Zbigniew Brzezinski is a long time foreign policy expert and advisor to the US government, former National Security Advisor to US president Jimmy Carter, and much listened to on the subject of maintaining the US as the leading global power, specifically by way of being the dominant player in key geographies of Asia and Europe.
He gave a talk on foreign policy in April. The talk was held in Canada, and touched on the subject of US geopolitical preeminence in the emerging multi-polar world.
In his famous book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives, Brzezinski writes that “Unlike earlier empires, this vast and complex global system is not a hierarchical pyramid. Rather, America stands at the center of an interlocking universe, one in which power is exercised through continuous bargaining, dialogue, diffusion, and quest for formal consensus, even though that power originates ultimately from a single source, namely, Washington, D.C. And that is where the power game has to be played, and played according to America’s domestic rules.”
Also from the same book: “[...] how America ‘manages’ Eurasia is critical. Eurasia is the globe’s largest continent and is geopolitically axial. A power that dominates Eurasia would control two of the world’s three most advanced and economically productive regions[...] Eurasia is thus the chessboard on which the struggle for global primacy continues to be played.”
In his 30 minute April talk, Brzezinski discusses how the US can try to maintain global dominance in a changing power dynamic, and focuses on Israel and Palestine, Iran, and Afghanistan and Pakistan as pivotal issues.
Brzezinski says that a solution to the conflict between Palestine and Israel is critically important to the US if it wants to keep stable relations with its Middle Eastern allies and not have those same leaders become destabilized by domestic opposition to the continuing crisis that affects the entire region. He insists that it is urgent to establish the two-state solution, or there is a threat that, and here he paraphrases Israel’s existing defence minister Ehud Barak, the result will be one state, and it will be an apartheid state.
On Iran, Brzezinski promotes long term diplomacy with the possible use of sanctions. He says that threats will only make things worse. I assume by threats, he does not oppose economic ones such as sanctions, but rather military threats or threats of regime change. It is evident that he wishes to integrate Iran into the US centered international system, and believes that given real diplomacy there is a good chance of this integration taking place, something along the lines of Turkey perhaps.
Brzezinski states that Pakistan must me assured, by the US, that Afghanistan will remain under Pakistan’s zone of influence in order for it to have ‘strategic depth’ in relation to India. Otherwise, Brzezinski believes Pakistan’s support, which is crucial, will not be guaranteed during the US-NATO war in Afghanistan.
Europe is mentioned as a vital player, a key junior partner of the US necessary to present a multinational face aligned behind the US as world power becomes more dynamic and multi-polar.
The talk also touches on Russia, mentioning that the US (with the help of Europe, as detailed in some of his writings) must work to bring Russia into the West. He notes that Russia will not enter into the alliance of the West if it perceives itself as a potential empire which could then stand apart from and in contrast to the US imperial project. For this reason, he thinks it is imperative that Ukraine be encouraged to maximize its independence from Russia.
Lastly, he notes that China has become the clear dominant power on the Asian mainland. However, it has achieved this not in opposition to the existing international systems but rather from within them. This has created a great degree of interdependency between the US and China. Critically, we can see that China has not at this point directly contested the global system which has the US as its centre of power and base for operation.
Though he speaks in Canada, Brzezinski, only mentions the country in passing maybe twice. It seems assumed that Canada is a fully integrated entity and an extension of the US system of global operation.
In this vision of world power, a handful of the most powerful are detailed as key players, citizens of the global system if you will, and huge parts of the rest of the world designated as the “global Balkans”, a region where world leaders conduct their power plays and proxy wars.
This music video by MIA can be difficult to watch or stomach. It is a provocative view into the latest security protocols practiced in such places as occupied Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan by the occupying ‘police’ forces.
It reminds me of something from Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, in which an untouchable is beaten for the perceived crime of threatening the social order. Twin children watch as the police essentially murder their friend. The video and Roy’s writing also brings to my mind the atrocity of media depictions of some prolonged police brutality against the innocent who are externalized as radicals or immigrants or what have you by a government such as in Canada, the US, or India. In such cases a person might be beaten (or tasered) to death on spontaneous suspicion of criminality (say, potential terrorism), later found innocent, and then follows the media coverage of the incident. The police brutality is often falsely represented as psychological breakdowns or madness within individual police officers (merely a glitch in the system) rather than depicting the beatings as a natural response of a system doling out an economy of violence.
From Roy’s The God of Small Things:
The twins were too young to know that these were only history’s henchmen. Sent to square the books and collect the dues from those who broke its laws. Impelled by feelings that were primal yet paradoxically wholly impersonal. Feelings of contempt born of inchoate, unacknowledged fear – civilization’s fear or nature, men’s fear of women, power’s fear of powerlessness.
