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Zbigniew Kazimierz "Zbig" Brzezinski (;[1]Polish: [ˈzbʲiɡɲɛf kaˈʑimʲɛʐ bʐɛˈʑiɲskʲi] ( listen);[2] March 28, 1928 – May 26, 2017) was a Polish-Americandiplomat and political scientist. He served as a counselor to President Lyndon B. Johnson from 1966 to 1968 and was President Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor from 1977 to 1981. Brzezinski belonged to the realist school of international relations, standing in the geopolitical tradition of Halford Mackinder and Nicholas J. Spykman.[3][4]

Major foreign policy events during his time in office included the normalization of relations with the People's Republic of China (and the severing of ties with the Republic of China on Taiwan); the signing of the second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II); the brokering of the Camp David Accords; the transition of Iran from an important U.S. ally to an anti-WesternIslamic Republic; encouraging dissidents in Eastern Europe and emphasizing human rights in order to undermine the influence of the Soviet Union;[5] the arming of the mujahideen in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; and the signing of the Torrijos–Carter Treaties relinquishing U.S. control of the Panama Canal after 1999.

Brzezinski served as the Robert E. Osgood Professor of American Foreign Policy at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a member of various boards and councils. He appeared frequently as an expert on the PBS program The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, ABC News' This Week with Christiane Amanpour, and on MSNBC's Morning Joe, where his daughter, Mika Brzezinski, is co-anchor. He was a supporter of the Prague Process.[6] His eldest son, Ian, is a foreign policy expert, and his youngest son, Mark, was the United States Ambassador to Sweden from 2011 to 2015.


Early years[edit]

For historical background on these periods of history, see:

Zbigniew Brzezinski was born in Warsaw, Poland, on March 28, 1928.[7] His family came from Brzeżany in Galicia in the Tarnopol Voivodeship (administrative region) of then eastern Poland (now in Ukraine). The town of Brzeżany is thought to be the source of the family name. Brzezinski's parents were Leonia (née Roman) Brzezińska and Tadeusz Brzeziński, a Polish diplomat who was posted to Germany from 1931 to 1935; Zbigniew Brzezinski thus spent some of his earliest years witnessing the rise of the Nazis.[8] From 1936 to 1938, Tadeusz Brzeziński was posted to the Soviet Union during Joseph Stalin's Great Purge,[9] and was later praised by Israel for his work helping Jews escape from the Nazis.[10]

In 1938, Tadeusz Brzeziński was posted to Montreal as a consul general.[10] In 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was agreed to by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union; subsequently the two powers invaded Poland. The 1945 Yalta Conference among the Allies allotted Poland to the Soviet sphere of influence. The Second World War had a profound effect on Brzezinski, who stated in an interview: "The extraordinary violence that was perpetrated against Poland did affect my perception of the world, and made me much more sensitive to the fact that a great deal of world politics is a fundamental struggle."[11]

Rising influence[edit]

After attending Loyola High School in Montreal,[12] Brzezinski entered McGill University in 1945 to obtain both his Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees (received in 1949 and 1950 respectively). His Master's thesis focused on the various nationalities within the Soviet Union.[13] Brzezinski's plan for pursuing further studies in the United Kingdom in preparation for a diplomatic career in Canada fell through, principally because he was ruled ineligible for a scholarship he had won that was open to British subjects. Brzezinski then attended Harvard University to work on a doctorate with Merle Fainsod, focusing on the Soviet Union and the relationship between the October Revolution, Vladimir Lenin's state, and the actions of Joseph Stalin. He received his Ph.D. in 1953; the same year, he traveled to Munich and met Jan Nowak-Jezioranski, head of the Polish desk of Radio Free Europe. He later collaborated with Carl J. Friedrich to develop the concept of totalitarianism as a way to more accurately and powerfully characterize and criticize the Soviets in 1956.[14]

For historical background on major events during this period, see:

