Al-Ahram Weekly Online   2 - 8 September 2004
Issue No. 706
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Beyond global domination

The world's sole superpower should adopt a gentler approach to the world's problems. El-Sayed Amin Shalabi* leafs through Zbigniew Brzezinski's The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership

One of America's most prominent global strategic theorists, Zbigniew Brzezinski is specialised in Soviet and socialist bloc affairs, Cold War issues and, in particular, Russian-US relations. It was because of his eminence in this field that President Jimmy Carter chose him as his security adviser (1976- 1980). Afterwards, Brzezinski became absorbed in the study of post-Cold War politics, eventually producing Out of Control (1992) and The Grand Chessboard (1997). In the latter he declared that although the US emerged from the Cold War as the sole global superpower, this position entailed a number of restrictions limiting its ability to act independently. On this basis, he offered advice on how the US should comport itself in order to preserve its unique position as long as possible, and to counter the emergence of potential rival powers.

Several months ago another book of Brzezinski's appeared in which he cautions his fellow Americans that their current supremacy is a transitory phenomenon and that, in all events, the US is not omnipotent and that its national security is therefore closely bound up with global security. He further maintains that the politics of fear, the narrow interpretation of terrorism and the indifference to humanitarian concerns neither support US national security nor conform with the needs of American world leadership. Indeed, they could lead to America's international isolation and to globally destabilising international divisions. The US's might and its social dynamism combined, if used wisely, could gradually propel the world towards a global community with common interests. The misuse of these elements, however, could propel the world towards chaos and leave the US besieged.

The book under discussion here is appropriately called The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership (2001). On the basis of an assessment of the potential for creating effective international peacekeeping forces, it concludes that American military power must remain an indispensable component of the maintenance of global security. However, the world is an increasingly complicated place. The dissemination of economic, cultural and technological changes is rapidly creating vast networks of interwoven international interests that are blurring the boundaries of the nation state. However, these very changes could also work to undermine the stability that American might seeks to protect, for they could also breed hostility towards the US, perceived as the prime source and promoter of change. The US is thus faced with a curious paradox: it is a democracy and indeed the world's sole superpower, but the more it resorts to the independent use of force, especially if perceived as intended to serve its own interests, the faster this will cause the spread of anti- Americanism. In a country increasingly obsessed with national security, the more it perceives itself isolated the greater the chances that it will succumb to a siege mentality that would work to transform it into a military state.

There follows the question, of course, as to whether the US is capable of pursuing a sensible, responsible and effective foreign policy capable of avoiding the pitfalls of the siege mentality while simultaneously meeting the conditions of America's historic role as the world's sole superpower. Brzezinski suggests that such a policy must emanate from the premise that globalisation inherently means global interdependence. While this reality may not guarantee equality in status and security for all nations, it does mean that no nation possesses complete immunity from the consequences of the technological revolution which have, on the one hand, increased mankind's ability to wreak violence and, on the other hand, strengthened the bonds that are rapidly bringing human beings closer together.

Against this reality, the core question Americans should be asking themselves is: "Domination towards what ends?" Is America to work towards a new global order based on mutual interests or is it merely going to use its might in order to protect its own security? Brzezinski holds that the US should pursue a foreign policy in which the two are not juxtaposed antithetically, since, after all, promoting global interdependence promotes global security which, in turn, is integral to American domestic security. Therefore, in addition to asking themselves towards what ends should they be channelling their unprecedented global might, Americans should also be asking themselves with whom should they share power and how. The answer to these questions will ultimately determine whether or not the US can muster a universal consensus behind its leadership.

As they ponder such questions they must also contemplate such issues as how to deal with an enemy that is materially weak but possesses a fanatical drive. As long as efforts are not made towards addressing the root sources behind this source of animosity, it will be impossible to eliminate this type of enemy, he warns. Mere reliance on brute force will only produce more hatred and more violence. There must therefore be a collective recognition of the motives and passions that fuel this type of violence and collective efforts to uproot the causes that give rise to these motives and passions.

