What does national security mean today?

Zbigniew Brzezinski last night offered his thoughts on a range of foreign policy issues, from America’s place in the world today and how he would prepare an incoming president for the challenges he or she would face to the morality and efficacy of drone strikes and whether the Obama administration is handling the situation in Syria correctly. Noting that America is likely the only nation where someone with such an unusual moniker could rise to such prominence without changing his or her name, the former U.S. National Security adviser made several especially salient points about international relations today. Some select morsels:

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  • “I think there is a real risk that we may be having candidates running for public office whose knowledge of international affairs either is very limited or very primitive.”
  • “We have come to the end of a prolonged era in world affairs in which struggle for hegemony was the dominant reality.  . . . Today, we live in a world where global hegemony is no longer possible.”
  • “There is no simple military solution to Syria without running the risk of the problem being not just national, but regional, in an escalatory fashion.”
  • “We’re certainly not in the dominant position we were in twenty years ago. We’re unlikely to recover it, probably, in the lifespan of everybody in this room. That is to say, we’re not going to be as omnipotent and as unique as we were.”

Dr. Brzezinski’s comments drove a compelling discussion of national security issues that was hosted by Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in celebration of the publication of Zbig: The Strategy and Statecraft of Zbigniew Brzezinski, edited by Charles Gati. The two-and-a-half-hour event featured foreign policy luminaries from both sides of the aisle spanning seven presidential administrations, including Madeleine Albright, secretary of State under Bill Clinton; Robert M. Gates, secretary of Defense from 2006-2011; and former national security advisers Stephen Hadley and Brent Scowcroft. The evening began with SAIS Dean Vali R. Nasr reading a letter from President Jimmy Carter. Panelists shared anecdotes about Dr. Brzezinski, and then Brzezinski weighed in on matters of national security—past and present. The seminar was packed, with every seat filled by foreign policy heavy hitters and students who hope to learn from these leaders.  Overflow rooms brimmed as attendees watched the presentation. The observations were insightful, interesting, and spontaneous.  Even the most jaded was certainly wowed. 

This invitation-only forum was webcast live; see the video below for the entire presentation, or click through to the SAIS website to watch. Check out SAIS on Instagram for photos and its Twitter feed for additional discussion.