Afghanistan in the ’80s was superpowers’ battle over Eurasia – Brzezinski

America and the USSR were largely competing over Eurasia, but the Soviet Union is no longer there, which changes game’s rules, believes Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former US national security advisor for decades.

Dr. Brzezinski is sure that the USSR’s engagement in Afghanistan in the 1980s led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, which removed from the international scene the horror of the possible nuclear war between America and the Soviet Union.

“It [the collapse of the Soviet Union] removed a paralyzing dilemma, a paralyzing danger that hovered over the entire international community,” Brzezinski said.

“In the event of a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States… literally within a few hours about 85 to 120 million people would have been dead in both countries,” said the ex-advisor, who was involved in the decision-making process back then.

He believes there is just no comparison between the nuclear threat of the Cold War and the modern terrorism threat, which is nasty, dangerous and horrible, but “in the terms of scale it is simply not in the same poll.”

Dr Brzezinski does not share the opinion that the covert support the US gave to Afghan Mujahideen via Pakistan led to the creation of the Taliban movement phenomenon.

After Soviet troops left Afghanistan, the global powers forgot about the country and did not provide the Afghan people with the rehabilitation help they needed. Hence, several years later the Taliban, which was not involved in fighting the Soviets, capitalized on the opportunity that developed in Afghanistan after the end of the war.

“The Taliban was involved in imposing on Afghanistan a medieval concept of society. But, unfortunately, it gave a haven to Al-Qaeda of Osama Bin Laden – and Al-Qaeda had global aspirations and engaged in global terrorism.”

Today, when China has become “a more important participant in [the] distribution of power across Eurasia,” now “the nature of competition and rivalry or the game has changed. It is much more now a question of maneuver, political accommodation, equilibrium, balancing to make certain that no one dominates this continent.”

Full transcript of Zbigniew Brzezinski's interview to RT

Doctor Zbigniew Brzezinski is perhaps one of the most influential figures in US foreign policy. He has advised US presidents for decades and served as the national security adviser under the Carter administration. He sits down now with the RT.

RT: Doctor Brzezinski, thank you so much for joining us. We do appreciate this opportunity.

Zbigniew Brzezinski: It’s very nice to be with you.

RT: It’s been nine years since 9/11 and there are still no signs of Osama bin Laden. In your book The Grand Chessboard, you write, “For America the chief geopolitical prize is Eurasia…. America’s global primacy is directly dependent on how long and how effectively its preponderance on the Eurasian continent is sustained.” Is that why [the US] are in Afghanistan? To sustain our global supremacy?

ZB: No, we are in Afghanistan because of 9/11. 9/11 involved a horrendous crime against the American public, and it called for measures designed to make certain that it doesn’t occur again. American role on the huge continent of Eurasia is much more benign. It involves alliances with some key countries; it involves improvement in relations with some previous antagonists. So it should not be confused with the operation in Afghanistan, which has a very specific historical motive and a very specific objective.

RT: In an interview with a French magazine in 1998 you called the covert funding of the Mujahideen prior to the former Soviet Union’s invasion an excellent idea. According to their analysis of what you’ve said, the dismantling of the Soviet Union was to a degree more important than “some stirred-up Muslims” and that you don’t regret it. Do you stand by that statement now?

ZB: Yes, although that version of the so-called interview wasn’t really an interview. The interview was an extensive interview which was supposed to be translated and sent to me. It never was. But then excerpts from it were sort of amalgamated and published. But, basically, the facts in it are correct. The United States decided to provide – surreptitiously, covertly – funding to the Afghan resistance when it became clear that the Soviet Union was beginning to intervene more actively and directly, and eventually when it did intervene actively and directly, that aid was expanded and continued under Republican administrations after President Carter left office. In turn, the resistance in Afghanistan led directly to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and that removed from the international scene the horror of a possible nuclear war between the Soviet Union and America. And it has made possible the kind of reconciliation that is now underway in Eurasia. But more importantly, it removed a paralyzing dilemma, a paralyzing danger that hovered over the entire international community.

RT: So the threat of the Soviet Union which you are mentioning right now was of course much more important than the threat we, say, have now in the so-called War on Terror?

ZB: Clearly. Look, in the event of a war between the Soviet Union and the United States – I was involved in the decision-making process that would be provoked by an attack and would call for a response. So we knew exactly the nature of a threat we were all facing, and within a few hours, literally within a few hours about 85 to 120 million people would have been dead in the United States and in the Soviet Union. It’s just no comparison between that and terrorism which is nasty and dangerous and horrible, particularly the victims, but in terms of scale it’s simply not in the same ball park.

RT: Let’s look at the future implications of that decision that was made all those years ago? What do you expect the Mujahideen, which you are calling the Afghan resistance, to do with the weaponry which the US and other countries provided to them after the Soviet Union fell? Did you expect this weaponry to be given back or did you expect the civil war which [ensued] to lead to the formation of what we have now, which is the Taliban?