As a Harvard professor, he argued against Dwight Eisenhower's and John Foster Dulles's policy of rollback, saying that antagonism would push Eastern Europe further toward the Soviets.[15] The Polish protests followed by the Polish October and the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 lent some support to Brzezinski's idea that the Eastern Europeans could gradually counter Soviet domination. In 1957, he visited Poland for the first time since he left as a child, and his visit reaffirmed his judgement that splits within the Eastern bloc were profound. He developed his ideas he called "peaceful engagement."[15] Brzezinski became a naturalized American citizen in 1958.[16]

In 1959, Harvard awarded an associate professorship to Henry Kissinger instead of Brzezinski.[7] He then moved to New York City to teach at Columbia University.[14] Here he wrote Soviet Bloc: Unity and Conflict, which focused on Eastern Europe since the beginning of the Cold War. He also taught future Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who, like Brzezinski's widow Emily, is of Czech descent, and who he also mentored during her early years in Washington.[17] He also became a member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and joined the Bilderberg Group.[18]

During the 1960 U.S. presidential elections, Brzezinski was an advisor to the John F. Kennedy campaign, urging a non-antagonistic policy toward Eastern European governments. Seeing the Soviet Union as having entered a period of stagnation, both economic and political, Brzezinski predicted a future breakup of the Soviet Union along lines of nationality (expanding on his master's thesis).[13]

Brzezinski continued to argue for and support détente for the next few years, publishing "Peaceful Engagement in Eastern Europe" in Foreign Affairs,[19] and he continued to support non-antagonistic policies after the Cuban Missile Crisis on the grounds that such policies might disabuse Eastern European nations of their fear of an aggressive Germany, and pacify Western Europeans fearful of a superpower compromise along the lines of the Yalta Conference. In a 1962 book Brzezinski argued against the possibility of a Sino-Soviet split, saying their alignment was "not splitting and is not likely to split."[7]

In 1964, Brzezinski supported Lyndon Johnson's presidential campaign and the Great Society and civil rights policies, while on the other hand he saw Soviet leadership as having been purged of any creativity following the ousting of Khrushchev. Through Jan Nowak-Jezioranski, Brzezinski met with Adam Michnik, future Polish Solidarity activist.[citation needed]

Brzezinski continued to support engagement with Eastern European governments, while warning against De Gaulle's vision of a "Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals." He also supported the Vietnam War. In 1966, Brzezinski was appointed to the Policy Planning Council of the U.S. Department of State (President Johnson's October 7, 1966, "Bridge Building" speech was a product of Brzezinski's influence). In 1968, Brzezinski resigned from the council in protest of President Johnson's expansion of the war.[7] Next, he became a foreign policy advisor to Vice President Hubert Humphrey.[7]

For historical background on events during this period, see:

Events in Czechoslovakia further reinforced Brzezinski's criticisms of the right's aggressive stance toward Eastern European governments. His service to the Johnson administration, and his fact-finding trip to Vietnam, made him an enemy of the New Left.

For the 1968 U.S. presidential campaign, Brzezinski was chairman of the Humphrey's Foreign Policy Task Force.

Brzezinski called for a pan-European conference, an idea that would eventually find fruition in 1973 as the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe.[20] Meanwhile, he became a leading critic of both the Nixon-Kissinger détente condominium, as well as George McGovern's pacifism.[21]

In his 1970 piece Between Two Ages: America's Role in the Technetronic Era, Brzezinski argued that a coordinated policy among developed nations was necessary in order to counter global instability erupting from increasing economic inequality. Out of this thesis, Brzezinski co-founded the Trilateral Commission with David Rockefeller, serving as director from 1973 to 1976. The Trilateral Commission is a group of prominent political and business leaders and academics primarily from the United States, Western Europe and Japan. Its purpose was to strengthen relations among the three most industrially advanced regions of the capitalist world. In 1974, Brzezinski selected Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter as a member.[7]


