locate the Pacific Ocean. (Laughter.)

I mean -- that's (a) level of ignorance. And then you can look at the other indicies about, for example, how many people in America travel abroad as compared to our neighbors as well as other countries.

More Mexicans travel abroad, per capita, than Americans. We have a very insular society and not very well informed.

FEIST: Just a quick -- A, B, or C, just to the issue Rick mentioned in Afghanistan. Is the current pullout plan too hasty, too slow, or about right? How do you feel about it?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I can't be precise, because we're dealing here with so many moving parts that I don't think anyone can be terribly precise or categorical in their judgement. But I think it's about right. I think we shouldn't start right now, and we certainly shouldn't start because of the tragic events that happened recently because that could really, really be translated into kind of semi-panicky withdrawal.

But I think we have to disengage. But what is equally important is that the process of disengagement be accompanied by a dialogue -- to the extent it's possible -- with at least some segments of the Taliban, with the Afghan government participating in it, and this regional umbrella, so that the countries that will be affected by what happens after we leave are encouraged to participate in efforts to anticipate what needs to be done, and to share it it. Because while we will of course be grievously affected by some major collapse as we disengage, the people who will pair the price -- will pay the price in the longer run are going to be all of the neighbors of Afghanistan, as this thing spreads, as Pakistan begins to ferment and explore, or as Central Asia begins to boil, or as the central parts of Russia where 30 million Muslims live begin to be volatile, and so forth.

FEIST: Question -- yes, ma'am? Right here. You -- yes, white shirt? Perfect. State your name and affiliation, please.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Thank you. Laura Schultz from USAID. Thank you so much. I was wondering if I could ask you a question about the Middle East. It's been a little more than a year since we saw some of the dramatic transitions in the Arab Spring, Arab transitions.

What would be your assessment and thoughts in terms of U.S. policy over the past year in the region? And what would you advise in terms of the priorities and issues that should shape USG approach moving forward. Thank you.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I think we have to face the fact that the era of American paramounce (sic) in the region is coming to a gradual end. You know, we weren't dominant in that region until after WWII, when we replaced the British and the French. And we were welcomed as such.

We're less welcome today. And we are increasingly, I think, being gradually forced out by a domsetic self-assertion, which is nationalistic and religious, depending on the country involved. So that, for example, when I worked in the White House, we had good relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey -- the four most important countries in the region.

It's much more mixed today. Maybe with one of them we still have a good relationship, but it's a little bit mixed with all of the others. It's sort of a lower level of intensity and closeness.

We flubbed the peace process; we weren't prepared to do what a mediator has to do to be active and explicit and persistent. I think maybe, if the Muslim Brotherhood takes over gradually in Egypt, it might become more engaged because of the obvious geopolitical interest of Egypt in this problem being resolved. And they seem to be pointing towards exercising some influence on the Hamas to accomodate with the Fatah in the pursuit explicitly, of peace with Israel -- which includes the premise that Israel is here to stay.

If there is a genuine compromise -- a genuine compromise, and not a one-sided accomodation, that might be, perhaps, a positive alternative. But I doubt very much that at this state we are going to be able to undertake what had seemed so hopeful several years ago. Maybe the president wins big on -- if he wants to give it one more try to be worth it.

But -- you know, things have changed. The public opinion is Israel is dissatisfied with the status quo, but is increasingly concerned as to whether maybe they'll have to be one state. The Palestians are, I think, frustrated and feeling rather hopeless right now. And on top of it, we don't know how long, for example, Saudi Arabia is going to be stable. And we don't know whether the military-Muslim Brotherhood duopoly in Egypt is going to endure or whether it's going to move towards more a assertive, more fundamentalist posture.

FEIST: Yes, in the front row right here. Purple. Yeah.

QUESTIONER: (Off mic.)

FEIST: Okay -- (laughter) -- white.

QUESTIONER: (Off mic) -- very gracious, thank you very much.

Thank you, Dr. Brzezinski. I'm Shannon Hughes with Control Risks. Could you comment on Operation Eagle Claw and the evolution of Special Forces to today, particularly because President Obama tends to rely heavily on the U.S. Navy Seals.