ZB: I think the problem, you know, it has to be looked at in a closer historical perspective. The war lasted for almost a decade. It was a terribly brutal war that the Soviet Union waged against the Afghans. They killed close to a million Afghans. They drove out 45 million Afghans out of their country. So the process of consolidation and rehabilitation of Afghanistan was bound to be prolonged and the West, unfortunately, roughly ten years after the attack started and the Soviets left, did very little to rehabilitate Afghanistan. The Taliban phenomenon arose several years after the Soviet Union departed. The Taliban was not involved in fighting against the Soviets to drive out the foreigners from Afghanistan. The Taliban capitalized on the opportunity that developed in Afghanistan after the end of the war when it was largely ignored by everyone else. As for weapons, the Afghans have a tradition to be armed individually. The weapons we provided were mostly simple weapons, mostly, and with a few exceptions, a kind which most Afghans could handle without difficulty.

RT: So you don’t believe that the funding of the Mujahideen led to the formation of the Taliban today.

ZB: No. Look what Osama bin Laden himself said. Osama bin Laden described the reasons why he engaged in terrorism against the West. In fact, the Taliban itself was not involved in international terrorism. The Taliban was involved in imposing in Afghanistan a medieval concept of society. But unfortunately, it gave a haven to Al-Qaeda of Osama bin Laden. And Al- Qaeda had global aspirations and engaged in global terrorism.

RT: Would we be having this conversation now if we didn’t expect the former Soviet Union to invade prior to [the US] funding the Mujahideen?

ZB: The Soviet Union was already involved directly in Afghanistan for several years by the time the funding started. The funding started at a time when the Soviet Union was already making preparations to invade Afghanistan.

RT: Did you think that that would provoke the former Soviet Union?

ZB: No. I was assuming that they would go in because they were going in. The process was evident. There was an escalation of Soviet involvement, and by the time the funding started, the Soviet Union was already involved quasi-militarily within Afghanistan.

RT: I’d like to go back to this idea from your book that Eurasia is a very important chess player, if you will, for the United States. You also mentioned in your book that “Eurasia is thus the chessboard on which the struggle for global supremacy continues to be played” and the most immediate task is to make certain that no state or combination of states gains the capacity to expel the United States from Eurasia or even to diminish significantly its decisive arbitrating role. Now, which states at the moment would you say are threatening the US role there in Eurasia?

ZB: Well, first of all, I think that one has to take into account that the Soviet Union is no longer around. So the American-Soviet competition which in many ways was largely over Eurasia, for control over Eurasia, is finished. We also now have a very important participant in this distribution of power across Eurasia. And that is China. So the nature of, so to speak, the competition, the rivalry or the game has changed. It’s much more now a question of maneuver, political accommodation, equilibrium, balancing to make certain that no one dominates this continent and particularly no one who is imbued with a global missionary zeal as the Soviet Union was. So I think the nature of the relationships now on the Eurasian continent is fundamentally different. And it provides for much greater opportunity of some accommodation. We see this accommodation developing – still timidly, but developing – between Russia and the United States, and that’s an important development. We have a significant relationship with China. The European Union, Japan and others are becoming involved. So I think it’s a much more, so to speak, balanced and potentially more stable and certainly less hostile kind of relationship.

RT: I want to ask you about another region [the US] are influential in, the Middle East with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now, you helped draft a letter with Lee Hamilton that suggested that Hamas should be part of this equation. What do you make of the current-day peace process, the one that’s taking place right now? Hamas is not part of that equation. How far do you think they’ll get in finding a solution to the problem, the two-state solution ultimately?

ZB: I think it will be very difficult to settle this problem totally unless the more extremist parties on both sides in some fashion are engaged, encouraged to become engaged, because on both sides you have people who are against the settlement. So at some stage, they may not be right away, but at some stage the sort of extremists will have to be drawn into the dialogue because otherwise they’ll undermine it.

RT: Do you predict that the Obama administration, before the next election cycle comes, will engage Hamas in this discussion?

ZB: I am not going to make any such prediction because it would be a wonderful headline and there’s no basis for making such a prediction because how can we anticipate so precisely a specific historical event? But in some fashion, if they are going to have peace, we all know this, everyone involved knows it, that Hamas will have to be involved; in some fashion Syria and Israel will have to be involved in a joint direct dialogue. In some fashion, the Hezbollah will have to be fitted into the process. So we are dealing here with more-or-less known pieces that will have to be at different stages drawn into a process if it’s to be a lasting one. But, in present circumstances for the negotiations to begin by the most moderately inclined participants on both sides makes sense.

RT: I will now switch to Iran since it has been a really big topic now for decades. Iran has been defiant despite sanctions and despite other threats coming from the outside forces, including some of their allies. Do you think that will eventually lead to air strikes on their nuclear facilities?

ZB: Well, I certainly hope not because I don’t think that a wider war in the region is to be desired.

RT: And the US should not support Israel if it tries to do that independently?

ZB: I think a wider war in the region is not desirable. We have to be conscious of the fact. And it is avoidable.

RT: Would a possible war in Iran, if it’s launched, threaten America’s standing in Eurasia?

ZB: I think a war in the region will spread and involve America whoever starts it. And I think that’s not in America’s interest. I don’t think it’s in the region’s interests. I don’t think it’s in the interests of the international community.