Jimmy Carter announced his candidacy for the 1976 presidential campaign to a skeptical media and proclaimed himself an "eager student" of Brzezinski.[22] Brzezinski became Carter's principal foreign policy advisor by late 1975. He became an outspoken critic of the Nixon-Kissinger over-reliance on détente, a situation preferred by the Soviet Union, favoring the Helsinki process instead, which focused on human rights, international law and peaceful engagement in Eastern Europe. Brzezinski was considered to be the Democrats' response to RepublicanHenry Kissinger.[23] Carter engaged his incumbent opponent for the presidency, Gerald Ford, in foreign policy debates by contrasting the Trilateral vision with Ford's détente.[24]

After his victory in 1976, Carter made Brzezinski National Security Advisor. Earlier that year, major labor riots broke out in Poland, laying the foundations for Solidarity. Brzezinski began by emphasizing the "Basket III" human rights in the Helsinki Final Act, which inspired Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia shortly thereafter.[25]

Brzezinski assisted with writing parts of Carter's inaugural address, and this served his purpose of sending a positive message to Soviet dissidents.[26] The Soviet Union and Western European leaders both complained that this kind of rhetoric ran against the "code of détente" that Nixon and Kissinger had established.[27][28] Brzezinski ran up against members of his own Democratic Party who disagreed with this interpretation of détente, including Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. Vance argued for less emphasis on human rights in order to gain Soviet agreement to Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), whereas Brzezinski favored doing both at the same time. Brzezinski then ordered Radio Free Europe transmitters to increase the power and area of their broadcasts, a provocative reversal of Nixon-Kissinger policies.[29] West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt objected to Brzezinski's agenda, even calling for the removal of Radio Free Europe from German soil.[30]

The State Department was alarmed by Brzezinski's support for dissidents in East Germany and objected to his suggestion that Carter's first overseas visit be to Poland. He visited Warsaw and met with CardinalStefan Wyszynski (against the objection of the U.S. Ambassador to Poland), recognizing the Roman Catholic Church as the legitimate opposition to communist rule in Poland.[31]

By 1978, Brzezinski and Vance were more and more at odds over the direction of Carter's foreign policy. Vance sought to continue the style of détente engineered by Nixon-Kissinger, with a focus on arms control. Brzezinski believed that détente emboldened the Soviets in Angola and the Middle East, and so he argued for increased military strength and an emphasis on human rights. Vance, the State Department, and the media criticized Brzezinski publicly as seeking to revive the Cold War.[citation needed]

Brzezinski advised Carter in 1978 to engage the People's Republic of China and traveled to Beijing to lay the groundwork for the normalization of relations between the two countries. This also resulted in the severing of ties with the United States' longtime anti-Communist ally the Republic of China (Taiwan).[citation needed]

For historical background on this period of history, see:

1979 saw two major strategically important events: the overthrow of U.S. ally the Shah of Iran, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Iranian Revolution precipitated the Iran hostage crisis, which would last for the rest of Carter's presidency. Brzezinski anticipated the Soviet invasion, and, with the support of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the People's Republic of China, he created a strategy to undermine the Soviet presence. Using this atmosphere of insecurity, Brzezinski led the United States toward a new arms buildup and the development of the Rapid Deployment Forces—policies that are both more generally associated with Reagan's presidency now.[citation needed]

On November 9, 1979, Brzezinski was woken at 3 am by a phone call with a startling message: The Soviets had just launched 250 nuclear weapons at the United States. Minutes later, Brzezinski received another call: The early-warning system actually showed 2,000 missiles heading toward the United States.[32] As Brzezinski prepared to phone President Jimmy Carter to plan a full-scale response, he received a third call: It was a false alarm. An early warning training tape generating indications of a large-scale Soviet nuclear attack had somehow transferred to the actual early warning network, which triggered an all-too-real scramble.[32]

Brzezinski, acting under a lame duck Carter presidency—but encouraged that Solidarity in Poland had vindicated his style of engagement with Eastern Europe—took a hard-line stance against what seemed like an imminent Soviet invasion of Poland. He even made a midnight phone call to Pope John Paul II (whose visit to Poland in 1979 had foreshadowed the emergence of Solidarity) warning him in advance. The U.S. stance was a significant change from previous reactions to Soviet repression in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.[citation needed]

