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Brzezinski: Can democracies thrive with financial systems that are out of control?

In an interview, Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of America’s leading strategists, discusses shifting global power, looking at China, Europe, Turkey, Russia, the US, and the Arab Spring.

January 24, 2012

Zbigniew Brzezinski at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington. Dr. Brzezinsky served as White House National Security Advisor and currently is counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and professor of American Foreign Policy at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

Michael Bonfigli / The Christian Science Monitor/File

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Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of America’s leading strategists, was national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter. His just published book is “Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power.” He spoke on Friday with Global Viewpoint Network editor Nathan Gardels.

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Nathan Gardels: The core of your strategic vision for the future is of a “larger West” comprised of democratic powers that accommodates China. Yet the West, starting with the US, is in a period of political decay.

As you have noted, while China focuses on the long term and plots out its future, the US in particular is beset with a short-term mentality. In effect, we are no longer an “industrial democracy” in the strict sense, but a “consumer democracy” where all the feedback signals – the market, the media, and politics – are short-term and geared to immediate gratification.

Doesn’t that give China the competitive advantage of political capacity in the times ahead?

Zbigniew Brzezinski: Obviously so.

Gardels: How can America’s short-term mentality be changed? Are the West’s political institutions up to the challenge?

Brzezinski: Yes, if we develop a more effective and longer-range response to the current crisis instead of simply wallowing in the present difficulties – which is likely to further produce the same negative effects that got us into this mess. We are so preoccupied with the current crisis and so lacking in a longer-term perspective that we have no strategic vision which would give us some sense of historical momentum.

Democracy is capable of responding provided we focus on the right aims. The question today is whether democracies can thrive with financial systems that are out of control, that are capable of generating selfishly beneficial consequences only for the few, without any effective framework that gives us a larger, more ambitious sense of purpose. That is the real problem.

There is today a very dangerous imbalance between the lack of budgetary discipline, the commitment to austerity, the determination to keep inflation under control, and to maintain a costly social policy on the one hand — all, on the other hand, without any larger conception about which direction our societies as a whole should be heading.

Gardels: The rest of the West is also mired in paralysis. Europe has turned even further inward with the euro crisis as it decides whether to go all the way back to the nation-state or forward to full political union.

What is the solution for Europe?

Brzezinski: I believe that, in the end, the resolution to today’s crisis in Europe won’t work out that badly. The essential political leadership in Europe – the Germans and the French mainly, along with some others – are demonstrating a sense of responsibility for the future of Europe. They are increasingly determined to shape a political framework which will supplant what Europe has been lately, namely a financial union for some and a politically loose community for all. Inevitably, a genuine political union will take shape in stages and steps, probably beginning through a de facto treaty reached by inter-governmental agreement in the near future.

Gardels: A two-speed Europe?

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