Biography of Zbigniew Brzezinski
Zbigniew Brzezinski – Polish-American diplomat and political scientist.
Name: Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski
Date of Birth: March 28, 1928
Place of Birth: Warsaw, Poland
Date of Death: May 26, 2017 (aged 89)
Place of Death: Inova Fairfax Hospital, Annandale, Virginia, United States
Occupation: Political Scientist
Father: Tadeusz Brzeziński
Mother: Leonia Roman Brzezińska
Spouse/Ex: Emilie Benes (m. 1961)
Children: Mika Brzezinski, Ian Brzezinski, Mark Brzezinski
A U.S. international relations scholar and national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski was born in Warsaw, Poland, on March 28, 1928. His family came from Brzeżany in Galicia in the Tarnopol Voivodeship (administrative region) of then eastern Poland (now in Ukraine). He played key roles in negotiating the SALT II nuclear weapons treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union and in U.S. efforts to sustain the rule of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. 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.
His tenure saw the efforts of the US in sustaining the ‘Shah of Iran’ and the arming of the “mujahideen” in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He was also the foreign policy advisor to John F Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson. He was involved in the normalization of relationships between the US and the People’s Republic of China, the Middle-Eastern success (with the Camp David Records), the ‘Panama Canal Treaties,’ and the strengthening of military and international relations of the US. He was also a professor at ‘Harvard’ and ‘Columbia’ universities. He had written books such as ‘The Grand Failure: The Birth and Death of Communism in the Twentieth Century’ (1989) and ‘Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power’ (2012). He also appeared on TV shows such as ‘The News Hour with Jim Lehrer’ and ‘This Week with Christiane Amanpour.’
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. 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.
Childhood, Family and Educational Life
Zbigniew Brzezinski, in full Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski, was born on March 28, 1928, in Warsaw, Poland, to Leonia and Tadeusz Brzeziński. Tadeusz was a Polish diplomat. Thus, his work took Tadeusz to different countries with his family. As a result, Zbigniew spent his childhood and his youth in France and Germany. He grew up watching the ‘Nazis’ and their activities in Germany. He also spent a good amount of time in the Soviet Union, where his father received a lot of praise for helping the Jews escape from the ‘Nazis.’ His family finally settled in Montreal, Canada, in 1938.
After attending Loyola High School in Montreal, Brzezinski entered McGill University in 1945 to obtain both his Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees (received in 1949 and 1950 respectively). He won a master’s scholarship to the UK but was eventually deemed illegal on the basis of his nationality. 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.
Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski was married to Czech-American sculptor Emilie Benes (grand-niece of the second Czechoslovak president, Edvard Beneš) in 1961. The couple had three children: two sons named Mark and Ian and a daughter named Mika.
Their son, Mark Brzezinski (b. 1965), is a lawyer who served on President Clinton’s National Security Council as an expert on Russia and Southeastern Europe and served as the U.S. ambassador to Sweden (2011-2015). Their daughter, Mika Brzezinski (b. 1967), is a television news presenter and co-host of MSNBC’s weekday morning program, Morning Joe, where she provides regular commentary and reads the news headlines for the program. Their eldest son, Ian Brzezinski (b. 1963), is a Senior Fellow in the International Security Program and is on the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Advisors Group. Ian also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO (2001-2005) and was a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton.
Zbigniew Brzezinski was a past member of the Atlantic Council and the National Endowment for Democracy. At the time of his death, he was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Honorary Council of the European Academy of Diplomacy.
Career and Works
From 1953 to 1959, Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski worked as an assistant professor at ‘Harvard.’ During his time there, he challenged the policy of “rollback” stated by Dwight Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles. He questioned the policy by stating that a hostile environment would turn out to be toxic for the Eastern Europeans and they would drift toward the Soviet Union. He also developed the idea of “peaceful engagement.”
In 1957, Brzezinski visited Poland for the first time since he left as a child, and his visit reaffirmed his judgment that splits within the Eastern bloc were profound. He developed his ideas he called “peaceful engagement.” Brzezinski became a naturalized American citizen in 1958. In 1959, Harvard awarded an associate professorship to Henry Kissinger instead of Brzezinski. He then moved to New York City to teach at Columbia University. 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. He also became a member of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and joined the Bilderberg Group. Brzezinski moved on to become the first-ever director of ‘Columbia’s ‘Research Institute on Communist Affairs’ (which later came to be known as the ‘Research Institute on International Change’). He remained its director until 1977. During this time, he also mentored Madeleine Albright, who later became the US Secretary of State.
Brzezinski became a member of the ‘Council on Foreign Relations’ in New York. During the 1960s, he got an opportunity to become an advisor to John F Kennedy’s presidential campaign, where he again argued to establish a non-hostile environment in Eastern Europe. To provide more resource to his arguments, he published the essay ‘Peaceful Engagement in Eastern Europe’ in the magazine ‘Foreign Affairs.’
While serving as the first director (1973-76) of the Trilateral Commission, Brzezinski met Jimmy Carter, who was then the Democratic governor of Georgia and acted as Carter’s foreign affairs adviser during his successful presidential campaign. Brzezinski served as a national security adviser in the Carter administration (1977-81). Afterward, he resumed teaching at Columbia (1981-89) and then served (from 1989) as senior research professor of international relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
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, the future Polish Solidarity activist. 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 as a council member of the ‘Policy Planning Council of the US Department of State.’ He resigned from the council in 1968, following the expansion of war by the president. He then became a foreign policy advisor to the then-vice president, Hubert Humphrey. In 1968, Brzezinski became the chairperson of the ‘Humphrey’s Foreign Policy Task Force’ during the presidential election campaign. He then co-founded the ‘Trilateral Commission’ with David Rockefeller.