Man’s subliminal urge to destroy what he could neither subdue nor deify.
What Esthappen and Rahel witnessed that morning, though they didn’t know it then, was a clinical demonstration in controlled conditions (this was not war after all, or genocide) of human nature’s pursuit of ascendancy. Structure. Order. Complete monopoly. It was human history, masquerading as God’s Purpose, revealing herself to an under-age audience.
There was nothing accidental about what happened that morning. Nothing incidental. It was no stray mugging or personal settling of scores. This was an era imprinting itself on those who lived it.
History in live performance.
If they hurt Velutha more than they intended to, it was only because any kinship, any connection between themselves and him, any implication that it nothing else, at least biologically he was a fellow creature – had been severed long ago. They were not arresting a man, they were exorcizing fear. They had no instrument to calibrate how much punishment he could take. No means of gauging how much or how permanently they had damaged him.
Unlike the custom of rampaging religious mobs or conquering armies running riot, that morning in the Heart of Darkness the posse of Touchable Policemen acted with economy, not frenzy. Efficiency, not anarchy. Responsibility, not hysteria. They didn’t tear out his hair or burn him alive. They didn’t hack off his genitals and stuff them in his mouth. They didn’t rape him. Or behead him.
After all, they were not battling an epidemic. They were merely inoculating a community against an outbreak.
This economy of violence springs from the foundation of the state/government which in its inception perpetrates a violent exclusion in order to define its narrow identity. Even worse, it repeats and reproduces the violence by insisting on a universality that falsely claims absolute freedom for those who comply. This is what people who are deemed external/other or in contradiction to the system of power are often faced with on national and international stages.
Judith Butler from a chapter entitled Restating the Universal within the book Contingency, Hegemony, Universality:
Thus the government is established on the basis of a paranoid economy in which it must repeatedly establish its one claim to universality by erasing all remnants of those wills it excludes from the domain of representation. Those whose wills are not officially represented or recognized constitute ‘an unreal pure will’, and since that will is not known, it is incessantly conjectured and suspected. In an apparently paranoid fit, universality thus displays and enacts the violent separations of its own founding. Absolute freedom becomes this abstract self-consciousness which understands annihilation to be its work, and effaces (annihilates) all trace of the alterity that clings to it.
I remember a video clip of an armed US solider in Iraq yelling like an angry schoolmaster at Iraqi civilians around him: “We’re here for your fucking freedom!” I might shake my head in disgust at this but there’s a perverse logic to what he says. I think he’s talking about a completely different definition of freedom, the freedom of an unrestricted ideology: the illusion of freedom delivered by a dominant power representing its specific ideals as (a false) universal. It is the freedom of power in contrast to the freedom of people, and, especially at the margins of international power such as in Afghanistan, it can be delivered “within the condition of absolute terror”.
This is a video of a lecture by the philosopher Manuel DeLanda, discussing politics and power, economics, and military discipline. He ties these three subjects together in a concise and well referenced thesis reinterpreting economic history. DeLanda stresses the importance of abandoning a binary logic of political study in recognition of the heterogeneous nature of socio-political networks.
There is a clear correlation here with Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari‘s theory of rhizomatic assemblage (see the book A Thousand Plateaus), as well as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri‘s interpretation of political power through the interrelated network of the multitude (see the book Empire). DeLanda introduces the subject by quoting from Fernand Braudel‘s ‘History of Economic Systems’ to support his argument. The lecture brings together the theories of diverse historians, economists, and political philosophers in an attempt to reframe our understanding of political history and economic power.
DeLanda states that a unitary understanding of economics, such as seeing capitalism as a homogeneous system is simplistic and faulty. He presents the works of some institutional economists, such as John Kenneth Galbraith, as sometimes more discerning, and he explains that we must realize that the market and capitalism are not one and the same. He argues that a multiplicity of economic systems have coexisted within European and Western history, and that it is not useful to view economic history as a migration from one homogeneous system to the next (such as from feudalism all the way to monopoly capitalism).
Furthermore, DeLanda explains the impact of military discipline on contemporary industrial and economic discipline. As an example, he states that management science taught in business schools is an extension and translation of earlier theories from military operations research.
Here are some related readings to learn more about the subject:
Manuel DeLanda, ‘A new philosophy of society‘
Fernand Braudel, ‘On History‘
Fernand Braudel, ‘Civilization & Capitalism: 15th-18th Century‘
Fernand Braudel, ‘The Mediterranean: Volume II‘
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, ‘A Thousand Plateaus’
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, ‘Empire’
Michel Foucault, ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison‘
Immanuel Wallerstein, ‘Time and Duration: The Unexcluded Middle‘
Thorstein Veblen, ‘Conspicuous Consumption‘