IntroductionZbigniew Brzezinki’s 1997 book The Grand Chessboard has been one of the most controversial readings in geopolitics. Written from the perspective of the person of influence and a part of the American political elite, it presents America as the hegemon of the world power and positively assesses its drive to control other nations. This vision may seem obsolete these days when China has clearly established itself as another world leader, but Brzezinki’s ideas still guide the modern foreign policy of the United States. This review focuses on strengths and weakness of Brzezinki’s text. Firstly though, it provides a summary of the book.
The main point of Zbigniew Brzezinki’s book The Grand Chessboard is that in order to retain its status as the world hegemony the United States should remain in control of Eurasia, which the author calls the world’s grand chessboard. For America, the object of the chess game is to arrange all the pieces on this board in a way that the United States never loses its capacity to control and influence this Eurasian landmass. Whereas the ultimate goal of foreign policy for the United States ought to be to foster the creation of a highly cooperative world community, it is imperative that no Eurasian state become able to challenge America. The U.S. political primacy is considered an unquestionable good. With regard to this, Brzezinski writes, “A world without the U.S. primacy is the one with more violence and disorder and less democracy and economic growth.” Apart from establishing the United States as the first truly global political power, Brzezinski argues that the U.S. can dominate Eurasia within the perimeters of this landmass. Namely, uts task is to prevent any major arising power from dominance within the region. Moreover, in order to maintain the balance of power in Eurasia and in the world, the U.S. should face the challenges from the rising political powers China, Russia, India, as well as established political players France and Germany.
According to Brzezinski, one can do this by managing and supporting the five pivotal nations: Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iran, and South Korea. Ukraine and Turkey are significant because they serve as a protection shield of a “democratic bridgehead” in Europe and serve to contain the influence of Russia in Europe as well as in the Middle East; Azerbaijan is valued for its oil reserves and other deposits as well as its strategic location in the region of Central Asia; Iran is important because it is a potentially strong ally for Russia, India, or China in their possible coalition against America; South Korea, the biggest friend of the U.S. in the region, is significant because of its serving as a barrier to China’s dominance over Japan. Finally, Brzezinski concludes The Grand Chessboard with his observation that America’s superpower is likely to decline in the future as other regions reap take advantage of market economics and the state-of-the-art information technologies. Still, until this time in the future, the United States should strive to maintain its primacy in Eurasia for as long as it can and develop and implement a strategy of managing its decline. The strategy should focus on preventing the emergence of a coalition of hostile nations that could seek to destroy the U.S. primacy in the long run.
Body of the Paper
This book can be considered classical in the study of American foreign policy and especially its doctrine of hegemony in the post-Soviet world. The author asks the most important questions for the time following the end of the Soviet era: What should be the U.S. strategy in the world in general and in Eurasia in particular? How should America retain its position of the only global superpower? What should be the limits of the European unity? How should America tackle the growing influence of China is the other major power in the world? Zbigniew Brzezinki provides comprehensible answers to all these pressing questions for his time based on his justification of America’s global influence in the world community. His analysis is one of the most comprehensive analysis in geopolitics and allows seeing the undercurrent of all global processes, including all the wars that have taken placed over the period of the two last centuries. The book reveals imperialist objectives and America’s short, mid-term, and long-term geopolitical goals. After reading this book, one is likely to understand the roots of conduct by President Bush and his administration. Even though the book was published around 20 years ago, it contains many explanations of the current realities, namely the behaviour of international and regional powers. Insights into the nations’ histories and cultures linked to modern processes help understand the responses to the current threats from the European countries, many of which sound like prophecies in Zbigniew Brzezinki’s book. To illustrate, Brzezinki’s description of Europe helps understand what is going now within the European Union community appalled by the threats of the international terrorism and flooded by thousands of refugees from Syria. Importantly, Zbigniew Brzezinki highlights the pivotal nations in the global politics for America, which helps understand many processes that take place today. One of such processes these days is Russia’s annexation of Crimea and ensuing invasion of the eastern Ukraine.