Brzezinski developed the Carter Doctrine, which committed the U.S. to use military force in defense of the Persian Gulf.[10] In 1981 President Carter presented Brzezinski with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

After power[edit]

Brzezinski left office concerned about the internal division within the Democratic party, arguing that the dovish McGovernite wing would send the Democrats into permanent minority. Ronald Reagan invited him to stay on as his National Security Adviser, but Brzezinski declined, feeling that the new president needed a fresh perspective on which to build his foreign policy.[33] He had mixed relations with the Reagan administration. On the one hand, he supported it as an alternative to the Democrats' pacifism. On the other hand, he also criticized it as seeing foreign policy in overly black-and-white terms.[citation needed]

He remained involved in Polish affairs, critical of the imposition of martial law in Poland in 1981, and more so of the Western European acquiescence to its imposition in the name of stability. Brzezinski briefed U.S. vice-president George H. W. Bush before his 1987 trip to Poland that aided in the revival of the Solidarity movement.[citation needed]

In 1985, under the Reagan administration, Brzezinski served as a member of the President's Chemical Warfare Commission. From 1987 to 1988, he worked on the U.S. National Security Council–Defense Department Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy. From 1987 to 1989 he also served on the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.[citation needed]

In 1988, Brzezinski was co-chairman of the Bush National Security Advisory Task Force, endorsing Bush for president, and breaking with the Democratic party. Brzezinski published The Grand Failure the same year, predicting the failure of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in a few more decades. He said there were five possibilities for the Soviet Union: successful pluralization, protracted crisis, renewed stagnation, coup (by the KGB or Soviet military), or the explicit collapse of the Communist regime. He called collapse "at this stage a much more remote possibility" than protracted crisis. He also predicted that the chance of some form of communism existing in the Soviet Union in 2017 was a little more than 50% and that when the end did come it would be "most likely turbulent". In the event, the Soviet system collapsed totally in 1991 following Moscow's crackdown on Lithuania's attempt to declare independence, the Nagorno-Karabakh War of the late 1980s, and scattered bloodshed in other republics. This was a less violent outcome than Brzezinski and other observers anticipated.[citation needed]

In 1989, the Communists failed to mobilize support in Poland, and Solidarity swept the general elections. Later the same year, Brzezinski toured Russia and visited a memorial to the Katyn Massacre. This served as an opportunity for him to ask the Soviet government to acknowledge the truth about the event, for which he received a standing ovation in the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Ten days later, the Berlin Wall fell, and Soviet-supported governments in Eastern Europe began to totter. Strobe Talbott, one of Brzezinski's long-time critics, conducted an interview with him for TIME magazine entitled Vindication of a Hardliner.[citation needed]

In 1990, Brzezinski warned against post–Cold War euphoria. He publicly opposed the Gulf War,[citation needed] arguing that the United States would squander the international goodwill it had accumulated by defeating the Soviet Union, and that it could trigger wide resentment throughout the Arab world. He expanded upon these views in his 1992 work Out of Control.[citation needed]

Brzezinski was prominently critical of the Clinton administration's hesitation to intervene against the Serb forces in the Bosnian war.[34] He also began to speak out against Russia's First Chechen War, forming the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya. Wary of a move toward the reinvigoration of Russian power, Brzezinski negatively viewed the succession of former KGB agent Vladimir Putin after Boris Yeltsin. In this vein, he became one of the foremost advocates of NATO expansion. He wrote in 1998 that "Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire."[35] He later came out in support of the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo war.[36]

National Security Advisor[edit]

Main article: History of the United States National Security Council 1977–81

President Carter chose Brzezinski for the position of National Security Adviser (NSA) because he wanted an assertive intellectual at his side to provide him with day-to-day advice and guidance on foreign policy decisions. Brzezinski would preside over a reorganized National Security Council (NSC) structure, fashioned to ensure that the NSA would be only one of many players in the foreign policy process.