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, while working as the first director of the ‘Trilateral Commission,’ Brzezinski chose Jimmy Carter as a member of the commission. Carter was then the ‘Democratic’ Governor of Georgia. After Carter became the president in 1976, he appointed Brzezinski as the ‘National Security Advisor.’ During his time in Carter’s administration, he focused on the development of US–Sino relationships. He also agreed with the fact that the US should try to improve its international dealings, look for more international co-operation, and stop looking for solutions within itself. He was also involved in getting the Soviet Union’s agreement to the ‘SALT.’ He also put an effort in ordering ‘Radio Free Europe’ transmitters to increase their scope of broadcast, which received major opposition, especially from Germany.
In 1979 Brzezinski made his greatest mistake when he advocated steadfast U.S. support for the shah of Iran. Although American intelligence had questioned whether the shah could retain power during the Iranian Revolution (1978-79), Brzezinski persuaded Carter to reject the revolutionaries’ demands. Consequently, when the revolution succeeded, the United States had no contact with Iran’s new religious leaders a situation that severely limited the diplomatic options available to the United States during the Iran hostage crisis (1979-81). The perception that Carter had mishandled the crisis strongly contributed to his defeat in the 1980 presidential election.
During 1979-1980, with the ongoing hostage situation in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the US saw an economic and financial downfall. Brzezinski anticipated the Soviet invasion and led the US to develop the ‘Rapid Deployment Forces.’ He also focused on strengthening the army. He was also the brain behind the ‘Carter Doctrine.’ He retired from the position in 1981. He was invited by the then-president, Ronald Reagan, to work as the ‘National Security Advisor,’ but he declined the offer.
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.
In 1988, Brzezinski was appointed as the co-chairman of the ‘Bush National Security Advisory Task Force.’ He also returned to teaching and joined ‘Columbia University’ again, in 1981. In 1989, he started working as a senior research professor of international relations at ‘Johns Hopkins University.’ In 1988, he endorsed HW Bush for president.
In 1990, Brzezinski warned against post-Cold War euphoria. He publicly opposed the Gulf War, 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. He wrote in 1998 that “Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.” He later came out in support of the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia during the ‘Kosovo war’. Brzezinski 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.
Brzezinski also endorsed Barack Obama in 2007. He was one of the prominent members of the ‘North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Expansion.’ In a September 2009 interview with The Daily Beast, Brzezinski replied to a question about how aggressive President Obama should be in insisting Israel not conduct an air strike on Iran, saying: “We are not exactly impotent little babies. They have to fly over our airspace in Iraq. Are we just going to sit there and watch?” This was interpreted by some supporters of Israel as supporting the downing of Israeli jets by the United States in order to prevent an attack on Iran. In 2011, Brzezinski supported the NATO intervention against the forces of Muammar Gaddafi in the Libyan Civil War, calling non-intervention “morally dubious” and “politically questionable”. In early 2012, Brzezinski expressed disappointment and said he was confused by some of Obama’s actions, such as the decision to send 2,500 U.S. troops to Australia, but supported him for re-election.
Awards and Honor
Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski received several honors, such as the ‘Presidential Medal of Freedom’ in 1981, the ‘Order of the White Eagle’ in 1995, and honorary citizenship of the City of Gdańsk’ in 2002.
In 2016, Zbigniew Brzezinski was awarded the ‘Medal for Distinguished Public Service’ from the ‘Department of Defense.’
Death and Legacy
Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski died at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Virginia, on May 26, 2017 at the age of 89. His funeral was held June 9 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington, D.C. “If I could choose my seatmate, it would be Dr. Brzezinski,” Former President Carter said of his international flights on Air Force One. Former National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, aged 94, was unable to attend, but a note he sent was read during a eulogy: “The world is an emptier place without Zbig pushing the limits of his insights.”
Brzezinski was a member of organizations such as the ‘Atlantic Council,’ the ‘National Endowment for Democracy,’ the ‘Council on Foreign Relations,’ and the ‘International Honorary Council’ of the ‘European Academy of Diplomacy.’ He appeared in films and documentaries such as ‘Eternal Memory’ (1997), ‘Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace’ (2009), and ‘Strateg’ (2014).
Zbigniew Brzezinski appeared as himself in several documentary films and TV series, such as: the 1997 film Eternal Memory: Voices from the Great Terror, directed by David Pultz; Episodes 17 (Good Guys, Bad Guys), 19 (Freeze) and 20 (Soldiers of God) of the 1998 CNN series Cold War produced by Jeremy Isaacs; the 2009 documentary Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace; and the 2014 Polish biopic Strateg (The Strategist) directed by Katarzyna Kolenda-Zaleska and produced by TVN. The 2014 Polish film Jack Strong features Krzysztof Pieczyński as Brzezinski.
Brzezinski’s many books include Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era (1970), in which he predicted that the United States and the Soviet Union would eventually confront each other in the developing world in a battle over natural resources; The Grand Failure: The Birth and Death of Communism in the Twentieth Century (1989); The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership (2004); and Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power (2012).