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By Bernard Gwertzman


American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives

By Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Maps. 223 pp. New York:

Since the end of the cold war and the collapse of Communism, the United States has accepted the "victory" and, for better or worse, has had collective amnesia about global issues. After some 50 years during which foreign affairs commanded the highest priority in Washington and on television and the front pages, the subject has virtually disappeared for most Americans.

This is true from top to bottom. President Clinton clearly pays as little attention to foreign affairs as he can get away with. Network television regards foreign news as a drag on ratings. And all the signs seem to suggest that the American people, having won the cold war, are quite happy to devote their attention to national and local problems. For many in the foreign policy establishment, this means the public cares less and less about what they have to say.

But they keep saying it anyway. And some are saying with increasing alarm: Wake up, America, before it is too late.

One of those most troubled by the sudden turn in American attitudes is Zbigniew Brzezinski, who from 1977 to 1981 was President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, and who has for years been one of the more provocative thinkers about foreign affairs, particularly those dealing with the former Soviet bloc. What has bothered Brzezinski is that as a result of the Soviet collapse, the United States is the unquestioned world leader, unchallenged for the moment by any other power. But American democracy does not lend itself well to the running of empires. This has frustrated Brzezinski, who has now provided another scholarly blueprint for what he believes the United States should do in coming years to further America's interests, maintain the hegemony it commands and prevent global anarchy. For Brzezinski this is a strategic game, not unlike chess, to outwit potential rivals, and hence the title of the book: "The Grand Chessboard."

This is not the first time Brzezinski has touched on this theme. Eleven years ago, he published "Game Plan: A Geostrategic Framework for the Conduct of the U.S.-Soviet Contest." And just four years ago, in the aftermath of the Soviet disintegration, he wrote "Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the Twenty-first Century," which many saw as a counter to the optimistic view of the future in "The End of History and the Last Man," by Francis Fukuyama. The idea of global anarchy facing an inactive United States is a theme that has also recently been put forth by Richard N. Haass in "The Reluctant Sheriff." And Samuel P. Huntington has inveighed against Fukuyama in "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order."

Brzezinski, who writes convincingly if a bit inelegantly, describes a very forbidding situation in the years ahead if the United States does not make more permanent the dominance it now has over a vast area of the world. "This huge, oddly shaped Eurasian chessboard -- extending from Lisbon to Vladivostok -- provides the setting for 'the game,' " Brzezinski says. "If the middle space can be drawn increasingly into the expanding orbit of the West (where America preponderates), if the southern region is not subjected to domination by a single player, and if the East is not unified in a manner that prompts the expulsion of America from its offshore bases, America can then be said to prevail. But if the middle space rebuffs the West, becomes an assertive single entity, and either gains control over the South or forms an alliance with the major Eastern actor, then America's primacy in Eurasia shrinks dramatically."

Brzezinski, who is a professor of American foreign policy at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, outlines a number of steps he believes the United States should take to maintain its current world leadership. He is quite passionate in his contention that if the United States follows its current inward-looking path, it will be faced with unacceptable consequences. Nothing Clinton Administration officials have done, he asserts, has "fully addressed the need to create minimal global geopolitical stability as the essential foundation for the simultaneous protraction of American hegemony and the effective aversion of international anarchy." He concludes bluntly that "the time has come for the United States to formulate and prosecute an integrated, comprehensive and long-term geostrategy for all of Eurasia." The fear of anarchy is of great moment to Brzezinski, perhaps because anarchy is something that Americans can visualize and become concerned enough about to generate some political interest.

How the United States manages this chessboard, he says, "will be critical to the longevity and stability of America's global primacy," and he repeatedly warns that unless the United States acts, international anarchy will break out: "The disruptive consequences of population explosion, poverty-driven migration, radicalizing urbanization, ethnic and religious hostilities, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction would become unmanageable if the existing and underlying nation-state-based framework of even rudimentary geopolitical stability were itself to fragment. Without sustained and directed American involvement, before long the forces of global disorder could come to dominate the world scene."

"In brief," he writes, "the U.S. policy goal must be unapologetically twofold: to perpetuate America's own dominant position for at least a generation and preferably longer still; and to create a geopolitical framework that can absorb the inevitable shocks and strains of social-political change while evolving into the geopolitical core of shared responsibility for peaceful global management."

Brzezinski has now stated and restated his concerns. His books are there for any political leader to use as material for future policy declarations. But it is difficult in the current situation to imagine much of a competition to take up Brzezinski's ideas, however well they are argued here.

Bernard Gwertzman, former diplomatic correspondent and foreign editor for The New York Times, is editor of The New York Times on the Web.

For a more conspiratorial view, read "HOW STUPID DO THEY THINK WE ARE?

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