What are Zbigniew Brzezinski’s priorities?

Zbigniew Brzezinski scares me.  He’s a really smart guy, possesses loads of policy experience, is a distinguished academic, and when he tangles with people who do not know that much, the results are not pretty.  Nevertheless, I’m going to screw up my courage and suggest that Brzezinski’s op-ed in today’s Financial Times about the Sino-American relationship is.. how ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast.

Zbigniew Brzezinski scares me.  He's a really smart guy, possesses loads of policy experience, is a distinguished academic, and when he tangles with people who do not know that much, the results are not pretty. 

Zbigniew Brzezinski scares me.  He’s a really smart guy, possesses loads of policy experience, is a distinguished academic, and when he tangles with people who do not know that much, the results are not pretty. 

Nevertheless, I’m going to screw up my courage and suggest that Brzezinski’s op-ed in today’s Financial Times about the Sino-American relationship is.. how to put it… misguided. 

Here’s how he prioritizes the dimensions of the relationship: 

China is needed as a direct participant in the dialogue with Iran, for China will also be affected if the effort to negotiate ends in failure. US-China consultations regarding India and Pakistan can perhaps lead to more effective even if informal mediation, for a conflict between the two would be a regional calamity. China should become actively involved in helping to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which increasingly poses the risk of a radicalised and unstable Middle East.

We need to develop a shared view on how to cope with the global risks posed by climate change. We should explore the possibility of creating a larger standby UN peacekeeping force for deployment in failed states. We should discuss how an international initiative towards a global adoption of the zero-nuclear weapons option might be helpful in stemming wider nuclear weapons proliferation. We certainly need to collaborate closely in expanding the current Group of Eight leading industrial nations to a G14 or G16, in order to widen the global circle of decision-makers and to develop a more inclusive response to the economic crisis.

But to promote all that we need an informal G2.

Here’s the thing:  while Iran, Israel/Palestine, peacekeeping, etc. are all important topics, the bilateral economic relationship should be the top issue on the agenda.  It should also be second (exchange rate policy), third (fiscal policy), fourth (trade policy) and fifth (regulatory coordination) on the agenda, by the way. 

So it would have been nice if Brzezinski had said, well, anything about the Strategic Economic Dialogue, for example.  Especially since that is the likely launching point for any comprehensive G2 dialogue. 

I confess that this is a topic that makes me cranky.  Brzezinski has stumbled onto small bugaboo I have with those who write about geopollitics on a regular basis — economics always comes last.  Particularly during crisis times like the current moment, the economics need to go first. 

And second, third, fourth and fifth. 

So there. 

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner

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