Initially, Carter reduced the NSC staff by one-half, and decreased the number of standing NSC committees from eight to two. All issues referred to the NSC were reviewed by one of the two new committees, either the Policy Review Committee (PRC) or the Special Coordinating Committee (SCC). The PRC focused on specific issues, and its chairmanship rotated. The SCC was always chaired by Brzezinski, a circumstance he had to negotiate with Carter to achieve.

Carter believed that by making the NSA chairman of only one of the two committees, he would prevent the NSC from being the overwhelming influence on foreign policy decisions it had been under Kissinger's chairmanship during the Nixon administration. The SCC was charged with considering issues that cut across several departments, including oversight of intelligence activities, arms control evaluation, and crisis management. Much of the SCC's time during the Carter years was spent on SALT issues.

The Council held few formal meetings, convening only 10 times, compared with 125 meetings during the 8 years of the Nixon and Ford administrations. Instead, Carter used frequent, informal meetings as a decision-making device—typically his Friday breakfasts—usually attended by the Vice President, the secretaries of State and Defense, Brzezinski, and the chief domestic adviser. No agendas were prepared and no formal records were kept of these meetings, sometimes resulting in differing interpretations of the decisions actually agreed upon. Brzezinski was careful, in managing his own weekly luncheons with secretaries Vance and Brown in preparation for NSC discussions, to maintain a complete set of notes. Brzezinski also sent weekly reports to the President on major foreign policy undertakings and problems, with recommendations for courses of action. President Carter enjoyed these reports and frequently annotated them with his own views. Brzezinski and the NSC used these Presidential notes (159 of them) as the basis for NSC actions.

From the beginning, Brzezinski made sure that the new NSC institutional relationships would assure him a major voice in the shaping of foreign policy. While he knew that Carter would not want him to be another Kissinger, Brzezinski also felt confident that the President did not want Secretary of State Vance to become another Dulles and would want his own input on key foreign policy decisions.

Brzezinski's power gradually expanded into the operational area during the Carter Presidency. He increasingly assumed the role of a Presidential emissary. In 1978, for example, Brzezinski traveled to Beijing to lay the groundwork for normalizing U.S.–PRC relations. Like Kissinger before him, Brzezinski maintained his own personal relationship with Soviet Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Dobrynin. Brzezinski had NSC staffers monitor State Department cable traffic through the Situation Room and call back to the State Department if the President preferred to revise or take issue with outgoing State Department instructions. He also appointed his own press spokesman, and his frequent press briefings and appearances on television interview shows made him a prominent public figure, although perhaps not nearly as much as Kissinger had been under Nixon.

The Soviet military invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 significantly damaged the already tenuous relationship between Vance and Brzezinski. Vance felt that Brzezinski's linkage of SALT to other Soviet activities and the MX, together with the growing domestic criticisms in the United States of the SALT II Accord, convinced Brezhnev to decide on military intervention in Afghanistan. Brzezinski, however, later recounted that he advanced proposals to maintain Afghanistan's independence but was frustrated by the Department of State's opposition. An NSC working group on Afghanistan wrote several reports on the deteriorating situation in 1979, but Carter ignored them until the Soviet intervention destroyed his illusions. Only then did he decide to abandon SALT II ratification and pursue the anti-Soviet policies that Brzezinski proposed.

The Iranian revolution was the last straw for the disintegrating relationship between Vance and Brzezinski. As the upheaval developed, the two advanced fundamentally different positions. Brzezinski wanted to control the revolution and increasingly suggested military action to prevent Ayatollah Khomeini from coming to power, while Vance wanted to come to terms with the new Islamic Republic of Iran. As a consequence, Carter failed to develop a coherent approach to the Iranian situation. Vance's resignation following the unsuccessful mission to rescue the American hostages in March 1980, undertaken over his objections, was the final result of the deep disagreement between Brzezinski and Vance.