And then my second question is, could you comment on the targeted drone strikes in Pakistan? Thank you.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, what do you -- what do you want me to say about the first one -- I mean, what is the issue?

QUESTIONER: The -- from how Operation Eagle Claw influenced the evolution of the Special Forces and their use today -- kind of compare and contrast the hisotry, and -- from your time to today's use. And -- and also, on Obama's use -- Obama's use of the targeted drone strikes in Afghanistan --

BRZEZINSKI: Well, that -- I understand the question now --

QUESTIONER: Okay.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, the other one -- it's quite obvious, it seems, to me -- that we have become more efficient. You know, you become more efficient the more you try it. In warfare, the only way to become more efficient is to engage in fighting, paying the price that's involved. And you develop skills, and you develop also means to be used that are especially designed for that kinds of missions, and so forth.

So I think we're doing pretty well, if you're judging it purely in terms of performance. I think these missions are now undertaken with a degree of professionalism and skill which probably no other country can match right now because no other country has been that engaged and has been so sustained in its efforts to develop a serious capability.

As far as the drones are concerned -- well, that depends where they're used and against whom. If you're using them in a foreign country which is not your enemy officially but which is causing you trouble, then of course you realize that you will be also creating political trouble not only for them but for yourself. So some degree of self-restraint is necessary.

But, on balance, I have to say that nothing succeeds in warfare like success. And if you manage to kill enough of your opponents you're going to be successful. And that -- to some extent, that's what the drones are being used for, insofar as the top echelons of the movements, or organizations, that are hostile to us are concerned.

FEIST: All right. Your turn.

QUESTIONER: Diana Lady Dougan, CSIS and Cyber Century Forum. Zbig, with your wonderful penchant to bring logic, history and reality together, could you turn those traits for a moment to North Korea?

As you know, historically, Korea is one of the most homogenized, historical, cohesive countries -- historically in the world. The North has massive hydroelectric mineral power, and obviously part of the population is helping the Iranians build nuclear capabilities and the other half is starving to death. And meanwhile, we have a continuous circus of coupling nuclear capabilities with a human -- the aid -- you know, food aid and other things.

Is there no way -- and also, the six-party talks. At least four -- well, three of the six have interests that are not necessarily either compatible with the South Koreans or the U.S. And is there no way to have some kind of economic sidebar approach to dealing with the starving population and the massive, basic capabilities and resources of the country, when we have continually had just a -- not only lack of success, but just international pratfalls. And no one seems to be paying any attention to the other capabilities of North Korea.

BRZEZINSKI: Well I think we're paying some attention. I mean, we have, for example, made an arrangement with them to provide them with food.

QUESTIONER: But it's still coupled.

BRZEZINSKI: But it's being coupled with conduct which is a threat to North Korea's neighbors. I mean, what is the purpose of that test that they are planning to conduct.

They have defied the international community in conducting nuclear tests, in conducting weaponization, in developing rockets. You can't separate these things entirely. And we are also dealing with a situation in which we don't have control over it. We are a party to a process in which several other parties are involved, some of whom are quite important -- like, particularly, China, which has its own interests and wants to preserve them. And China, I think, is very concerned about the consequences for itself if there be an explosion of some sort in North Korea, or, for that matter, if the communist regime in North Korea was threatened. Because I think, on the whole, the current Chinese elite still feels more comfortable with having a dependent North Korea on China then perhaps a united Korea, which could be quite vital and strong. And look how the North Koreans are doing on the world scene.

And so the Chinese are being careful here and prudent and calculating, but as a consequence creating very little room for maneuver and for basic changes.

I think we're stuck, basically, with this kind of -- yes, nibbling away at the problem. But we cannot impose a solution.

Are we just going to give them anything they want, no matter what they do? No matter how they either treat their population or, more importantly in the short run, how they treat the South Koreans? On this issue, for example, I have a somewhat different view with the president with whom I worked closely and for whom I have enormous respect and affection. He is much more of what I sense you are in terms of his orientation. He would like, in a sense, to give a real college try to an all-out effort at accomodation with the North Koreans.

QUESTIONER: No, I'm just talking separating economic --

BRZEZINSKI: Well, but that's what would it, in effect, becomes because the others don't move, and, on economic, we give.

