Azerbaijan International

Winter 1995 (3.4)
Pages 20-22

Geopolitically Speaking
Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski

by Betty Blair

Other articles related to Zbigniew Brzezinski published in Azerbaijan International:

(1) Analysis - War On Terrorism: Failing to Grapple with the Political Dimension - Zbigniew Brzezinski
(2) The Caucasus and New Geo-Political Realities: How the West Can Support the Region - Zbigniew Brzezinski
(3) Geopolitically Speaking: Russia's "Sphere of Influence" - Chechnya and Beyond - Zbigniew Brzezinski
(4) Russia as Empire - Quote by Zbigniew Brzezinski
(5) Freedom is Fragile - Quote by Zbigniew Brzezinski
(6) Honorary Doctorate Bestowed on Brzezinski - Zbigniew Brzezinsk

Leading U.S. geo-political strategist, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, recently visited Azerbaijan (October 7-10, 1995) where he met with President Heydar Aliyev and delivered both personal and official messages from President Clinton.
Brzezinski is most well known from serving in the White House as National Security Adviser under President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981.

His trip to Azerbaijan, the first in his life, coincided with the presentation of a major shipment of medical supplies sponsored by Amoco to the refugees which was organized by AmeriCares, of which he is Honorary Chairman.

His interview with Azerbaijan International's Editor, Betty Blair, took place back in the States in November after they had met in Baku.

For many of us Westerners, the announcement in late 1991 that the Soviet Union had collapsed, came as a sudden shock. But you had already anticipated the dissolution in your book, "The Grand Failure: The Birth and Death of Communism in the Twentieth Century" (completed in August 1988 and published in 1989). How is it that you were so convinced that the Soviet Union would disintegrate that you dared to write a book about it?

Left: President Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Cyrus Vance at Camp David. August 17, 1977. Official White House Photo. Courtesy: Brzezinski.

What spurred me, first of all, was my feeling that many people in the West underestimated the depth of the crisis into which the Soviet Union had fallen by the 1980s. And secondly, I wrote it because I wanted to precipitate a more rapid collapse of the Soviet Union. I felt that by posing the issue sharply and pointing out the inevitability of the Soviet Union's collapse, I would help galvanize forces that were determined to promote its disintegration. So, in effect, writing the book was not only my analysis of the situation but it was also a political tool to facilitate its collapse.

Do you think your book really played a role?

A translation was made into Russian rather quickly. I find that when I travel to various countries of the former Soviet Union these days, reference to my book is so widespread and so frequent that I believe it must have contributed to the collapse. The book placed the issue of the Soviet Union's disintegration, on the agenda, so to speak. It provided a perspective to people who were inclined to favor reform or even the termination of the Soviet Union.

Was there one specific thing that made you aware that the Soviet Union was going to disintegrate, or rather an accumulation of impressions?

I think the Soviet Union was flawed both in terms of its basic philosophical assumptions as well as in terms of its political and economic practices. It was a system which misjudged the nature of the human being and misinterpreted the character of modern economics. It simply was not responsive politically to the reality of an increasingly educated people who were not prepared to be ruled by dogmatists.

Do you believe the West contributed to the Soviet Union's demise?

Definitely. First of all, by stopping Soviet expansion. Secondly, by putting the Soviet Union on the defensive on the human rights issue. Thirdly, by encouraging the non-Russian nations to become more assertive in expressing their aspirations. Fourthly, by competing with the Soviet Union in the arms race to the point that it became clear that the Soviets could not win.

Fifthly, by demonstrating the superiority of the Western social economic model. And finally, by being willing to negotiate with the Soviet Government so that it was more encouraged to set in motion domestic reforms which loosened up the system and permitted the dynamic wave of reforms, discontent and dissatisfaction which eventually terminated the Soviet Union.

So then, you would say that the nuclear arms race was necessary?

Yes, absolutely, as one of the elements. Not the decisive one, necessarily, but an important one.

The breakup of the Soviet Union has brought considerable bloodshed and conflicts for many nations. Was this inevitable?

The collapse of the Soviet Union was a positive historical development. The resulting bloodshed that is still going on in some places is the result of a criminal policy that was pursued by the Soviet leadership.

Fortunately, there hasn't been bloodshed everywhere. I think we all have an obligation to end bloodshed wherever it is occurs. My hope is that eventually the States that once made up the former Soviet Union will one day engage in international economic cooperation similar to the EC (European Community) in Western Europe, which also experienced many wars and bloodshed not so long ago.

Given that so much of the world's oil may soon be coming from the Caspian region and that the United States has strong economic interests in the development of the region, what do you believe would be the wisest policy for the United States to follow in regard to Azerbaijan and its neighbors-Russia, Armenia and Iran?

Azerbaijan and Central Asia need diversified access to world markets. That's the best way to promote economic cooperation and prosperity. Then, not only Azerbaijan, but its neighbors will profit. It should not be a game in which there are winners or losers. Ideally, a web of cooperative relationships should be created.

The diversified pipeline access should not exclude Russia, but nor should it be limited to routes through Russia. If pipelines were to pass only through Russia, then there would be less foreign investment in the development of these resources and less wealth to be shared by Azerbaijan, Central Asia, Russia, as well as Western oil companies. In brief, it's to everybody's advantage to have diversified access to Azerbaijan and Central Asia.

The more pipelines, the more prosperity in the region, the greater the opportunity for democracy, the greater the chance for regional peace. This is why the strategy of diversification is good for everybody. Let me remind you that the building of Europe started when the coal and steel communities organized in France, Germany and England.