Major policies[edit]

During the 1960s, Brzezinski articulated the strategy of peaceful engagement for undermining the Soviet bloc, and while serving on the State Department Policy Planning Council, persuaded President Lyndon B. Johnson to adopt (in October 1966) peaceful engagement as U.S. strategy, placing détente ahead of German reunification and thus reversing prior U.S. priorities.[citation needed]

During the 1970s and 1980s, at the height of his political involvement, Brzezinski participated in the formation of the Trilateral Commission in order to more closely cement U.S.–Japanese–European relations. As the three most economically advanced sectors of the world, the people of the three regions could be brought together in cooperation that would give them a more cohesive stance against the communist world.[citation needed]

While serving in the White House, Brzezinski emphasized the centrality of human rights as a means of placing the Soviet Union on the ideological defensive. With Jimmy Carter in Camp David, he assisted in the attainment of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty.[37]

He actively supported Polish Solidarity and the Afghan resistance to Soviet invasion, and provided covert support for national independence movements in the Soviet Union. He played a leading role in normalizing U.S.–PRC relations and in the development of joint strategic cooperation, cultivating a relationship with Deng Xiaoping, for which he is thought very highly of in mainland China to this day.[citation needed]

In the 1990s he formulated the strategic case for buttressing the independent statehood of Ukraine, partially as a means to prevent a resurgence of the Russian Empire,[citation needed] and to drive Russia toward integration with the West, promoting instead "geopolitical pluralism" in the space of the former Soviet Union. He developed "a plan for Europe" urging the expansion of NATO, making the case for the expansion of NATO to the Baltic states.

He served as Bill Clinton's emissary to Azerbaijan in order to promote the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline. Subsequently, he became a member of Honorary Council of Advisors of U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce (USACC). Further, he led, together with Lane Kirkland, the effort to increase the endowment for the U.S.-sponsored Polish-American Freedom Foundation from the proposed $112 million to an eventual total of well over $200 million.[citation needed]


Main article: Operation Cyclone

Communists under the leadership of Nur Muhammad Tarakiseized power in Afghanistan on April 27, 1978.[38] The new regime—which was divided between Taraki's extremist Khalq faction and the more moderate Parcham—signed a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union in December of that year.[38][39] Taraki's efforts to improve secular education and redistribute land were accompanied by mass executions (including of many conservative religious leaders) and political oppression unprecedented in Afghan history, igniting a revolt by mujahideen rebels.[38] Following a general uprising in April 1979, Taraki was deposed by Khalq rival Hafizullah Amin in September.[38][39] Amin was considered a "brutal psychopath" by foreign observers; even the Soviets were alarmed by the brutality of the Afghan communists, and suspected Amin of being an agent of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), although that was not the case.[38][39][40] By December, Amin's government had lost control of much of the country, prompting the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan, execute Amin, and install Parcham leader Babrak Karmal as president.[38][39]

President Carter was surprised by the invasion, as the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community during 1978 and 1979—reiterated as late as September 29, 1979—was that "Moscow would not intervene in force even if it appeared likely that the Khalq government was about to collapse." Indeed, Carter's diary entries from November 1979 until the Soviet invasion in late December contain only two short references to Afghanistan, and are instead preoccupied with the ongoing hostage crisis in Iran.[41] In the West, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was considered a threat to global security and the oil supplies of the Persian Gulf.[39] Moreover, the failure to accurately predict Soviet intentions caused American officials to reappraise the Soviet threat to both Iran and Pakistan, although it is now known that those fears were overblown. For example, U.S. intelligence closely followed Soviet exercises for an invasion of Iran throughout 1980, while an earlier warning from Brzezinski that "if the Soviets came to dominate Afghanistan, they could promote a separate Baluchistan ... [thus] dismembering Pakistan and Iran" took on new urgency.[40][41] These concerns were a major factor in the unrequited efforts of both the Carter and Reagan administrations to improve relations with Iran, and resulted in massive aid to Pakistan's Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Zia's ties with the U.S. had been strained during Carter's presidency due to Pakistan's nuclear program and the execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in April 1979, but Carter told Brzezinski and Secretary of StateCyrus Vance as early as January 1979 that it was vital to "repair our relationships with Pakistan" in light of the unrest in Iran.[41] One initiative Carter authorized to achieve this goal was a collaboration between the CIA and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI); through the ISI, the CIA began providing some $500,000 worth of non-lethal assistance to the mujahideen on July 3, 1979—several months prior to the Soviet invasion. The modest scope of this early collaboration was likely influenced by the understanding, later recounted by CIA official Robert Gates, "that a substantial U.S. covert aid program" might have "raise[d] the stakes" thereby causing "the Soviets to intervene more directly and vigorously than otherwise intended".[41][42][43] The first shipment of U.S.weapons intended for the mujahideen reached Pakistan on January 10, 1980, shortly following the Soviet invasion.[40]