So, you know, that's -- what's -- the question arises: What will it produce, in terms of the stability between the North and the South? I mean, look at the incident involving the island some time ago -- the shelling, the blowing up of the South Korean corvette -- go back a little bit, the assassination of a good part of the South Korean cabinet -- go back again, the attempt to kill the president of South Korea.

I mean, there is a record here that we cannot entirely disregard. So I think the best way we can operate is essentially to see if we and the Chinese can begin to exercise an influence which promotes real changes in North Korea, not confined to just one isolated sector, but through some interative process.

It doesn't have to be strictly conditional -- we don't do this unless you do that. It could be we'll do a little bit of this but then when we're going to wait and see if you do a little bit of that. Otherwise, it really becomes a kind of politically neutralized undertaking, which doesn't in any way confine the scope of potential risks with a regime which, in many respects, is one of the most brutal in the world and one of the most unpredictable politically.

FEIST: So we only have a couple of minutes left. I'm going to do -- ask -- quick question, quick answer; quick question, quick answer, and then we'll be done. So yes, ma'am -- right here. Stand up, with the black shirt. Thank you.

QUESTIONER: Priscilla Clapp, retired; State Department, Foreign Service.

I'd like to go back to China for a minute. Do you think the Chinese leadership -- the Chinese system of government has the capacity to develop strategic vision in time to actually work with us on some of these things effectively? I'm concerned about their obsession with how the rest of the world can contribute to China's economic development and not actually thinking about how they can contribute to solving some of the bigger problems.

FEIST: Thank you.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I don't know whether, you know, they're going to be particularly interested in the kind of vision I'm talking about, although I do have some indications that they are interested in what was said. But don't forget, they have 6,000 years of statecraft. They have a tradition. They have a perspective which has stood them well. And I think that gives them confidence in dealing with the world. And they may think that we are overly preoccupied with the future because we have no past to draw on. (Laughter.)

So, you know, I have respect for the Chinese. I think they're acting prudently and carefully and very deliberately. And I'm not sure that the rest of us are contributing to their development. Their development over the last 30 years has been largely domestically-driven. Now they're beginning to reap some benefits from it because they can now begin to play the game of reciprocity and of manipulation and of penetration. But they got to where they got by their own efforts. So they have reason to be confident.

I am more worried about the possibility of some decline in the quality of Chinese leadership. because it's a bureaucratically, self-selected leadership. and that over time could decline, as the Soviet leadership did. And that could produce serious problems for them.

FEIST: The last question over here. It better be a good one. Right there. (Laughter.) No pressure.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Mila Gadon (sp) Embassy of Hungary. Very quick question about Central Eastern Europe. You mentioned that you would like to see increased discussion and dialogue with the Russia and perhaps enhanced cooperation with Turkey. What role, if at all, could Central Eastern European countries play in that, in offshore U.S. policy, foreign policy, given your background and given the policy that your pursued when in government in the 70s? Thank you.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I think one looks at their geographic location. Obviously, they can play a role in also in supporting and encouraging the Ukrainian desire to have an independent state. And I think they, together with Sweden, incidentally, have been trying to be involved also in encouraging Belarus to evolve. If these countries evolve in a desirable fashion, that will help also to encourage Russia to engage in actions and accomodations that would make it possible for Russia to become increasingly a part of the West.

So there is a constructive role here to be played. But I would emphasize that Europe can play that role only if we're engaged in Europe and we are part of the European security because, otherwise, Europe could become very divided and competitive in making its own separate arrangementsand then, in effect, maximize the internal weaknesses of Europe, and encourage those on the other who still think in traditional geopolitically imperial categories.

FEIST: If you did not get enough of the wisdom of Dr. Brzezinski today, you can get some more in the hallway. His book is available for sale. He may be able to sign a couple of copies. And I must say that if I learned one thing today that I didn't fully appreciate before this conversation, it's if at 3 a.m. in the morning, if you have a really, really serious problem, and you're looking for someone to get you out of it who has clear thinking even at that time of day, call Zbigniew Brzezinski. So thank you all. (Applause.)

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