On the one hand, Brzezinki provides a comprehensive account of the U.S. hegemony doctrine and detailed explanations of how using the principle of the grand chessboard will benefit the United States and world community. In this regard, he uses lots of evidence based not only on secondary research but also on his own primary experience as the former National Security Advisor to President Carter as well as one of the founders of the Trilateral Commission. The author also uses historical evidence to trace the line of the U.S. hegemony in the world politics, for example, he supports his assertion of the unique role of the U.S. as the world superpower with the evidence of the growing role of America since the period following World War 1. It was at that time that the United States took over the title of the global leader and world hegemon from the UK. While the book contains multiple references to historical data, the major source of evidence is the expertly opinion of the author. Harvard graduate, Harvard and Columbia University professor, a member of the U.S. State Department’s Council of Policy Planning, advisor to Kennedy and Johnson during the presidential campaigns, and, finally, the National Security advisor in the administration of the President Carter, Brzezinki is thought to be one of the greatest ideologues of the Cold War and one of the most fervent opponents to the Soviet Union. The initiator of the Afghanistan trap for the Soviet Union, which eventually led to the USSR demise, Brzezinki can be regarded an outstanding expert in the issues of the U.S. foreign policy. In this way, the evidence he most often uses is his expertly opinion supported by the relevant facts from history. On the other hand, Brzezinki’s use of evidence is rather limited. In fact, he only uses the facts and figures that help him advance his arguments. Moreover, for the most part, he is so preoccupied with his own self-worth as an expert that he fails to acknowledge or at least consider things that do not support his view. For example, Brzezinki completely discounts Britain as a player in the world politics and neglects the evidence that could be used to refute his argument. Overall, the book lacks objective evidence that could reflect the scope of expertly opinions and reliable political or sociology study findings not only from America and its political elite but also from the rest of the world, especially from the nations whom Brzezinki refers to as the grand chessboard.
The author’s analysis is conducted quite carefully as Brzezinki employs both inductive and deductive reasoning as he develops his arguments and makes his solid conclusions. Yet, the analysis is not broad enough because it is one-sided. Specifically, Brzezinki analyses the U.S. role in Eurasia and in the world community through the American-oriented lens. He fails to analyse how his and his political peers’ views and ideas are compatible with the views and ideas of the people who represent the nations he includes in his analysis. He does not challenge his view of America as the world leader for the decades to come and goes on discussing geopolitics from the perspective that the U.S. leadership benefits not just America but all other nations in the world as well. Where his analysis relies on the worth of historical evidence, Brzezinki often tends to manipulate historical data in his best interest. In particular, he suggests that the U.S. balance the continental powers very similar to how the UK did it in the nineteenth century in order to retain its influence in the post-Soviet era. He sees this as the best foreign policy strategy and fails to note its flaws. What’s even more irrational, he contradicts himself in saying that America should persist in retaining its imperial power in the world. He notes that the U.S. is a way too democratic at home, which prevents it from being necessarily autocratic and imperial overseas. Likewise, Brzezinki fails to consistently describe his proposed trans-European security system, which, as he sees, should be initiated and controlled by the U.S. In fact, he promises to outline his unique plan global defence and cooperation but makes it too briefly. His nebulous outline appears to lack real action items. As the book ends, the audience only gets Brzezinki’s conclusion that the generation of diplomats and policymakers that will follow should perform acts of delicate balancing because they have no safety net to rely on.
With regard to the methodology and conceptual framework, Brzezinki’s book has some serious limitations. While it is a theoretical work and lacks empirical data, it also has serious conceptual limitations. In particular, Brzezinki focuses too much on the concept of power and political hegemony, as well as on the available means of getting power, and this makes his text one-dimensional. His book could be improved by adding more insight based on empirical findings, both qualitative and quantitative, rooted in the social, economic, and political realities of the current world.
Brzezinki’s writing style is clear and unambiguous. Even though the author discusses complex institutions and ideas, his writing is approachable and easy to follow. The crispy and often dry text engages the reader with its clarity and a summary-like manner, which makes it a quick and pleasant read. What’s more, Brzezinki uses maps and illustrations to support his prose, which aids in the understanding.
Even though the ideas expressed in The Grand Chessboard may seem irrelevant, one-dimensional, or obsolete for modern readers, the book is great to learn from. Despite its American orientation, lack of sufficient evidence, and a way too subjective analysis, The Grand Chessboard provides a comprehensive insight into the principles of American foreign policy making and helps understand the current processes in the world. Indeed, it is clear that the outlined geopolitical truths are unlikely to change. Thus, the book can be recommended to those ready to ignore its propaganda and focus solely on its geopolitical content.
- Brzezinki, Z. 1997, The Grand Chessboard, Basic Books, New York.