In the aftermath of the invasion, Carter was determined to respond vigorously to what he considered a dangerous provocation. In a televised speech, he announced sanctions on the Soviet Union, promised renewed aid to Pakistan, and committed the U.S. to the Persian Gulf's defense.[41][42] The thrust of U.S. policy for the duration of the war was determined by Carter in early 1980: Carter initiated a program to arm the mujahideen through Pakistan's ISI and secured a pledge from Saudi Arabia to match U.S. funding for this purpose. U.S. support for the mujahideen accelerated under Carter's successor, Ronald Reagan, at a final cost to U.S. taxpayers of some $3 billion. The Soviets were unable to quell the insurgency and withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, precipitating the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself.[41] However, the decision to route U.S. aid through Pakistan led to massive fraud, as weapons sent to Karachi were frequently sold on the local market rather than delivered to the Afghan rebels; Karachi soon "became one of the most violent cities in the world". Pakistan also controlled which rebels received assistance: Of the seven mujahideen groups supported by Zia's government, four espoused Islamic fundamentalist beliefs—and these fundamentalists received most of the funding.[39] Years later, in a 1997 CNN/National Security Archive interview, Brzezinski detailed the strategy taken by the Carter administration against the Soviets in 1979:

We immediately launched a twofold process when we heard that the Soviets had entered Afghanistan. The first involved direct reactions and sanctions focused on the Soviet Union, and both the State Department and the National Security Council prepared long lists of sanctions to be adopted, of steps to be taken to increase the international costs to the Soviet Union of their actions. And the second course of action led to my going to Pakistan a month or so after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, for the purpose of coordinating with the Pakistanis a joint response, the purpose of which would be to make the Soviets bleed for as much and as long as is possible; and we engaged in that effort in a collaborative sense with the Saudis, the Egyptians, the British, the Chinese, and we started providing weapons to the Mujaheddin, from various sources again—for example, some Soviet arms from the Egyptians and the Chinese. We even got Soviet arms from the Czechoslovak communist government, since it was obviously susceptible to material incentives; and at some point we started buying arms for the Mujaheddin from the Soviet army in Afghanistan, because that army was increasingly corrupt.[44]

When asked if he regretted supporting Islamist groups in their fight against the Soviet Union, Brzezinski replied, “What was more important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of central Europe and the end of the Cold war?”[45] Brzezinski argued that U.S. aid was "quite important in hastening the end of the conflict, not in deciding the conflict," as "in my view, the Afghans would have prevailed in the end anyway, 'cause they had access to money, they had access to weapons, and they had the will to fight." He further noted: "The Soviet Union at the time was actively engaged in helping international terrorism, including those elements of the PLO that were very active ... So it was a good thing that the Soviets were bogged down in Afghanistan."[46]


In November 1979, revolutionary students stormed the Embassy of the United States, Tehran and took American diplomats hostage. Brzezinski argued against Secretary of State Cyrus Vance's proposed diplomatic solutions to the Iran hostage crisis, insisting they "would deliver Iran to the Soviets."[7] Vance, struggling with gout, went to Florida on Thursday, April 10, 1980, for a long weekend.[47] On Friday, Brzezinski held a newly scheduled meeting of the National Security Council and authorized Operation Eagle Claw, a military expedition into Tehran to rescue the hostages.[47] Deputy Secretary Warren Christopher, who attended the meeting in Vance's place, did not inform Vance.[47] Furious, Vance handed in his resignation on principle, calling Brzezinski "evil".[47]

