External Affairs

Brzezinski, Cold Warrior Who Served as Carter’s National Security Adviser, Dies

Former US national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, speaks at a forum hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, March 9, 2015. Credit: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who established himself in the Carter administration as a hard-liner on foreign policy, died on Friday, his family said. He was 89.

Brzezinski‘s daughter Mika said on social media that her father died peacefully, but did not give the cause of his death.

Brzezinski, the son of a Polish diplomat, was national security adviser for all four years of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. He helped Carter contend with several international issues including the Iranian revolution that overthrew the Shah, the taking of 52 Americans as hostages in Tehran and a failed rescue mission and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

As national security adviser, Brzezinski, who Carter plucked from the academic world, saw many of the Soviet Union’s foreign policy moves as evidence it could not be trusted.

That placed him at odds with two of Carter’s most trusted advisers: secretary of state Cyrus Vance, who pushed for a Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT-2) with Moscow, and defence secretary Harold Brown, who urged a US-Soviet accord to curb conventional forces in Europe.

When Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan, Brzezinski strongly backed the arming of Afghan rebels in response to the invasion.

His hardline stance on US-Soviet relations led Pravda, the Soviet Communist Party newspaper, to denounce him as a “foe of detente”.

And while he was skeptical of Soviet motives and objectives, Brzezinski nurtured a diplomatic friendship between the US and China, which culminated in a trip to Beijing in June 1978. Six months later, Carter announced a decision to re-establish diplomatic ties with China starting in 1979.

Brzezinski‘s view of the Soviet Union may have been coloured by his childhood experiences. Born in Warsaw, Poland, on March 28, 1928, he was taken as a youngster to Canada where his father served as a diplomat. When the communists took over Poland at the end of World War II, the family remained in the West.

Brzezinski received a doctorate from Harvard University in 1953 and became an American citizen in 1958.

He voiced support for US policy in Vietnam in the mid-1960s, and served on the policy planning staff of President Lyndon Johnson’s State Department in that era.

Along with David Rockefeller, chairman of the Chase Manhattan Bank, Brzezinski helped to found the Trilateral Commission, a private group that promoted closer ties among North America, West Europe and Japan.

Vance and Brzezinski at Camp David, September 14, 1978. Courtesy: Jimmy Carter Library

US president Jimmy Carter’s secretary of state, Cyrus Vance, and his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, at Camp David, September 14, 1978. Courtesy: Jimmy Carter Library

Vast influence

Carter had known Brzezinski before his election to the White House in 1976 and asked him to leave Columbia University, where the effects of Soviet communism had been the focus of much of Brzezinski‘s work.

Having regular access to Carter gave him vast influence in Washington, which for a time led to recurring reports that he and Vance were rivals for the president’s ear. The rivalry lasted until Vance resigned after the aborted mission to rescue American hostages in Iran in April 1980.

Before the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979, Vance had resisted Brzezinski‘s proposals that Washington back a military crackdown against Iran’s radical Islamic forces.

Once the embassy was taken by followers of Islamic leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Vance sought Carter’s backing for an attempt to come to terms with Khomeini. Brzezinski characteristically favoured military action to free the 52 American hostages and punish Iran.

Carter vacillated but eventually accepted Brzezinski‘s proposal for the ill-fated rescue mission, in which eight servicemen died.

Brzezinski also took part in negotiations toward the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty in 1979, which was seen by many as the major achievement of Carter’s presidency.

In the arms control field, Brzezinski, despite his lifelong antipathy to Soviet communism, joined defence secretary Brown in spearheading the unsuccessful drive to win Senate approval of the 1979 SALT-2 accord with Moscow.

Although it never cleared the Senate as a result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, SALT-2 remained unofficially in effect even beyond its original five-year life-span.

After the Carter years, Brzezinski became a consultant on international affairs and a senior adviser for the Georgetown Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He also taught American foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University.

He frequently wrote opinion articles for newspapers and published several books, including Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power in 2012.

Vice president George H.W. Bush, trying to build up his own image as a tough foreign policy realist, considered it a coup to secure Brzezinski‘s support in his 1988 presidential campaign.

Brzezinski was at times critical of the foreign policies of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He was sharply critical of Bush’s “war on terror” and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In August 2007 Brzezinski endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, saying that Obama “recognises that the challenge is a new face, a new sense of direction, a new definition of America’s role in the world.”

Brzezinski and wife Emillie had three children, including Mika, a host on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show.