At Camp David, Dr. Brzezinski plays chess with Israel's Prime Minister, Menachem Begin. September 12, 1978. Official White House Photo. Courtesy: Brzezinski. Official White House Photo.

What about Armenia?

Any route through Armenia would require a peaceful resolution of the Azeri-Armenian conflict. Our hope is that the leaders of these two countries will be able to generate the necessary momentum towards a comprehensive solution of this problem. External negotiating parties, such as OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) can be helpful. But the initiative and momentum has to come from within. And I believe it is possible.

In terms of the solution to the conflict: as a matter of principle, it is important to recognize the inviolability of borders. That has to be the point of departure for any lasting arrangement. (Armenia is now occupying about 20% of Azerbaijan's original territory).

And Iran? The U.S. seems to be trying to strangle Iran economically?

My perspective about Iran is rather idiosyncratic. I think that the United States should approach the American-Iranian relationship from a broad, long-range perspective. America and Iran share fundamental, geo-political interests. The present phase of antagonism, in my view, is only a transient phase.

Brzezinski with Deng Xiaoping in China (PRC). January 1979. Photo: Bill Fitz-Patrick, The White House. Courtesy: Brzezinski.

It's a mistake for the U.S. to exclude the possibility of pipelines going through Iran. Iran will not always, and forever, be antagonistic to the United States. Pipelines take many years to construct. In the meantime, excluding Iran tends to stimulate the Iranian-Russian partnership against Azerbaijan. And that, I think, is counterproductive to our interests and to those of Azerbaijan and Central Asia.

What would have to change for the U.S. government to be more open about Iran?

I think it's a question of a changed policy assessment. It's a mistake to try to squeeze Iran. I don't think such a policy is justified.

It seems that U.S. policy often tends to favor Russia in relation to the other Republics of the former Soviet Union. Sometimes U.S. policy seems to close its eyes to vagrant abuses by Russia against the other Republics.

I don't think that's the case anymore. It used to be up until about a year or so ago. But I think right now the U.S. has a more balanced policy. Roughly half of the aid for the former Soviet Union goes to Russia and the other half goes to the remaining Republics (which have smaller populations). We have become much more sensitive and scrupulous in respecting sensitivities in Ukraine. We are more active in developing relations with Azerbaijan and Central Asia. So I don't think that criticism is applicable any longer.

We do not view our relations with Azerbaijan as directed against any other state. Let me be quite blunt about it. We are not trying to conduct an anti-Russian policy. We are familiar with geography. Azerbaijan and Russia are next to each other so they have to have good relations. But they ought to be a normal relationships which respect independence. There must be a relationship of mutual cooperation. The age of imperialism is finished.

If one party has its troops on the territory of the other party (as Russia has troops in Georgia and Armenia-and as they trying to pressure Azerbaijan to accept), then one party controls the border of the other party, and that is not a balanced relationship. In history books, that's described as imperialism. Imperialism is not a good basis for relations.

I think Russian interests would best be served if Russia's relations with Ukraine or Azerbaijan and other neighboring countries were like those which America has with Canada and Mexico.

Of all the former Soviet Republics, the U. S. Congress has singled out the Azerbaijani government and has denied aid during this transitional period. Isn't such a policy contrary to U.S.' interests?

The restricting clause (the "907" as they call it) in the Congressional legislation of the 1992 Freedom Support Act is the specific result of the Azerbaijani and Armenian conflict. It is also the consequence of very active lobbying by the Armenian-American community.

However, such a policy is not compatible with the U.S.' broad policy of trying to consolidate pluralism in the space of the former Soviet Union. I think "907" limits America's flexibility. This law makes it much more difficult for us to advance peaceful arrangements between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

But this clause even denies humanitarian and medical aid to the Azerbaijani government for its hundreds of thousands of refugees, or even more recently for the victims of the tragic Baku Metro accident.

As far as Azerbaijani refugees are concerned, they certainly do need more assistance from the outside world. But they also need more assistance from local Azerbaijani officials.

The refugees in the camp (Sabirabad) where I visited were living in inhuman conditions. These conditions might be explainable if these refugees had been living there for only three or four weeks, but they've been there for more than two years. I've visited Palestinian refugee camps and Afghan refugee camps, and the conditions were not nearly as bad.

There are some things that local officials should do that they haven't yet been done. Azerbaijanis cannot expect the international community to do everything for them. These refugees are Azeris. And the first obligation is for other Azeris to help them. I did not see that.

You've traveled fairly extensively in the Soviet Union both before and after its collapse. Obviously, not everything about the Soviet system was bad. How should the new Republics guard against "throwing the baby out with the dish water"?

I don't think the people from outside should give that kind of advice. Azerbaijanis and other former Soviet countries know best "how the shoe fits". And they're in the best position to make the right judgment.

What do you believe can guarantee a healthy, politically viable road to independence and democracy?

That's not easy to answer in a very brief comment. Obviously, introducing the market economy is a necessary long-term remedy for the stagnation of socialism. But such a process produces short-term difficulties. That's precisely the reason why the West has to help. Democratization is also a necessity. Here again, one has to recognize that it cannot be done overnight. It's a long, gradual process and has to be pursued in stages. Preserving national unity right now is essential for the sake of Azerbaijan's independence.

From Azerbaijan International (3.4) Winter 1995.
© Azerbaijan International 1995. All rights reserved.

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