President Carter aborted the operation after three of the eight helicopters he had sent into the Dasht-e Kavir desert crashed, and a fourth then collided with a transport plane, causing a fire that killed eight servicemen.[47] The hostages were only released during the first inauguration of Ronald Reagan, after 444 days in captivity.[48]


Shortly after taking office in 1977, President Carter again reaffirmed the United States' position of upholding the Shanghai Communiqué. In May 1978, Brzezinski overcame concerns from the State Department and traveled to Beijing, where he began talks that seven months later led to full diplomatic relations.[7] The United States and People's Republic of China announced on December 15, 1978, that the two governments would establish diplomatic relations on January 1, 1979. This required that the United States sever relations with the Republic of China on Taiwan. Consolidating U.S. gains in befriending Communist China was a major priority stressed by Brzezinski during his time as National Security Advisor. However, Brzezinski "denied reports that he encouraged China to support the genocidal dictator Pol Pot in Cambodia, because Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge were the enemies of communist Vietnam."[49]

The most important strategic aspect of the new U.S.–Chinese relationship was in its effect on the Cold War. China was no longer considered part of a larger Sino-Soviet bloc but instead a third pole of power due to the Sino-Soviet Split, helping the United States against the Soviet Union.[citation needed]

In the Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations dated January 1, 1979, the United States transferred diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. The United States reiterated the Shanghai Communiqué's acknowledgment of the PRC position that there is only one China and that Taiwan is a part of China; Beijing acknowledged that the United States would continue to carry on commercial, cultural, and other unofficial contacts with Taiwan. The Taiwan Relations Act made the necessary changes in U.S. law to permit unofficial relations with Taiwan to continue.

In addition the severing relations with the Republic of China, the Carter Administration also agreed to unilaterally pull out of the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty, withdraw U.S. military personnel from Taiwan, and gradually reduce arms sales to the Republic of China. There was widespread opposition in Congress, notably from Republicans, due to the Republic of China's status as an anti-Communist ally in the Cold War. In Goldwater v. Carter, Barry Goldwater made a failed attempt to stop Carter from terminating the mutual defense treaty.

PRC Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping's January 1979 visit to Washington, D.C., initiated a series of high-level exchanges, which continued until the Tiananmen Square massacre, when they were briefly interrupted. This resulted in many bilateral agreements, especially in the fields of scientific, technological, and cultural interchange and trade relations. Since early 1979, the United States and the PRC have initiated hundreds of joint research projects and cooperative programs under the Agreement on Cooperation in Science and Technology, the largest bilateral program.[citation needed]

On March 1, 1979, the United States and People's Republic of China formally established embassies in Beijing and Washington. During 1979, outstanding private claims were resolved, and a bilateral trade agreement was concluded. U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale reciprocated Vice Premier Deng's visit with an August 1979 trip to China. This visit led to agreements in September 1980 on maritime affairs, civil aviation links, and textile matters, as well as a bilateral consular convention.[citation needed]

As a consequence of high-level and working-level contacts initiated in 1980, U.S. dialogue with China broadened to cover a wide range of issues, including global and regional strategic problems, political-military questions—including arms control, UN and other multilateral organization affairs, and international narcotics matters.[citation needed]

Arab-Israeli conflict[edit]

Main article: Camp David Accords

On October 10, 2007, Brzezinski along with other influential signatories sent a letter to President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice titled Failure Risks Devastating Consequences. The letter was partly an advice and a warning of the failure of an upcoming[50] U.S.-sponsored Middle East conference scheduled for November 2007 between representatives of Israelis and Palestinians. The letter also suggested to engage in "a genuine dialogue with Hamas" rather than to isolate it further.[51]

Ending détente[edit]

The conference venue at the Hotel Regina during the second Wehrkunde-Begegnung in 1964. Pictured are, among others, Zbigniew Brzezinski (far left) as well as Ewald von Kleist and Franz-Josef Strauss (center).
Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and National Security Council Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (1977)
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin engages Brzezinski in a game of chess at Camp David

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