Similarly, it will be important to address widespread reservations with regard to the nature of the globalisation process. Even many of the US's European and Asian allies tend to perceive globalisation as a purely materialistic creed, not dissimilar to Marx's dreaded materialism, devoid of spiritual substance. As the US is perceived as its most powerful advocate and greatest beneficiary, globalisation is regarded as the outward face of American imperialism and synonymous with the attempt to impose the American way of life and the American value system on other countries. In cautioning against the attempt to shape the rest of the world in the US image, Brzezinski cites the French foreign minister's remarks to the effect that US foreign policy is inconsistent with the need to respect international cultural diversity and that Washington must avoid equating global equality with Westernisation.

Such are the considerations the US must bear in mind as it attempts to rally broader international support behind its security efforts. Unfortunately, this has not been the trend in recent foreign policy decisions, in which American-centric smugness has combined with the increasing inclination towards unilateral recourse to force, an approach that ultimately generates greater security risks. Nothing illustrates this more than the American invasion of Iraq. Never has America's military credibility been higher, writes Brzezinski, but never has its political credibility been lower than it is today.

A related phenomenon is the Bush administration's approach to terrorism. Satanising an anonymous enemy and exploiting people's fears and anxieties may work to mobilise public support for security policies in the short run. However, as a long-term strategy it lacks sustainability and, worse, creates an international climate of intolerance and generates rather than resolves tensions. Brzezinski further maintains that the three cornerstones of the current American approach to the terrorist threat -- "Those who aren't with us are against us," preemptive strikes are justifiable, and ad hoc alliances are a substitute for permanent alliances -- have triggered widespread anxiety abroad.

The alternative to such one-sided short-termed pragmatism, in Brzezinski's opinion, is for the US to accord greater focus to the regions of intense discontent and to create a permanent, broad-based global alliance to engage in a comprehensive campaign against the social and economic circumstances that breed discontent, of which terrorism is but one manifestation. Although such an alliance will still require a heavy dependency on American military power as a prerequisite for preserving international stability, its will nevertheless inspire long-term commitment because of the platform of humanitarian justice and equity on which it is based. In pursuing this course, it will be important for Washington to bear in mind that building an alliance based on common interest entails an equitable distribution of benefits, responsibilities and empowerment, rather than the imposition of its will by dictum. World leadership entails an awareness of how to get others to act in concert towards specific aims with as minimal use of force as possible. Flexing military might, for its own sake or for perpetuating hegemony, is not a recipe for continued success. Hegemony as an aim in itself is a dead end as it only breeds growing opposition abroad and fatal hubris at home.

In his discussion of global hotspots, Brzezinski focusses on the Middle East, which he believes offers considerable and much-needed scope for US- European cooperation. In their efforts in this regard, they must bear in mind that the Palestinian- Israeli roadmap is inseparable from the need to rehabilitate Iraq as a stable, independent and democratic nation; for without pursuing these two steps in tandem it will be impossible to realise peace in this region. At a deeper level, Brzezinski believes that US-European cooperation will be more effective in averting a clash between Islam and the West and more successful at promoting the constructive changes needed to enable the countries of the Islamic world enter the ranks of modern democratic societies. Producing such changes requires an acute awareness of the sensitivities of the Islamic world and of the nature of the rival forces in this world. That Europe has a distinct advantage over the US in this regard, according to Brzezinski, renders it an indispensable partner in the processes of promoting cultural and social development.

In what one assumes is a veiled criticism of American policy in this respect, he cautions in particular against the over-zealousness in promoting democratic reforms. The tendency of such an approach is to ignore long-held local traditions and fundamental aspects of Islamic culture, which, in turn, could be counterproductive and generate an antipathy towards democracy. Democratisation requires heroic patience and cultural sensitivity. The experiences of several Islamic nations, especially those closest to the West, suggest that when democracy is allowed to grow, rather than being imposed from above by the West, Islamic societies are perfectly capable of absorbing democratic culture.

In The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership, one is left with no doubt what Brzezinski believes the American choice should be. His is a book dedicated to responsible American international leadership and a safer world for all.

* The writer is the executive director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.

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